After a sluggish game, it was the Michigan men’s soccer team that awoke from hibernation to win the Big Bear Trophy against rival Michigan State, for the first time since 2015.
A physical matchup ended up with the Wolverines (8-4-4 overall, 3-1-3 Big Ten) defeating Michigan State (3-10-3, 3-3-1), 2-0. The win allowed Michigan to jump three spots in the Big Ten standings, leaping over the Spartans to third in the conference.
“That’s a good, positive win for a group,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “More importantly for us, to get three points in the league and not get distracted by the magnitude of the moment. And I think our guys did a great job at settling in and grinding it out.”
Daley was right to characterize it a grind-it-out type of game. Just 10 minutes into the game, Michigan State defender Nick Woodruff illegally slid into Michigan junior midfielder Marc Ybarra, knocking him to the ground and earning a yellow card. The Wolverines and Spartans acquired three more yellow cards and totaled 25 fouls by the end of the game.
Michigan senior forward Jack Hallahan could attest to the physicality of the game. He battled all game on the right side of the field with Spartan defenders.
In the 35th minute, Hallahan caught up to a leading through ball and dribbled it up toward the corner. Michigan State midfielder Alex Shterenberg contested Hallahan the whole way, pushing and shoving him. Hallahan managed to create space and get a good cross off.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Hallahan said with a chuckle. “And I kind of like it, honestly. If people are fouling you, it probably means you are doing something right.”
Hallahan created efficient plays that set up his teammates, which compensated for his lack of scoring. And despite fighting through an undisclosed injury, he looked like he was near full strength.
“Yeah, he was good in the first 45 minutes,” Daley said. “Over the last 25 minutes, I think you saw what he’s all about.”
Two first-half goals by Michigan fifth-year senior Nebojsa Popovic helped ease some of the pressure in this sluggish fight of a game. However, the contact and intensity continued throughout the game.
“We stayed positive and keep fighting to the end,” Daley said.
In the 48th minute, Michigan junior forward Mohammed Zakyi ran directly into Michigan State goalkeeper Hunter Morse. A through ball zoomed past Zakyi, and he was unable to stop his momentum, barrelling into Morse. Zakyi knocked Morse over with ease, got up and ran away without looking back.
It was the kind of moment — hardly pretty, but overpowering nonetheless — that encapsulated Michigan’s win.