With the game tied up and 20 minutes remaining in regulation, senior forward Jack Hallahan took a free kick from the right-side that sailed through the box untouched. The Michigan faithful released an anguished sigh of frustration.
Missed scoring opportunities were mounting, and it appeared this was another miss for the Wolverines.
Just a split second later, though, vexation transformed into euphoria. Hallahan’s curling ball took a fortuitous bounce high off the turf, flying into the top left corner of the goal and giving the Michigan men’s soccer team the lead. Hallahan lept emphatically into the air and pumped his fist, the stadium buzzing at the sight of his heroics. His goal proved to be the difference, as the Wolverines (10-4-4 overall, 4-1-3 Big Ten) held on to defeat rival Michigan State (3-12-3, 3-3-1) 2-1 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“When we got the draw, we knew it was going to be difficult,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “In a game like this, with the rivalry, records are thrown out the window. From that standpoint, to get over the hump and find a way to win the game in come-from-behind fashion is really good.”
First half struggles painted an all-too familiar picture for the Wolverines. Despite holding an advantage in shots and time of possession, Michigan entered the locker room trailing at the half, 1-0, thanks to a goal by Spartan forward Gianni Ferri.
“The mentality, at that point, is to still keep playing,” Daley said. “We want to be positive as a group. When we came here, you had to score to win the game in the end. So, if you’re down one goal, that doesn’t change the mentality.”
Sophomore forward Derick Broche sparked the Wolverines in the second half. Coming off the bench, Broche consistently pushed up the left flank, setting a more aggressive tone. In the 60th minute, Broche broke the scoring spell — a shot by junior forward Umar Farouk Osman brushed off junior defenseman Jackson Ragen in the center of the box, trickling past the last line of Spartan defense. All alone, Broche buried the ball into the bottom left corner, energizing the team and tying the game.
“When it came to me, I was like ‘just shoot it,’ ” Broche said. “It was on my strong foot, and luckily I was able to put it in. I had one five minutes earlier that I didn’t, and I was like, ‘can’t miss this one.’ ”
Throughout the second half, Michigan proved more relentless on attack, challenging the Michigan State defense with fastbreaks and strong crosses, which resulted in an increase in shots. The team grew to embrace the match’s physicality — each team committed double-digit foul totals — showcasing a tangible sense of hunger and aggression.
On the other end, after allowing the early goal, the Wolverine defense shaped into form as a wall between the ball and freshman goalkeeper Owen Finnerty. The Spartans were kept in check offensively, mustering only one shot on goal in the second half. Even when junior defenseman Austin Swiech left the match due to injury, the defense persisted, as junior forward Mohammed Zakyi filled in seamlessly at left back until Swiech could return.
“The guys tightened it up after the goal, making sure they fought,” Daley said. “And these guys have been doing it all year, fighting like crazy all along and you really can’t say enough about them. They’ve grinded for us.”
With the win, Michigan extended its season, advancing to play Penn State in the tournament semifinals on Friday. The victory was also paramount for the team’s hopes of earning a bid in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“We can use our whole season, especially this game, as a springboard,” Hallahan said. “We’ve been doing well, beat our rivals again — twice in a row — and came from behind. We know that we can grit it out if we’re ever down in a game and come back and win the game. It’s a huge step for the team.”