Throughout his tenure as a Wolverine, senior midfielder James Murphy has made scoring crucial goals for his team something of a habit. Sunday was no exception.
Two minutes into double overtime, Murphy watched junior defender Rylee Woods launch a free kick into the penalty box.
“I just sort ended up in the (18-yard) box, and luckily, no one seemed to be marking me,” Murphy said. “It was a good ball, and I just thought to myself, ‘Attack it, go get whatever you can on it.’ ”
Woods had seen that Murphy was unguarded on the backside and launched a perfectly weighted ball into the box. Murphy leapt to meet the ball, heading it past the goalkeeper and into the right side of the net.
With the goal, the Michigan men’s soccer team (2-1) defeated Niagara, 2-1, Sunday at U-M Soccer Stadium.
“Luckily, I got pretty good contact on it, and it went in,” Murphy said. “It was a bit of a relief, to be honest.”
The Wolverines established a threatening attack early on, taking eight shots and nine corner kicks in the first half alone. Yet despite the relentless attack, finding the back of the net proved to be a challenge.
“We created a lot of chances, which is always a positive thing from an attacking point of view,” Murphy said. “Some of those didn’t go in, but we had good efforts, to be fair. … We kept fighting and kept working hard, and we found a way out of it in the end, which is pleasing.”
The Purple Eagles (0-4) had only scored one goal in three games entering Sunday’s match. But in the 23rd minute, Niagara caught the Wolverines off guard on a dangerous counterattack. Forward Alex Dimitriu capitalized on the opportunity, lobbing a shot from 25 yards out that floated over the outstretched arms of sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro to give the Purple Eagles a 1-0 lead.
“We could have easily been (up) 2-0 in the first 10 minutes,” Murphy said. “Their score was a good goal, to be fair to him. … They obviously got confidence off that, sat in and made it really difficult for (us), and it is frustrating.”
In the second half, Michigan was more aggressive with its attack, tallying nine shots. Freshman defender Marcello Borges rattled a free kick off the crossbar in the 47th minute, while freshman midfielder Francis Atuahene threatened the opposition with runs into the 18-yard box.
“We told them to be urgent, but not careless, in the way they approached the second half, and I think they did that,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “I think based on the quality of play and domination of the ball, we deserved to win the game, but sometimes that doesn’t happen in soccer.”
Daley’s plan of attack paid off when freshman midfielder Ivo Cerda scored the equalizing goal in the 71st minute off a Borges assist. Cerda fired a shot at the goal line that was originally blocked, but he managed to find and bury the rebound to tie the game.
Late in the match, the Wolverines attempted to utilize the speed of senior forward William Mellors-Blair by playing long balls and letting him outrun the defense. Through the end of regulation and the first sudden-death period, Michigan continued to generate chances, but couldn’t find the finishing touch.
It wasn’t until Murphy’s first goal of the season that the Wolverines sealed the victory.
“It was certainly a hard-fought, grind-out game which I think last year or the last two years, we may have given away,” Daley said. “Our guys stood up and did what they were supposed to do.”