Here is the analogy, courtesy of Michigan men’s soccer coach Steve Burns: If you put a two-by-four on the ground, a player can walk across it without a problem. But when you put that two-by-four up 80 feet off the ground and ask him to walk across, it’s a lot more difficult. Why?
The answer: fear of failure.
On Sunday, Michigan was a victim of this fear – again. The result?
Yet another goose egg for the Wolverines.
Continuing to lack scoring confidence, Michigan failed to tally a goal against Northwestern and fell, 2-0. The loss capped off a winless weekend road trip for the Wolverines, who were edged by Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Friday, 1-0.
Held scoreless in five of its last six games, Michigan saw its winless skid move to seven straight games. Offensive woes continued to plague the Wolverines’ weekend play.
“We didn’t have good results on the weekend,” Burns said. “We have had not enough goals with way too many minutes. Right now, a lot of it absolutely comes down to confidence – which is such a fragile thing. With younger players, when you got it, you got it. But when you lose it, it’s tough to get it back.”
Northwestern (2-3-0, 10-5) drew first blood at 22 minutes with a tally from Wildcat Brad North.
While Michigan (0-2-2 Big Ten, 5-8-3 overall) struggled offensively – taking just two total shots in the first half – Northwestern provided the dagger just 50 seconds before halftime. Kyle Moore converted at 44:50, giving the Wildcats a comfortable 2-0 lead heading into the second half.
“We made two bad mistakes,” Burns said. “We gave up balls close to our goal, and both of them ended up in the back of the net. Northwestern didn’t make a lot of mistakes out of the back. They wanted to quickly get the ball up to their attacking players in the front of the field. That is something we need to do better ourselves.”
Michigan changed its tune in the second half. Going with the Lake Michigan wind in the second frame, the Wolverines picked up their offensive tempo.
Three minutes into the second, senior co-captain Kevin Savitske won the ball on the right side of the field and sent it to senior Bobby Trybula. Crossing the half line, Trybula sent it to freshman Peri Marosevic at the top of the 18-yard box. Michigan’s leading goal scorer found himself isolated in a one-on-two situation. Performing what is arguably his trademark move, the rookie set up with his back to Northwestern’s goal, handled the ball, turned and fired a shot with his right foot. But Wildcat goalkeeper Will Briley prevented Marosevic from cutting into Northwestern’s lead, diving to make the high save on the ball.
“Peri is not a guy who suffers from a lack of confidence,” Burns said. “He has been the one constant force that we have up front. He is the guy who needs to get touches on balls. He is a threat. Peri can sometimes be selfish too, but I don’t mind that with goal-scoring players.”
Burns said the confidence started to come back to Michigan’s side after Peri’s near-goal. The Wolverines had a flurry of activity for the next 10 to 12 minutes. Northwestern’s defensive shape appeared to break down, stacking a bunch of players in front of the net. But the wall of Wildcats prevented Michigan from getting great looks on the net. Sophomore Steve Bonnell took a pair of shots, but both sailed high.
Though the Wolverines combined for a total of 12 shots in the second frame, Michigan failed to find the back of the net – a target that has continued to be elusive for this young group of Wolverines. Northwestern silenced the Michigan attack and held onto its two-goal lead.
With just three games remaining in the regular season, Burns said that practice will focus on helping make the players feel more comfortable taking full swings on the ball.
“When you have that fear of failing on the soccer field and feel all that pressure to score goals for your team, it can be almost paralyzing at times,” Burns said. “It manifests itself in players not taking responsibility for the final shot. . I will never fault a player for shooting. I want shots all the time, wherever they are and through any little seam they can shoot through because good things will happen.”