The beginning of fall classes was still a week away, but when the Michigan men’s soccer team gathered in its new locker room before taking the field for the season debut, the Wolverines were given a history lesson.
In preparation for the program’s first game at its new $6-million masterpiece stadium on Sept. 1, Michigan coach Steve Burns sat his team down and played a video highlighting several major stadiums, the first games played there and the long-lasting success of the home team in each of those complexes.
Included in the presentation was Michigan’s own Big House, which was christened with a 33-0 victory over Ohio Wesleyan.
At the end, the video froze on a photograph of the new U-M Soccer Stadium. The message was clear — it was time for this team to mark its territory.
“When it showed our stadium alongside some clips from last year … that really motivated us to go out and get that first win in our new stadium,” sophomore midfielder Hamoody Saad said.
On top of that, Burns decided to tack on some extra incentive for the Wolverines (4-2-3) to capitalize early in their opener against Detroit.
The coaching staff announced that the player who netted the first goal would get his name and the ball enshrined in a glass case displayed in the soccer complex.
That was motivation enough to get the offense buzzing from the onset of the match. No one was willing to let the opponent score the illustrious first goal.
Sure enough, it was 28 minutes into the game when Hamoody’s younger brother, freshman Soony Saad dipped a free kick just beneath the crossbar, etching himself permanently in the Michigan history books.
“Everyone wants the recognition of scoring that first goal,” Hamoody said. “Everyone wants that ball, but obviously in the end it was all about going for the team’s victory.”
Wolverines on top: Several individuals — headlined by Soony — have broken onto the national scene over the last week, joining the top ranks in the conference and across the country.
A week after picking up his first career hat trick, Soony was awarded Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors, a spot he shared with Indiana forward Will Bruin. Soony was also named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week.
Through nine games, he’s amassed seven of the team’s 12 tallies, currently putting him fourth in the nation in goals scored.
Soony leads the conference in shots taken (68), putting the Wolverines atop the Big Ten with 229 total shots.
On the other side of the field, senior goalkeeper Chris Blais has made 39 saves, which leads the Big Ten.
Preparation for a difficult month ahead: In August, the team headed to northern Michigan for a week of preseason workouts. The coaches split the team into five groups and held competitions to determine one winning team at the end of the week.
On the final day, Burns took his athletes to the Sleeping Bear Dunes and gave them the final, most difficult task.
“(They ran) from the base park out to Lake Michigan and back,” Burns said. “On that run there are easily 20 big dunes that you have got to climb. We really wanted to paint a picture for them that the dunes really represent the season — there are a lot of ups and downs in every season.”
After losing a 1-0 match to current-No. 19 Ohio State last Saturday, Michigan finds itself looking up a towering dune in the schedule. The month of October will be an enormous test to the team’s endurance and skill.
No. 24 Penn State comes to Ann Arbor on Sunday, led by junior Corey Hertzog — the conference’s leader in goals (8) and points (20).
But perhaps the biggest hurdle will come when the Wolverines travel to face currently unbeaten and top-ranked Akron in three weeks.
Sophomore goalkeeper David Meves backstops the Zips, and after setting a school record with 17 shutouts last year, Meves has yet to allow a goal in the team’s first six matches this season.
A home game against another ranked opponent, No. 11 Michigan State, on Oct. 30 closes out the difficult month for Michigan.