Southern California midfielder Aaliyah Farmer and her teammates stormed off the field in celebration. She had just headed in a corner kick in sudden-death overtime, lifting the Trojans to victory.
Michigan had many chances to put the game away, but its inability to put those chances into the back of the net turned an otherwise solid performance into a heartbreaking loss.
The 24th-ranked Wolverines came away empty-handed against a porous Southern California defense, culminating in a 1-0 loss. Michigan dominated the game with aggressive attacks that kept the Trojans on their heels, but in the end the Wolverines couldn’t follow through.
The Wolverines took control of the ball often, and Southern California played a step behind many of their attacks. Midfielders would play up on the Trojans’ back line, sending the defenders scrambling to win back the ball: They didn’t have an answer for the pressure this put on them.
Michigan took advantage of this, sending one attacker toward the ball to disrupt the pace of play and swiftly win the ball back after each shot. Many of their shots came in tight to the goal area, some with open space to fire it past Southern California goalkeeper Anna Smith.
But when the Wolverines got around to turning that position into a goal, they couldn’t bury it. They even missed a penalty kick that could’ve put the Wolverines up in the 39th minute.
Shot accuracy could explain part of this issue. The Wolverines painted the outside edge of the goal post with some of their shots, and when they did pull them on target Smith scooped them up. They couldn’t find the fine line between missing the net and eluding Smith’s athleticism.
And even though Michigan thoroughly dismantled the Trojans’ defense with good crosses and through passes, those defenders seemed to stay in the back of their minds. Smith easily handled low shots as the Wolverines’ forwards tried to dump the ball on net quickly.
Minor miscues in positioning led to some passes near the goal area going wide of their targets. Attackers had to make an extra effort to trap the ball, giving Southern California room to breathe.
“It’s probably a little bit of timing with the runs, timing with the first touch to get a shot off,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said. “You’re playing against a team that’s got good pressure to the ball and so the timing looks different.”
A rather difficult part of Michigan’s finishing problem came from its success in generating shots. The Wolverines were doing the right thing, but getting no reward — and the frustrations started to surface.
When attacking midfielders worked the ball deep into USC’s goal area, fifth-year senior midfielder Nicki Hernandez headed the ball toward the right post for what seemed like a sure goal in the 75th minute. Smith dove toward it, the ball rolling straight to her as she kept her team within striking distance. All Hernandez could do was put her hands to her head.
Desperation to score might have caused frustration too. After receiving just one offside call in the first half, Michigan accrued four in the second. Two came in quick succession as the offense looked for a golden goal in the last seven minutes of regulation time. While they kept their attack going, the Trojans used that chance to regroup.
“It stinks because you have one little bit at the very end that you hope doesn’t taint the overall performance of the team,” Klein said. “And I thought the team played very well tonight against a very good USC team.”
The Wolverines stayed in charge for much of its game against Southern California, unrelenting on both sides of the ball. In the end, their struggles to bury goals marred an otherwise excellent performance.
Simply put, Michigan must finish on its shots if it wants to avoid repeating this performance.