The Michigan women's soccer team wasn't able to put the ball in the back of the net against Northwestern, losing 3-0. Anna Fuder/Daily. Buy this photo.

As junior forward Sammi Woods’ late shot smashed off the crossbar, it became clear that the Michigan women’s soccer team’s comeback attempt would fall well short.

The Wolverines lost 3-0 to No. 5 Northwestern on Thursday in a matchup that displayed the offensive gulf between the Big Ten favorite Wildcats and a Michigan team whose season is quickly sputtering to an end as it sits eleventh in the Big Ten. Though the Wolverines entered the season ranked 9th in the nation, attacking woes have left them on the outside looking in as the Big Ten Tournament approaches. 

On paper, Michigan matched Northwestern in all categories but goals. The Wolverines maintained 50 percent possession, fell just two shots behind the Wildcats and had dangerous set-piece opportunities throughout the match. Despite this, Michigan ended the night three goals down thanks to a lack of clinical finishing.  

“I told the team don’t let the minority impact the majority because I felt like we were really good the majority,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said. “I thought we created a lot of really good moments and for the most part I feel like we came out with some really good momentum and moved the ball quite well. And just unlucky again, we had a few little minority parts and we got to get better at the discipline in those details.”

Michigan had no shortage of chances, especially on set-pieces – with four corner kicks and twelve free kicks. These set-piece opportunities were deflected by the Wildcats, many being defended with ease. Northwestern, in contrast, was more than ready to seize its set-piece opportunities. Each of its first two goals came directly after a corner kick, with its third goal coming late on a rapid counterattack. 

“I think its a combination of quality of service, starting points, [and] timing of our movement,” Klein said. “[We’ll] make some adjustments because we do generate some good set pieces whether its corner kicks or free kicks and we just have to find a way to be better in those moments.”

The Wolverines’ attacking struggles are not unique to this matchup. On the season, Michigan has been called offside 45 times compared to its opponents’ ten. The Wolverines have nearly matched their rivals in both free kicks and corner kicks, yet they have scored just two goals in eight conference games and are yet to score more than once in a conference game this season.

The offense is struggling to turn chances into goals while its opponents continue to have a clinical edge, leaving Michigan with just five points and three games left in the regular season. 

The Wolverines are running out of time to fix their offensive woes. Despite Thursday’s 3-goal margin, seven of Michigan’s ten winless games this season have come by one goal or less – highlighting the offense’s failure to produce. There is significant room to improve as the Wolverines seek two wins in their final home stand against Rutgers and Indiana with an outside chance at the Big Ten Tournament on the line. Michigan’s tournament hopes are dwindling, but they have worked hard to find positives amidst their four-game winless run. 

“The light is getting darker like its starting to look harder and harder,” said Klein “We still have three chances and to give ourselves the best chance we got to go out have fun and recognize that we get three guaranteed games left with team 29. Hopefully, we can find the positive on that and build some momentum moving forward.”

The Wolverines require nothing short of a miracle to make the Big Ten Tournament, with offensive struggles burying them in conference play.

As the season comes to its likely end, Michigan can only scratch its head at opportunities missed.