In front of nearly 1,000 fans, including many of the players’ families, the Michigan men’s soccer team stepped onto the U-M Soccer Field for the final time this season. For the seven seniors, it was the final time of their Michigan careers that they would play in front of a home crowd.
In a heated Big Ten matchup yesterday, Michigan capped off its successful regular home season with a cherry on top, defeating Wisconsin, 4-2 – its highest offensive production in a single game this season.
“I think that we had the legs of pianos, but the hearts of lions,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “This was a game where our heart pulled us out.”
Though Michigan (2-2-0 Big Ten, 8-6-1 overall) proved victorious in the end, it was Wisconsin (0-4-0, 4-10-0) that came out from the opening whistle with fire in its eyes.
Controlling the possession in Michigan’s end of the field, the Badgers got on the scoreboard first with a little bit of luck. Nearly eight minutes into the game, Wisconsin earned a corner kick. The ball deflected off the leg of junior Kevin Hall, who tried to clear it and sneaked into the left side of Michigan’s net, allowing Wisconsin to take the 1-0 lead off an own-goal.
“(The Badgers) scored an early goal, which, in the past, could have caused some problems for us,” Burns said. “But we responded very nicely.”
That’s just what Michigan did less than four minutes later. Near midfield, freshman Chase Tennant lofted a nearly perfect ball to senior Adam Bruh. The captain beat a Wisconsin defender on the right side of the goal box and kicked the ball in to tie the game at one.
Tennant, who tallied the assist on Bruh’s goal, continued his offensive contribution off a corner kick at 35:06. After a brief scuffle in front of the net, the ball came out to the top of the 18-yard box, where Tennant was waiting. The defender shot the ball over the head of Wisconsin goalkeeper Jake Settle for the go-ahead goal.
“Chase is – first and foremost – a great defender,” Burns said. “But the way he contributed to our attack in this game is just invaluable for us. We’ll look for him to continue on with that trend.”
Coming out of halftime with a 2-1 lead, Michigan’s offensive onslaught was far from complete.
At 51:34, senior Ryan Sterba set up about 27 yards from the Wisconsin goal and received a pass from freshman Jake Stacy. The senior defender snuck the ball in the lower-right corner of the net, bringing the score to 3-1.
Michigan shook off a bit of a scare from Wisconsin two minutes later. The Badgers were awarded a penalty kick after Michigan goalkeeper Peter Dzubay was called for a foul in the goal box. But Wisconsin’s Victor Diaz’s free shot deflected off the right goal post.
“I got forward a lot, and things just went our way,” Sterba said. “I had a good feeling heading into the game, and things just happened for me.”
With the score at 4-1, Wisconsin was awarded a free kick off a Michigan foul near the top of the Wolverines’ goal box. Diaz was able to sneak the ball into Michigan’s net for the Badger’s second goal.
But the two-goal lead proved sufficient for Michigan, which won just its second conference game of the year.
“I think (the offensive production) is coming for us because – more than anything – the midfielders are recognizing their important role,” Burns said. “So now it’s not just two or three guys looking to score goals, but it’s really six or seven guys that are getting up the field, maintaining possession and getting good looks at the net.”
The victory was certainly an emotional one for the Michigan seniors, who embraced family and friends at the end of their final home game.
“It’s bittersweet,” Sterba said. “We were talking before the game that it’s gone so quickly. We really wanted to go out with a bang.”