COLUMBUS – They had their chances – 10 to be exact. But like most of the season’s opportunities, the Michigan men’s soccer team fell short and its chances failed on the goal line.
The Wolverines finished their regular season on Friday night with a 1-0 loss to Ohio State. The game marked Michigan’s third consecutive loss in the past two weeks.
The Wolverines racked up 10 total shots but remained scoreless at the conclusion of the 90 minutes.
“The effort was there, and I think the overall willingness to win was there,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “We had some chances that, if we were able to finish, the game would have gone another way. Ohio State had their one good chance, and they finished on it. Each team is going to have their moments to score. It’s a matter of being able to weather the storm and take advantage of those moments. The game was lost because we weren’t able to convert on our moments.”
The matchup between the conference rivals was played under the lights of the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus. Before Friday night, the Wolverines had never lost a game to the Buckeyes on the field. The venue was packed with over 1,300 fans for Ohio State’s senior night.
“It’s tough to lose a big rivalry game like this,” senior forward Trai Blanks said. “But we had our chances to win it.”
The game opened up strong for the Wolverines when senior forward Ryan Alexander drove through the Buckeyes defense at the 13th minute and slid the ball into the feet of Blanks who was up front on the right side of Ohio State’s goal. Blanks booted the ball at the net, but Ohio State’s goalkeeper Ray Burse Jr. made a diving save to keep the game scoreless. Even late into the first half, the Wolverines had several opportunities to convert balls but remained unsuccessful as the first half wound down with a score of 0-0.
As the second half started, the Buckeyes (3-2-1 Big Ten, 10-6-2 overall) came out strong and kept the pressure on Michigan’s defensive end. After several missed attempts, Ohio State finally got their opportunity.
The Buckeyes’ senior forward Kevin Nugent had possession of the ball just above the 18-yard line and passed it into sophomore Xavier Blac, who was positioned in the center of the penalty box. Blac sent the ball back to Nugent, who was then at the right side of the Wolverines’ goal. Michigan’s senior goalkeeper Peter Dzubay came out of the box to make a play on the ball but arrived just a little too late, and Nugent slid the ball past Dzubay and crossed it into the left corner of the net.
“I was late coming out of the goal, and I tried to make a play,” Dzubay said. “It didn’t work, and the player was able to beat me.”
After the Buckeyes scored, the Wolverines began to play with a sense of urgency. Michigan players began grabbing at their opponents and trying their best to steal the ball. Their aggressive play was greeted with two yellow cards given to Alexander and freshman Chase Tennant and an ominous red card for Bobby Trybula after he intentionally ran into an Ohio State player.
Burns thought the aggressiveness proved that his team still has a lot of fight in them, which makes him eager to get to tournament play.
“I think winning makes you stronger and losing makes you tougher,” Burns said. “And right now, we’re tough and strong. It’s a good position to be in for the Big Ten Championships. I think we’ve got the fight in us.”
With their regular season closed, the Wolverines’ next venture will be the Big Ten Championships, which starts this Thursday at Northwestern. The only way Michigan (2-4-0 Big Ten, 8-9-1 overall) will continue on to the NCAA Tournament is with a solid performance and at least two wins at the conference tournament to give Michigan a record of at least .500.
“We’ve got to win,” Dzubay said. “We’re in a little bit of a losing streak, but it’s a whole other season now.”