With five minutes left on the game clock, nerves began to run high on the sideline and in the crowd. The score was deadlocked at 0-0, and time was running out for the Michigan women’s soccer team.
The Wolverines had dominated the game against Iowa, controlling possession and dictating the run of play on their way to manufacturing the majority of the scoring opportunities in the match. They held a 12-1 advantage in corner kicks and produced 27 shots while allowing just three, but the potential for victory seemed to be drifting further and further out of reach as the game clock wound down to four minutes, then three minutes, then two.
Michigan threw players into the attack. Senior defender Christina Murillo scrambled down the left flank, dribbling through scores of defenders, and launched a cross into the middle of the box filled with Wolverines and Hawkeyes awaiting the delivery, either to slam the ball in the direction of the goal or punt it far away from the penalty box.
All the eyes in the U-M Soccer Stadium looked up, and one head soared above the rest. Michigan senior forward Lulu Haidar buried the ball in the back of the net, unleashing the home crowd and team into a joyous frenzy. It was the 88th minute, and Michigan finally found its game-winner. And its hero.
Though an underrated player on the team, Haidar has the ability to take control of a game and impact the final score, according to Michigan coach Greg Ryan.
“Lulu is the kind of kid that’s very confident when she gets around the goal,” Ryan said. “She’s not tall by any means, but she has great timing, she reads the flight well, and she can head the ball better than most of our players. The confidence she has in the attacking part of her game helps her keep at it and keep going, knowing if she gets that chance, she’s going to score.”
But that climactic finish only tells part of the story of a player who knows how to make the most of her opportunities.
To start the season, Haidar has tallied five goals and one assist while playing in eight of 10 matches and starting just three. The results haven’t always come in the past — Haidar has more goals than in her first three seasons combined — but now she’s a spark plug whenever she enters the game.
“Lulu’s one of the best soccer players on our team in terms of her attacking ability,” Ryan said. “She’s got great skill, she can shoot from anywhere and has a very powerful shot, and she sees the field well and is able to make great passes to give her other teammates chances to score, so she’s got all the great qualities of an attacking player.”
Her position on the team as a non-starter but a key role player affords her the opportunity to come into a game and dramatically affect the outcome.
Part of the explanation for her strong start may be related to her summer job. Haidar spent the summer playing on Motor City FC – a Women’s Professional Soccer League U-20 team. There, her team captured the league championship, and she won Golden Boot and Tournament MVP awards.
“It was a great experience for me, and it had a great effect on me as of now,” Haidar said. “It was a good opportunity to play other teams and to challenge myself as a player, and it helped me stay in the game and stay in shape in addition to working out and practicing on my own.”
Ryan believes that her productive offseason is paying dividends both for her and for the team as a whole.
“Just like Christina Murillo playing for Mexico in the World Cup, when your kids play at a high level over the summer, it helps tremendously because they come back already ready to go,” Ryan said. “I think Lulu came back in great shape because she played a lot, so she was really ready to put her best foot forward, and she has. Some of our players that didn’t play much this summer, it has showed in their ability to impact the team.”
Sharing Ryan’s belief, Murillo thinks the team has responded well to the example Haidar has set in the early stages of the season.
“It’s really amazing to see a player like Lulu who’s not always starting but who goes into the game and makes a difference,” Murillo said. “That’s inspired other players to think ‘I’m getting 90 minutes, so I need to be making more of a difference in the game.’ ”
Making the most of her opportunities, Haidar serves as a reminder of the importance of each member of a team through her perseverance, dedication and passion for the game. For a senior’s final hurrah, she’s making quite a statement.