MADISON Years from now, when Michigan has moved from its current status as an infant on the NCAA varsity scene to a program consistently challenging the best teams in the nation, men”s soccer coach Steve Burns may look back at this year”s Big Ten Tournament as the weekend that the Wolverines turned the corner towards success.
After upsetting Wisconsin last Thursday, 1-0, No. 5-seed Michigan in just its second varsity year came back on Friday afternoon and pushed top-seeded Indiana into triple overtime before losing a 1-0 heartbreaker.
The Hoosiers entered the Big Ten Tournament as favorites after going undefeated (6-0) during regular season conference play.
But it took Indiana until the 123rd minute to pull out a victory against the Wolverines.
“This is the moment I”ve been waiting for,” said Burns after the loss. “We”ve put a strong team together and met a lot of our goals as a team. We woke up some Division I programs, I think, with this game.”
After having to play without three starters against Wisconsin, Michigan received a big boost for the game against Indiana with the returns of goalkeeper Joe Zawacki, defender James Baez-Silva and sweeper Kevin Taylor.
Baez-Silva and Zawacki both were out of action because of red cards, while Taylor missed the game for academic reasons.
Zawacki made seven saves in the game, most of them brilliant, as he stymied Indiana”s attack with his aggressive, attacking play. The decision to start Zawacki did not come easy for Burns as backup goalkeeper Brian Lau had recorded shutouts in his last two starts including the first-round win over Wisconsin.
“It was a tough decision we had our second string goalkeeper who did a great job against Wisconsin and made it look real easy,” Burns said. “But I think it boils down to Joe bringing an element of confidence and commands the players in front of him well.”
Despite not playing in Michigan”s previous two games, Zawacki did not miss a beat.
“I was pretty happy with the way I executed all of my plays obviously I wish I could replay the last shot of the game,” Zawacki said. “I felt I owed it to the guys and to myself.
“They got through Wisconsin and I was going to do whatever it took to keep us going I felt I played really strong.”
Michigan nearly won the game in the second overtime. Taylor played a long ball ahead to Mychal Turpin, and the Wolverines” forward tapped the bounding ball over the head of Indiana goalkeeper Colin Rogers but also just inches over the top of the crossbar.
Forward Pat Noonan finally moved Indiana into the championship round after 122:10 of play. Being defended one-on-one by Baez-Silva, Noonan made a quick move to his right to find an opening and fired a shot into the low left corner of the net past the diving Zawacki.
The goal brought an end to what was likely the best game in Michigan”s brief varsity soccer history. Even with the loss, the Wolverines gave the rest of the Big Ten reason to be concerned about them for a long time to come.
“What they”ve done in two years is tremendous,” Indiana coach Jerry Yeagley said of Michigan”s performance. “To get their team to the level where they can compete with any team for a two-year program, that”s quite a feat.”