Before the Michigan men’s soccer team took on Akron in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, junior Ryan Sterba made fun of a tape of one of junior Adam Bruh’s post-goal celebrations in the Wolverines’ locker room. After Sterba labeled Bruh’s celebration as not being “up to par,” Bruh fired back to the goalless defender, “Well, do you have anything to celebrate?”
With just under 14 minutes left to play in the second half on Friday, Sterba was able to answer Bruh’s question in heroic fashion. Shooting cross-net to the right side of the Zips’ goal, Sterba kicked in the game-winning goal for Michigan — giving the Wolverines a 2-1 lead that would hold up for the remainder of the game.
Sterba’s first career goal at Michigan couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, as it propelled Michigan into the second round of the tournament against Indiana. Ironically, Bruh tallied the assist on the goal.
“As soon as (Bruh) got the ball, their defense really keyed in on him,” Sterba said. “I took off with my head down and ran for five yards. The ball was right in my stride. It was a perfect pass.”
The Wolverines will take on the second-seeded and defending NCAA champion Hoosiers in Bloomington at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
Playing in rainy and muddy weather conditions, Michigan (11-7-4) was able to get on the scoreboard first when junior Trai Blanks took a shot on goal in the ninth minute of the first half. Sending the ball across the net to the left side, Blanks gave the Wolverines an early 1-0 lead.
But Michigan would only be able to celebrate for so long. Just six minutes later, Zips forward Hans Jorgen Haugland received a pass in the box after Michigan defender Chris Glinski slipped on the play. Haugland sent the ball past Michigan goalie Peter Dzubay to tie the game at one.
“Going a goal down, it put us on the back foot a little bit,” Akron senior Cameron Knowles said. “But everyone knew we had more goals in us. We were going to create chances, and we did.”
At halftime, Michigan refined its offensive strategy in hopes of topping the Zips for the second time this season. The Wolverines defeated Akron (15-5-3) in a 4-0 rout on Oct. 29.
“The talk at halftime was about getting the ball out into the flanks, because that’s where we have been having a lot of success,” Burns said. “We really did feel that with the conditions today, the game was going be won by the team that would capitalize on something in the other opponent’s front third of the field.”
The halftime strategizing would prove to be decisive for the Wolverines, as Sterba’s game-winning goal came from the flanks.
On the defensive end, Dzubay tallied a season-high eight saves on the day. With 19 seconds left in the game, he made a critical save that would’ve otherwise sent the game into overtime. Dzubay got down in the muddy grass to push an Akron shot out wide and seal the victory for the Wolverines.
Burns called Dzubay the “biggest X-factor” player in terms of being able to single-handedly win the game for Michigan.
The goalie’s performance did not go unnoticed by Akron coach Ken Lolla, either.
“I thought (Dzubay) came up with some huge saves both halves to keep (Michigan) in it,” Lolla said. “His part made a big difference in the game.”
With the poor weather conditions and pressure of single-elimination looming over the players’ heads, the game became very physical. One of the unfortunate consequences of this aggressiveness came at the Wolverines’ expense. With just over three minutes left in the game, Bruh jumped up for a loose ball with an Akron player, who came down on Bruh’s leg.
The junior was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, and it does not appear likely that he will be able to play in Michigan’s next game.
The Wolverines played without senior Mychal Turpin, who was suspended after receiving a red card in a game against Northwestern on Nov. 12. But Michigan has been used to playing without key starters all year.
“All season long, battling through all the ups and downs with the injuries, the one constant has been that this team has hung in there mentally and developed that skill to win tight games,” Burns said.