At halftime of yesterday’s game, the Michigan men’s soccer team seemed well on its way to recording its first Big Ten win of the year in its final regular season match.
The Wolverines had seized a 1-0 lead against Penn State in the 35th minute on a goal by sophomore forward Peri Marosevic. Junior forward Jake Stacy passed to Marosevic on the edge of the 18-yard box as the Penn State goalkeeper, Conrad Taylor, came out to intercept the ball. But Marosevic beat him to it, earning a wide-open shot on net, and he easily scored.
After the goal, the Wolverines (0-4-2 Big Ten, 10-6-2 overall) had every right to believe a Big Ten victory was finally within reach.
Before Sunday, when Michigan scored first in games this season, it had never lost.
Junior Patrick Sperry, recently named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and owner of a Michigan-record eight shutouts this year, was in goal.
But in the 67th minute, Penn State’s Frank Costigliola put the Nittany Lions (2-2-2, 6-8-3) on the board, breaking through the vaunted Michigan defense to tie the game. And with fewer than 10 minutes to go, the Nittany Lions’ Drew Cost put his team ahead. The late goal proved to be the game winner, propelling Penn State to a 2-1 win – just its second conference triumph.
“Peri was very good for us on the day, but I think everybody else played at or below their potential,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “And ultimately, Penn State was able to find a couple of weaknesses on our left-hand side.”
Michigan had chances to get back in the game, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Down 2-1 with 90 seconds to go, junior co-captain Mike Holody found himself in a one-on-one confrontation with Taylor. The big defender shot low, thinking the keeper might not be set, but Taylor got down and smothered the ball, along with Michigan’s hopes for an equalizer.
“It’s the first time we’ve felt that kind of disappointment, where we felt we were able to win the game (and didn’t),” Burns said. “I think more than anything when Penn State started to get the momentum on their side, we were unable to make a big play. We were unable to provide on-field, inspirational leadership to swing it back to our side.”
The Wolverines will enter the Big Ten tournament, which begins on Thursday, without a conference win. Michigan State, which trounced Michigan 5-0 earlier this season, will host the tournament. And in the first round, the Wolverines will face an Ohio State squad that beat them on a controversial overtime goal earlier this season.
A strong performance this week could soften the memories of the tough losses and ties Michigan has suffered this year in conference play. Should the Wolverines win the tournament, none of those games would matter – they would earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at the end of November. Without a conference tournament championship, the chances of the team receiving an at-large bid to the NCAAs are extremely slim.
“The pressure is truly on us,” Burns said. “You can use any cliché that you want – this next (game) is a game that decides whether we’re going to be in the NCAA Tournament. I’m glad it’s going to come in the Big Ten tournament.”