STATE COLLEGE — The Michigan men’s soccer team won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in the program’s 11-year history on Sunday, defeating Penn State by a record-setting score of 4-1 on the Nitanny Lions’ home field.
The win ensures a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan came out willing to settle for nothing less than a convincing win. In the early minutes, the Wolverines (14-4-3) won every 50-50-ball. The hustle quickly paid off in the fourth minute of play when Nittany Lion goalkeeper Brendan Birmingham misplayed a long ball. Freshman forward Soony Saad — the nations leading scorer — was there to put the ball in the back of the net.
After missing part of the quarterfinal match and the semifinal match due to a red card, senior forward Justin Meram netted two first-half goals, both of which were created by long individual dribbles. The Penn State defense simply had no response to his speed.
“Being rested was actually very good for me since my knee was hurt,” Meram said after the game. “I knew I had to come out for the team.”
But the action was far from over once Michigan took a commanding three-goal lead.
Penn State (13-7-1) sent more men forward, but Michigan continued attacking, as both teams refused to back down.
“We have learned that we are the kind of team that needs to keep moving forward,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “If we stop pressuring, we kind of lose our mojo.”
Michigan goalkeeper Chris Blais and the Wolverine defense kept the ball out of net for several long Penn State attacks, but eventually senior Drew Cost put a goal on the board for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State began the second half with a surge, but Michigan grabbed the momentum again when Meram delivered a turn-around strike. It was sure to be Meram’s third goal of the game until sophomore Penn State defender Brian Forgue dove in front of the shot, blocking it with his hands.
Forgue received a red card and the Wolverines were awarded a penalty kick. Sophomore midfielder Hamoody Saad took the penalty and scored after his shot bounced off both the goalkeeper and the post.
“We had a thing, the three amigos: one, two, and three,” Meram said of himself and the Saads. “All three of us wanted to score. We had confidence in Hamoody. We knew he was going to bury it, and he did.”
At that point in the second half, the Nittany Lions were down three goals and one player. Still, they continued attacking and the game maintained its rapid pace. Towards the end, Penn State’s frustration became apparent in its play while Michigan calmly possessed the ball.
The 4-1 lead proved insurmountable for the Nittany Lions, who essentially admitted defeat by putting in their reserves with 15 minutes still remaining in the game. Then, the win was imminent.
“As the newest varsity team at Michigan, it has taken us 11 years to be able to bring what we feel every other team at Michigan has brought — that is championships,” Burns said. “We are glad we are able to contribute.”