Playing on a team that is attempting to take on a new shape, senior Ryan Alexander of the Michigan men’s soccer team looks to be on the brink of a breakthrough.
Because former leading goal-scorer Mychal Turpin graduated last year, the Wolverines have had to adjust their offensive shape – which used to center around Turpin.
According to Michigan men’s soccer coach Steve Burns, the team is still employing the same formation it used last season. The 4-3-3 was meant to showcase Turpin’s strengths, especially his quick footwork. Two years ago Turpin displayed his skills by scoring eight goals in two games over a two-week stretch.
But now that Turpin has graduated, Burns is toying with a new formation – the 4-4-2.
Burns has been positioning Alexander in the forward role in these different shapes, hoping to fill part of the hole that Turpin has left behind.
The Michigan native had been struggling as of late to find his rhythm in this attacking forward position, according to Burns. But that all changed this past weekend. At the Michigan Invitational, Alexander scored his first and second goals of the season, and the hosting Wolverines took first place.
“Alexander is all about the power game,” Burns said. “He’s a big man and needs to play with a power game. He’s beginning to recognize that. He just needs to get away from the little off-balance stuff.”
In Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Long Island, Alexander converted Michigan’s first goal of the game after receiving a pass from fellow senior Trai Blanks at the top of the 18-yard box. Alexander beat the goalie to the left to slip the ball in for his second tally of the season.
Alexander also converted in Friday’s 1-0 win against Louisville, when freshman Jake Stacy broke through three defenders and found Alexander open for a cross-field shot.
“I like to think that I’m finding my form,” Alexander said. “I suffered an injury right before the season, and coach Burns talked to me about a couple of things I was doing wrong. I was trying to play a little too difficult or complex at first, right off the injury. Hopefully, I’m back on track.”
Alexander recently underwent surgery on his broken left ankle, which had been misdiagnosed and left untreated since his senior year in high school. After taking a medical red shirt last season and only being able to compete in four games, Alexander is still in a transition phase with his conditioning – not to mention within the team’s new offensive system.
But the senior is no stranger to adjustments. Alexander transferred to Michigan after his sophomore season at Wake Forest, where he played in 38 games and was the second-leading scorer on the team in his freshman year.
Searching for a more complete university experience, Alexander was no stranger to what Michigan had to offer. Michigan, along with Wake Forest, had heavily recruited him after his high school career, and Burns was happy to sign the forward two years ago.
Playing for a new school, struggling through an aggravated injury and now attempting to find his rhythm, Alexander has become one of the specialized “artists” on the team, according to Burns.
“I’ve got to get the right mixture of soldiers and artists,” Burns said. “Soldiers get the work done and grind it. Artists will do one or two special things in the game that suddenly opens up (the game) and goals are scored. Alexander is – an artist.”
Taking on a leadership role this season is another new feat for the senior.
“I think some of the younger guys naturally look up to the older guys,” Alexander said. “We have three great captains. But right now, I just need to worry about the soccer aspect, and the leadership aspect kind of takes care of itself.”
Alexander and Michigan (4-1) look to take their new offensive shape up to Oakland on Friday at 5 p.m. and return to Ann Arbor against Kentucky at 2 p.m. on Sunday.