It was textbook team play that allowed the Michigan men’s soccer team an early lead.
From inside his own box, senior forward Jack Hallahan set up junior midfielder Marc Ybarra, starting a chain of beautiful passes between Hallahan, Ybarra and freshman forward Christian Pulselli. The flawless build-up ended with a cross to fifth-year senior Nebojsa Popovic who buried the ball in the back of the net on the opposite end.
Only two minutes after kickoff, the pitch-length run and resulting goal gave the Wolverines an early one-goal lead. But that was the only offensive production that Michigan (0-0-1 Big Ten, 3-2-2 Overall) could muster in a rain-shortened 1-1 draw to Rutgers (0-0-1 Big Ten, 5-0-2 Overall).
“We want to see if we can be aggressive early and get after teams and make them uncomfortable,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We want to state our intentions by our approach.”
The early game success wasn’t unusual for the Wolverines, who have scored a goal in the first 15 minutes in both of their past two matches.
That much, the team has done, but sustained success has been lacking through seven games.
The opportunities are there, just not the goals. Michigan finished the game with nine shots, five of which were on target.
“We had some really really great chances and I wish one of them snuck in,” Daley said. “One’s in the goalie’s hands, is it over the line, ref protects him a little bit. Two one (versus) ones inside the box, keeper makes an amazing, amazing two saves, seems to happen to us a lot.”
Retaining momentum after the goal was an issue for the Wolverines, who seemed sluggish after their initial push. It took until after the half for them to reapply pressure on the Scarlet Knights’ defense. Just as the chemistry between Hallahan, Popovic and sophomore forward Derick Broche was heating up again, the game was delayed by severe weather and then called outright, leaving 18 minutes on the clock and the trio without a much-needed goal.
Despite the disappointment of not finding a go-ahead goal, Daley had largely positive takeaways from a tie in the first Big Ten matchup of the year.
“We’re still creating chances and we’re off to a good start,” Daley said. “We are what we are.”
As Daley knows, though, Michigan is going to have to capitalize on these chances to have success this year. The team was controlling the game against a strong Rutgers squad, and a win would have been a boost going into conference play.
It all comes down to what the team can do with those chances.
“When we look at big moments, when we think about the game we always talk about there’s big moments in every half” Daley said. “There’s probably three or four big moments in every half. Do you win those moments?”
In this matchup, the Wolverines were only able to win one of these moments. The team has talent and their head coach is pushing the right mentality, but the question remains — can they turn these moments into points on the scoreboard?