Wolverines fall to No. 17 Akron after a flat first half

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By Michael Pisciotta , Daily Sports Writer
Published October 30, 2013

Coming off its first three-game win streak of the year, the Michigan men’s soccer team looked to avenge last year’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Akron. With high hopes of beating another national powerhouse, Michigan fell flat.

Despite an inspired second-half performance, the Wolverines couldn’t overcome a two-goal, first-half deficit in their 2-1 defeat to the Zips on Wednesday evening.

“The first half, we came out flat,” said redshirt junior Tyler Arnone. “We didn’t have a great warm-up.”

From the start, Akron’s attack looked potent. In the fifth minute, following a loss of possession in the midfield by the Wolverines, the ball was passed to Zips midfielder Adam Najem, who ripped a shot off the crossbar. Ten minutes later, a sliding shot by Akron midfielder Robbie Derschang almost put Akron ahead, but it narrowly went wide.

The breakthrough for Akron came in the 23rd minute, through Derschang. A cross from defender Saad Abdul-Salaam found the foot of midfielder Matt Foldesy, who played the ball across the goal. The cross was deflected by a Wolverine defender into the path of Derschang, who slotted the ball into the back of the net.

In the 30th minute, the Zips doubled their lead after a lapse by the Michigan defense. Akron’s sustained pressure caused a mishit clearance by a Wolverines defender that fell nicely to Derschang. He volleyed the loose ball from 18 yards out into the bottom-right corner past Michigan redshirt junior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis.

“It was a disgrace,” Arnone said. “To let up a goal that easy, there is no excuse.”

The Zips clearly dominated play for most of the opening 45 minutes as they kept the majority of the possession and outshot Michigan, 13-3. Precise long passes and clever runs by the Akron forwards created multiple scoring opportunities and caused problems for the Wolverine back line.

The teams combined for 26 fouls, and five yellow cards were handed out. In the 66th minute, emotions got the best of redshirt sophomore midfielder Colin McAtee, who instigated a skirmish that led to a verbal confrontation between senior midfielder Dylan Mencia and the Zips’ forwards.

“We started really slow, and they didn’t,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “They were really bright, and that led to us conceding two goals.”

With time running down in the first half, the Wolverines got back in the game through senior defender Ezekiel Harris. Following a foul by the Zips, Arnone whipped a long free kick to freshman forward Yamann Sahlool, who chested down the ball to Harris. He pounced on the loose ball and lashed a shot into the back of the net to cut the Akron lead to one.

Inspired by the late goal by Harris, Michigan created quality scoring chances through shots from redshirt sophomore midfielder Colin McAtee and senior midfielder Fabio Pereira. Michigan’s efforts were for naught, though, as it couldn’t break down the Zips’ back line.

As the game progressed, the Wolverines’ back line began to improve, as did the play of Grinwis, who made two brilliant saves to keep Michigan in the game. Akron was forced into difficult situations and prevented from creating easy scoring opportunities.

With time winding down, the Wolverines switched to a three-back formation and pushed multiple players forward in attack. This switch led to a more dominant Michigan attack that looked poised to score an equalizer. In the 84th minute, the Wolverines almost scored the goal they desperately needed.

Junior midfielder TJ VanSlooten, who had just entered as a sub, gathered a cross from the right flank and shot the ball toward goal. His effort was cleared off the line by the Zips’ defense, leading to a corner for Michigan. The ensuing corner was whipped in by Arnone, and it met the head of McAtee. It seemed like an easy goal as the ball lofted over Akron goalkeeper Fernando Pina, but it hit the crossbar and the opportunity was lost. Then, in the 90th minute, Pina slipped while clearing the ball, and it landed at the feet of sophomore forward James Murphy. With Pina off his line, Murphy tried to chip it into the back of the net, but the ball was straight at Pina.

“We had some great chances,” Daley said “But we didn’t take care of them.”