Junior forward Nkem Ezurike struck twice for the No. 23 University of Michigan women’s soccer team, leading the Wolverines over Northwestern, 2-0, in Evanston on Saturday.
The Wildcats’ defense could do little to slow down an overpowering Michigan attack. The Wolverines (5-0-1 Big Ten, 11-2-1 overall) controlled possession from the opening whistle, generating a barrage of offensive opportunities. Despite being outshot 8-1 in the first fifteen minutes, Northwestern goalkeeper Rachel Bergman held strong and kept Michigan off the scoreboard.
The Wolverines finally capitalized 17 minutes into the contest. Junior midfielder Tori McCombs headed a ball toward net that was misplayed by a defender, and Ezurike took advantage of the mistake. Alone against the goalkeeper, the forward lifted a shot over Bergman and into the back of the net, breaking the scoreless draw.
A humble Ezurike refused to take credit for the tally.
“It’s totally a group effort,” she said. “I wouldn’t get those goals without the team.”
The goal seemed to awaken Northwestern (0-6, 4-8-2) which began creating its own scoring chances. Junior forward Kate Allen, the Wildcats’ greatest offensive threat, fired a strong shot on goal in the 27th minute, but fifth-year senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer corralled the effort. That attempt was Northwestern’s last on target, but Michigan’s offense wasn’t done —the McCombs-to-Ezurike combination soon struck again for Michigan.
Just six minutes into the second half, McCombs curled a low cross into the 18-yard box. The ball landed perfectly at the feet of Ezurike, who had made a long run from midfield. The forward poked a shot past Bergman for her eighth tally in six games.
Ezurike said she understood the important of the 2-0 lead, since it virtually assured a Michigan victory.
“We have to win every game from here on out,” she said. “Each game we play is like a Big Ten championship to us.”
The result temporarily pushed Michigan into first place in the Big Ten. Conference-leading and 4th-ranked Penn State (5-0, 11-2) had the night off, and will face Indiana on Sunday afternoon. If the Nittany Lions win, they will regain sole possession of first place; a tie would put them even with the Wolverines.
Once Michigan took a two-goal lead, the defense did the rest, holding an opponent scoreless for the tenth time this season. The back four surrendered eight shots, but just two threatened Kopmeyer. The Wolverines’ fifth clean sheet in six conference games dropped their goals-against average to 0.36.
Michigan coach Greg Ryan has been impressed with his defense all season long, and Saturday night was no different.
“The back four were great,” Ryan said. “There were very few chances (for Northwestern) throughout the game.”
The victory in Evanston helped the Wolverines match a program record with four consecutive road wins. But facing a quick turnaround before a crucial midweek game against Michigan State, Ryan has moved on.
“Tonight’s win was nice,” he said. “I’m already focusing on Michigan State.”