It all seemed too good to be true. 

Derick Broche found himself all alone, green grass the only thing between him and the opposing goalkeeper, his feet the recipient of a ball that split the Wake Forest defense. One accurate touch and the sophomore forward would tie up the game. 

The equalizer, though, wasn’t meant to be. Broche’s shot, seemingly destined for the net, trickled harmlessly past the post, wide right. 

Broche’s gaffe, arguably the most egregious error in a game rife with missed opportunities, was microcosmic of Sunday’s 3-1 Sweet Sixteen loss for the Michigan men’s soccer team (11-5-6) against Wake Forest (15-4-2). As the missed chances built, Michigan’s chances at winning the game dwindled away. 

“It was just a hard fought match and, in the end, it was a game of chances converted,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “They found their chances, and we missed ours.”

In the 70th minute, just moments after the Wolverines missed their golden opportunity, the Demon Deacons capitalized upon one of Michigan’s defensive mistakes. Senior defenseman Abdou Samake was whistled for a foul going for a loose ball in the box, which led to a Bruno Lapa penalty kick goal. Lapa’s strike buried the Wolverines in a two-goal deficit, capping off a sequence that served as the nail in the coffin to Michigan’s season. 

“Momentum swings, that’s football,” Daley said. “When the momentum swings, you know we’re one-on-one twice in the game, goals change games for sure. And that sequence certainly changes the game in the end.”

In the 24th minute, graduate transfer forward Nebojsa Popovic missed a chance that began equally as promising as Broche’s. Popovic received a through ball from senior winger Jack Hallahan that led him behind the last row of defense, yet his one-timer was deflected out of bounds on a lunging save by Wake Forest goalkeeper Andrew Pannenberg. 

Throughout, the Michigan attack continued to create chances with six shots on goal, growing into its own as the game went on. Failing to convert on said chances, though, plagued most of the opportunities. 

Scoring became an even more challenging task for the Wolverines when Hallahan — the team’s third-leading goal-scorer —  left the game in the 53rd minute due to an apparent injury after being inadvertently struck in the face. 

Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, was in bend-but-not-break mode from the opening whistle, struggling to keep one of the nation’s most potent attacks at bay. 

In the first half, the defense held its own. In the second half, it finally broke. 

The Wolverines deployed an aggressive press, which left them vulnerable to counter attacks and long passes down the wing. Five minutes into the second half, Wake Forest forward Machop Chol burst by junior defenseman Austin Sweich on the right flank and launched a cross towards the box. Freshman goalkeeper Owen Finnerty dove off his line, yet the ball came inches away from grazing his outstretched right hand. Instead, it found the head of Demon Deacon forward Kyle Holcomb, who wasted no time in giving Wake Forest the 1-0 lead. 

“Defensively, we pressed them pretty well, kept them uncomfortable for a large portion of the game,” Daley said. “We were pretty good until we made those mistakes in the second half, and they were really sharp on capitalizing on our mistakes. That was the difference in the game.”

Michigan finally broke through in the 77th minute when junior midfielder Marc Ybarra rifled a kick from outside the box, and the ball pinballed through the defense until it found Broche’s right foot and the back of the net. 

The Wolverines’ stay on life-support, though, proved short-lived. In the 83rd minute, Holcomb struck again, blasting a one-timer off a right-side cross over Finnerty directly at the net and notching his second goal of the game. 

The plug had officially been pulled on the Michigan’s season. 

“It’s a sad locker room,” Daley said. “Never easy to end your season. But at least we ended our season to a very formidable opponent. We want to compete against the big boys of college soccer and that’s what we came to do and the boys were up for it. Just disappointed in the end.”

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