For two teams that both reached the NCAA College Cup last season — college soccer’s version of the Final Four — Michigan and No. 1 Louisville were looking for completely different things at Saturday night’s scrimmage in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“For our first time in a competitive environment (this season), I liked what I saw from our guys,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said.
And while it was eight months ago that the Wolverines played on the sport’s biggest stage, the experience of playing a major opponent was just what Burns had wanted to expose to his team. Michigan received all the competition it could hope for in a preseason test, falling 2-0.
Despite being blanked, the Wolverines, whose roster showcases 12 newcomers, take their performance at the Shindigz National Soccer Festival as an encouraging start to the campaign.
“We are definitely further along than I thought we would be at this stage,” Burns said.
New-look Michigan played the Cardinals to a scoreless halftime draw behind a phenomenal effort from redshirt freshman goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. Grinwis watched last season as Chris Blais led the Wolverines to their best season in program history, culminating in a national semifinal defeat at the hands of Akron.
Now, however, it is Grinwis’ turn, and Burns is thrilled about what he’s seen from his netminder so far.
“Grinwis played really strong,” Burns said. “He managed the game well and I was very pleased.”
But in the second half, even a steady Grinwis couldn’t prevent the defending national runners-up from proving themselves a legitimate title contender. Louisville knocked two in during a span of 20 minutes and it became evident that Michigan didn’t quite have the firepower to even it up.
Next up for the battle tested Wolverines is a regular-season opening visit to Bowling Green on Friday. Michigan will then continue the road swing by traveling to Lexington, Ky. to take on Kentucky on August 28, before returning to its home turf for a four-match homestand.
While a return trip to the College Cup — played this year in Hoover, Ala. — may be slightly ambitious for the young Wolverines, having a National Coach of the Year finalist at the reins certainly can’t hurt.
The season concludes with Michigan hosting the Big Ten Tournament — an event the Wolverines won last season — in November.
With its tuneup against powerhouse Louisville, who returned 10 of its 11 starters, behind it, Michigan now hopes that it can fill the gaping holes up front left by the departure of goal scorers Justin Meram of the Columbus Crew and Soony Saad, currently of Sporting Kansas City of the MLS.