Michigan disappoints, falls to underdog Panthers in season opener

Luna Anna Archey/Daily
Freshman Billy Stevens competes against the Panthers Friday afternoon. Buy this photo

By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 29, 2014

After playing for all 90 minutes, Billy Stevens dropped to his knees and remained motionless on the ground.

But it wasn’t exhaustion that brought the freshman defender to his knees. The Michigan men’s soccer team dropped its season opener against Florida International University on Friday, 1-0.

Stevens shared the same sentiment as the rest of his teammates, who all walked off the field in silence and solidarity.

Michigan (0-1) was expecting to win its first match at the U-M Soccer Stadium after a long summer of two-a-days and an undefeated preseason that included a victory against No. 14 Louisville.

In the 67th minute, FIU’s Donald Tomlinson notched the game’s only tally with a drive into the lower-right corner of the net.

“You can’t really pinpoint one exact thing. There were many problems defensively and offensively,” said fifth-year senior midfielder Tyler Arnone. “That’s the disappointing part, because you can’t just pick one thing and say, ‘Alright, we lost it, and we’ll focus in on this.’ Today, it was just overall team performance; you can’t really single anyone out.”

The Wolverines played in a new-look 4-3-3 formation that ultimately made it difficult for the midfielders to connect with the forwards. Though Michigan outshot the Panthers 5-3 in the first half, it didn’t challenge Florida International goalkeeper Robin Spiegel enough.

“I think there’s always going to be a little bit of a learning curve, but that’s no excuse,” said Arnone of the new formation. “I think some guys got flustered today, and having it be a big season with very high expectations and a young group, some guys just got flustered and lost their way.”

Michigan started off with enough pressure but wasn’t able to keep the ball in its possession. The best chance for the Wolverines came in the 12th minute, when fifth-year senior defender Nick Lewin delivered the ball to freshman forward Ahinga Selemani. But the header flew wide right, keeping the game scoreless.

In the second half, Michigan put even less pressure on net, taking just three shots to the Panthers’ six, and redshirt senior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis spent the game under fire. FIU forward Quentin Albrecht made his mark by hitting a shot off of the right post and then heading one off of the crossbar two minutes later.

In the 58th minute, the Wolverines created another promising opportunity when junior forward William Mellors-Blair sprinted down the right sideline, beating a defender and sending over a cross to Selemani, whose header from the top of the box flew wide right.

Ten minutes later, Tomlinson put Michigan behind for good.

“I think we just got off to a bad start and couldn’t get ourselves out of the hole,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “FIU put on a very good performance and a good shift, and they were dangerous. It was an even game for a long stretch and then it opened up a little more in the second half. They had a couple of good chances and they scored one against the run of it, we just missed the chance and they came down. That’s soccer sometimes.”

Michigan had two more shots on goal in the remainder of the half, but neither came to fruition.

“We’ll get better as a result,” Daley said. “When you have a younger group of guys that are just playing for the first time, you don’t really lose, you gain experience. We’re going to gain some experience from today, and some growth as a result of this.”