The Michigan men’s soccer team reunites in Ann Arbor this week ahead of the upcoming season. The Wolverines begin captains’ practices July 28, a full 20 days before the opening exhibition against Butler in Ann Arbor.
The two captains, fifth-year midfielder Colin McAtee and senior forward James Murphy, will lead these training sessions as a means for the team to get back into rhythm before the preseason exhibitions. The incoming freshmen will begin to move into players’ houses, where they’ll reside before moving into the residence halls.
The team has only made a few changes to the roster over the course of the offseason. Three important seniors, midfielder Tyler Arnone, goalkeeper Adam Grinwis and Marcos Ugarte all moved on to minor league teams. Former freshman Ahinga Selemani transferred to UC Santa Barbara, where he joined one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Selemani was the Wolverines’ starting center forward, but an unexceptional debut season left Selemani with little reason to stay.
While Grinwis was a strong keeper, sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro earned many minutes last year as a highly-touted freshman, and will certainly be ready to step in as the team’s number one shot stopper.
A strong, eight-person incoming class that includes two internationals from Ghana and Chile is expected to make an immediate impact and fill any gaps.
Michigan’s first exhibition against the Bulldogs is followed 12 days later by the first preseason game in Omaha, Nebraska, against a Creighton team that finished the season ranked in the top 10.
Winning games against reputable non-Big Ten schools is crucial for Michigan, a team in its 16th season that has still yet to achieve consistent success. Despite one trip to the NCAA Tournament College Cup, soccer’s equivalent of the Final Four, the Wolverines have only made a scattered number of tournament appearances, the last in 2012, and have yet to win a Big Ten regular season title.
As someone who has now had time away from Michigan, former captain Arnone is beginning to see how the Wolverines stack up on the national grid, playing for the Real Monarchs of the United Soccer League.
“In the professional ranks, people ask, ‘Where’d you go to school?’ They know the name Michigan, but in terms of soccer, it’s not as much respected,” Arnone said. “(Michigan) is not UNC or UCLA. Those are the big schools. Is (Daley) the guy to bring Michigan to that level? That’s the question for me.”
Arnone, part of previous coach Steve Burns’ last recruiting class, felt that the 2014 was hyped to be “the season” that would bringing Michigan up to the next level, but the team was radically inconsistent, losing to teams it was predicted to dominate.
“Last season, we were, on paper, one of the best teams in the country, and surely one of the best in our conference,” said senior forward Will Mellors-Blair. “We thought we could just show up on a Tuesday night and mull over teams like Bowling Green and Western Michigan, and that’s got to change.”
While Michigan is often considered a favorite in many of those matchups against less nationally-renowned programs, it has yet to truly earn its place in the championship conversation among the likes of the Tar Heels and Bruins.
“We have all the infrastructure we need, it’s just a matter of having that one season which will define Michigan soccer on the national track,” Mellors-Blair said.
The Wolverines need more time than just one season to become a definitive, consistent contender on the national level, but they’ll need to start somewhere.
And the 2015 season is just around the bend.