If the Michigan men’s soccer team was playing a game of
poker this week, it would have to push the rest of its chips to the
middle of the table.

With just two games left before the Big Ten Tournament in Ann
Arbor and the subsequent announcement of the NCAA bids, the
Wolverines (1-3-1 Big Ten, 9-5-3 overall) will have to go
“all in” during this home stretch of the season, hoping
to co+me out with a big payoff.

“In the face of all the injuries, the guys on the field
are just now playing their best soccer,” Michigan coach Steve
Burns said. “As long as they’re putting the energy and
attitude into winning the game, that’s all we can hope
for.”

Michigan will look to protect its home field today against a
dangerous Oakland team (3-1-1 Mid-Continent, 10-3-2) that features
a victory over Michigan State (Oct. 13) on its resume. The Golden
Grizzlies’ best offensive player is junior Chris Edwards, who
has tallied 11 goals on the season.

“I personally have a lot of respect for Oakland’s
program,” Burns said. “Their coach has been a mentor
for me in a way. He knows his stuff. The level of respect and
awareness we have for them is along the lines of Michigan
State.”

Oakland’s defense has been its lifeline, allowing just
eight goals in 15 games. After beginning the season using a zone
defense, the Golden Grizzlies recently changed their scheme to
include a sweeper in a man-marker system. What this means for
Michigan is that Oakland will put two defenders on two Wolverine
forwards. The defensive duo will be responsible for following
Michigan’s players all over the field in an attempt to
disrupt its offense. With the sweeper serving as a free player,
Michigan will certainly have its hands full with this one-on-one
defense.

“Oakland has gone through some changes,” Burns said.
“We haven’t seen a lot of teams that play with these
man-to-man tactics. That will be a change for us. It is a defense
that is working for (Oakland).”

On the flip side, Burns said that Michigan is familiar with many
of the Oakland players, whom several Wolverines have played against
in the Premier Development League in past summers. Burns hopes this
familiarity will help to replicate last year’s 1-0 win
against Oakland, which was ranked No. 17 at the time.

But like any team, Michigan doesn’t want to get ahead of
itself. A huge final regular season contest against Ohio State on
Saturday can’t help but loom in the back of the
Wolverines’ minds. The Buckeyes (4-1-0, 9-5-2), who are
currently sitting in second place in the Big Ten, will look to
spoil the Wolverines’ chances of receiving an NCAA bid, while
trying to get revenge for Michigan’s one-goal victory in
2003.

“(Ohio State) is a team that made real big strides from
last season,” Burns said. “The biggest piece our
players will have to understand is that they are a very strong team
trying to make a statement this season, the same statement we want
to make — that we are in that top tier in the Big
Ten.”

Burns also said that the heated rivalry with the Buckeyes fuels
this matchup every season. After all, the coach insisted from the
program’s inception that the game against Ohio State be the
last contest of each season.

“Growing up in the Michigan tradition, we recognize the
importance of the rivalry and it only (creates) more excitement
having so much on the line,” Burns said.

With every goal being so critical in these final weeks, Michigan
will rely on the steady goalkeeping of junior Peter Dzubay. He
received Big Ten Player of the Week honors for last week’s
performance against Akron and No. 19 Penn State, as he collected
nine saves and posted a shutout streak of 168:29 minutes.

“(Dzubay) has done everything we’ve asked of him and
more,” Burns said. “The team is rallying around him and
in front of him.”

But the pressure is not just on Dzubay. With both Oakland and
Ohio State ahead of Michigan in the Great Lakes Region, the two
games this week are crucial in the NCAA’s selection process
and could mean the difference between the team receiving a bid or
hanging up its cleats early.

“Our players have felt that pressure all season
long,” Burns said. “They know how important these final
two games are.”

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