The Michigan men’s soccer team and its supporters gathered around the TVs at Packard Pub on Packard and State Street in Ann Arbor, eagerly waiting for the team’s name to pop up as each regional of the NCAA tournament bracket was revealed. Everyone knew the Wolverines were in the field, it was just a matter of where. Michigan’s Big Ten conference championship victory over Penn State just a day earlier gave the team an automatic bid.

With three of the four regionals already announced, the Wolverines knew their name would come up in a matter of seconds. Then, they saw the last regional flash onto the screen with Michigan’s name on the right side, signifying a first-round bye. They were the 10th seed, which meant a bye and a home game. The pub erupted in cheers, fist pumps and chest bumps.

“I thought we could have went anywhere as high as eight and as low as twelve. So we’re right where we thought,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said of the team’s seed.

South Florida will play at Central Florida on Thursday for the right to play Michigan on Sunday afternoon. If the Wolverines win, they will be lined up to play seventh-seeded South Carolina in the round of 16. Maryland has the top seed in the region and the second seed overall. Michigan would likely need to get through the Terrapins to make it to Santa Barbara for the College Cup, the Final Four of college soccer.

“The thing I’m most happy about is that when you look at that draw, they’re (South Florida and Central Florida) both warm-weather teams,” Burns said. “So it poses some challenges for them as they come into Ann Arbor.”

Michigan has played six of the 48 teams in the tournament field and has a combined record of 5-2-1 against them. The only team the Wolverines had serious trouble with was Akron, who notched the third overall seed and beat Michigan, 7-1, earlier this season.

The Wolverines’ last NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2008 when they had the eleventh seed and a bye in the first round. They beat UC-Davis, 2-1, before falling to Indiana, 3-0, in the regional semifinals. Their best finish was in 2003 when they made it to the Elite Eight.

“It’s one thing to make it to the NCAA Tournament,” senior midfielder Alex Wood said. “But now it’s about how far we can go. The way we’re playing, I don’t see limits. We want to be playing in Santa Barbara in the College Cup.”

After starting the season 8-5-3, the Wolverines caught fire, winning five straight. The last three came in the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan will practice all this week while Burns makes the trip to Florida to scout the Wolverines’ next opponent. Burns said the team will address any quirks of Central Florida and South Florida, including their strategies on corner kicks and restarts.

The Wolverines beat South Florida 2-0 in the schools’ only matchup in 2003. They have never played Central Florida.

“Upsets are very common in tournaments like these and we can’t afford to have that happen to us,” Wood said. “We’ve got to take every game individually and keep moving forward.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.