Michigan demonstrated improved team chemistry in its draw with Colorado. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

After losing numerous key contributors in the offseason, the Michigan women’s soccer team faced struggles in replicating last year’s dominance throughout its early-season matchups. Its two losses came in a similar manner, stemming from difficulties with communication, connection and finishing.

Heading into Thursday’s matchup against No. 19 Colorado, the unranked Wolverines looked to improve in all areas. They weren’t perfect, but they certainly showed growth and potential — specifically in communication and connection.

Michigan (4-2-1 overall) played to a 1-1 draw against the Buffaloes (5-0-2) in a balanced, aggressive match characterized by the Wolverines’ strong team chemistry.

“I think our biggest strength today was just playing as a team,” senior forward Dani Wolfe said. “This is a new team, we lost a lot of people last year and we have a lot up and coming, and I think this is one of the first games that we’ve put it together as a team.”

From the opening whistle, Michigan looked dynamic and connected. An early string of passes led to a corner kick in the third minute, the first of five total corners for the Wolverines. A through ball in the 10th minute led to another chance in the box, and a one-two play in the 25th minute – one of many throughout the game – facilitated the second shot of the night for senior forward Lily Farkas.

Colorado matched Michigan’s opening energy, generating back-and-forth action in the first 25 minutes. But with her third shot of the game in the 26th minute, Farkas broke the ice and put the Wolverines on the board. She used a quick scissors move to beat a defender on the left flank and shot across the goalkeeper, netting the ball in the bottom right corner of the goal.

“Lily is a huge threat offensively,” Wolfe said. “She clearly scores many goals, she’s strong in tackles … she’s just the perfect attacking mid.”

With Farkas at the helm, the Michigan offense finished the game with 16 shots, seven of which were on target. The Buffaloes ended with 15 shots, three of which were on goal.

A major chance for the Wolverines to extend their lead came in the 59th minute, when junior forward Sammi Woods delivered a ball to Wolfe at the top of the 6-yard box. Wolfe failed to capitalize though, as her shot went just wide of the right post. 

Despite being unable to finish, the chance illustrated Michigan’s improved team connection; it was sparked by through balls and one-two passes.

“Non-conference is the time for building chemistry and building connection on and off the field,” Michigan coach Jen Klein said. “(It’s the time for) learning each other’s tendencies and really getting into that good possession zone. I thought tonight we did quite well with it.”

The Wolverines’ team chemistry showed on defense as well. Michigan’s defensive game plan centered around eliminating options in order to make Colorado’s plays more predictable. By consistently tracking back and defending together as a whole team, the Wolverines accomplished that objective.

The equalizer came in the 77th minute when a collision between fifth-year goalkeeper Izzy Nino and an opposing player allowed the Buffaloes a penalty kick, which forward Civana Kuhlmann converted into a score. 

Michigan had a few chances to take the lead in the final 13 minutes, the closest of which occurred with five minutes left on the clock. Junior defender Sarah Bridenstine crossed the ball to Woods in front of the goal, but Woods’ header soared just wide of the net.

“It’s unfortunate to give away a PK,” Klein said. “But I thought … our ability to generate opportunities to give ourselves a chance was a great response by our girls.”

The Wolverines walked off the field on Thursday with a twinge of disappointment, but it was coupled with a recognition of their improved team chemistry.

As Klein acknowledged, non-conference is the time for that connection to progress. 

But as the Wolverines head into their final game before Big Ten play, the time to finish developing that chemistry is running out.