On Monday night, the scoreboard read 3-0 at the half. For the coaches and players, though, the game was still scoreless. The Michigan men’s soccer team (4-1) did not want to not fall victim to the same fate as the previous game.
The Wolverines found themselves in a familiar situation: a multi-goal lead going into the half. Last Friday, Michigan was up 2-0 against Western Michigan. In the second half of that game, the Broncos stormed back to force overtime in a game that the Wolverines eventually won.
But in the second half on Monday night, Michigan played like a team determined to win in regulation. Led by a stingy backline, the Wolverines earned a shutout over Marquette (2-3) –– the first victory over the Golden Eagles in five head-to-head matches all-time –– and their fourth consecutive win of the season.
The first 10 minutes of the match featured back-and-forth play with neither team having a clear advantage in possession. Any control Michigan had on the attack throughout the opening minutes of the game was featured almost exclusively on the left side of the pitch. Sophomore forward Umar Farouk Osman created a few early scoring opportunities, using his pace to create space in the attacking third but couldn’t capitalize on the chances.
Sophomore defender Austin Swiech opened up scoring in the 12th minute. As the ball trickled out of the 18-yard box in what became a broken play off of a corner kick, Swiech fired in a low shot that found the right corner of the net past outstretched goalkeeper Cedrik Stern for his first career goal.
“It was rolling out to me, how we do it in training,” Swiech said. “I just saw it and struck it low and into traffic and I hoped it went in or for a deflection to go in.”
After Swiech’s goal, the Wolverines not only took the lead but also control of the game.
Just over a minute later, good ball movement in the attacking third found open senior midfielder and captain Robbie Mertz inside the 18-yard box, who slotted the ball past the right side of Stern, to give his team a 2-0 advantage.
Michigan kept the pressure on the Golden Eagles’ defense, squandering Marquette’s offensive momentum and dominating play particularly on the right side of the field through junior forward Jack Hallahan.
The Wolverines earned a pair of corner kicks in the 27th minute. After a weak clearance on the second corner, the ball found Hallahan on the right side of the pitch outside the 18-yard box. Hallahan then curled in a left-footed shot towards the far post, just under the crossbar and over a leaping Stern, giving Michigan a commanding 3-0 lead going into the half.
“(Hallahan’s) scored some fabulous goals here at Michigan,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “So, it didn’t surprise me when he put it in. I was like, ‘Man, he meant to do that.’ Because at the end of the day, he’s scored some really nice goals for us and that was one of them.”
Despite having a halftime lead, the Wolverines were weary of the complacency that led to their defensive collapse in their previous game.
“(Coach Daley) just said, ‘Don’t let go. Keep going out there and pretend like it’s nil-nil. Keep going at them, you never know what can happen,’ ” Hallahan said.
As expected, Marquette came into the second half aggressive on offense, desperate to push the pace and create scoring chances. Michigan’s defense weathered the storm, however, halting any opportunities the Golden Eagles had.
The Wolverines regained control of possession after the early offensive blitz from Marquette who, by the 80th minute, appeared demoralized by the 3-0 deficit.
“I think it was a point of riding the storm at first,” Hallahan said. “Making sure we didn’t concede, keep a clean sheet and then eventually get control of the ball again. The more possession we had, the less they could do with the ball and the less fret against us.”
At the final whistle, Michigan reconciled the second-half struggles that plagued the team in its previous match by playing dominant on defense for a full 90 minutes to extend their win streak to four games heading into Big Ten play.