By John Kopko, For The Daily
Published November 4, 2013
Monday, the curtain closed on the home careers of six Michigan seniors.
A 1-0 victory over Valparaiso (0-3-2 Horizon League, 3-6-5 overall) marked the final time Fabio Pereira, Ezekiel Harris, TJ Roehn, Malcolm Miller, Dylan Mencia, and Tyler Leppek stepped onto the pitch in front of the home crowd in Ann Arbor, beginning to close the chapter on a strong nucleus of players who have kept the Michigan men’ soccer team in games this season.
Pereira entered his final home match as the program leader in shots with 188 and ranked second all-time in assists with 21.
Harris’s departure will leave a gap at outside back. The physical captain had been a permanent fixture on the back line for Michigan coach Chaka Daley for two years.
It was fitting for Harris and Pereira to work together 15 minutes into the game to give the Wolverines a chance at their first goal of the match. After Harris’s cross drew a handball in the box, Pereira stepped up and calmly converted the penalty shot to give Michigan an eventual 1-0 victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” Pereira said. “On a night like senior night, it’s great especially coming out with the win.”
The match itself was a quiet one for Michigan (3-2-0 Big Ten, 7-5-3). On a rare Monday night game, the stands were relatively empty. The match remained a midfield battle, and both teams played conservatively without many flashy passes or footwork.
After the Wolverines went up a goal, they made personnel changes to give each of the seniors more playing time.
For the majority of the second half, all six seniors remained on the field. Leppek made his fourth appearance of the season and logged 59 minutes at outside back.
“We let the seniors ride it out,” Daley said. “We didn’t have enough punch, but (the seniors) had a good day and we are very happy those guys got the win.”
Following a solid defensive effort in the first half, sophomore defender Jack Brown and freshman defender Andre Morris paired up in the center and limited Valparaiso’s scoring opportunities.
On their lone shot on goal, which the Crusaders managed in the second stanza, junior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis made a phenomenal save to put an exclamation mark on Michigan’s defensive performance.
Michigan’s offense controlled a majority of possession behind the midfield play of Mencia but only mustered 11 shots, four of which were on goal. Roehn and Miller worked together at forward in the second half and contributed to Michigan’s second half scoring opportunities.
In the 78th minute, Roehn ripped a shot from 22 yards out that beat the keeper but bounced off the crossbar and away.
“Roehn deserved a goal there,” Daley said. “It was a little unlucky.”
Once the final whistle blew, the end of a journey at the U-M Soccer Complex became inevitable for the seniors, but the win generated by those six players gives the Wolverines a chance to move on to the NCAA Tournament.
While the seniors still have plenty of soccer to play this year, a positive farewell in Ann Arbor gives the team hope heading into the next few games.
“At the end of the day, we’re walking out with this win and heading into Saturday with some life,” Pereira said. “It’s great.”