There were nine minutes left on the clock, and the Michigan men’s soccer team found itself down 1-0 to William & Mary — a deficit that was far from insurmountable.
But by the 86th minute, the scoreboard read 4-0.
This five-minute blitzkrieg was the result of the Tribe constantly chipping away at the Wolverines’ defense until it finally crumbled. In fact, Michigan (1-4-1 Big Ten, 2-8-4 overall) was lucky to have not been down by more by the time the final whistle blew.
The Wolverines were without three of their most important players for the game. Sophomore defender Marcelo Borges and junior midfielder Brett Nason sat out with injuries, while sophomore midfielder Ivo Cerda only played a bit part role as he continues his recovery.
“We were disjointed from that,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “It’s always hard against a team’s first 11 when you’re playing with injuries.”
With a makeshift midfield, and many players out of position, the Wolverines were up against the wall from the onset.
Usually the team outshooting its opponents, Michigan managed to test William & Mary keeper Phil Breno only once.
The Tribe (1-3-2 Colonial Athletic Association, 7-5-2 overall) managed 22 shots of its own, 13 of which were on target. Were it not for an incredible performance from redshirt junior goalkeeper Braden Horton — who ended the game with nine saves — the Wolverines would have suffered a much bigger loss.
“Braden (Horton) did very well,” Daley said. “It’s weird to say that (about the keeper) when you lose 4-0, but none of the goals were his fault. He kept us in the game and kept it competitive until the last nine minutes.”
William & Mary played a high-pressing 4-4-2 formation, one that proved too much for Michigan’s deep-defending 4-3-3.
Antonio Bustamante, Ryder Bell and Reilly Maw — the Tribe’s forwards — ran riot. Bell scored a brace, opening and closing the scoring while providing an assist to boot. Maw scored one and set up two, while Bustamante notched both a goal and an assist as well.
“They were efficient,” Daley said. “And they gave our makeshift backline a lot of problems.”
The first half proved to be more competitive. Michigan saw a good amount of the ball, but was once again inefficient in the final third, sending two shots well over the crossbar and out of the stadium.
William & Mary looked like the better team, but had little to show for it until the 40th minute, when it moved the ball down the right and pushed the Wolverines well into their half of the field.
After a good passing combination in and around Michigan’s box, Maw found Bell with space on the left side of the penalty area. Bell curled the ball low into the side netting at the far post.
The half ended 1-0, but the Tribe was unlucky not to have had a second when Bustamante crossed it into Michigan’s box, and it looked as though a Wolverine defender had put it over the line for an own goal. But Horton managed to claw the ball out controversially and the ref waived play on instead of awarding William & Mary the goal.
When the ball got rolling for the second half, the Tribe looked like a changed outfit. They pressed higher, moved the ball faster, created more chances and starved Michigan of the ball.
The Wolverines spent the second 45 minutes playing balls over the top hoping to create something on the counter attack, but again, never really threatened.
William & Mary’s domination was apparent, but for all its good work, the ball just wouldn’t hit the back of the net. The Tribe hit the post twice and Horton came out on top time and again in one-on-one situations. He saved two shots from point-blank range and was sent diving in every direction trying to keep his side in the game.
But it was only a matter of time until the resistance caved in. Bell played a beautifully weighted through ball past the Michigan backline. Maw latched onto the ball, and with Bustamante in support, a two-on-one proved too much for Horton. Maw squared the ball to Bustamante in the center of the box for a simple tap in.
The Wolverines — now down two goals with seven minutes left — sent most of their players up front to find a goal and try to get something from the game. The approach backfired immediately, though, with one quick counterattack from the Tribe.
Bell played a lofted ball out wide to Maw on the left. With the Michigan defense just past the halfway line, the offside rule wasn’t in effect, and Maw ran at Horton with the entire half at his mercy. Using his pace to get into the box before the Wolverine backline had time to catch up, Maw calmly slotted the ball past the helpless Michigan goalkeeper.
The damage had been done, and William & Mary added a fourth moments later.
And in a season where everything has gone wrong for the Wolverines, it was a new low in Williamsburg.