Ten seconds separated Michigan men’s soccer team from a comeback victory. And its PA announcer intended to count them all off.
“Michigan fans, help me count this one down! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five …”
With four seconds left to play, Michigan fans held their breath as they watched Rutgers put the ball into the back of the net. The whistle blew and a flag was raised on the right side of the field. The crowd let out a celebratory cheer while the Scarlet Knights’ players crouched to the field in defeat – their final goal was called offsides.
In a lucky break, Michigan (2-3-3 overall, 1-0-1 Big Ten) rallied to a 3-2 win over Rutgers (2-4-2, 0-1-1) after falling two goals behind in the first half.
“We needed a little bit of luck,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “In the end, I think it would have spoiled an outstanding comeback and second half performance.”
In a stunning effort, the Scarlet Knights scored with a header off of a corner kick on the opening possession of the game. Rutgers maintained control with a persistent offense and rock solid defense, allowing the Scarlet Knights to score less than 20 minutes later when midfielder Jackson Temple weaved through the Michigan defense before blasting the ball into the back of the net.
The concession of two early goals tested the Wolverines’ youthful starting 11. Despite gaining offensive momentum for the remainder of the first half – outshooting Rutgers – Michigan was unable to convert any of its attacking plays into goals scored.
The Wolverines utilized a horizontal style of play that increased their possession time; however, without any urgency to push the attack up the field, the Scarlet Knights’ defense reorganized to stop Michigan’s few attacking players with nearly 10 of their men defending the box at any given time.
Going into the locker room at halftime, the Wolverines needed to make some significant changes to their play style if they were going to allow themselves a chance to get back in the game.
“The coaches came in and they got us fired up,” graduate midfielder Riley Ferch said. “Everybody on the team knew that we could win it. So the morale really came and helped us out.”
Following the break, Michigan’s new mindset was evident from the start of the second half.
Switching to a more vertical offensive strategy, the Wolverines began to create more scoring opportunities and contained the game to the attacking third of the field. Amidst a slew of yellow cards and chaotic VAR review, the newfound offensive intensity earned Michigan a penalty kick in the 53rd minute of the game – and senior midfielder Bryce Blevins put the Wolverines on the board with a powerful shot in the bottom left corner.
Less than 10 minutes later, Michigan found the back of the net again when freshman forward Alex Waggoner sent a soaring cross into the box that was met on the other end for a sliding finish by graduate defender Moshtaba Al-Haswani, tying the game at two.
Just when the Wolverines thought they could relax, a fired-up Rutgers started on the counter attack. Winning set piece after set piece, the Scarlet Knights were banging on Michigan’s door to earn back the lead. As Rutgers’ intensity increased, the Wolverines began to revert back to their unorganized first half play, scrambling to defend.
With yellow cards being handed out left and right, game changing saves from Michigan’s freshman goalkeeper Isaiah Goldson and narrow misses for the Scarlet Knights’ forwards, Ferch was lucky to find himself six yards outside the box, setting up to take a free kick. After a fake attempt from Blevins to set off the Scarlet Knights’ defensive line, Ferch sent the ball straight into the back of the net, scoring the deciding goal of the match.
“I was practicing free kicks all week after training and I was confident,” Ferch said. “I hit it and it went in and it helped the team.”
After Rutgers’ offside goal in game’s final seconds, luck was on Michigan’s side as it narrowly avoided a loss on Friday. While the Wolverines came out on top with a hard-earned comeback, the frantic nature of the game calls into question if Michigan will be able to convert wins for the rest of the season.
After all, luck inevitably runs out.