Last week’s defeat against Detroit didn’t seem to have any lingering effect on the Michigan men’s soccer team when it took on a bigger challenge Sunday afternoon: Northwestern.
The Wildcats were expected to be a stronger opponent than the Titans, but the Wolverines were quick to set a dominant tone in their conference home opener.
From the start, Michigan took control of the ball, dominating the field with its agile footwork, speed and aggression. Ninety minutes later, the Wolverines (1-0-1 Big Ten, 3-2-1 overall) had outshot Northwestern, 28-11, in a 3-0 victory that marked the program’s 150th win.
Freshman midfielder Francis Atuahene played a critical role in the victory. His fancy footwork stole the show, helping him move swiftly past defenders to take nine shots on goal. When senior forward William Mellors-Blair took a shot that was redirected by the Northwestern goalkeeper, Atuahene reacted and quickly made contact with the ball in midair, sending it straight into an empty net.
With the score at 1-0, the Wildcats’ offense fought hard for the ball. But the Wolverines’ defense bested Northwestern’s attack with a number of turnovers.
In the 35th minute, redshirt sophomore Michael Kapitula scored Michigan’s second goal fresh off of the bench with an assist by Mellors-Blair.
The second half saw an aggressive approach by the Wildcats (1-1-0, 2-3-1), as the pressure to score became more intense with each passing minute. Northwestern had one silver lining when sophomore defender Billy Stevens initiated a scuffle against the Wildcats’ Mike Roberge and was issued a yellow card.
After colliding with Michigan sophomore goalkeeper Evan Louro, Roberge was forcefully pushed further back into the goal by Stevens. The nearby players from both teams then rushed into the net in an attempt to separate the two.
“These guys are competitive,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “They’re fighting for everything … protecting our players. I wouldn’t expect any less than for them to be brothers.”
Already up 2-0, Michigan had no problem putting the tension aside and it helped fifth-year senior Colin McAtee focus in to score the team’s third and final goal, assisted by Atuahene.
Freshman midfielder Ivo Cerda also showed glimpses of good things to come. His physical dominance on the field allowed him to keep the ball under Wolverine control for the majority of the game.
“(The freshmen) bring a lot of versatility and a lot of energy,” Kapitula said. “Francis is very athletic and brings a lot of creativity, and Ivo helps us hold the ball. They both give different dimensions to us on the field.”
After the unexpected loss to Detroit, Michigan could have played in the same manner against Northwestern, but bounced right back instead.
“I thought we had a really good game as a team,” Kapitula said. “If we can keep this energy and the style that we brought today, we’re going to be a really dangerous team.”