In just the sixth minute of the match, Florida Gulf Coast forward Ryan Medilah found himself wide open in the box and buried a flawless cross from fellow forward Shak Adams, silencing the opening night crowd at the U-M Soccer Stadium on Friday night.
The header was the first of three goals from Medilah, as the Michigan men's soccer team (0-1) fell 4-3 to the Eagles (1-0). For the Wolverines, the match was defined by poor defense and an inability to convert on second half opportunities offensively.
Medilah followed his first goal with a free kick eight minutes later from the right corner of the box. His low line drive cross snuck past Michigan’s defense and froze senior goalkeeper Andrew Verdi as it trickled across the goal line, giving FGCU an early 2-0 lead.
Despite lackluster play on defense, the Wolverines managed to even the score at two before halftime. A well-placed ground ball from freshman forward Christian Pulselli gave junior forward Mohammed Zakyi an easy goal in the 30th minute, which graduate transfer forward Nebojsa Popovic followed with a cheeky tap-in on a free kick from senior forward Jack Hallahan.
At the start of the second half, Michigan seemed poised to take the lead with Hallahan and Popovic leading a strong offensive push. In just the third minute of the half, Popovic earned an opportunity in front of the goal, but Eagles’ keeper Gustavo Vasconcelos gobbled it up with ease. The Wolverines tallied 11 shots in the second half, including a point-blank opportunity from Popovic that forced a diving save from Vasconcelos. But they converted on only one of these opportunities, when a late-game corner from junior midfielder Marc Ybarra found junior defender Joel Harrison with enough space to notch Michigan’s third and final goal.
The Wolverines would come to regret these missed opportunities, as Medilah’s hat-trick goal and a dazzling strike from FGCU midfielder Ivan Rosales put the match out of reach.
“I think we created enough chances to win the game,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “(But) they were more opportunistic in the sense of taking their chances on our minor mistakes in the midfield.”
Popovic put up impressive numbers on his first regular season game since transferring from Oakland University as a graduate student. He tallied three shots — all on target — on top of his first half goal. His decisiveness and quick shooting complements the elite ball control and passing ability of preseason All-American Hallahan, and the pair seems poised to make a big splash for the Wolverines.
“Popovic is a good player,” Daley said. “We’re excited about having him in our group, and the hard part is figuring out all the pieces around these guys.”
“We need to find ways to get (Hallahan) the ball, because he’s a special player as well,” he added. “Regardless, our team defending has to get better. … It let us down a little tonight, but we’ll work on it, we’ll get better, and we’ll grow from the experience.”