Sometimes, it takes a little bit more than sheer athletic prowess to take a match in the beautiful game.
While the Michigan men’s soccer team’s match against Western Michigan ended in overtime jubilation, the road there was not quite as rosy. At the 82nd minute, Michigan coach Chaka Daley brought the team together on the sideline after conceding a game-tying empty-net goal to Western Michigan. Along with senior midfielders Robbie Mertz and Ivo Cerda, Daley reminded the team to calm down.
“We prepare for these moments and we always say things can go wrong and you prepare for those times,” said Cerda, who scored the game-winning header. “We make sure we’re engaging in positivity and encouraging each other. Doing all the right stuff.”
To that point, the Wolverines had not only squandered a 2-0 lead, but many other opportunities to put the game away, as well — sophomore forwards Umar Farouk Osman and Mohammed Zakyi both repeatedly got deep into the belly of the Broncos’ defense in the first half, but neither could blow the game open.
Seventeen minutes in, Osman raced untouched 70 yards downfield, but laid his pass just in front of Zakyi. A few minutes later, Osman sent a high pass across the box. He watched for what seemed like an eternity as Zakyi waited and chopped the ball just right of the Broncos’ goalie. The duo almost connected again twice in the 59th and 60th minute, but yet again couldn’t finish.
“I thought we were a little bit too impatient,” Daley said. “We were trying to just run, run, run, run and we didn’t show enough patience in the buildup. When we just go and don’t connect we all have to run back 50, 60, 70 yards. We wanted to show some patience and composure.”
Western Michigan gave the Wolverines its best shot — both figuratively and literally. Rather than buckling to the pressure of being down 2-0, the Broncos were the more patient team in the second half, controlling the pace of the game and even throwing in some shoves and pushes to intimidate Michigan.
Historically, the Wolverines haven’t fared well against their in-state rivals from Kalamazoo. And it certainly wasn’t easy for Michigan to just pick it up after watching its lead evaporate and getting tossed around. But in doing so, Michigan established itself as a team with heart, unity and resilience.
“We have a mantra,” Cerda said. “We like to stick together. Robbie and I as captains make sure we actually practice that … Doing all the right stuff. We don’t give up, and we’re confident if things go astray that we’ll be able to overcome them.”