Robbie Mertz lept, whipped his head toward the ball, and scored one of the biggest goals the Michigan’s men soccer team has had this decade.
The Wolverines went to Bloomington and played No. 1 Indiana to a 1-1 stalemate on Wednesday night. After a 4-0-1 start to the season – its best since 2008 – this game was No. 18 Michigan’s chance to prove itself a contender. Consider it done.
Mertz’s goal came 50 minutes into the game. Freshman midfielder Umar Farouk Osman set it up with a run down the right wing and a well-placed cross. Trey Muse, Indiana’s freshman goalkeeper, had a chance to punch it out. Mertz got there first.
The Hoosiers scored the game’s opening goal just 11 minutes into play. A Wolverine turnover in their own half gave Indiana a 3-on-2 chance. For a fleeting second it looked like sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Verdi might play the hero, as he saved two consecutive shots from two different Hoosier players. On the third — from junior defender Andrew Gutman — Verdi was helpless.
For the rest of the first half, Indiana put on a defensive clinic.
Michigan didn’t record its first shot on goal until the 40th minute. Osman found himself on the right side of the box with space – a rarity against a team with the Hoosiers’ defensive caliber – but his shot was easily stopped by Muse. When the whistle blew signaling the end of the first half, it looked like an impending beatdown.
“I think we were fortunate to only concede one (in the first half),” said Michigan head coach Chaka Daley after the game. “You could tell by the shots and stats that (in) the first 15 minutes, they kind of had us on the ropes.”
After halftime, everything changed.
“We just asked them to step up slightly and focus more on some minor details defensively,” Daley said. “And it certainly proved fruitful.”
Indiana freshman forward Griffin Dorsey forced a diving save out of Verdi in the 58th minute. His shot was directed at the far post, but not far enough. That ended up being the best chance the Hoosiers had for the rest of regulation.
The closest the Wolverines came to taking a lead was in the 73rd minute. After Muse saved senior midfielder Tristan Jacob’s shot, the ensuing rebound looked like a goal-in-waiting. Michigan had a numbers advantage in Indiana’s box, but couldn’t take the upper hand.
“I think guys were trying to find out who could get to it first and who could get a toe poke to it,” Daley said. “I think guys were kind of in the way and someone just needed to kind of knock it or toe poke it.”
Pouring rain over Bloomington went on as long as the game. In college soccer, a tie game goes to two 10-minute overtimes before it gets called. For the Wolverines, those 20 minutes were as stressful as you might expect.
The first overtime was largely devoid of scoring chances for both teams. Verdi’s only save came off a Hoosier free kick, and that didn’t come until the 99th minute. Redshirt junior defender Timmy Mehl’s header was on goal, but Verdi swallowed it up easily.
Indiana was able to lay claim to the best chance of the second overtime as well. In the 107th minute, a cross found its way into Michigan’s box and looked dangerous, but redshirt junior midfielder Cory Thomas couldn’t put it away.
When the game finally ended, the Wolverines came away with perhaps their most important result in years. But Daley isn’t celebrating just yet.
“Two games in, people are going to put rankings on people. They’re number one, we’re eighteen – it’s not relevant,” Daley said. “We just continue to keep our head up and keep things in perspective.”