With the clock ticking down and hopes of its first win of the season dwindling away, the Michigan men’s soccer team was desperately seeking a goal, with a corner kick in the final minute serving as its last chance to find an equalizer against Western Michigan. The ball flew into a crowded box and found the feet of sophomore forward Francis Atuahene, who deflected it toward an open goal.
But the Wolverines’ first goal in 334 minutes was not meant to be, as the ball deflected off the inside of the left post and fell harmlessly into the hands of the Broncos’ goalkeeper Drew Shepherd.
“The hardest thing to do in soccer is score goals,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley.
Right now, his team knows that better than anyone.
The loss, which sent the Wolverines to 0-5-3 on the season, was microcosmic of the season to date: close, just not close enough.
“We’ve been extremely unlucky in the past three games to hit the crossbar, have a last-ditch effort with 20 seconds against (Michigan) State and today hit the post again,” said senior defender Lars Eckenrode. “It’s extremely frustrating waiting for (luck) to turn in our favor.”
Early on, the Wolverines came out energetically and opportunistically, managing four shots — including several goal-scoring opportunities — in the first seven minutes.
But Michigan failed to muster another shot in the first half after that and allowed Western Michigan to become more comfortable in its possession and creativity. Stifling defense and physical play by the Broncos sent a visibly frustated and offensively out-of-sync Michigan team to the locker room with its fifth straight goalless half.
A rejuvenated, confident Western Michigan team came out of halftime with several chances before finally breaking through with the winner in the 53rd minute. Midfielder Brandon Bye sped past the Michigan defense on the right side, finding fellow midfielder Diego Lopez in the box. Lopez calmly turned and slotted home the only goal of the game past sprawling junior goalkeeper Evan Louro.
“We just fell asleep on one moment in the game,” Eckenrode said. “And that’s what ended up costing us.”
For the seventh time in its last eight games, Michigan outshot its opponent, this time by a margin of 14-8. Yet for the third game in a row, and the fifth time this year, it failed to find the back of the net.
With 15 minutes left, Daley urged one final push, moving toward a three-defender, two-attacker formation in search of that elusive goal. The increased attacking presence lacked fluidity in the final third, and despite scrambling to find seven second-half corners, struggled to find goal-scoring chances until the last-ditch effort.
“I told (the team), ‘This is not easy,’ ” Daley said. “We’re not struggling soccer-wise, we’re not stuggling tactically, we’re not struggling technically. We have a little bit of a struggle going on mentally.”
But Daley remains confident in his team’s ability to turn things around.
“There’s no quit in that locker room, there’s no quit in that coaching staff,” Daley said. “We’re proud people that represent Michigan. It’ll hurt tonight, but we’ll pick ourselves up and continue to work to get better and get to the next game.
“We fear no one. I’d be fearful if we got going.”