While a Michigan-Ohio State matchup resonates with bitterness in every sport, the two-year old men”s soccer rivalry has yet to reach the levels of the other sports. With a third-place tie in the Big Ten on the line tonight against the 14th ranked Buckeyes (1-2-1 Big Ten, 8-3-2), the Wolverines (2-3, 8-6-1 ) hope to fuel the clash with spirited, aggressive play on the road in Columbus.
On the road this season, Steve Burns” young team has been prone to gaps in its defense, poor offensive finishing and damaging red cards. Much of this can be attributed to the youth on the squad there are only three seniors on the active roster.
Youth will be served once again tonight, as Burns said he will be starting a freshman walk-on goalkeeper Bryan Lau. Lau, who gave up just one goal in Michigan”s 2-1 win against Wisconsin, will be called on to replace first-string goalkeeper Joe Zawacki, who is serving his suspension for a red card last weekend. Zawacki will also have to sit out of the Wolverines first round game in the conference tournament. If Lau has one thing going for him, it is motivation to beat his hometown team the freshman grew up in Columbus.
“My experience tells me that the kid will play above himself,” Burns said.
As the season draws to a close, both the Buckeyes and Wolverines know enough about each other”s tendencies that execution of the their basic principles will take precedent over gimmicky schemes.
Ohio State has shown a strong ability to switch the point of attack swiftly from the left defensive midfield position to the right midfield. Crisp lateral movement of the ball can exploit weaknesses on the weak side of the opposing defense, often allowing for one-on-one opportunities.
In defending the Buckeyes, the Wolverines cannot allow Ohio State to pressure their young goalkeeper. In Michigan”s man-marking approach, Joe Iding and Dave George must muzzle their offensive assignments, while rangy sweeper Kevin Taylor needs to clean up loose balls.
Defensive intensity will be crucial, but not at the expense of another red card. The Wolverines have been snake-bitten with a bevy of red cards. Thus, Michigan”s defenders and midfielders must intelligently walk the line between tenacious play and penalties.
“Partly, I think that there is a learning curve that we are involved with,” Burns said. “I also think that we have not earned enough respect amongst referees, while playing the top teams, in order to get the benefit of the doubt.”
On the other end, Michigan will attack the Buckeyes” net with a three forward attack. Forwards Robert Turpin, Mychal Turpin and Jody Keeling each provide a unique set of attacking skills to the offense. Robert Turpin brings his excellent speed and strength in warding defenders off the ball. Mychal Turpin has dazzling ability with the ball, using his footwork to slice through defenders. Keeling uses his speed and hustle to position himself for excellent finishing position.
“Our team has confidence that we can create goal scoring opportunities with the (three) forward system,” Burns said.
Who: Michigan (2-3 Big Ten, 8-6-1 overall) vs. Ohio State (1-2-1, 8-3-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Latest: Freshman walk-on Bryan Lau, a Columbus native, gets his first road Big Ten start against the No. 14 Buckeyes. Michigan has a chance to finish .500 in conference play in just its second season as a varsity program.