Through its first three games of the season, the Michigan women’s soccer team has outscored and outshot opponents 11-4 and 61-18, respectively.
The numbers prove that the Wolverines’ offense has been dominant in the attack, as it fired 13 shots off against San Diego on Thursday in the first half. Meanwhile, the Toreros struggled to make it past midfield and did not attempt a shot through 45 minutes. All around, Michigan was faster, tougher and more organized.
It appears the Wolverines have been firing on all cylinders, but Michigan coach Greg Ryan is concerned that his team hasn’t been hitting the back of the net enough.
“We have to start converting these chances,” Ryan said after Thursday’s 2-1 win. “You’re not going to get this many chances every game. In fairness, we’ve been fixing a lot of things, (but) I haven’t done enough finishing with the players.”
Michigan (2-1) has converted just 18 percent of its scoring opportunities, a sign that the offense isn’t living up to its potential. It took junior forward Nicky Waldeck, the team’s leading scorer from last season, three games to find her groove and score a goal.
In the Wolverines’ first game against Eastern Michigan, Waldeck nearly scored the first goal of the season but was called offside in front of an open net. Thursday against San Diego, she nearly landed a header past the Torero goalkeeper in the first minute from a corner kick.
Waldeck played 90 minutes and took 11 shots, ultimately converting one in the 57th minute. The shot nearly went wide of the post, but the ball curved enough to bank right into the net.
For Waldeck, it has always been and will continue to be a mental game.
“I think it's important to have like a five-second memory,” Waldeck said. “Forget about it, (and) you just keep going after your chances. If anything, I think we were more upset that we didn't finish more.”
But Waldeck isn’t the sole player not finishing off close chances. Freshman forward Reilly Martin also had a goal erased due to an offside call, and Ryan thinks his team needs to make smarter on-ball decisions when approaching the net. One tiny adjustment could mean the difference between a win or a loss.
“That was going in the net,” Ryan said. “If we just don’t touch that ball, it’s a goal, because the player that touched it was offside. You just gotta stay over the ball to keep it under the net. It’s a very simple adjustment. If you’re not getting (repetitions) in training … it’s like free-throw shooting.
“We can keep the ball the whole game, and now we gotta work on the other part, which is sticking it in the back of the net.”
Sunday, Ryan’s squad will need to fix improve its shot accuracy against Detroit (1-1)when the two teams meet at U-M Soccer Stadium for the first time since 2013. The last time out, Michigan beat the Titans to earn its best start to a season in program history.
Two years later, though, the Wolverines are continuing to rebuild from the ground up. Their only loss came against Marquette last Sunday, but the numbers show that Michigan could have earned the win, as it led in both corner kicks (7-0) and shots (14-5). Ultimately, the defense allowed a pair of goals 30 seconds apart at the end of the game.
According to Ryan, the team just needs more reps.
“If we just start doing a little bit more finishing training in practice, we’ll start really feeling it,” Ryan said. “If these guys start feeling it with the quality of play and number of chances they get, they’re gonna score a lot of goals.”
With tough competition ahead, Michigan can’t afford not to.