In the second minute of the game, freshman forward Michael Leon charged into the 18-yard box, barely putting his foot on a cross.
His shot missed, but the early scoring opportunity looked like a good sign for the offense. Instead, Leon’s shot would be one of the Michigan men’s soccer team’s only substantial chances on goal during the Wolverines’ 1-0 loss to No. 24 Duke. Michigan’s offense frequently turned the ball over and squandered set pieces in its attacking throughout the game.
Between the Wolverines’ inaccurate passes and the Blue Devils’ smothering defense, Michigan failed to advance the ball up the field and usually turned it over after a few touches. Passes on the ground were under-hit, and passes in the air typically found the feet and foreheads of Duke’s four midfielders.
The Wolverines resorted to moving the ball in other ways. In the first half, freshman defender Jason Bucknor and junior midfielder Inaki Rodriguez used their footwork and ball-handling skills to advance the ball by themselves. But Michigan could only make it so far forward without passing. After beating Duke’s defenders, these solo attacks met the same doom.
Michigan overstruck long aerial passes from its goalkeeper and backline to its forwards, leaving senior forward Derick Broche and junior forward Evan Rasmussen a step behind the ball. And when these passes were completed, the attackers found themselves outnumbered and quickly lost possession to the Blue Devils’ formidable defense.
“We had some poor passing in the final third, poor decisions in the final third,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “Their center back did a good job of dominating a lot of balls, what we call first contact. He got to first balls a lot sharper than we did.”
The Wolverines did earn throw-ins, free kicks and three corner kicks in their attacking third, but failed to capitalize on these set pieces. Close-range free kicks were caught by Duke goalkeeper Eliot Hamill, and corner kicks were cleared by the Blue Devils’ defense.
Duke controlled the ball for the majority of the second half, leaving Michigan with little time and few chances to score. Broche and Rasmussen lingered far upfield and rarely touched the ball.
Down a goal with about seven minutes remaining, Michigan mounted what Daley called a “desperation” attack in an attempt to tie the game. The Wolverines moved the ball up through the midfield with accurate and often acrobatic passing and earned a throw-in, a free kick and two corner kicks within a few minutes. The attack culminated with a cross into the box by graduate forward Umar Farouk Osman that Leon headed just high.
“Movement of the ball is the best thing in playing the sport,” Daley said. “When one guy moves, another guy comes underneath. Relentless and unselfish running allows other guys to come underneath, collect, turn and play.”
The Wolverines failed to score no matter what they tried, but the methodical, team-wide effort in the final minutes got them closer to the back of the net than booming passes and half-cocked, outnumbered runs into Duke’s final third. Michigan’s lack of consistency turned Leon’s first shot into one of its last.
“It’s about building through the middle third and not being frantic in the final third,” Daley said.