Just over three weeks ago, the Michigan men’s soccer team defeated a fierce Wisconsin team that was previously riding on a streak of five-straight shutouts; the Badgers went on to lose their next three games to close out their regular season. In the first match of the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday, the Wolverines once again had Wisconsin’s number. Although the fifth-seeded Badgers (7-6-3 overall, 3-4-1 Big Ten) nearly flipped the script by scoring the first goal of the match, fourth-seeded Michigan (7-6-3, 4-3-1) went on to win, 2-1.
With much to prove, Wisconsin began the game with an intense attacking energy. It became obvious early on that fouls would play a significant role in the game. Within the first ten minutes, the Badgers committed three fouls, one of them resulting in a yellow card for midfielder Tim Bielic.
Foul play littered the entire first half, creating a choppy game flow and frustration on both sides. Not only was the game constantly interrupted by the sound of the referee’s whistle, but neither team could capitalize on their many free-kick opportunities served into the penalty box.
The first half displayed a mostly even match with the Wolverines pulling slightly ahead in possession. In the last eight minutes of the half, four reserves entered the match: freshman defender Jason Bucknor, graduate defender Umar Farouk Osman, junior forward Christian Pulselli and senior midfielder Cameron Martin. The fresh legs from this substitution gave Michigan a much-needed energy boost going into the second half.
With just over a minute left in the first half, Bucknor raced down the left sideline, blowing past his opposing defender and launching the ball with his left foot into the six-yard box. Osman’s head met the ball and directed it towards the net, where it bounced off the hands of Wisconsin goalkeeper Adir Raphael. Fifth-year senior midfielder Marc Ybarra headed the ball back towards the net, but Raphael once again warded the shot away.
After that near miss, the Wolverines maintained possession for the remaining minutes of the half and entered halftime with the momentum they needed to carry them into the second half.
The rest appeared to pay dividends for Wisconsin as the second half ensued. Michigan began the remaining 45 minutes with the ball, but it was met with a new ferocity from the Badger defense. Wisconsin was able to take advantage of the Wolverines’ unorganized formation with midfielder Tim Bielic scoring the first goal of the game within the first five minutes of the second half.
Michigan pushed back hard in response. In the 63rd minute, following a scoring opportunity from junior defender Ryan Schultz, junior midfielder Inaki Rodriguez took a corner kick for the Wolverines. Rodriguez crossed the ball into the penalty box, where a determined Schultz chipped the ball into the inside of the net to record his first career goal.
Once again tied, both teams failed to convert on free kicks, and the ball remained trapped in the middle of the field. In the 74th minute, following the fourth of five yellow cards given throughout the game, Bucknor once again found himself one-on-one, racing down the side of the field. Bucknor sent an almost perfectly-placed cross in the air towards the top of the six-yard box. While junior forward Evan Rasmussen was being held back by his defender in the box, junior forward Uriel Zeitz came flying into the box and headed the ball into the goal to put the Wolverines up, 2-1.
Although the Badgers did not give up easily, they were unable to create any meaningful opportunities in the game’s dying minutes, and Michigan’s consistent attack pulled out the win in the end. The Wolverines will be moving on to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday, where they will face top-seeded Penn State.