Tempers flared throughout the Michigan men’s soccer team’s hotly contested affair against Western Michigan on Tuesday, adding even more tension to an already-tough encounter between two evenly matched teams.
Through physical possession battles in the midfield and hard tackles to break up the other team’s attack, the two sides fought to a scoreless draw in double overtime.
While the Wolverines (2-2-2 Big Ten, 7-4-4 overall) — second in the Big Ten in goals per game — initially struggled to find their feet offensively, their defense stepped up to neutralize the Broncos’ effort to start fast and draw blood in the early stages.
“How organized we were (at the back) took them out of the game,” said Michigan junior defender Rylee Woods. “Our confidence rose after we broke the first 20 minutes, and we did well the rest of the game.”
The Broncos (1-1-1 MAC, 8-3-4 overall) kept the ball in their attacking third for much of the first half, dominating the run of play and creating the majority of the chances. An endless foray of crosses into the box and shots on goal forced a response from Michigan’s defensive unit, which put together a strong defensive stand to keep the offense at bay.
Aware that Western Michigan would prove to be a handful, Michigan coach Chaka Daley stuck to his game plan, believing his players would be able to handle the onslaught. The Wolverines’ defense had allowed only one goal over the previous three matches and continued its run of recent success by producing another shutout against the Broncos.
“We knew they had some good pieces to the puzzle,” Daley said. “They have a lot of busy, active attacking players, and we thought those guys were definitely factors in the game. They were kind of neutralized tonight and didn’t really show their faces too much, which is good for us. Our guys on defense gave everything and did outstanding.”
The dynamic of the game changed dramatically in the 59th minute. After two previous breakaway runs down the pitch came up empty, Michigan freshman forward Francis Atuahene sprinted toward a long ball played forward by the defense.
Western Michigan’s goalkeeper charged toward the top of the box in the hope of catching the ball before Atuahene could reach it. The goalie jumped in the air and clutched the ball in his grasp, but Atuahene crashed into him with questionable intent, sending them both to the turf.
With the goalie writhing on the ground, the referee had no choice but to issue Atuahene a red card, disqualifying him from the match.
Needing a response after being reduced to 10 men, the Wolverines held strong and stuck together, closing up shop defensively and pushing for offensive chances when possible. Michigan played stifling defense despite several dangerous near-misses by the Broncos, managing to hold out for the rest of the half and all of overtime to earn a hard-fought tie.
“From the standpoint of going down to 10 players in a tough game against a Western Michigan side that is a very senior-laden team whereas a lot of our guys are freshmen and sophomores, it’s really outstanding to see the commitment and physicality of our guys to grind it out,” Daley said.
Considering the circumstances, Michigan’s resiliency and determination to still come away with a point will prove to be a real asset for the team with the biggest games of the season coming up next.