More than half of the Michigan men’s soccer team is underclassmen, and the young Wolverines carry a heavy burden on their shoulders.

Jessica Boullion
Senior co-captain Kevin Hall is an on-field leader from his defensive spot. (FILE PHOTO/DAILY)

“Our expectations are that we compete at a national level,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “Look for this to be a breakout season, not necessarily because we will have a huge amount of wins, but more because we will learn how to play at that national level and, hopefully, make it to the NCAA Tournament.”

Michigan (1-3-0) certainly doesn’t have a smooth path to the NCAAs lined up. Eleven of the 19 teams the Wolverines face this year competed in last year’s tournament.

But Burns said this year’s team has already demonstrated an extremely high level of fitness that should play in its favor late in games.

“From top to bottom, everyone loves to work hard,” Burns said. “The team has a very driven, determined personality this year.”

The senior leaders know a thing or two about work ethic. These veterans were all freshmen when Michigan made a run to the Elite Eight in the 2003 NCAA tournament. But none of them played a significant amount of minutes that season.

“We’ve got ego-less leadership this year,” Burns said. “These seniors were role players in the early stages of their career. They have a real understanding of what it takes to be successful. They know that it’s not just about winning games, but the process and all the work it takes to get there.”

Seniors Kevin Hall, Brian Popeney and Kevin Savitske were among the seniors elected co-captains this year. Burns said that each brings a slightly different style of leadership to the team. Hall is the on-field leader; Popeney is the more vocal, locker-room captain; and Savitske is the more quiet, lead-by-example type.

Just as this group of seniors had to vie for their starting positions as rookies, the youngsters on this year’s team are also in a tight competition – making the coaches’ jobs more difficult in divvying out playing time on the one hand but providing an invaluable reserve tank on the other.

“We have a core of about 20 guys that all deserve to be on the field,” Burns said. “We’re going to see more players in starting lineups and more substitutions this year.”

So far two freshmen forwards, Mauro Fuzetti and Peri Marosevic, are among the deserving players. Fuzetti, an attack-minded player, has already tallied two assists.

“Mauro has to be on the field for us,” Burns said. “He can be that special player like Peri who can really open up the game for us. In soccer, games are often decided by a couple special plays, and you need guys who can make them. Mauro is one of them.”

The Wolverines will also look to Marosevic to be a key scorer this season. He has already tallied his first point in Michigan’s sole win, which came against Northern Illinois last Friday.

Going into the season, Burns decided to change the way Michigan prepared for its opponents – mostly by ignoring them.

“Last year, we were always looking at the other team’s tactics and trying to exploit their weaknesses,” Burns said. “This year, the focus is, ‘Let’s do what we do well and continue to work at it and do it at highest level possible.’ We run a possession-based game that is all about ball movement, changing the point of attack and finding that third man running. When you can play like that, you can really open up against any team. And we have the work ethic to do it.”

The Wolverines will look to hop back on the victory train this weekend when they host the Michigan Invitational at the U-M Soccer Field. Michigan will square off against Butler tonight at 7:30 p.m. and cap off the weekend against Virginia Commonwealth at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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