EAST LANSING — Fall is the season for transitions, and the Michigan men’s soccer team (2-1) is no stranger to this lesson.
After suffering a 2004 season scattered with devastating setbacks — including injuries and formation changes — the Wolverines have experienced the sometimes-harsh reality of adjustment.
Michigan suffered its first loss in the regular season to Massachusetts at the Michigan State Invitational in East Lansing yesterday afternoon, falling to Minutemen 3-1.
“It’s a transition from where we were last year as a team, and, with that, it unfortunately takes some time for a team that plays that way to find its form,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “Early in the season, you can make a couple of mistakes and lose games like this. We don’t want to make anymore, that’s for sure.”
The Wolverines entered the game confidently after defeating Denver in the first game of the tournament on Sunday, 1-0.
Michigan came off on the attack right away against the Minutemen, employing a strong midfield to create several early scoring opportunities.
At 42:02 in the first half, freshman Jake Stacy served the ball from the right side to senior Ryan Alexander, but his shot on goal missed wide to the left.
Though the Wolverines created several openings to the net early in the game, they were unable to convert. By the end of the first half, Michigan had attempted 16 shots on goal.
“I thought we carried the run of play and had more dangerous chances,” Burns said. “(Massachusetts) finished their chances early out in the beginning of the game, (and we didn’t).”
At 6:49, the Minutemen’s Oral Bullen led the team’s first offensive attack of the game. Bullen ran the ball down the right side of the field and served it to junior Michael Donnelly, whose shot sailed over the outstretched arms of Michigan goalie Peter Dzubay.
While Michigan continued to control its offensive end of the field, the Minutemen were able to sneak in another successful conversion on just their second shot on goal. Massachusetts’ Stuart Wagner broke away from the Michigan midfield, sending the ball to Bullen, who snuck the ball in the lower right corner of the Wolverines’ net, bringing the score to 2-0.
“Bullen had a great second goal to be able to score on a toe poke in stride like that,” Burns said. “Whenever you’re shooting and it’s unorthodox with your toe the goalie is never set. Here, he was on the full run, and it was a nice finish.”
Hoping to turn around the flow of the game, Burns made several substitutions.
Junior Bobby Trybula entered the game with just a few minutes remaining in the first half and was able to take advantage of fresh legs, putting Michigan on the scoreboard with under a minute left to play before halftime.
“The ball was played into my feet,” Trybula said. “I turned into the defender and brought it into (senior captain) Adam Bruh, and he just laid it back into the space, and I took the shot.”
Heading into the second half down by just one goal, Michigan hoped to rely on its ball movement to even the score.
“We felt real comfortable especially after Bobby scored that goal,” Burns said. “We are a team that is going to be effective when we play within our system and move the ball quickly. We are a more technical team that isn’t reliant upon special players to break the game open.”
But none of the Wolverines, their 10 second-half shots on goal found the back of Massachusetts’ net. Sitting on a one-goal lead, the Minutemen were able to secure the win by adding an insurance goal at 78:42.
“In the final 12 to 13 minutes of the game, we were just hoping and praying that we could pick balls up that were dropping,” Burns said. “But they did a better job picking them up, and the game was theirs at that point.”
With new faces on the Michigan squad replacing familiar ones, Burns acknowledged that the team is undergoing a transition that will take time — more than anything else — to develop into its new form.
“(Massachusetts) scored its goals on a couple of breakdowns and lack of discipline with our overall team shape early,” Burns said. “They did the smart thing—they tried to sit on a two-goal lead and they did it, and we weren’t able to crack them.”
Even with the loss, Burns is confident that the team can bounce back from this early defeat.
“We are a young team that has to learn from its mistakes,” he said. “We’ll have to learn from the experience of dropping a game like this.”