Seconds before kickoff, senior Robbie Mertz made the sign of the cross and appeared to lift his hands in prayer. Given how the first half of the Michigan men’s soccer team’s matchup against Notre Dame went, there may very well have been something supernatural going on. It seems that the laws of physics were reversed; players spent more time on the ground than the ball, which was constantly airborne and passed backward instead of forward.
In the end, the Wolverines fell to the Fighting Irish (8-4-1) Tuesday night, almost a week after their 5-0 shutout win against Detroit Mercy increased their record to 9-3-1 overall and 3-1-1 in the Big Ten.
The game seemed to progress in slow motion, the first minutes spent in a punting match between the goalies, each launching the ball down the field right to the other. The game was also routinely interrupted by an abundance of fouls on both sides, each seemingly in response to the other team’s transgression. The back and forth quickly resulted in senior midfielder and captain Ivo Cerda’s early exit from the game after he suffered an injury. Soon after their captain came out, the Wolverines ceded a goal to Notre Dame’s Thomas Ueland off a rebound from Michigan sophomore defenseman Jackson Ragen.
Evidently with a chip on his shoulder, Ragen drew a yellow card late in the first half for slide tackling Notre Dame’s Ian Aschieris. Though the fouls kept raining down, the Wolverines seemed to wake up from their trance after falling behind, getting down to business.
“They passed well, they played well; we caused them a whole host of problems,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said, and despite the loss, “… We outplayed Notre Dame from start to finish.”
Daley expressed disappointment in the referees, who had their whistles blowing all game with a combined total of 25 fouls, 14 on Notre Dame and 11 on Michigan.
“Consistency is important in everything you do, because that’s what the players will expect, and that’s what the coaches will expect,” Daley said. “If the game is inconsistent, it disrupts your rhythm and flow; you don’t what’s a foul and what isn’t a foul.”
The Fighting Irish nearly scored a second time in the first half on a seemingly-undefended goal, but a last-minute charge call spared the Wolverines. That divine intervention not going unnoticed, Jack Hallahan capitalized in the form of an early second-half, right-foot goal in the bottom right corner of the net, tying the game and highlighting why he is ranked among the program’s top scorers historically.
Not to be outdone, Notre Dame’s Sean MacLeod answered Hallahan’s goal with one of his own, scoring off a penalty kick in the 68th minute. With three minutes left in the game, the Fighting Irish appeared to be playing a game of cat-and-mouse, taking their time to run down the clock and secure the victory. Michigan apparently didn’t know who was the cat and who was the mouse, as the claws came out and heated exchanges ensued.
As the regular season draws to a close, and with the Big Ten Tournament on the horizon, pressure is mounting going into Friday’s game against Wisconsin (6-5-2, 3-2-0 B1G), which is vying to challenge the Wolverines’ No. 3 position in the conference.
The Badgers boast road wins against Maryland and Michigan State, both of which the Wolverines have to play before they end their regular season. Michigan needs to keep its footing, given that the Spartans, whom the Wolverines play next Tuesday, sit comfortably in second place. A bitter and close, 1-0 loss to No. 1 Indiana on October 7 emphasized the stakes going into the Big Ten Tournament.
“I think after (Tuesday’s loss) our guys will be hungry and motivated to get this out of our system,” Daley said. “The guys had a good day at the office.”