After this weekend, the Michigan women’s soccer team was left with a perplexing question: How can you dominate a game, outshoot your opponent 17-6 and still lose?
According to coach Greg Ryan, the answer is simply bad luck.
“This weekend was one of those that went against us,” he said. “The chances were better for us, and ours stayed out, and the few chances (Northwestern) had, they scored.”
Despite playing a game that was lopsided in their favor, the Wolverines (5-2 Big Ten, 9-3-1 overall) hit a bump in the road Sunday when they suffered a 2-1 loss to Northwestern (5-1-1, 12-1-1). The game marked the first time that Michigan has lost back-to-back games since 2014, after falling 3-0 to Illinois on Thursday. That loss put an end to the Wolverines’ seven-game winning streak, and Sunday’s dropped the team out of first place in the Big Ten.
The unevenness of Sunday’s game was apparent throughout the first half, particularly in the opening 13 minutes, which were characterized by constant offensive pressure by Michigan as it maintained ball control. The Wolverines’ dynamic attack got four shots off during the first 10 minutes of the game, while the Wildcats took none.
In the 14th minute of the game, Northwestern finally gained ball control, and as the result of two foul calls on Michigan, the Wildcats were given two set pieces in a row. The second free kick led to Northwestern getting a body on the ball right in front of the goal, which was tapped past redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson into the lower left corner of the net, putting the Wildcats up, 1-0.
The Wolverines wasted no time in responding. Senior defender Madisson Lewis took a hard drive into the box, permeating the Northwestern defense, and followed up with a shot that caught the hand of a Wildcat defender. This resulted in a Michigan penalty kick in the 18th minute of the game, which was taken by sophomore forward Reilly Martin, who placed a fast ball perfectly in the top left corner of the net past the Northwestern goalkeeper, tying the game, 1-1.
Martin played a key role in the Wolverines’ offensive efforts, with seven shots throughout the game, but the penalty kick was the only one to find the back of the net. Martin now leads the team in goals scored with six.
“I tried to take advantage of all the chances that I created,” Martin said. “But their keeper made some really great saves.”
Wildcat goalkeeper Lauren Clem had her work cut out for her, making six saves in the first half of the game alone. Comparatively, Jackson had no saves in the first half, highlighting Northwestern’s inability to respond to Michigan’s strong attack. Despite this, the half ended with both teams still even.
In the second half, the Wolverines once again came out with an intense attack, but in the 48th minute, the Wildcats pounced on an early opportunity inside the box, with a header goal sent into the lower left corner past Jackson. This shot put the Wildcats up 2-1 and was the last that found the back of the net in the game. After the goal, Northwestern did not let up on pressure, and the Wolverines appeared slightly worn out on the field up until the last five minutes of the game.
Ryan attributed the decline of Wolverine energy in the second half in part to the fact that the full starting lineup was not on the field.
“We ran out of players,” Ryan said.
The Wolverines entered the game with the disadvantage of not having sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll, who was out with an injury. Kastroll has been a crucial component of Michigan’s attacking game, with four goals on the season, and her absence was underscored when Northwestern started to command plays and win ball controls in the midfield during the second half.
Despite this drawback, the Wolverines still outperformed Northwestern with five shots on goal in the second half compared to the Wildcats’ two. Three of these shots came during Michigan’s offensive resurgence in the last five minutes of the game, with Martin and sophomore midfielder Jackie White contributing two and one, respectively.
Looking ahead to Michigan’s future Big Ten matchups, Ryan does not see much that needs to be altered in terms of the Wolverines’ game performance, despite their recent losses.
“I’m actually really proud of the way we played today, especially in the first half,” Ryan said. “If we continue to play with that kind of intensity and focus and quality, I think we’re going to do just fine.”