There’s a distinct noise in sports when a crowd gets the life taken out of it.
It usually starts with a gasp, before transitioning into a deafening silence. Whether it’s a local Little League crowd or a crowd of 110,000 at Michigan Stadium, the noise is the same, and it never means that something good has happened to the home side.
Austin Ricci, a senior forward from Oakland University, produced that noise on Wednesday night at U-M Soccer Stadium, where the Golden Grizzlies beat the No. 20 Michigan men’s soccer team, 2-1.
In the 49th minute, Ricci tied the game at one on a goal defined more by the Wolverines’ sloppiness than anything else. It came off a bouncing ball toward Michigan’s goal that didn’t seem especially threatening. Sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Verdi came out to get the ball, but Ricci’s head connected with it before he could. After a first half in which the Wolverines dominated, the equalizer felt more like a punch to the gut.
Michigan opened the scoring early, with a Mohammed Zakyi header just seven minutes into the game. The freshman forward whipped the ball in off a 35-yard free kick from a fellow freshman, midfielder Marc Ybarra. In the early part of the game, it felt like the first of many.
Freshman midfielder Jackson Ragen nearly scored off a free kick in similar fashion just seven minutes later, however, his header flew wide. The floodgates seemed ready to open.
In the 20th minute, Michigan generated another chance in what, at that point, seemed like an endless line of them. It was another Zakyi header, this one after a cross from junior midfielder Robbie Mertz. But Golden Grizzly keeper Sullivan Lauderdale saved it.
Even without juniors Marcello Borges and Francis Atuahene – the former injured, the latter suspended – the Wolverines looked set to cruise. That dream ended with Ricci, as the ball trickled into the back of the net just minutes into the second half. Senior defender Billy Stevens and Verdi both went down on the play, staying on the ground for a few minutes as trainers tended to them, adding to Michigan’s despondency. Though they stayed in the game, the Wolverines never regained momentum.
After Oakland’s first goal, the game stayed tied for just 15 minutes until the Golden Grizzlies hit paydirt again. Coming forward on a counterattack, forward Travis Harrington threaded a pass through Michigan’s defense. Midfielder Jacob Moore provided the finish.
“For two or three mistakes in the second half we looked really loosey-goosey,” said Michigan head coach Chaka Daley. “We addressed some things at halftime and they still continued to rear their head in the second half. Our clearances weren’t great, our cover wasn’t necessarily great. So I think those are two reasons we conceded.”
Michigan didn’t go down quietly, though. As time wound down, a Wolverine onslaught ensued. In the game’s last five minutes, Michigan had four shots. None found the back of the net.
The most threatening was the last – a Zakyi header that forced a diving save from Lauderdale with 19 seconds left in the game. When the clock struck zero, Michigan had lost its first game to Oakland in Daley’s tenure as head coach, and their third in four games.
“(The loss) does not deter me in any way, shape or form,” Daley said. “I’m disappointed for sure, but it doesn’t determine my confidence in our team, in our leaders, in what I think we’re capable of, in what’s remaining in the season and what I think can be attainable.”