Before the first full week of classes even begins, the Michigan men’s soccer team has a chance to match its win total from a season ago.
Safe to say, the Wolverines could have a better syllabus week than most.
Michigan (3-0-1) looks to continue its longest unbeaten streak since 2008 in its Big Ten opener Friday against Wisconsin (1-0-2) at U-M Soccer Stadium.
The Wolverines have already done quite a bit to rehabilitate the shape of the program that mercifully bowed out of last season’s Big Ten Tournament in disarray. Winning a fourth game before suffering a loss would be the clearest sign yet of a transformed team.
Without the services of star junior forward Francis Atuahene for the majority of the opening games, the Wolverines have still managed to generate chances with relative ease. More importantly, those chances have turned into goals.
Last season, Michigan finished third in the conference in shots with 273, but scored just 1.16 goals per game, good for sixth in the nine-team Big Ten.
A team that has often been all-too dependent on one player, the Wolverines have enjoyed offensive contributions from a plethora of sources so far this year. In addition to his impressive play at center back, junior defender Daniel Mukuna netted two goals to lift Michigan past Cleveland State last Friday. Mukuna represents a physical, stabilizing presence on defense, while also providing a dangerous threat on set pieces in the attacking box.
Led by Mukuna, the Wolverines’ defense has allowed just two goals thus far, the fewest total in its first four games since 2004.
Sophomore forward Jack Hallahan has relished his opportunity to lead the offense, notching two goals and two assists and leading the team in shots with 18 in his four starts.
And more attacking help appears to be on the way.
Atuahene made his first appearance of the season count against Dartmouth on Monday when he entered the game in the second half and scored the decisive goal in the 82nd minute to earn the 1-0 victory. Atuahene — who had been dealing with a lower-body injury — is expected to start for the first time all season against Wisconsin.
Freshman forward Mohammad Zakyi — who scored a goal in the lone game he has played in this year — also appears to be on the mend from his injury, and could see playing time Friday.
With Zakyi, Atuahene, Hallahan and freshman winger Umar Farouk Osman all potentially available, Michigan coach Chaka Daley has plenty of potent attacking options at his disposal.
The group poses a puzzling — though luxurious — predicament for Daley, who regularly deploys a 4-3-3 formation. Atuahene, if healthy, will almost certainly man the center forward position. With his lightning-quick pace and dribbling ability, Osman has likely shown enough to earn the start on the left wing for the foreseeable future. Given his early season production, Hallahan seems to be the logical candidate to start up top with Atuahene and Osman, leaving Zakyi as an overqualified super-sub if the team is in need of a goal.
Despite a somewhat underwhelming run of preseason results, the Badgers will come to Ann Arbor posing a stiff test for the Wolverines. Michigan hasn’t beaten Wisconsin since 2014, including a 2-1 overtime defeat in Madison in last year’s Big Ten opener. Laden with upperclassmen, Wisconsin returns 10 seniors from a team that won 11 games last season and lost the Big Ten title game to Maryland.
The Badgers were picked to finish third in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll this season. The Wolverines, meanwhile, were picked fifth.