Persistence pays off.
It's an old adage that constantly finds modern applications.
The Michigan men’s soccer team (5-2-3 overall, 2-0-2 Big Ten) found the truth of that on Sunday as it beat Northwestern (5-5-1, 1-2-1) by a score of 3-0.
The game got off to a slow start, but picked up in intensity in the second half. Both teams struggled to create scoring opportunities in the first half, and failed to turn any of the sparse chances into goals.
The best opportunity of the first half came in the 23rd minute, when Wildcat goalie Miha Miskovic came out to clear a long throw by junior defender Austin Sweich but was beaten to the ball by fifth-year forward Nebojsa Popovich. But Popovich’s header harmlessly struck the crossbar with the open goal gaping.
The Wolverines began to ramp up the pressure in the second half, coming out of the locker room on the front foot and staying there throughout the rest of the game.
Nine minutes into the second half, junior defender Jackson Ragen headed a corner from senior forward Jack Hallahan back across the goal to the near post, where it was smashed home by junior midfielder Carlos Tellez to break the deadlock. Three minutes later, junior defender Joel Harrison played in Tellez through the right hand side, but Tellez’s chip past the goalie drifted just wide.
Tellez had a breakout game off the bench, playing a very influential role after his introduction in the middle of the first half. His high work rate and ability to read the game kept Northwestern pinned back for all of the second half and kept chance after chance coming for Michigan.
“(I’m) doing everything for the team, whatever role that takes,” Tellez said. “Whether it’s starting, coming off the bench, coach knows I am always there for whatever role needs to be played. So I am just happy to come off the bench and help the team in whatever way I can.”
The Wolverines doubled their tally with 33 minutes left in the game after a fantastic driving run by Popovic with the ball, where he drifted past several defenders before unleashing a shot into the top left corner.
A beautiful give-and-go between sophomore midfielder Kevin Buca and Tellez with 13 minutes left allowed Buca to put a cross in to the far post, where senior midfielder Umar Farouk Osman was waiting unmarked. Osman calmly settled the ball and slotted it past the charging Miskovic and into the net, increasing the lead to three and effectively sealing the game for the Wolverines.
Hallahan was his usual influential self, continually providing a threat to score. He had two assists on the night, and proved instrumental as a playmaker and facilitator throughout.
“Jack is a difference maker … he’s a special player … most importantly, he’s a great team guy,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “He really is a selfless player who works hard for the team.”
The defense held strong again, limiting Northwestern to just six shots and recording its third consecutive clean sheet. Ragen led the way with a stout defensive performance, and senior goalkeeper Andrew Verdi had a good game as well.
“Our first half performance was pretty solid,” Daley said. “Defensively, we gave our team a chance to win the game and that just stayed contagious throughout the game. The first goal … created confidence within the group for all the positive soccer that we were going in the right direction.”