While the Michigan men’s soccer team (1-0 Big Ten) spent the vast majority of its season-opening half deep in its opponents’ third of the field, its inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities resulted in an early deficit.
The second half told a different story for the Wolverines.
Coming off of a 445-day drought of playing against any team, Michigan left Evanston with a 4-1 win, punctuating the victory with a three-goal scoring blitz in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
Northwestern (0-1 Big Ten) struggled to find many scoring chances, though the first career goal from midfielder Joseph Arena in the fifth minute gave the Wildcats a 1-0 edge early on.
While Northwestern had the edge on the scoreboard heading into halftime, Michigan outshot the Wildcats 6-1, though found itself unable to capitalize on the chances.
“It was definitely frustrating in the first half, but we knew the goals were coming and it was just a matter of time,” senior midfielder Marc Ybarra said. “(Northwestern) took their one chance well, and it was just impressive from the whole group that we could stick together and not lose hope.”
Whatever rust Michigan showed in the first half seemingly vanished after halftime. In the 49th minute, Ybarra found the back of the net from a free kick to knot the score at one apiece.
“We came out pressing them really hard, I remember (senior defender) Joel (Harrison) drew that foul, and it was just a great spot,” Ybarra said. “I was happy to be able to get the scoring started, and it was nice to have almost everyone get on the scoresheet afterwards.”
Sophomore forward Moshtaba Al-Hasnawi and junior midfielder Cameron Martin followed Ybarra with goals of their own in the 54th and 55th minutes, while Harrison and Jackson Ragen helped the Wolverines’ defense keep Northwestern at bay.
Michigan coach Chaka Daley was crystal clear in his perspective on the defensive unit’s impact in this game and beyond.
“They really push the envelope physically and mentally within the group,” Daley said. “Besides being tremendous players, their sense of leadership far exceeds their talent.”
After the three-goal scoring spree, Wolverine freshman midfielder Bryce Blevins was tripped in front of the net. Michigan capitalized on a foul once again, with Ragen notching a goal via penalty kick in the 72nd minute.
The first win of a team’s season is always a key victory. Playing for the first time in 445 days might make this one mean just a little more to the Wolverines.