The Michigan men’s soccer team (4-2-2 Big Ten, 11-4-2 overall) secured a signature 3-1 win over Penn State (3-3-2, 6-9-2) Sunday afternoon at home. The Wolverines dealt with several injuries to key players, including senior center back Daniel Mukuna, senior midfielder Ivo Cerda and sophomore forward Mohammed Zakyi. Zakyi played through a hamstring injury while the other two didn’t dress.
Early on, Michigan controlled the game, forcing all 11 Nittany Lions players to defend behind the ball in their own half. Sophomore forward Umar Farouk Osman missed one shot and had another go wide before breaking through in the 29th minute. A long throw-in from the far sideline by senior defender Marcello Borges dropped to Osman, who buried the half-volley into the upper right corner.
It was a deserved goal up to that point for the Wolverines, who had a multitude of opportunities. Michigan looked poised to break the game open with a second goal, but junior forward Jack Hallahan’s close-range shot in the 30th minute was blocked, followed by Borges missing a shot wide in the 38th minute.
Penn State capitalized on the Wolverines’ poor finishing with a goal that was against the run of play just two minutes before the half. Defender Ryan Gallagher headed the ball into the left side of the goal off a corner kick by midfielder Callum Pritchatt. The corner kick went over the attempted punch of sophomore goalkeeper Henry Mashburn, leaving a wide open net for the Nittany Lions to tie up the game.
“Physically, they’re strong, they’re fit. Two, they’re organized, very well coached,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “And three, they’re super dangerous in every dead ball situation. As a result of that it makes it a difficult game.”
It was a frustrating end to the half for Michigan, who outshot Penn State seven to four before the break.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we told the guys we missed some passes we could have connected,” Daley said.“We missed chances we should have taken — you know what I mean — a couple half-chances we could have worked the keeper a little bit more.
“And we mismanaged the game. With three minutes to go in the half, the ball is down there, we just gotta clear our lines a little bit and not overplay or have us be too overconfident in those situations. You try to play out or rally and shield it in the corner, and unfortunately it didn’t go our way, and they took full advantage.”
The second half was strikingly more physical. Both teams had a player who had to leave the game due to blood being drawn. The physicality came to a head with a yellow card issued to the Nittany Lions’ Pritchatt for a blatant foul in the 50th minute.
The Wolverines took back control of the match, earning three corner kicks, one of which was converted by Osman for his second of the game. The corner was taken by Hallahan and flicked by senior midfielder Robbie Mertz to Osman, who left no doubt by firing another half-volley into the upper left corner.
“We gotta take our chances. That’s what (Daley) told us because we got a lot of chances in the first half,” Osman said. “We just couldn’t execute, so we needed to focus and we did that.”
The first three goals of the game all came off dead-ball situations.
“I mean, if you look at the statistics of soccer just in general most goals happen in the first ten minutes or last ten of halves typically, and a large percentage of them come off of set pieces or dead ball situations. So the statistics are proven,” Daley said. “We focus on them before every game. We discuss them before every game before and at half. And so we’re hyper-focused I guess when it comes to those situations and fortunately today they went in our favor.”
Michigan continued its command of the game, ending with a 12-4 advantage in shots. However, the game was far from over until Hallahan settled the contest with a goal in the 81st minute. Junior forward Lucas Rosendall passed the ball inside the box to Hallahan, who drove the ball into the lower left corner. The goal gave the Wolverines a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
“It was a very huge win for us, because we didn’t beat them earlier (this season),” said Osman. “And before the game, our coaches told us this might be our last game, so we made sure it wasn’t.”