For the Michigan men’s soccer team, it was the same story but a different season on Wednesday night against Detroit at U-M Soccer Stadium.
Once again, the Wolverines fell hard at the hands of a lesser opponent after proving themselves against a national powerhouse, tying No. 4 Maryland on Friday.
In the 12th minute of play, junior defender Rylee Woods turned the ball over to Detroit forward Tyler Moorman deep in Michigan’s defensive half, and it quickly became a costly mistake. Moorman played a quick combination with forward Spiro Pliakos before blasting the ball just inside the far post.
The finish would be the first of the Titans’ two goals, as Michigan fell, 2-1.
After the Wolverines (2-2-1) conceded a goal, they went on to dominate the half, but came away with nothing to show for it due to the Titans’ man-marking system.
“Detroit always plays man-marking (defense),” said senior forward Colin McAtee. “They kind of just set a blockade back there when we’re in possession, because they know we’re a team that can out-possess them. Instead of high pressing, they just sit in there, and today they did it well.
“Their center backs were all over us, and we didn’t do enough to find a second goal to get the result.”
Eventually, in the 61st minute, the Titans shocked the Wolverines once more. After a failed clearance, Detroit midfielder Alex Mendonca received the ball out wide and lofted a service to the back post.
Detroit defender Jason Leslie outjumped Stevens for the ball and hammered the ball just under the crossbar with his head, just out of reach of the outstretched arm of sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro.
After going down two, Daley switched to a 3-3-4 formation to generate a stronger attack, and the change quickly paid off.
Just four minutes after the Titans’ second goal, senior forward William Mellors-Blair received a ball in the 18-yard box and was taken down for a penalty kick after beating his defender one-on-one. He stepped to the penalty spot and buried a shot into the bottom-left corner to cut Detroit’s lead to one.
Following the senior’s penalty finish, the Wolverines seemed to find new life, forcing Detroit into a defensive shell as they generated opportunities.
Michigan’s most threatening sequence came in the 73rd minute, when Woods’ corner kick bounced back to him. Woods sent a second ball into the box that junior defender Lars Eckenrode deflected on target, but Detroit goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher punched the ball away from goal.
Throughout the Wolverines’ equalizing effort, Woods and sophomore defender Billy Stevens frequently attacked on the wing with overlapping runs, attempting to serve dangerous balls into the box for Michigan to finish. The Wolverines dominated possession and held the ball in Detroit’s defensive half, but could never penetrate the Titans’ (3-2-2) back line with a final pass to create legitimate scoring opportunities.
Though they outshot Detroit in the half, 6-1, Moorman’s opportunity was the best chance either team had.
To begin the second half, the Titans’ strategy was clear: sit back in their defensive half, absorb pressure and hope to generate offense with counterattacks.
“We dominated the ball but we didn’t really dominate chances, although we had more shots,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “When the game is a little bit more even, it gives us an opportunity to have more of a free flowing (attack). When (they) sit in and don’t play as much, we have 10 guys behind the ball, and it certainly makes it a little bit challenging.”
Michigan continued to dictate play through the midfield and combined well in the attacking third, but Detroit’s park-the-bus strategy proved too solid to break down.
The Wolverines tallied seven shots and two corner kicks after Mellors-Blair’s goal, but couldn’t break through to score an equalizer.
Despite the upset, Daley looked for a silver lining.
“It’s a little bit of a struggle sometimes mentally,” Daley said. “We have a young group, so hopefully we can learn from it. It’s still early in the season, so hopefully we continue to grow. That was the message I gave the group.”