With the score even and the sun beating down fifteen minutes into the second half, the Michigan men’s soccer team decided to call in some reinforcements.
The Wolverines (4-1) had just given up a goal to Long Island (0-2), tying the score at one. With just over 22 minutes remaining, Michigan coach Steve Burns sent in four substitutes, including senior forward Trai Blanks. Blanks proceeded to convert the game-winning goal, which led Michigan to a 3-1 victory over the Blackbirds in yesterday’s second game of the Michigan Invitational at the U-M Soccer Field.
“Trai has been working extremely hard with his finishing in those type of situations,” Burns said. “We do a lot of training where balls come in just like that, near the post. Trai saw the gap and struck a great ball for a nice goal. He just looked calm and composed to win it.”
Burns added that Blanks has become a reliable attacker for Michigan.
“Trai is an engineer who also thinks with his creative and artistic side,” Burns said. “Scoring goals is all about a comfort in the front of the net and not thinking. Trai – with all the experience he has – is finding that comfort and ease when he gets the ball.”
About 13 minutes beforehand, Long Island’s Jukka Lehto led a breakaway down the left side of the field. He was able to beat Michigan defenders Kevin Savitskie and Michael O’Reilly on a counterattack and take away the Wolverines’ lead with a single kick.
Burns then decided to bring in some fresh legs off the bench in order to regain the momentum.
“Long Island had a nice goal, but it was great to see us respond to that,” Burns said. “It was a mature team that went after it and said, ‘OK, they got their chance. Now let’s see if we can pull it out.'”
Eight minutes after Blanks recaptured the lead for Michigan, the senior added insult to injury by knocking in an insurance goal at 80:37. Off a corner kick from senior Ryan Sterba, Blanks was able to deflect the ball into the back of Long Island’s net for the Wolverines’ third goal of the game.
“We have a very deep bench,” Blanks said. “I just give credit to the coaches to bring in all of the talent and getting us in great shape to come in. We need our guys on the bench, and they can take care of the job.”
Blanks was all over the field for Michigan, assisting on the Wolverines’ first goal of the game at 36:02 when he entered the game from the bench for the first time. Blanks ran with the ball up the left flank, beat two Long Island defenders and found senior Ryan Alexander at the far post. Alexander was then able to slip the ball into the right corner of the Blackbirds’ net.
Burns called Blanks, who finished the day with two goals and one assist, the “MVP of the Tournament.”
Burns added that Blanks has become a valuable utility player for the squad, thriving as both a starter and reserve.
Michigan totaled 10 shots on goal for the day to Long Island’s six, creating several scoring opportunities that just missed. Senior goalkeeper Peter Dzubay held the Blackbirds at bay as well, tallying three saves.
“This was our most complete game yet,” Burns said. “It’s nice to see at this point in the season that we are right on track in terms of how we are coming together.”
Michigan’s 3-1 win on Sunday rounded out a successful weekend for the invitational hosts.
On Friday, the Wolverines defeated Louisville, 1-0, in the first game of the Michigan Invitational. Alexander received a pass from freshman Jake Stacey, slipping the ball past the Louisville goalkeeper on the right side.
“Five games in, I like where we are,” Burns said. “We’re starting to see some combinations coming together in the front half of the field. It looks like we’re starting to find some form offensively.”