The Michigan men’s soccer team’s defense was the deciding factor during Monday night’s game against Valparaiso, giving the Wolverines much-needed momentum throughout in the face of 20-m.p.h. winds.
For the offense, it meant taking direct shots from a close distance. For the defense, it meant clearing the ball frequently, and with extra force.
But it was nothing the team couldn’t handle.
“I thought the wind would be a huge factor as soon as I woke up and walked outside of the house,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley.
The Wolverines (2-1-2 Big Ten, 7-3-3 overall) outshot Valparaiso (2-1-2 Horizon League, 6-4-4) 19-12, but it was only one shot off the foot of freshman midfielder Francis Atuahene that found its way inside the net. Michigan handed the opposition a 1-0 loss, marking the Wolverines’ fifth shutout this season less than a week after defeating Duquesne, 3-0.
Senior forward William Mellors-Blair assisted Atuahene in the lone goal and took four shots of his own, but he credited junior defenders Lars Eckenrode and Rylee Woods and sophomore defender Billy Stevens for the win.
The three defenders worked tirelessly to protect their goal, often forcing turnovers from the Crusaders. Michigan maintained control of the ball for the majority of the first half, holding Valparaiso to just four shots.
“(Valparaiso’s) goalkeeper is 6-foot-4,” Mellors-Blair said. “He’d kick the ball from their 18 to our 18. That put a lot of pressure on our back line to make clearances, and they did a great job.”
Of the 12 shots taken by the Crusaders, only one in the second half proved to be a good scoring chance. But even then, sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro dove for the critical save. He blocked three shots throughout the game, with the wind favoring Michigan as it helped redirect the other nine Valparaiso attempts.
On the other end, the weather obstructed the Wolverines’ chances to score on nine corner kicks. However, with the ball almost always in motion on the Crusaders’ side of the field, though, the Michigan defense was not always being pressured.
“When the defense was called upon, they did what they had to do,” Louro said.
Added Daley: “We continued to play, and more than anything, defend very strongly. That kept us going, kept the momentum going in the right direction.”
While it is an offense that puts numbers on the scoreboard, it is the defense that can withhold the opponent from doing the same. And with the turbulent wind suppressing Michigan’s attackers, the defense was all the Wolverines could rely on. Luckily for them, that element of the game stayed consistent.