Time and time again, Northwestern goalkeeper Ryan Pederson would deny Michigan of seemingly sure goals.
A header in the box from lanky Kevin Taylor punched over the goal by a leaping Pederson.
A low, wide Tom Gritter shot to the right corner stopped by Pederson”s one-handed save.
A laser-sharp half-volley from Taylor stuffed again by the undaunted Wildcat.
Despite the natural frustration arising from these near-misses, the Michigan men”s soccer team (1-1 Big Ten, 5-1 overall) continued to methodically break down the packed in Northwestern (0-2, 0-4-2) defense, en route to a 1-0 victory.
Using an indirect style that involved pushing the ball up the flanks, the Wolverines controlled most of the game.
Their patience would be rewarded with 16 minutes left in the game.
Off a beautiful through-ball from midfielder Mike White, forward Jody Keeling blasted a shot from the 18-yard line that beat Pederson high. Following the well-timed feed, Keeling had plenty of time to size up and crank the game-winning shot.
What made the goal even sweeter for Keeling was that his parents made the long trip from Florida this weekend to see him play. Hobbled Friday by an ankle injury, Keeling was grateful for the opportunity to give them something back yesterday.
“They”ve been watching me since I was very little,” Keeling said. “They”re very happy when I succeed.”
Michigan goalkeeper Joe Zawacki had a strong outing as well. Faced with gusty winds, Zawacki had to save numerous high balls. His biggest save came in the first half on a floater that hit the cross bar, then bounced straight to a waiting Wildcat. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Zawacki was able to smother the ball before it found the net.
“Joe Zawacki played extremely well again,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “He”s looking like an All-Big Ten performer.”
For Burns, the victory indicated that his team is learning how to beat different styles of play.
As Michigan prepared all week for a packed-in Northwestern defense, the Wildcats surprised the Wolverines by pressing them in the first half. But, as Michigan began to expose Northwestern”s lack of team speed, the Wildcats shifted in the second half to their typically conservative style on defense.
The win over Northwestern marked Michigan”s first conference win this season, and its fifth win in its first six games. Northwestern remains winless for the season after losing four games and tying two.
At Elbel Field Friday, Michigan beat non-conference foe Butler (0-4) 2-0 in a choppy, muddy and gritty victory. On the soggy grass, defender Kevin Taylor and midfielder Knox Cameron emerged to score for the Wolverines.
Taylor”s score came from a perfect corner kick feed from J.J. Kern. Untouched in front of the net, the 6-4 Taylor buried a header past Bulldog goalkeeper Jason Richarz.
“J.J. hit an absolute dime,” Taylor said. “I was surprised to be that open.”
Burns was also pleased with the execution of the set play.
“The set piece was the mosh-pit corner kick,” Burns said. “We just put bodies on bodies.”
With 22 minutes left in the first half, the complexion of the game changed when Butler was awarded a penalty kick.
Butler”s Michael Mariscalco struck a strong shot to the low left corner, but Zawacki made an incredible diving save.
“That save added an instant lift to our team,” Burns said.
Butler, playing from behind most of the game, could not mount a significant offensive threat after that, thanks to the play of defenders like Joe Iding.
Marking physical forward Nick Pantazi for the entire game, the smaller Iding was able to keep his man from causing any damage.
As a man marker, “you have to have a warrior mentality,” Iding said.
Despite leading 1-0 for most of the game, Michigan continued to attack.
As the game opened up in the second half, Michigan forward Robert Turpin and Knox Cameron launched several forays into the Bulldogs” defense.
With two minutes left, Cameron scored unassisted to clinch the game. The goal came on a nifty fake and a low left-footed shot on the left side.
The Wolverines displayed impressive killer instinct in the win, coming at the Bulldogs all game and refusing to sit back and rest on their one-goal lead.
Michigan”s two victories gave the Alumni Weekend crowd a great deal to cheer about. The event, open to past Michigan club and varsity soccer alumni, allowed the team an opportunity to thank those who set the foundation for team”s varsity status. For last year”s captain Will Purdy, the weekend was a great way to reconnect with his former teammates.
“I wouldn”t miss this for the world,” Purdy said.