Just as Michigan junior midfielder Bryce Blevins whipped a delicious first-time ball from the left wing around two Duquesne defenders towards the penalty spot, senior forward Christian Pulselli broke free. In the 78th minute, Pulselli got his right foot to the ball and smashed it past the goalie — but also the goal.
He could not capitalize and open the scoring, as he put his point-blank chance wide. The miss characterized the evening for the Michigan men’s soccer team (0-1 overall). The Wolverines paid for their missed chances in their season opener, as they fell 1-0 to the Dukes (1-0) on Thursday.
Despite outshooting Duquesne 21-8, taking 12 corners to the Duke’s two and holding 64% possession, Michigan fell short.
In the first half, neither team took control, trading chances before Duquesne scored off a well-worked set piece in the 37th minute — aided in part by poor marking all around by the Wolverines. A lofted pass into the back post was headed across the face of the goal and Duke defender Torge Witteborg was there to knock the ball past sophomore goalkeeper Hayden Evans to give Duquesne the lead.
“I don’t know if I felt we were ever really in big trouble,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “They sat in and we tried to solve it, we created numerous chances … we need to do a better job finding a way to even the game. I think we were on top of it, so it was a little unfortunate.”
Tactically, the low-scoring match was intense and dynamic. The Wolverines initially opted for a fluid back five with graduate midfielder Kevin Buca — who led the team with 12 points last season — deputizing as a right back. Sophomore defender Jason Bucknor had freedom to maraude forward, and Michigan created chances but was susceptible to Duquesne attacks as well. Overall, the Wolverines struggled to build through the middle and failed to make any of their chances count.
A few distinct changes were made at the half. Michigan senior forward Evan Rasmussen was brought on as the Wolverines looked for a more traditional target man to pair with freshman forward Nicholas Kaloukian at striker. Michigan was able to use Rasmussen’s physical presence to hold the ball up better in the attack and circulate the ball wide more frequently, where they whipped in more dangerous crosses like Blevins’.
Still, it wasn’t enough.
The Wolverines did everything but put the ball in the back of the net. The statistics were even more lopsided in the second period, with Michigan outshooting the Dukes 12-1.
“We changed a little bit (in the second half),” Hislop said. “We played the two up front, which was a little bit different. We asked for more energy from our wide guys.”
The changes gave Michigan real footing in the game, as it dominated the ball and the chances in the second period. Duquesne sat back in a low block and absorbed the pressure, and the Wolverines lacked the final bit of quality to put the ball in the back of the net.
Despite the loss to open the season, Hislop has positive takeaways, focusing on the performance as a whole rather than just the result.
“Today’s (result is) not going to make us a team that’s not going to be successful,” Hislop said. “It’s a process of growth with the group and the team and we are continuing to grow and learn from each other.”
And a boost could be coming soon in the form of senior forwards Uriel Zeitz and Derick Broche, who did not play in the opener but could bring the much needed final product upon return:
“(We needed) a little bit more composure in and around the final third, with service and with finishing,” Hislop said. “We will bring a couple players back who will be helpful, like Uri (Zeitz) who will help the group in the final third, who have a little bit more killer instinct.
“We’re still figuring it out. So today was definitely unfortunate but positive in the sense that we’re moving in the right direction.”