With Wisconsin defeating Ohio State in double overtime an hour before the start of the Michigan men’s soccer matchup with Northwestern, a lot was riding on the second game’s outcome. If Northwestern won, it would win the Big Ten regular-season championship. If Michigan won, Wisconsin would claim the title.
After a scoreless game for the first 84 minutes of play, Wildcat forward Reed Losee passed across the box to teammate Chris Ritter, who finished with a powerful shot past Wolverine redshirt junior goalkeeper Tim Bergsma. The only score of the night gave Northwestern the Big Ten regular season title and a 1-0 victory on Michigan’s senior night.
With all three of Michigan’s seniors starting, the showdown proved to be the tactical game that Michigan coach Steve Burns predicted.
Both teams played rather conservatively the first half, with the first strong surge coming from Michigan sophmore forward Ezekiel Harris 12 minutes in. His shot was blocked by Northwestern goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
Northwestern almost broke the scoreless tie 22 minutes into the game when midfielder Lepe Seetane ripped a shot from 20 yards out. But Bergsma denied the chance.
The attacks on the Wolverines’ goal continued, as Northwestern had a trio of corner kicks, each coming in the 23rd minute. All three kicks were cleared by the Michigan defense.
“Defensively, when we win a ball, we look to play that furthest target and get those counterattacks going,” said Burns. “We have to play high-percentage soccer and be able to create chances from other teams mistakes.”
The Northwestern offense showed its dominance against Michigan’s defense during the first half of the game, recording seven shots on goal to Michigan’s three.
Coming out of halftime, the Wolverines and the Wildcats came to the field with a much more aggressive game plan. Eight minutes in, Michigan redshirt freshman midfielder Nick Lewin collected a loose ball and had a path to the goal. But he launched it too early from a long range and it sailed over the net.
Northwestern continued their attacks on the Wolverines’ goal, with Seetane taking another big shot from the right side. Even with Bergsma’s save, the ball remained on Michigan’s side for the next three minutes of play. With 12 minutes left in the game, Wildcat Layth Marsi had a breakaway, but was stopped by Michigan junior Brian Klemczak.
With the Woverines scrambling to even the score, Burns made some changes to the lineup. Bringing freshman midfielder Tyler Arnone and redshirt sophmore midfielder Noble Sullivan back into play, he changed the formation to a 4-4-2, playing with two players up front and a compressed midfield.
“We were pushing for a win,” Burns said. “We knew with this strategy we would be susceptible to a counterattack, but we were willing to risk it for that win.”
The strategy almost paid off. With 11 seconds left Harris had a powerful surge from midfield. But with the Wildcat defense pressuring him, Harris slipped and missed the chance to strike, giving Northwestern the victory.
The 1-0 result was the Wolverines’ 13th one goal defeat this season. Michigan will be back in play next week as they face off with No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, which will take place in Ann Arbor.
“We like our draw,” Burns said. “It’s going to be another tactical chess match of a game. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was another 1-0 score that went into overtime.”