One whistle blew, Michigan forward Francis Atuahene restarted the match after a fourth Wisconsin goal, and a second later, three more sounded, signaling the end of the top-seeded Wolverines’ Big Ten Tournament dream run.
Moments earlier, Wisconsin forward Alex Alfaro had put the final dagger in a disappointing afternoon for the Michigan men’s soccer team, as his goal with one second remaining put the Badgers up 4-0.
Michigan’s hopes of a Big Ten Tournament title took its largest blow with 15 minutes remaining. With the Wolverines dominating possession but trailing 1-0, a bad back pass from Wisconsin put freshman forward Mohammed Zakyi through on goal with a chance to equalize.
A great save from keeper Philipp Schilling saw the ball fall to a Wisconsin defender, who played a long ball over the top to forward Chris Mueller. Mueller cut past two Michigan defenders and finished to the far post — all but sealing the Badgers’ victory, merely seconds after it looked like their lead was finally going to fall.
“We thought that was the equalizer,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Then off of that, they came straight back on top of us and we lost a little bit of focus and they scored off that play. … (It) definitely took the wind out of our sails a little bit.”
Wisconsin opened the scoring 29 minutes into the match when a cross fell loose in the box after a Badger striker landed on top of freshman goalkeeper Henry Mashburn. The opportunity didn’t go wasted, as the ball was slotted home with Mashburn still lying hopelessly on the ground.
Mashburn found himself on the ground again for the Badgers’ third goal, as he slipped while taking a free kick, ultimately allowing Tom Barlow to finish into an empty net.
Despite the loss, the 12th-ranked Wolverines have a favorable chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, especially given their regular season conference title. But they still must await the selection committee’s decision on whether they have done enough to earn one of 16 first-round byes.
“We have some top 25 results, big wins,” Daley said. “We’re in a great position to be in the NCAA Tournament so whether or not we’re in the first round or we get a bye, I think that’s what we were trying to cement today.”
In order to make its impact felt in the tournament, Michigan will have to re-group from what was their first loss since Oct. 10 and most lopsided loss of the season. Daley, though, isn’t concerned.
“I’m confident that the guys will regroup from the (Big Ten Tournament),” Daley said, “which was a little bit of a disappointment, and get our minds right for the NCAA Tournament, which is the ultimate prize.”
And while Friday may have been a let down for the red-hot Wolverines, Daley is determined to not let his team lose the focus that led them to his most successful regular season in Ann Arbor.
“I’m positive that the group will be re-invigorated.” Daley said. “It’s exhausting to go through the regular season and win the title the way we won, which is something new for them. … A loss at the end of the season on a neutral site doesn’t necessarily distinguish our body of work, which has been really, really good.”