A 2-1 loss to a top-five team isn’t necessarily a bad start for a new coach to start his first season, especially when it’s followed by a convincing win at home.
That’s how the Michigan men’s soccer team, and its new coach Chaka Daley started its season when it lost to No. 5 South Florida in the season opener on Aug. 24 and they handled Vermont with a 3-0 victory upon returning to Ann Arbor a week later.
But two days later on Sunday, the positives of battling the Bulls on the road and winning the first game under Daley were forgotten as Michigan lost 3-0 to Cleveland State at home.
After the loss to the Vikings, Daley said he finally saw how difficult his first year at the helm of the program would be.
“We were poor defensively,” Daley said following the loss to the Vikings. “We were poor in the first half defensively, we were just fortunate. We tried to acknowledge that at halftime and tidy some things up, but it just went from bad to worse unfortunately.”
The “bad to worse” happened when a scoreless match at halftime and turned into an onslaught of poorly-defended Cleveland State point-blank goals late in the second half. With less than 20 minutes remaining and the Wolverines down a goal, the Vikings scored two goals in two minutes, leaving Michigan defenders helplessly looking at each other.
It was the first real test for the Wolverines — things were going poorly against an evenly-matched opponent. And they failed it.
“We seemed to lose a little bit of energy and our determination (in the second half),” said senior defenseman Brian Klemczak. “We lost a little bit of fight. When we needed to win our individual battles we didn’t.”
It will be Daley’s job to help his team overcome that defeated feeling; another challenge for the first-year coach.
Not only is Daley coming in and taking the helm of a team that struggled last year, but he’s taking the reins from a coach — Steve Burns — who had been with Michigan for 19 years. There will be problems and struggles early, but Daley said he hopes to build connections with the team and help the players build those connections amongst each other.
“It has to come from within,” Daley said. “Within the group they have to dig in the game and for the rest of the season. It’s one game from this point, and it’s a difficult one to swallow for sure, but Cleveland State did a better job than us, and they continue to compete and get after it. We didn’t do as well, and as a result they got on the right side of the outcome.”
This positive attitude extends only as far as looking to the next game. Daley said that as a result of the loss, Michigan would go back to the drawing board to see what they can do differently in the future. At no point, he said, was he pleased by the performance.
One thing Daley understands from his former coaching experiences — he spent the last 12 years at Providence — is the importance of winning at home. The Wolverines lost their season-opener against South Florida, but they played a very good team down to the wire on the road — a silver lining, he said.
And following Michigan’s first home win of the season against Vermont, Daley emphasized the importance of playing and winning in Ann Arbor.
“If you win, (the fans) will come,” Daley said. “Obviously we want to keep that going (at home).”
Michigan finishes its current homestand on Sunday when it squares off against Northeastern at 2 p.m. It will be the Wolverines final home game before they travel to Milwaukee, Wisc. to take on Marquette on Sept. 14.