Through the program’s first 10 years, all but three of the Michigan men’s soccer team’s matchups against Ohio State have ended 1-0. Saturday night’s meeting at the U-M Soccer Complex was no different, and it was the Wolverines’ turn to come up on the short end of the box score.
Michigan’s inability to score was not due to a lack of scoring chances, as the 24-12 shot differential went in favor of the Wolverines. It was just a matter of not executing properly.
Already trailing the 23rd-ranked Buckeyes (1-0 Big Ten, 5-2-1 overall) by one goal early on, freshman forward Soony Saad was tripped up in the box and was awarded a penalty shot.
Michigan coach Steve Burns sent senior Justin Meram to take the kick.
“A penalty kick was what you’d expect when you have a great crowd here and a guy goes down in the box,” Burns said. “Now we had to make it. Justin was the guy that we talked about would take a penalty kick if there was one.”
Meram looked at the goalkeeper, eyed the ball, and postmarked a low shot to the right side of the goal. But the keeper guessed correctly, dove and grabbed the ball, quieting the crowd by erasing what seemed like a sure goal.
Just a few minutes later, Saad received a free kick from about 30 yards out. His shot rifled through the defense and beat the goalkeeper, but it hit the crossbar and ricocheted high above the net.
After that, the scoring chances consisted mostly of long-range shots, which looked impressive in the box score but made no difference on the scoreboard.
Although the offense carried the play throughout most of the match, a pair of notable missed opportunities diminished the momentum and crowd noise. The Wolverines (0-1 Big Ten, 4-2-3 overall) caught themselves pressing and were unable to sustain many lengthy offensive attacks.
Burns attributed the lack of offensive success to the tension and pressure that was added when Ohio State managed to take the early lead.
“(After that goal,) we never really made their keeper make a big-time save,” Burns said. “I think that shows a tightness of our shooters right now.
“In soccer, you are just shooting at general areas. Right now our guys are shooting at the goal and hoping they get it there, whereas when you’re loose and when you’re seeing the game and confident, that goal looks so big and you see the area you’re shooting at.”
After dominating the Buckeyes in every offensive category except scoring, Michigan still leads the Big Ten in shot totals. And according to Burns, it’s only a matter of time before those kicks start finding the back of the net again.
“I tell the team, ‘Soccer is an accumulative game — you have to do the right thing more often than not and it all adds up and eventually leads to a goal,’ ” Burns said. “We’re due for a breakout game where we put three, four or five goals on someone.”