If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s the short version of what Michigan men’s soccer coach Chaka Daley told his team at halftime of Sunday’s game against Penn State. It was scoreless at the time, but Daley sought to convince his team success was coming.
“If things are going the right way, which they were the first half, we just told them to stay the course and keep going, and goals will come if we keep playing the way we’re playing,” Daley said. “And more importantly, keep competing the way we’re competing.”
And the goals did come after the half. Michigan (1-4 Big Ten, 2-6-3 overall) put away two chances in the final 45 minutes, notching its second straight win and first in the Big Ten this season.
The first goal came early in the 63rd minute, when freshman forward Jack Hallahan scored from the top of the box, finishing a chance perfectly into the left corner of the goal.
“Honestly, it was overwhelming,” Hallahan said. “We needed a goal and I knew that we were struggling to get a goal. We were at them all game and it was just joy, relief, everything in one.”
Ten minutes later, Francis Atuahene added another to the Wolverines’ tally. The sophomore forward put up six shots, but finally connected with a header from senior forward Rylee Woods’ high cross that came from 30 yards out.
After notching its inaugural victory Wednesday against Detroit, Michigan’s momentum carried over to Sunday. Early in the contest, it forced a fast pace, creating a flurry of quality shots and — playing to the strength of their forwards’ speed — exploited Penn State’s (2-2-0 Big Ten, 4-5-1 overall) weakness in that department.
The Wolverines registered 18 shots, seven of which were on goal, including five in the first half alone. The total exceeded their average shots per game of 16.2, which ranked 14th in the nation and second in the Big Ten coming into the game.
Michigan’s best scoring chance of the first half was in the 42nd minute, when Atuahene finished a ball off a service from Woods, only for the goal to be negated due to an offside call.
The Wolverines pressured the ball, controlling the possession predominantly in their opponents’ half. Any semblance of a Penn State offensive stand was quickly thwarted and converted into a strong counterattack. With Michigan’s offense and defense working cohesively, it took until the 81st minute for the Nittany Lions to get their first shot on goal — a testament to the Wolverines’ stout defensive effort.
Senior centerback Lars Eckenrode credited the coaching staff for assembling an extensive scouting report that pinpointed Penn State’s offensive game plan.
“We listened to the coaches, we put that into action today, and it really showed that as long as we listen and have trust in our coaches with things that they ask of us, then we’ll have a tight defense,” Eckenrode said. “And we followed through with the game plan.”
Daley added that stopping midfielder Connor Maloney and forward Dayonn Harris — coined Penn State’s “danger guys” — was a priority that was achieved.
Yet even with the healthy two-goal cushion, the Wolverines continued to attack, adding three more shots in the final minutes.
“We’ve had previous games where we’ve been up by two and then drew 2-2,” Hallahan said. “We knew that we had to grind it out and we couldn’t take our foot off the gas.”