Coming off of a nail biting comeback against Rutgers, Michigan was looking to pick up another win on Sunday afternoon against an eager Wisconsin side.
The Wolverines (2-3-4 overall, 1-0-2 Big Ten) dominated possession and patiently waited for the Badgers (4-2-3, 1-0-2) to come out of their burrow. But the overly cautious approach led to both teams sharing the points in a 1-1 draw.
Wisconsin was very adept defensively and stayed compact between its lines; this didn’t seem to bother Michigan as it comfortably waited for the opportune moment to pounce. The Wolverines moved the ball quickly from one side of the pitch to the other, utilizing their technically sound wingbacks to unbalance the Badgers.
“(We tried) picking and choosing when to play football versus having a bit of variety,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said.
This tactical philosophy was efficient in maintaining pressure on Wisconsin, while not overcommitting and becoming susceptible to being caught on the break. An embodiment of the patient football that Daley wants to play was senior Simon Vasquez — the metronome that lies in the heart of the Michigan midfield. He proved vital in keeping the ball moving quickly between the lines of Wisconsin’s low block, while also filling the pockets so the Badgers’ midfielders couldn’t receive the ball between the Wolverines’ lines.
“The best way to defend is having the ball in their half,” Vasquez said. “Being able to get the ball from our goalie, turn and drive the ball up the field was pretty important.”
Accruing heavy possession proved vital for Michigan when, in the 40th minute, a galavanting run from freshman defender Matthew Fisher saw him through on goal — but his shot was turned away by Wisconsin goalkeeper. The ball fell to freshman midfielder Joao Ramos who neatly volleyed it into the top corner. The Wolverines showed their fangs and it seemed like a long way back for the Badgers — with the score at 1-0.
Despite the deficit, Wisconsin controlled more of the possession and started making Michigan’s defensive structure uncomfortable. This pressure ensued throughout the majority of the beginning of the second half. The Badgers began running the channels well and finding pockets between the Wolverines’ lines.
Then, in the 60th minute, the ball found its way wide to a Wisconsin winger who skewed a shot right into Badger forward Thomas Raimbault’s path, who tucked the ball tidily into the Wolverines’ net to tie the game at one.
The goal spurred urgency into Michigan, who was desperate to claw its way back into the lead. However, the patient philosophy that has been ingrained into the tactical habits of the players started to take control and ended up being detrimental to the pursuit of a decisive goal.
“There was a lull in the game between the eighteens for most of the second half,” Daley said. “We weren’t necessarily at our best.”
The Wolverines’ patience in possession of the ball allowed them to take control of the game early and neutralize the direct approach of the Badgers’. However, it proved costly when searching for the critical finish to win the game. As Michigan continues Big Ten play it will have to find that balance between possession based soccer and being ruthlessly clinical in the final third if they want to compete with the best in the league.