Notre Dame forward Jon Gallagher faced a wall of Michigan defenders in front of him with little offensive support. But with graceful body control, he spun off the defender in front of him and launched a rocket to the top right corner, which bounced precariously off the corner where the crossbar meets the right post. His teammate, midfielder Mark Gormley, was there to head in the rebound in the 30th minute and give No. 2 Notre Dame a lead it would not relinquish.
It was just one goal, but for the Michigan men’s soccer team (1-4-1 Big Ten, 2-7-4 overall) with just 11 goals all season it felt like much more.
Coming in off a recent run of success — 2-0-1 in its last three matches — Michigan hoped to add a signature win to a season largely devoid of them. Early on, the Wolverines came out with the energy and creativity that offered hope for the major upset they so desperately wanted. Michigan managed seven shots before the Irish even had one, and had three corner kicks in the first eight minutes.
But the goal, Notre Dame’s first shot on target, served as a massive blow to a team that has yet to score more than twice in a single game all season and had 10 of its 11 goals scored by underclassmen. For Daley, games like these — against quality, experienced opponents — are valuable for the young squad going forward.
“We could take some great things out of a team that’s a little bit more mature than we were, I think they had a more mature performance,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We’re growing in that way… It’ll be good experience for (the youth on the team) as they grow throughout the rest of the season and in the future.”
As Notre Dame gradually became more comfortable in possession and attack, Michigan struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities, taking just six shots the rest of the game after the initial flurry. The Irish successfully shut off Michigan’s valve to sophomore forward Francis Atuahene, and, in doing so, stymied the Michigan offense.
“I think it was a pretty even game in the first half,” Daley said. “In the second half I think they carried more of the game, they were on the ball in more dangerous areas, and kept us on the back foot from a possession standpoint.”
But with 10 minutes left, the score was still only 1-0, with Michigan hoping for that one last chance to tie the game. It was then that midfielder Jack Casey won possession for Notre Dame in the box and found Gallagher flying towards the net.
Before junior goalkeeper Evan Louro could move his hands, Gallagher — dubbed by Daley as “the best center forward in the country” — had smashed his 11th goal of the season, and with it, Michigan’s hopes of mustering an equalizer. Gallagher’s 11 goals this season are equal to the Wolverines’ goals as a team.
“It’s never easy playing against those teams,” said senior captain Lars Eckenrode. “We always try to come up to the challenge, but we fell short tonight.”