With just three minutes remaining in Sunday afternoon’s contest between the Michigan men’s soccer team and Bowling Green, the Falcons found themselves in a familiar position — deep in the Wolverines’ attacking third and dominating possession.
A well-placed through ball to a Bowling Green striker set up a prime opportunity within the penalty box, but senior defender Ryan Schultz blocked the shot. The ball ricocheted to another attacker who once again fired a laser that was intercepted. Twenty seconds later, the Falcons lobbed a short free kick into the box, where it was headed twice, and knocked just past sophomore goalkeeper Hayden Evans and out of bounds.
With little time left on the clock, Michigan did what it had done the entire game; it survived. But by no means was the 0-0 draw a strong showing for the Wolverines.
“We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “They stood up sharp in the back and gave a good account of themself defensively, but we went missing a little bit in the attacking side … but a well learned, tough draw … I think either team will just take the point and move on.”
From the very first whistle, Bowling Green emerged as the aggressor, forcing the ball deep into Michigan’s box with a cross from center back Joey Akpunonu on the first play of the game. The ball floated around the box for a few seconds before midfielder Alberto Anaya ripped a ball towards the top of the net that a diving Evans just barely poked away.
The game shifted to a more rhythmic pace, but throughout the entire contest the Falcons acted as the aggressors. They dominated possessions and won almost every 50-50 ball, but were never able to convert. Despite chance after chance where it seemed impossible for the ball not to find the back of the net, Bowling Green was stymied by solid goalkeeping from Evans, along with gutsy plays from Schultz and sophomore defender Jason Bucknor.
Starting in the tenth minute, the Falcons once again built momentum, holding the ball in the attacking third and pressing. But slightly wayward crosses and a solid save from Evans on a shot by Kale Nichols snuffed out any opportunities to take the lead.
Michigan struggled to find any real offensive footing until the final five minutes of the first half. Suddenly it caught a slightly overzealous Bowling Green defense off guard with a counter attack, slotting pass after pass into and around the Falcon’s box, but failing to convert on any chances.
The Wolverines’ momentum carried into the early second half, when they recorded their one and only shot on goal of the contest, which goalkeeper Logan Kowalcyzk comfortably saved. But their best chance came a few minutes later when senior forward Derick Broche launched a ball into the Bowling Green box. It pinballed around before bouncing towards the left post where a charging senior forward Cameron Martin just missed the ball.
But this momentum quickly died out, and from the 55th minute onward, the Falcons once again maintained control, and Michigan didn’t have a counter.
“The hardest thing in this game is to score goals,” Daley said. “It’s definitely the most challenging thing because we’ve got a lot of moving pieces and freshmen playing with a new system. It’s challenging, tough to figure out, but we’ll get there.”
In moment after moment, Bowling Green found itself just inches away from scoring, but a mixture of bad luck for the Falcons and defensive standouts from the Wolverines left the game notched at 0-0 and sent both teams home with a point.
But this was less of an earned draw. It was more of an escape act.
“We’ve had four games and two shutouts,” Daley said. “We just gotta get it going on both sides of the ball.”
Daley’s right; Michigan has to find an offense. Because with just one goal in four games, surviving games will only get harder and harder for the Wolverines.