In the 72nd minute of the men’s soccer Big Ten Tournament Championship match, Indiana’s Griffin Dorsey sent a ball for service across the box, finding the head of the diving Hoosier midfielder Jeremiah Gutjahr, who converted for the goal. The perfect execution put the Hoosiers up 2-0, a goal Michigan coach Chaka Daley said, “took the wind out of (the Michigan soccer team’s) sails,” as Daley’s team ultimately fell 3-0.
The Big Ten Tournament Championship has been unfamiliar territory for the Wolverines as of late. Michigan entered last season’s Big Ten Tournament as the highest-seeded team, boasting a 6-1-1 conference record, yet fell, 4-0, in the semifinal to a fourth-seeded Wisconsin team, who went on to win the tournament.
This year’s Michigan team avenged its loss to Wisconsin in the semifinals Friday, but fell victim to top-seeded Indiana in the tournament championship on Sunday.
Friday night against the Badgers, the Wolverines’ offense got off to a quick start. Their first opportunity came minutes into the game. Junior forward Jack Hallahan sent a ball in from the corner to the head of the 6-foot-5 sophomore defender Jackson Ragen. However, Wisconsin’s goalkeeper Dean Cowdroy was there to save the would-be goal.
Michigan’s next corner kick, in the 20th minute, was again sent by Hallahan. The ball bounced once in the box before hitting a Badgers’ defender’s hand, resulting in a penalty kick for the Wolverines. Sophomore midfielder Marc Ybarra lined up across from the keeper with the opportunity to give Michigan the lead in the conference tournament semifinals.
“When you step up to a penalty like that, you just keep your composure,” Ybarra said, “Take a deep breath and try to do what you do at practice all the time.”
And Ybarra did just that. He converted on the penalty kick, putting the Wolverines up 1-0 and in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game. From there, Michigan’s defense held firm. Of the four shots taken by the Badgers, none were on-goal. This made it an easy, clean sheet for sophomore keeper Henry Mashburn, as the Wolverines held on to win, 1-0.
“In the last game we played them … we were a little bit slow, a little bit off,” said Daley on Friday, “But this game, I think from start to finish we were highly competitive and, honestly, super motivated with the opportunity to compete for a Big Ten Championship on Sunday.”
And for the first time since 2012, the Wolverines found themselves in the Big Ten championship, facing off against Indiana, who welcomed back one of the nation’s top players, freshman midfielder Griffin Dorsey, for Sunday’s game. Dorsey returned to the team after representing the United States’ on U-20 CONCACAF national team, missing the beginning of the tournament.
“We had a good inclination that if they could bring back their top player, they would,” Daley said, “To compete with us and contend to win a Big Ten title, we thought they would bring back their best guy.”
And, as it turned out, Dorsey proved to be all the difference. In just the sixth minute of the game, Dorsey rifled a shot off a rebound, initially saved by Mashburn, but immediately converted off a rebound by Indiana forward Cory Thomas, giving Dorsey his first assist of the game.
Michigan tried to answer back quickly, but freshman forward Umar Farouk Osman’s shot just a minute later sailed over the goal and out of play. From there, it was a defensive battle, as Indiana ended the half clinging to the 1-0 lead.
In the second half, the Hoosiers’ offensive aggressiveness became too much for the Wolverines, as Gutjahr converted his header to double to lead.
Exactly two minutes later, Indiana iced the game and ended the Wolverines’ hope for a comeback when Hoosier midfielder Spencer Glass snuck the ball between the goalie and the post, putting Indiana up 3-0.
Although it wasn’t the ideal ending for Michigan’s tournament run, there’s still plenty of soccer to be played, as the selection for the NCAA tournament awaits later this week.
“I think we learned from Indiana and their approach,” Daley said, “The mentality today, I thought was really good… just staying on top of the game, being sharp early in the game… we [have to] treat it like a do-or-die situation, but we’ve been doing that for a month, so certainly it would be no different if we were afforded the opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament moving forward.”