Six minutes into the second half of Michigan’s 2-1 loss to Detroit, Titans defender Jason Leslie rose highest in the penalty box to head the ball past Michigan sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro, doubling Detroit’s lead. Now down 2-0, Michigan men’s soccer coach Chaka Daley subbed off sophomore midfielder Michael Kapitula and brought on freshman forward Marcello Borges in a bid to find goals. The already fast-paced match was about to become a hurricane.
In the middle of the chaos was junior midfielder Brett Nason, a player who struggled for playing time last season but has started every game this season.
“I think he’s been the most consistent player we’ve had all season,” Daley said. “In every game he’s done an outstanding job. He’s been solid and steady against every team, in every game and in every training session.”
Solid and steady would be an understatement when describing Nason’s performance Wednesday night. The holding midfielder was a reference point for all his teammates on the pitch, ever-present to receive a pass. He was reliable in keeping and redistributing possession — by all standards, the team’s chief playmaker.
“I just try to put my teammates in better positions,” Nason said. “It’s very easy when your teammates are making great runs off the ball.”
But Nason wasn’t just great at passing the ball. He was a defensive stalwart when it came to pressing the opponent, sticking in a foot and making the tackle and winning the ball back as quickly as possible. He was always where the Wolverines needed him to be, whether it was as an outlet when they needed to move the ball around, or in defense when they needed him to cover the Michigan fullbacks and break up the Titans’ play.
“The one thing going through my head was win the ball and get it forward,” Nason said. “We needed a goal. I was just working hard for my teammates, and I know they were doing the same for me.”
In a game where Michigan had subbed off its entire front line within 30 minutes of the starting whistle, and where players moved around the field to make room for extra forwards, Nason was the one player — barring Louro — who was neither subbed off nor moved into a different position.
Whenever Michigan did lose the ball in the midfield and the attacking fullbacks were caught out of position, Nason was there covering them, making the tackle and winning the ball back before a threatening Detroit counterattack could materialize.
“We tried to dominate the ball in midfield,” Daley said. “We do that by getting a numerical advantage with our fullbacks to push forward so we have five players versus four going forward. That’s only possible when you have some players who are willing to tuck in or drop deeper to cover them.”
Even in the last 20 minutes of the game when the Wolverines were throwing players forward hoping to grab a goal from anywhere, Nason was more often than not their last line of defense ahead of Louro. He was waiting in and around the center circle to clean up any time Michigan’s last few attacking forays fell through and Detroit cleared. Ready to collect the ball as soon as possible and redistribute it to his teammates further up the field, he knew exactly who to pass it to.
“My coaches have been preaching to me,” Nason said, “to always look over my shoulder, and it is becoming a habit now. When the right back plays the ball to me, I’m always looking over my shoulder and I already know where my left back is, so I release the ball to him within a few seconds of getting the ball.”
With long balls flying over his head back and forth, players running around him left and right, Nason was arguably the most reliable player on the pitch. He barely made a wrong step. He was the eye of the hurricane, even in defeat.