At first, it seemed to be inconsequential.
It was about the 55th minute in a scoreless affair when UC Riverside committed a foul in its attacking third, giving a free kick to the Michigan women’s soccer team. So far from the goal, nothing usually comes from these types of plays. Teams typically send the ball forward and hope someone finds a way to maintain possession.
The Wolverines did just that, kicking the ball up the field toward a sea of jerseys. But something else happened prior to that free kick, something that might have been easily missed upon first glance.
“Everybody up, in our half!”
The voice belonged to Michigan coach Greg Ryan. Standing at the edge of his technical area, Ryan began yelling at his players to remind them of their halftime discussion. The Wolverines followed his direction almost immediately, positioning themselves further up the field and embracing an uptempo style of play. The shift worked wonders for Michigan, which scored four goals in the second half to earn a 4-0 victory.
The first half hadn’t gone the Wolverines’ way, as they struggled to hold onto the ball at the back and create meaningful scoring chances at the front. After the game, Ryan admitted the Highlanders came out with a system Michigan hadn’t expected to see, and consequently struggled to handle.
“They played a 4-4-2, and so they outnumbered us in midfield in the first half because we only had three in there, and they had four,” Ryan said. “So by playing five at the back (in the second half), we were able to deal with their two forwards.
“We had three against the two, two against two (on the outside), two against two in the middle and three against four (at the top), so it’s a lot of pressure for them to deal with.”
Ten minutes into the second half, the Wolverines still hadn’t fully implemented their revised game plan, so when the stoppage of play gave Ryan an opportunity to make in-game adjustments, the normally soft-spoken coach made sure his voice was heard.
“When we heard (Ryan) start yelling at us, we’re just like, ‘Next five, next five,’ and took it five minutes at a time and went hard,” said sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll.
Pushing numbers forward into the attack and pressing higher up the pitch, Michigan dramatically shifted the run of play in its favor. Like a light switch, Ryan’s call for renewed emphasis on offense electrified the Wolverines, who responded with a level of energy and intensity that UC Riverside couldn’t restrain.
Just three minutes later, Michigan found the back of the net. Sprinting into space out wide on the right side of the field, Kastroll beat her defender to the ball and sent a low cross across the mouth of the goal that sat well for sophomore forward Reilly Martin, who made a smart run toward the far post. After sliding the ball through the legs of Highlander goalkeeper Alanna Guzman, Martin gave the Wolverines their game-winner.
And after tasting a goal, Michigan wanted more. The Wolverines kept their feet on the gas and kept the pressure on UC Riverside, which didn’t have an answer for Michigan’s revitalized offense.
The Wolverines added three more goals to their tally in the final 10 minutes to put the game completely out of reach.
Reflecting on his message to the team in that pivotal moment in the 55th minute, Ryan put it candidly.
“‘Look, we’re changing the way we’re playing,’” he said of that moment. “That was probably a good moment for us, recognizing, ‘Let’s just get forward. Let’s get after these guys.’”
Five words out of Ryan’s mouth was all it took for Michigan to completely change the outcome of the game.