By its very nature, soccer is a sport in which a single chance can change the complexion of a game or even decide its fate. On Saturday against Rutgers, the Michigan men’s soccer team received the short end of the stick, falling victim to a single match-defining moment in a 1-0 overtime loss.
After a fiery, physical showdown between two competitive opponents that kept the game in a scoreless gridlock through the end of regulation, the Scarlet Knights wasted no time finding the decisive goal. Rutgers ended the game by scoring three minutes into the first sudden-death overtime period.
The Wolverines have made a habit of prolonging games this season, playing to extra time in five matches, including their past three. The loss to Rutgers is the first they have suffered in overtime thus far, as they managed three ties and one win in the previous four overtime affairs.
Despite the regularity of this phenomenon, Michigan junior defender Lars Eckenrode maintains that the team abides by the status quo approach.
“It’s not any different,” Eckenrode said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in overtime or if it’s in the first 90 minutes, we still want to win the game, so we’re going to play the same way and try to get the result.”
Though Michigan boasts the No. 2 offense in the Big Ten, the defensive unit stole the plaudits in this match, making its presence felt against Rutgers’ high-powered attack. As the offense struggled to put away all the chances it was producing, Michigan’s defense stymied its opponent’s efforts to retain possession and create scoring opportunities for almost the entirety of the match. Its lone fault came in the 93rd minute, when a defensive lapse left Rutgers forward Jason Wright all alone on the left side of the box to calmly and coolly receive a through-ball and slide home the winner in the bottom-right corner of the net.
“We identified that they had some pretty dangerous players, some pretty speedy guys on the outside and a pretty dangerous forward up top who’s been scoring some goals lately,” Eckenrode said. “We just wanted to make sure to keep him in front of us, not let him turn and make sure we have good covering behind.
“I think we did that pretty well except for on the goal, obviously, but for 92 minutes of the game, I thought we did a great job.”
Michigan coach Chaka Daley didn’t want to make excuses for the disappointing nature of the loss, but he was quick to point out that the recent string of overtime matches may have been a factor that affected his team’s performance.
“With three overtime games in seven or eight days, fatigue certainly (comes into play),” Daley said. “The energy Rutgers brought and the quality that they brought was pretty good. They kept fighting, and we kept fighting. It was even across the board — shots, chances, everything — we were just unlucky.
“They did what they had to do. They got the goal and we didn’t.”
Sometimes, especially in a sport like soccer, it’s that simple.