Mistakes plague men’s soccer, 4-4-3 dysfunctional in season opener

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Sophomore Rylee Woods competes against the Panthers Friday afternoon. Buy this photo

By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 29, 2014

With big hopes coming into the season, the Michigan men’s soccer team walked onto the new sod at the U-M Soccer Stadium riding high with confidence.

Ninety minutes and a mistake-filled game later, that stone-cold confidence was shattered, and the Wolverines walked off the field in silence with their heads down after losing a 1-0 battle to Florida International.

After a fantastic preseason, when the Wolverines went undefeated in three games, with their last coming against No. 14 Louisville, Michigan was ready for the rough and tumble of the regular season.

But after Friday afternoon’s game, the Wolverines seemed like they had forgotten their preseason momentum.

Bad first touches and misplaced passes plagued Michigan as it struggled to find a firm footing in an evenly played game. After changing their formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 before the season, it was assumed that the transition would be rough for the first few games.

“I think there’s always going to be a little bit of a learning curve, but that’s no excuse,” said fifth-year senior midfielder Tyler Arnone. “We went undefeated in the preseason playing that system. 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.”

But Daley didn’t want to solely place the blame on the formation switch.

“I don’t think it was so much of the formation,” Daley said. “I think we just had a bad start and couldn’t recover from it.”

In a 4-3-3 formation, one of the keys to success is for the center midfielders to hold and distribute the ball to the wings.

Friday, the midfield trio of senior Marcos Ugarte, junior forward James Murphy and Arnone often lost the ball in the midfield, breaking down the attack and eventually leading to the Florida International goal, which came against the run of play after a close Michigan chance.

“I have to keep the ball for the team,” Arnone said. “I didn’t do a good enough job of that today. The particular formation we play is possession oriented and if we don’t keep the ball, (the attack) kind of falls apart.”

But for as disappointed as the Wolverines could have been from the outcome of the game, there were bright spots.

One of them was freshman defender Billy Stevens, whose commanding and loud presence in the back stabilized a defense that started off unsteadily.

Another bright spot was Murphy, who wasn’t in his usual position up top, but instead inside the three-man midfield triangle. Murphy had the most success of the midfielders in distributing and possessing the ball.

“I think Stevens and Murphy were excellent,” Daley said. “Everyone else was below par.”

At the end of the day, Friday afternoon’s match is just the first game of the season, and there is a lot of time to fix the problems.

And fortunately for the Wolverines, they get the opportunity to be back on the pitch Sunday against Southern Methodist to fix some of the mistakes.

“There were many issues, many problems that went on today,” Arnone said. “Luckily, we have 48 hours to move on and put the game in the past.”