Imagine a textbook give-and-go around a Rutgers defender, a hard pass into the middle of the box, and an easy tap-in by the Wolverines and that’s the Michigan men’s soccer team only goal no more than 120 seconds into the game. In a combination of deadly passes, Michigan sliced easily through the right side of the Rutgers defense and seemed poised to continue that momentum into the rest of the game.
Michigan (3-2-2) struck early during its first Big Ten matchup against No. 24 Rutgers, yet fell victim to a penalty kick and then lightning as weather forced the game into an early ending, 70 minutes in at 1-1.
Michigan’s only goalscorer of the night was fifth-year senior forward Nebojsa Popovic, who now has five goals on the season. Popovic led the Michigan attack in keeping a high press against the Rutgers defense from the very beginning of the game, and eventually transformed that pressure into his second-minute goal. Fellow forwards Jack Hallahan and Christian Pulselli, were both credited with assists.
“We want to see if we can be aggressive early and get after teams and make them uncomfortable and its been successful for us,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We want to state our intentions by our approach and I think we’ve done that.”
The Wolverines kept a strong hold on the midfield and limited the Scarlet Knights to only a few offensive chances in the first 20 minutes. But while defending a Rutgers corner in the 24th minute, senior defenseman Abdou Samake committed a foul inside the box and senior goalkeeper Andrew Verdi could do nothing to stop the penalty from sailing into the right side of the net.
The Rutgers goal changed the flow of the game and successfully slowed the momentum Michigan had built in the opening minutes to a 1-1 halftime score. The Wolverine defense was increasingly under attack, while the midfield struggled to keep possession of the ball due to sloppy passes and frequent turnovers all over the field. The teams entered the locker rooms even and needing to come out strong.
“While they had more possession in the first half, I don’t think we were uncomfortable in any shape or form,” Daley said.
Michigan seemed to rise to the challenge, and four minutes into the second half sophomore forward Derick Broche managed to put the ball into the goal but it was called back as he had kicked the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hands. However, soon after that chance the game settled into what it was in the first half- an even battle with close chances and scares for both teams.
In the 60th minute, Popovic re-entered the game and re-energized the Michigan attack, pressing the defense and quickly creating two opportunities for Broche and junior forward Umar Farouk Osman. But, by the 70th minute, lightning and rain in the area stopped any more offensive chances when officials stopped play. A thirty minute weather delay led to play resuming for about two minutes before storms initiated a second weather delay that saw the match called 1-1.
“Both teams really wanted to finish the game,” Daley said. “I think we really wanted to a little bit more because we were kind of responding to a sluggish first half. But we weren’t poor by any stretch because in reality their only shot on goal was a PK, … We gotta live with what we have, we are who we are, and just keep rolling through the season.”