Lately, 90 minutes just doesn’t cut it for the Michigan men’s soccer team.
On Saturday, the Wolverines made program history by playing in their third consecutive double overtime contest. But Michigan would rather have a chance to revise history, as it suffered a devastating 1-0 defeat at the hands of No. 19 California-Santa Barbara.
“It was a real good game, good and cruel,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “It was a pretty cruel result because in the second half and the two overtime periods, we were the better team and you want to be able to win games like those.”
Playing in front of a hostile crowd of more than 3,500 people in Santa Barbara, Calif., Michigan (0-1-1 Big Ten, 5-5-2 overall) was looking for the upset. But three and a half minutes into the second overtime period, UCSB (2-0-0 Big West, 6-4-0 overall) dashed the Wolverines’ hopes.
Off a corner kick, the Gauchos’ Jon Curry struck a shot about 20 yards out toward the left post of the Wolverines’ net. With the ball coming through traffic, Michigan goalkeeper Patrick Sperry responded just a bit late, and the ball clipped the inside of the post and went in.
“It was a tremendous disappointment,” Burns said. “We know we came out there and did exactly what we wanted to do in pressure-filled environment and be in a position to win. But at the same time, we didn’t win.”
After a slow start in the first half, Michigan had several opportunities to quiet the Gauchos’ fan base in the second frame. In the 54th minute, sophomore Santos Perez struck a well-played ball to freshman Peri Marosevic on a breakaway in the 18-yard box. Two UCSB defenders brought down the rookie forward, but the referees did not call a foul, and Burns’s frustration over the no-call resulted in a yellow card for the coach.
“I took a yellow card because I was really animated on the sideline and made sure the referee knew that I was sticking up for my team,” Burns said. “That kind of inspired us. From that moment on, the game was ours.”
Marosevic got another chance in the 84th minute of play, getting in behind the Gauchos’ defense on a breakaway to the left side. As the UCSB goalkeeper came out of the net, Marosevic chipped the ball up. The entire Michigan bench roared as the ball looked to be headed toward the back of the net, but it just sailed wide.
Burns said that the momentum seemed to be with the Wolverines for the rest of the contest. UCSB tried to upset Michigan’s rhythm by putting in multiple substitutes, changing its shape and increasing its physicality.
“It was a very physical game,” Burns said. “UCSB is a team that is going to try to upset you by playing very physical, running through tackles and intimidating you. But often that leads to a lack a lot of discipline.”
With four minutes remaining in the first overtime period, the Gauchos’ aggressiveness proved too unruly, and the second UCSB player of the day was slapped with a red card. Since Michigan’s Chase Tennant earned a red card earlier in the game, this second Gaucho penalty gave Michigan a one-man advantage on the field. But while the Wolverines created several chances to score, they failed to convert.
Sophomore Steve Bonnell had a great opportunity from 22 yards out off to the left-hand side of the UCSB goal, but his shot hit the Gauchos’ crossbar and went out of bounds.
Early in the second overtime period, sophomore Michael Holody got his chance off a header from a corner kick. The shot went just wide – by no more than a foot.
Up and down the Michigan bench went, thinking each of these shots was it. Just a few inches stood between the Wolverines and the sweet taste of victory each time.
Instead, UCSB left the Wolverines with the bitter taste of a heartbreaking defeat after Curry’s game-winner.
But with the regular season more than half way over, Burns believes that Michigan is on the brink – of something great.
“We are due for a breakout game, offensively,” Burns said. “Our defense is playing great, our midfield is playing superbly and our goalkeeping is very strong. Now, it is just a matter of finding our form and gaining the confidence about scoring goals. When you’ve been in the business as long as I’ve been in it, you know the breakout game is coming. It’s coming soon.”