ROCHESTER, Mich. — If you blinked, you might have missed it.
In the 41st minute, freshman forward Francis Atuahene received the ball on the left wing and — in a fashion that is becoming all too familiar to opposing defenders — bolted to the goal line before serving a perfect ball back to the penalty spot.
Redshirt sophomore midfielder Michael Kapitula found himself in the right place at the right time and shot the ball into the open net.
Kapitula’s finish broke a 1-1 tie and completely altered the tone of the game, as the Michigan men’s soccer team went on to cruise to a 4-1 victory against Oakland.
“It was the last five minutes of the half, and Oakland had a lot of possession before that,” Kapitula said. “I feel like the goal changed the momentum of the game. I just wanted to put myself in a good position, and I did. The ball came to me, so I had a tap-in.”
The Wolverines (1-0-1 Big Ten, 4-2-1 overall) were the first to strike in the match, when freshman midfielder Ivo Cerda headed junior defender Rylee Woods’ corner kick from the six-yard box past Grizzlies’ goalkeeper Wes Mink in the 16th minute.
But Michigan’s lead was short-lived. In the 19th minute, junior defender Lars Eckenrode took Oakland forward Gerald Ben down in the 18-yard box for a penalty kick.
Ben stepped up to the ball and calmly finished it up the middle, as sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro dove early in anticipation that the shot would be directed to the right.
For the ensuing 22 minutes, Oakland (0-1-0 Horizon League, 3-4 overall) had the Wolverines frustrated and on the defensive, maintaining the majority of possession and forcing Michigan to play long balls to its target forwards. The Grizzlies drew six fouls in the same timeframe — a sampling of the physicality of the matchup, in which the two teams accumulated 33 fouls and five yellow cards.
Eventually, Kapitula and the Wolverines recovered to finish on an opportunity that sent them into halftime with a lead.
“When we made it 2-1, I think that was a dagger,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Oakland had a little sense of belief after getting a penalty kick that could get them going, and we stifled that pretty quickly (when Kapitula) put it away nicely.
“Ramp up the intensity was the conversation at halftime. And make sure we’re not complacent with 2-1. And I think the guys did a great job of responding to that.”
Michigan ended the half with a 10-4 shot advantage and carried the momentum from Kapitula’s goal into the second half.
At the onset of the second half, the Wolverines regained control of possession and dictated the pace of play, while finding ways to combine with each other instead of sending long balls.
And as Michigan’s pressure on Oakland mounted, Atuahene finally put the game out of reach in the 64th minute. After receiving a ball near the 18-yard box, Atuahene carried the ball to the corner of the six-yard box before firing a shot near-post past Mink.
From that point, Michigan coasted to victory, and senior forward William Mellors-Blair added a fourth goal in the 85th minute to put the finishing touches on the Wolverines’ fourth win of the season.
After coming away victorious Sunday in its first Big Ten game against Northwestern, Michigan followed up the impressive performance with a win over an in-state foe the Wolverines haven’t always fared well against.
Now the key for Michigan is to stay consistent as it heads into the bulk of the Big Ten schedule.