There were just eight minutes left on the game clock at U-M Soccer Stadium. The Wolverines and the Big Green were locked in a scoreless draw, and time was winding down for both teams.
Channeling his inner Johan Cruyff, Michigan men’s soccer junior Francis Atuahene slipped the ball behind his left leg to push past Dartmouth’s final line of defense. Exploiting the gap, Atuahene finished the ball with his right laces, low and hard to the bottom right corner of the net.
The Big Green (0-2) didn’t have much of a chance to respond, and the Wolverines (3-0-1) emerged with a 1-0 victory.
Last season, it took Michigan 10 outings to earn its first win. Four games into this year, the Wolverines have already earned three.
Michigan coach Chaka Daley, though, doesn’t like to compare.
“We don’t talk about last season. That’s number one,” Daley said. “Two, we have a great character group. They’ve gone through some adversity, but the new guys only know what we’ve been building on since the spring. We take one game at a time and keep going from there.”
Daley specifies that he puts an emphasis on said character, and this team — more than most — has just that. The Wolverines appeared both prepared and composed on the pitch against Dartmouth.
“Everyone is trying to be responsible on the field and everyone is trying to look out for each other on the field,” Atuahene said. “It’s not about me, it’s not about any individual, it’s about the team.”
And though Atuahene and his fellow upperclassmen lead Michigan on and off the field, Daley doesn’t shy away from playing the younger players in the slightest. When he recruits, he looks for character, and expects them to be ready and eager from day one.
Six newcomers have seen significant playing time all over the field so far this season. Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Andrew Verdi has yet to miss a minute, conceding just two nearly unpreventable goals in his first four games. He tallied three impressive saves on the day.
Freshman Umar Farouk Osman comes to Ann Arbor as the 2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year and has already begun to stand out in the midfield. His nifty foot skills garnered the fans’ cheers throughout the entirety of the match as he weaved in and around the Big Green.
Along with the fresh faces, opening up the season with five consecutive home games is new for the Wolverines. It has never occurred in Michigan men’s soccer history, and Daley thinks it may have played a role in the Wolverines’ early success.
“The second game of a double header on a weekend is very difficult for energy,” Daley said. “We were a little lackluster in the first half, but certainly the crowd and the Michigan Ultras pushed us through to the end there.”
And while the hype from the fans and the talent from the team’s new faces certainly add elements of both excitement and depth, Daley believes the core of the team’s success has come down to their attitude.
“In the end, it’s really comes down to character. (The team is) really grinding through and listening. They’re disciplined and they’re working hard at it. And they’re hungry,” Daley said with a smile. “I make sure they are.”