Last year’s match between Michigan and Northwestern epitomized the Wolverines’ 2016 season.
The Michigan men’s soccer team outshot the Wildcats 23-13 but fell in a double-overtime heartbreaker – a capsule of what was frequently described by coach Chaka Daley as “balls not bouncing the right way.”
But on Sunday at U-M Soccer Stadium, things broke more in No. 22 Michigan’s favor – as they have for much of this season. The Wolverines (2-1-1 Big Ten, 5-2-2 overall) beat Northwestern (0-4-0, 2-7-0), 3-1, to exceed their win total from last year.
“It means a lot, it’s definitely a special season for us,” said junior midfielder Ivo Cerda. “We don’t like to talk a lot about last year, but it’s definitely important to get back in the winning race. We come from two really tough losses, but I think this team has a lot in store and it’s important for us to get a win today.”
After an uneventful start to the match, the Wolverines broke through in the 31st minute. Sophomore forward Jack Hallahan sent a soaring free kick into the box that met the head of Cerda, deflecting into the top left corner past the goalkeeper’s reach.
But almost as quickly as the score came, Michigan would lose a man for the rest of the afternoon.
Just seven seconds after his substitution, junior forward Francis Atuahene received a red card after he got too much of a Northwestern player on a challenge.
It was a tough break for the Wolverines’ 2016 leading scorer, who has battled injuries and found the back of the net only once in the young season.
Michigan would add to its lead off another set piece to open the second half – this time off a corner kick from junior defender Marcello Borges that met the head of freshman midfielder Jackson Regan for his first career goal.
As displayed by both of those conversions, Daley sees these set pieces as an asset.
“It’s something you obviously want to get sharper with,” Daley said. “When you look at the run of the game, most games concede within the 18-yard box or set plays. Certainly, to put yourself in a position where we’re competitive I think is important.”
A 10-man formation wouldn’t hurt the Wolverines until the 65th minute, when a free-running Sean Lynch connected from the right flank to cut the lead in half.
Northwestern continued to pressure in an attempt to equalize, sending four shots on goal in the final 15 minutes. Sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Verdi, however, was aggressive in knocking away attempts near his net.
The Wildcats nearly equalized off a free kick via a yellow card in the 90th minute – Michigan’s fifth of the day – but the Wolverines would instead seal the victory thanks to Jack Hallahan’s open-net conversion.
“If we can control our own destiny and stay within the top half of our league – this win was huge for that,” Daley said. “To be down a player and have to grind it out for 60-70 minutes is phenomenal. I’m so proud of our guys and what they accomplished.”
Northwestern outshot Michigan, but balls bounced the Wolverines’ way.
What a difference a year makes.