Results from the two Michigan men’s soccer games this Halloween weekend were eerily similar. Hoping for a road trip full of more treats than tricks, the Wolverines returned with a bitter aftertaste instead.
After a tough 1-0 overtime loss to No. 1 Akron in Ohio on Friday, Michigan traveled to State College, yesterday, to take on the current Big Ten leaders, the Nittany Lions. The Wolverines found themselves yet again in an overtime situation. And for the second time this weekend, Michigan came up just short, losing to Penn State, 3-2.
“It was a good game,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “It’s the best we’ve been playing up to this point in this season. In this game, we scored arguably our best two goals this season, and it looks like our forwards are coming alive. We were disappointed but could still take some (positives) from this.”
After being shut out on the offensive end on Friday, Michigan (2-3-0 Big Ten, 8-8-1 overall) rebounded with a dynamic attacking game against Penn State (6-0-0, 9-6-2). The Nittany Lions got on the scoreboard first off of a broken corner kick play in the 32nd minute of the game, but the Wolverines wasted no time responding.
Less than one minute after Penn State’s goal, senior captain Adam Bruh beat a Penn State defender and sent the ball wide to senior Ryan Sterba on the left side. Sterba then served the ball to the top of box where senior Ryan Alexander was waiting. Alexander collected the ball, dropped his shoulder and converted his shot to tie the game at one.
“It was a good build-up goal for us,” Burns said. “It was one of the better goals of the season for us. No heads were hanging. Suddenly, we felt the game was coming back to life for us.”
Coming out of halftime with the score even, Michigan regained the lead soon into the second half.
In the 53rd minute of the game, the ball came to Alexander 30 yards up the field. The senior forward played a one-touch ball to freshman Jake Stacy. Facing a two-on-two situation, Stacy took the ball in stride as the Penn State defenders were collapsing on him. But from 18 yards out, Penn State couldn’t stop Stacy’s left-footed shot, which regained the lead for Michigan and gave the freshman his first goal of the season.
“Jake’s first goal of the season came off a nice counter-attack,” Burns said. “Jake’s a guy who really understands the game. I have said all along that once he gets his first goal there will be more to follow. We’re hoping he really comes alive.”
But the Wolverines’ celebration was premature. With about 13 minutes left in regulation, Penn State scored its second goal.
“Penn State’s first two goals were what I call ‘junk goals,’ unfortunately,” Burns explained. “The run of play is in the middle of the midfield and suddenly a ball gets played out wide. Those balls need to be cleared by our defenders, but a lot of times they’ll drop and get pinned around, and it will be an attacking player who ends up with it.
“Their goals were unfortunate ones, whereas ours were both quality goals.”
Nonetheless, the “junk goals” sent the game into overtime. And before Michigan could even blink, the Nittany Lions pulled out the rug from underneath the Wolverines’ cleats. Just 32 seconds into the sudden-death period, the Nittany Lions’ right midfielder got the ball into the left flank space and served it into Penn State’s Jason Yeisley up front. Yeisley stretched just enough to head the ball into Michigan’s net for the 3-2 win. With the victory, Penn State extended its current win streak to six games and remained undefeated in conference play.
“While our guys played extremely well, the goal that was scored in overtime was a quick goal and the result of fatigue more than anything else,” Burns said.
He noted that poor game scheduling gave Michigan very little rest in between the Akron game and yesterday’s contest.
Losing back-to-back overtime games for the first time in program history, Michigan is looking to get back on track to finish the regular season off strong.
“We’re playing well, but we are not at all satisfied with results,” Burns said. “We have to keep our spirits and heads up against our biggest rival next weekend, Ohio State.”