They say that you learn the most about a team when it’s down. If that’s the case, the Michigan men’s soccer team should be in good shape after its first come-from-behind victory of the year.
On Sunday, the Wolverines traveled to Madison to take on Big Ten foe Wisconsin. And early on, it looked like Michigan might be in some trouble against the lowly Badgers.
Wisconsin (0-1-1 Big Ten, 1-8-2 overall) came out of the gate ready to play and quickly captured a 1-0 lead, on a 12th minute goal by junior defenseman Colin Mani.
But the Wolverines (2-1-0, 7-2-3) refused to point fingers at one another — instead, they used the early deficit as fuel to turn the game around and earn a 3-2 victory.
“The great thing about what happened after we got down is you really saw the team’s resolve to play for each other,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said after the game. “You started to see everybody kind of think the same and move the ball effectively, and really just trust one another. I think we became a much better team after we went down a goal.”
In the 17th minute of the first half — just five minutes after the Badgers scored — Michigan responded with a goal of its own by senior forward Justin Meram.
Meram capitalized on a Wisconsin turnover and sliced through the Badger defense, drilling the ball into the lower-right corner to even the score up at one.
“The timing of (Meram’s goal) was very strong because the longer that you go being down a goal, the more uptight everyone can get and you start to press and do things you wouldn’t normally do,” Burns said. “After that goal, you could see that we kind of shook off their first goal and said, ‘Okay, let’s keep after them and figure out how to get more.’ “
The goal was Meram’s fifth of the season and his third in the last three games. Meram’s recent surge is a welcome sight for the Wolverines and can be partially attributed to his new approach to the game.
“I’m just staying focused with the team goal,” Meram said. “Before, I was worrying too much about not scoring — now it’s more about Michigan winning and my ability to help Michigan win by getting a couple goals here and there and setting people up. The less I was thinking about scoring and just thinking more about Michigan is when my chances were coming.”
Minutes before the end of the first half, freshman forward Soony Saad fired the ball into the back of the net off of a free kick to give Michigan momentum and a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.
The Wolverines would carry that momentum into the second half, as they came out of the break controlling the ball and getting everyone involved.
Just over 12 minutes into the second half, senior Matt Schmitt added a goal to give Michigan a commanding 3-1 lead.
With the comfortable two-goal lead, Burns pulled redshirt junior goalie Chris Blais in order to give redshirt sophomore Tim Bergsma his first action of the season.
But after a defensive breakdown by the Wolverines, Wisconsin freshman Chris Prince scored to cut the lead to one with just under seven minutes to play.
Minutes later, Wisconsin had a great chance to tie the game off of a corner kick but was stopped on a diving save by Bergsma, sealing the victory for Michigan.
“As a keeper, you’ve got to have the shortest memory on the team,” Bergsma said. “Whether you make a big save or give up a goal, you just have to get right back at it.”
Burns’s confidence in Bergsma to finish out the game is a great example of how much trust this team has built in one another — from the starters all the way down to the last player on the bench.
And with the Big Ten Tournament less than a month away, trust will be key as the Wolverines look to make a run at the conference title.
“Bergs had to make a great save at 3-2 and he did,” Burns said. “The team has got trust in him and really I think we are now truly becoming a a team. You trust that every guy that comes onto the field is going to be able to sustain the work, and it starts to all synch the same. It’s good to see. Everybody who came into the game tonight really did a strong job for us.”