The No. 16 Michigan women’s soccer team was winning in every statistical category. If you were watching the game and didn’t look at the scoreboard, it looked like the Wolverines were going to cruise to another victory.
They led in all categories but one — goals.
Michigan (13-4-1 overall, 8-2-1 Big Ten) dominated No. 21 Rutgers early on in the match Thursday night. Up until the 43rd minute, it looked like the Wolverines were positioned for a win. But soccer is a fickle game and can change in an instant, and Michigan lost, 1-0.
In what was the Scarlet Knights' first successful offensive set, and the Wolverines' first and only lapse on defense, Rutgers sliced through the Michigan defense and scored. The Wolverines found themselves down and couldn't recover.
“Sometimes you can just be a little unlucky and one thing changes in a snapshot,” said sophomore midfielder Raleigh Loughman. “You just have to keep your head up and keep going.”
In the beginning of the first half, Michigan dominated the field by controlling the ball on its side of the field, accompanied by clean passing and transitions. Every time the Scarlet Knights took the ball onto their side of the field, the Wolverines tightened up on defense and immediately cleared it back to their offense.
In the first half alone, Michigan had seven shots but was unable to convert any of those into goals. The Wolverines set themselves up with many opportunities with corner kicks and crosses, but failed to execute in front of the goal.
“I think the main thing our team really needs to work on is execution,” said freshman forward Jayde Riviere. “We have all the tools for it and we have all the talent for it. We get crosses in and we get people in the box, it’s just the execution of it.”
Throughout the season, Michigan has not been used to going into halftime with a deficit. While this was an unwelcomed change, it did not change its mindset or gameplan for the second half.
“At halftime, we told them we just needed to be aggressive and look to get going forward a little more,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Klein. “You got nothing to lose and just go for it. I thought we went out with a good mentality and got great opportunities. We were just unfortunate.”
Coming out of the half down by a goal, the team stuck to its gameplan, focusing on execution and converting opportunities into goals, but realized it needed to play with a greater sense of urgency. The Wolverines added seven more shots in the second half, totaling 14 for the game, and held Rutgers to just seven shots the entire 90 minutes.
“Obviously being down 1-0 there was a lot more urgency to our game,” Loughman said. “I felt like we were getting forward more and being less sloppy in our passes. We were a little less complacent in the second half than we were in the first half.”
Klein credited the Scarlet Knights’ commitment to their defense and strong goalkeeping.
Looking ahead to the postseason, Loughman believes Rutgers is a similar caliber team that Michigan will face.
“Rutgers is a really strong opponent and I think they are evidence of what we are going to find in the postseason,” Loughman said. “We have to keep looking at that going forward.”
In their penultimate regular-season game, the Wolverines were trying to position themselves for seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. They are currently neck-and-neck with Wisconsin for the top spot in the Big Ten standings.
“I hope (this game) gives us a good spark and a sense of urgency to finish strong,” Klein said. “We will see where we end up when it comes to Big Ten play and NCAAs but hopefully this loss sparks a response to go and get it.”