When the Michigan men’s soccer team stepped into a boxing ring in College Park on Friday night, 6,294 fans wanted to see the Wolverines knocked out, like Rocky Balboa to Maryland’s Apollo Creed.
Michigan was ranked seventh in the Big Ten before the season. Maryland is the No. 4 team in the nation.
Both teams went blow for blow with each other, going the distance in a 110-minute overtime battle. And both teams emerged battered and bruised with only one point to show for it.
“Very few teams in America are going to go to Maryland and get anything out of the game,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “For us go there with their depth, their quality, their culture, their tradition, their fan base and to get a point … we’re not overly pleased and we’re not over the moon. But we’re satisfied with the work we put in tonight, so it’s a deserved point, and (we’re) slightly disappointed it wasn’t more.”
Michigan (0-0-1 Big Ten, 2-1-1 overall) left the grudge match with a 0-0 tie against the Terrapins despite playing with a one-man advantage for the final 35 minutes of play.
In the 75th minute, sophomore defender Billy Stevens jumped to challenge Maryland midfielder Jorge Calix for a 50-50 head ball. As Calix landed, he flung his arm backwards at Stevens, making contact with his elbow.
Stevens left the field bloodied, while Calix was given a red card for the transgression.
Up to that point, the Wolverines were threatening with momentum in their favor. They had earned three corner kicks and fired four shots on net, and looked significantly more comfortable combining in their attacking third.
After the red card, Maryland (0-0-1, 2-1-2) caught Michigan on its heels. The Terrapins controlled possession for the final 15 minutes of regulation, pushing several passes out wide before serving them into the 18-yard-box for shot opportunities. In the final five minutes alone Maryland midfielder Mael Corboz had two shots, took two corner kicks and earned a dangerous free kick at the 18.
But prior to the incident with Stevens, the Wolverines found a way to outplay the fourth-ranked team in the nation. Maryland tries to beat its opponents in the opening 20 minutes by applying immense pressure and scoring goals to give a defensive cushion.
In the first half, however, Michigan applied a pressure of its own rather than electing to sit back and absorb the Terrapins’ attack.
Though senior midfielder James Murphy left the game in the 10th minute with a lower-body injury, the combination of freshman Ivo Cerda, junior Brett Nason and redshirt sophomore Michael Kapitula were disruptive in the midfield, preventing Maryland from dictating the pace and establishing any consistent possession.
Daley said he was trying to force Maryland to play the ball directly from its defenders to its forwards, because he felt his back line would have the advantage at winning long balls out of the air.
“We didn’t want them to dictate play through their best players, which were (Corboz) and (Tsubasa Endoh),” Daley said. “Maryland is a top team. You’re not going to get everything right. The guys did a great job of weathering the storm when they needed to.”
The two overtime periods seemed to favor Michigan, as the Wolverines outshot the Terrapins, 5-1. But neither team found a way to break the stalemate before the final whistle.
Still, Michigan finished the game with an advantage in corner kicks (7-3) and shots (15-12). Both teams combined for 34 fouls, three yellow cards and a red card — a stat line that leaves no doubt about the matchup’s phsyicality.
While neither team could deliver a knockout punch, each had its fair share of blows landed. By the time the fight was over, Michigan — a team that was written off as an afterthought in the Big Ten — proved it could stand toe to toe with the best in the nation.