As players jostled for position in the box awaiting the free kick, Mohammed Zakyi felt his jersey being tugged by the Omaha defenders marking him.
Seconds later, it was Zakyi himself grabbing his jersey and ripping it off in celebration.
Omaha goalkeeper Joseph Ghitis couldn’t control Tristan Jacob’s high-arcing set piece, and the ball fell in front of Zakyi. The freshman forward outstretched his foot and knocked the ball into the net, giving the Michigan men’s soccer team (4-1-1 Big Ten, 8-4-2 overall) a 2-1, double-overtime victory over the Mavericks.
“I remember a defender was telling me that I’m trash, I can’t do anything, I’m just a freshman,” Zakyi said. “But I was like, ‘If you keep telling me (that) stuff, I’m going to do work’ because that keeps me going.”
This trash talk and physical back-and-forth play exemplified Saturday’s contest from the opening kickoff to Zakyi’s game-winner, which came after 106 minutes of gritty, hard-nosed competition from both sides. While it was a non-conference game, Michigan coach Chaka Daley stated it didn’t feel that way.
“That game was as in-conference, passionate fighting as it gets,” Daley said. “And Omaha made it that way.”
The Wolverines began the game looking “lively,” according to Daley. Michigan took five of the first seven shots, and Omaha’s only serious threat in the early going came off a Wolverine clearance error.
Due to Omaha’s physical style, however, serious chances from open play were hard to come by. And the Mavericks took advantage — in the 37th minute, forward Diego Gutierrez finished off a counterattack by firing a shot past freshman goalkeeper Henry Mashburn.
But when the teams went to the locker room at halftime, Daley wasn’t worried.
“I thought we were in control in the first half,” Daley said. “They scored a goal against the run of play. But in saying that, they’re a very tough team to play against. They were a challenge to us and we had to fight, scrap and claw for everything that we were going to get.”
To Daley, the problem wasn’t that his team was being outhustled. Instead, the emphasis at halftime centered on clinical finishing and set piece execution, two areas where Omaha was stronger in the first half.
“We wanted to tidy some things up and tighten up the ship,” Daley said. “We could have done a better job in the final third of making more dangerous services.”
Michigan certainly did after the break. Sixteen minutes into the second half, freshman midfielder Marc Ybarra drove a free kick deep into the six-yard box. Zakyi flew forward to meet the ball with his head, tying the game at one apiece.
But the Mavericks were undeterred, threatening to break the deadlock on multiple occasions. Forward Fred Frimpong had a one-on-one with Mashburn just 10 minutes after Zakyi’s goal, but Mashburn made an impressive save with his legs.
Three minutes later, an Omaha goal was disallowed due to an offside call. And in the 87th minute, Elvir Ibisevic surely would have scored the game-winning goal if it weren’t for junior defender Daniel Mukuna being in perfect position to clear it.
The first overtime period, however, mostly belonged to the Wolverines, as they fired four shots to the Mavericks’ one. Zakyi found himself all alone on the edge of the box with seconds to go, but his effort was wide left.
His next attempt, however, was not.
“From a character standpoint, I thought it was great for the group,” Daley said. “We were exhausted at the end, and they made us work for it.”
After a tiring stretch of four games in 12 days, Michigan has plenty of time to recover before it travels to Ohio State on Saturday. But there’s more than a heated rivalry at stake — a Wolverine win would clinch a top-four finish in the Big Ten, and give them the opportunity to play at home during the conference tournament.
“You know how those games always go between our schools,” Daley said. “It’s a huge one.”