AKRON, Ohio — No match against Akron, the perennial NCAA men’s soccer power, is ever the most pleasant experience. But the Michigan men’s soccer team may have caught the Zips at the worst possible time — in the midst of a 14-game winning streak.
Top-ranked Akron added another tally to its tremendous streak on Sunday night, edging out the Wolverines, 2-1, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Zips haven’t lost a match since Sept. 9, and they have outscored their opponents by a staggering 36-2 margin during that span.
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Adam Grinwis may have played the best match of his career for the Wolverines, but Akron proved too much for the improved Michigan defense. The Zips (7-0 MAC, 18-1-2 overall) controlled most of the possession throughout the match, leading to numerous plays that showed off their crafty footwork and ball skills.
“We did some the best stuff early on in the second half that I’ve ever seen out of any Akron team I’ve had,” said Akron coach Caleb Porter. “Some of the sequences and combinations were fantastic.”
Grinwis kept Michigan (5-3-1 Big Ten, 11-10-1) in the game after making a string of crucial saves in the last 10 minutes of the initial frame, each coming from point-blank range inside the 18-yard box. But even Grinwis’s extraordinary performance wasn’t enough to keep the Zips scoreless heading into halftime.
In the 43rd minute, it was midfielder Eric Stevenson who struck a laser to the top right corner giving Akron a 1-0 advantage just before the break.
In the second half, Grinwis was even more impressive, making six out of his nine saves against the Zips’ relentless attack.
“Adam made some superb saves in the second half that definitely kept us in the game,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “I think both keepers were excellent tonight.”
But the Wolverines’ defense faltered again in the 59th minute when Akron forward Thomas Schmitt chipped a loose ball over Grinwis to give his team a 2-0 lead. To make matters worse for Michigan, three minutes later, freshman forward Colin McAtee was shown a red card for stomping on an Akron defender following a hard tackle.
On top of a two-goal deficit, the Wolverines were down to ten men on the field for the second time this season against Akron. But a minute later, off the ensuing free kick, freshman forward James Murphy revitalized the Michigan squad after striking a rocket into the left side of the net to cut the Zips’ lead to one.
“It was a little ironic,” Daley said regarding the quick goal following the red card.
Perhaps it was a bit strange, but more importantly for the Wolverines, Murphy’s strike meant they still had a chance.
After McAtee’s red card, the Wolverines showed more urgency than it had in the first sixty minutes of the match. Daley switched formations to push more attackers toward the Akron goal, but goalkeeper David Meves sealed the deal for the Zips, as he made a leaping save from junior midfielder Fabio Pereira’s shot with just four minutes left.
“It looked good off of (Pereira’s) foot,” Daley said. “It looked like it was going in the top pocket, but (Meves) got his hand to it and he made a great save.”
The Wolverines’ season may be over, but Daley said that this season, his first at Michigan, has been a great experience for himself and the team.
“As a new coach, and to get buy-in from your team, I think our guys have grown a lot (during the season),” Daley said. “There will be better days for Michigan soccer for sure.”