The Michigan women’s soccer team entered this season with a fresh offensive mindset and a brand new scheme.
Out went the lone-striker formation the Wolverines utilized for much of last year and in came a more balanced attack that features two strikers and players from all over the field looking to create scoring opportunities.
And during its season-opening win against Fordham on Aug. 17, Michigan looked like a changed team. Even without last season’s top two scorers — junior forward Nkem Ezurike, who was competing in the under-20 women’s World Cup, and fifth-year senior midfielder Clare Stachel, who is suffering from a lingering leg injury — the Wolverines found the back of the net five times.
But since that match, the Wolverines have reverted back to their 2011 selves, averaging only one goal per game in their last five matches. With 10 goals so far in 2012, they have three less than they had at this point last season.
“As a team, we’ve been talking about it — that we need to get back on track with scoring,” said senior midfielder Emily Jaffe. “We need more than one goal to finish games.”
The team’s scoring struggles finally caught up with them this past weekend, as Michigan suffered a pair of one-goal defeats. On Friday, the Wolverines were defeated 1-0 by California State-Northridge and on Sunday, they dropped a 2-1 decision to No. 11 Long Beach State.
“Against Long Beach, because we had just one goal, it made it a lot harder when they scored the (penalty kick) at the end to really finish off the game,” Jaffe said. “If we were up two goals, and they scored a goal, we would have been fine.’”
Last year, Michigan scored 26 goals, its most in a season under coach Greg Ryan, who took over the program in 2008. For the majority of 2011, the Wolverines competed with Ezurike as their lone forward, playing with as many as five players on the back line.
But with a deeper and more explosive roster, Ryan changed his formation to allow all of his players to push the ball up the field more.
Though Michigan’s scoring woes could be attributed to the absence of Ezurike and Stachel, who have missed a combined nine games, junior midfielder Meghan Toohey believes the scoring difficulties are the result of other issues.
“I think it’s determination and mindset,” Toohey said. “Just believing in ourselves and someone stepping up and just saying, ‘I’m going to be the one to score the goal.’ ”
Michigan appeared poised to score more goals this season with the return of almost all of its starters and the addition of a strong freshman class. Forward Corinne Harris, midfielder Lulu Haidar and midfielder Christina Ordonez have all made an instant impact, each tallying a game-winning goal in the first six games of their collegiate careers, but haven’t received much help of late.
That should change with the return of Ezurike, junior defenseman Shelina Zadorsky and sophomore midfielder Christina Murrillo this past weekend from the World Cup.
Though the new scheme hasn’t made as big of an impact on the scoreboard as Ryan was hoping for so far, he isn’t too concerned because the Wolverines are creating scoring chances for themselves.
“When you keep getting great chances, you’re going to start finishing. I would be concerned if we weren’t creating the chances, but we are. We worked on finishing (in practice) and we looked pretty good.”