In the 15-year history of the Michigan men’s soccer program, the Wolverines had never beaten the nation‘s top-ranked team. And despite holding a two-goal lead 65 minutes into the game, Sunday, Michigan (1-6-1 Big Ten, 3-10-4 overall) allowed that streak to continue against No. 1 Maryland (7-0-1, 15-0-2), falling, 3-2, in crushing fashion.
With 88 minutes gone, it appeared the Wolverines would finally capture their signature win, as Maryland desperately attacked to protect its undefeated record with Michigan clinging to a one-goal lead. But with just over a minute remaining in regulation, Terrapin defender Chris Odoi-Atsem equalized off a service from midfielder George Campbell — crushing the spirits of the Wolverines as many laid down on the grass in disappointment and exhaustion, while a strong Maryland contingent celebrated from the stands.
Roughly 20 minutes later, Michigan’s dream turned into a nightmarish loss. In the second overtime period, defender Suli Dainkeh buried a shot from the left side past Wolverines goaltender Evan Louro for the game-winner. But Michigan coach Chaka Daley argued Dainken never should have gotten the opportunity to give the Terrapins the win, as a hard challenge led to a Wolverine turnover in the box.
“It was a foul,” Daley said. “He pushes a guy down — it’s a foul. It was called all day as a foul, and it was not called in the last minute of the game.”
Daley found the officiating to be one of the culprits behind the crushing loss for the Wolverines.
“The referee impacted the game immensely,” he said. “For us, I think he changed the game. You’re supposed to keep it neutral, and I think that … inconsistency changes games.”
Despite the alleged injustice against Daley’s team, Michigan was able to capture a 2-0 lead in the first half thanks to goals by sophomore midfielder Robbie Mertz and freshman forward Jack Hallahan — both of which were assisted by sophomore forward Francis Atuahene, who now has seven points in Michigan’s last two contests.
The tide turned for Maryland when, off a handball, the nation’s third-leading scorer Gordon Wild placed a penalty shot into the lower left corner of the goal during the 66th minute.
“Goals change games,” said Daley, who continued to question the competency of the referees. “The penalty kick — is it or isn’t it, you know?”
After Wild’s conversion, Maryland was able to control possession and pepper the goal with strong attempts, resulting in an astounding 27 shots from the Terrapins and 11 saves from Louro — his season high.
As Maryland found itself facing its largest deficit of the season, tempers boiled over in the first half. A foul on Maryland midfielder Connor Smith resulted in extracurricular pushing between him and Hallahan. That exchange sparked a confrontational atmosphere for the rest of the contest, as Atuahene and midfielder Tyler Anderson both received yellow cards for the Wolverines in a match that saw many players flailing to the ground and clutching their shinguards in pain.
“I like that competitive atmosphere,” Anderson said. “It makes the game more fun, and it makes (the game) go by a lot quicker.”
In a season in which little has gone right for the Wolverines, Michigan seemed on the brink of a season-defining win Sunday. But even that was stripped from the team, adding salt to an already opened wound.
“I don’t know if anyone in the country has played more heartbreaking games than we have,” Daley said. “Certainly, we’re going to pick ourselves up and go and fight (in the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday) against a Rutgers team that’s fighting for their lives as well.”