Tuesday night, the Michigan men’s soccer team (7-6-3 overall, 4-3-1 Big Ten) battled Ohio State (6-8-1, 2-5) in a physically-grueling matchup in Columbus. The Wolverines, who had controlled most of the first period despite a tie score heading into halftime, gave up momentum late. The falter allowed the Buckeyes to control the pace of the game, take the lead as the final minutes of the game expired and ultimately escape with a 2-1 win.
The win for Ohio State means its season is not over just yet, as it will now continue to play for a postseason berth. For Michigan, the loss is just a growing pain as they prepare for postseason play in the Big Ten Tournament on November 7th. After a three-game unbeaten streak, this loss will either mark a change in momentum or an important learning curve for the Wolverines.
“We know we have to fight like crazy to keep our season moving in the right direction no matter what,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “We could have been in a position, if we got our result tonight, we could have been in a really good position regardless of the Big Ten Tournament, but (it) wouldn’t have changed our motivation.”
Eighteen minutes into the first period, midfielder Xavier Green put the Buckeyes on the board and gave Ohio State a 1-0 lead. This goal was soon matched by Michigan senior midfielder Kevin Buca less than 15 minutes later with a backheel into the net, which also counted as Michigan’s first shot on goal. The tie would last most of the game, as both teams battled for any edge they could find. At the half, Michigan led in both shots and shots-on-goal.
Though the game also saw flurries of shots at both ends of the field, it became apparent shortly after kickoff that the rivalry and intensity of the game was influencing the play of both teams. Michigan would finish the game with 15 fouls to Ohio State’s 20.
“I don’t think it’s the rivalry, really,” Daley said. “Both teams were hungry. … Every Big Ten game is pretty physical anyways when you’re playing for something at the end of the season, and there are two teams that are passionate about seeing if they can keep their season alive.”
In the final minutes of the game, midfielder Laurence Wootton gave the Buckeyes a 2-1 lead. Though the Wolverines came close to tying the game within the last few seconds, Ohio State managed to hold on to its lead and win the game.
The Wolverines entered the game third in the Big Ten, but injuries have made it hard for them to move up in the standings, as well as pull away in close games like Tuesday night’s.
“We have to get healthier,” Daley said. “We’re trying to figure out the right group, the right kind of guys that play together the best. We’ve had guys out for an extended period of time, we’ve had guys out for four weeks, six weeks and eight weeks that are playing in games now. (We’re) still figuring out how they can impact and influence the team so we can continue to grow.”