For women's soccer, deficits snowball in blowout losses

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By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 2, 2014

Young as it is, the Michigan women’s soccer team has tried to stay away from focusing on results early in the season. But the worst two-game stretch in program history might be cause for concern.

Never had the Wolverines lost two weekend games by a combined eight goals. They hadn’t given up five since a 6-0 loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009 and hadn’t surrendered eight in two games since Aug. 22 and 24, 2008.

“Friday, we didn’t represent Michigan — we didn’t represent anybody,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “Representing Michigan athletics has got to be the thing that always shows up for us. If we play like we did Friday night, we’ll get beat badly.”

After Michigan escaped with a pair of 2-0 wins over Cal State Northridge and Bowling Green the previous weekend, its issues snowballed in San Diego. The back line, which is playing with four new starters at times, broke down, most notably with an own goal against San Diego State on Sunday.

The offense dearly misses all-time leading scorer Nkem Ezurike, who was often the only forward last season. Even the goalkeeping position, which returned sophomore Taylor Bucklin, is up for grabs between Bucklin and freshman Megan Hinz.

But most importantly, the Wolverines couldn’t respond to deficits this weekend — and Ryan doesn’t necessarily see that getting much better.

“If we get down a goal, maybe we can come back,” Ryan said. “But so far, we’re not there yet. It could happen, I’m not saying it won’t, but it didn’t happen Sunday, didn’t happen Friday, hasn’t happened yet. Until it happens, I’m not sure there’s evidence to support the fact that it’s going to happen.”

In the past two years, Michigan has lost eight times, only once by more than one goal. The Wolverines were in every game, even at their worst.

Ryan continued to talk about the team’s inexperience: Senior midfielder Jen Pace, a captain, did not start a game last season, while junior midfielder Cassie Collins started just four.

“When we got down our first goal, everyone was a little frazzled because it was the first goal we’d given up and it came so fast in the game,” said junior midfielder Corinne Harris. “We have decided that we’re always going to get together after goals to make sure we can keep pushing through.”

The Wolverines haven’t trailed much in recent seasons — falling behind just six times last year. But on Friday, San Diego’s first goal was followed 18 minutes later by another, which was followed eight minutes later by another. Sunday, the own goal came eight minutes after the first goal.

“Last year’s team didn’t get down very often,” Ryan said. “That was a reflection of that team, they were so determined and focused. Our mantra was relentless, and that team was relentless. This group is just beginning to learn what it means to play with that kind of an effort.”

Ryan told his team after the game Sunday that five players had good performances. He declined to name them to the media, but noted that the Wolverines will need more players competing. He hoped that by calling those players out to his team, others would follow them.

Until they do, there might be more crooked results. In the meantime, there might be one remedy to responding to one-goal deficits: not allowing them in the first place.

“I think realistically, this is a team that at this point anyway, isn’t going to (go) well if we’re down a goal,” Ryan said. “We haven’t showed the signs yet that we can create enough opportunities to go down a goal. Our focus is going to be on team defending and not giving up a goal.”