The No. 21 Michigan women’s soccer team paired a smothering defensive effort with a persistent attack to overwhelm Purdue, 2-0, on a windy Sunday afternoon at the U-M Soccer Complex.
The Wolverines’ defense, which had uncharacteristically surrendered goals in two of the past three games, returned to its dominant form against the Boilermakers (2-5-1 Big Ten, 7-7-2 overall). The back four allowed just two shots, and never let Purdue pressure senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer.
Junior defender Shelina Zadorsky was pleased with her unit, which stymied attacks, controlled the pace of the match and helped the Wolverines (7-0-1, 13-2-1) transition quickly to offense.
“We did our job today,” she said. “We learned from the errors we made.”
The defense has now earned 11 shutouts this season, and Kopmeyer’s nine individual clean sheets lead the Big Ten.
Offensively, Michigan routinely found holes in the Boilermakers’ back line. The Wolverines took six corner kicks, 24 shots — 10 on target — and found the back of the net twice.
Michigan’s attack broke the scoreless tie in the 20th minute courtesy of junior midfielder Meghan Toohey. After junior forward Nkem Ezurike got around a defender and sent a low cross through the 18-yard box, the ball deflected out to an unmarked Toohey. The midfielder one-timed a shot past the diving Purdue goalkeeper for her third goal of the season.
Despite a plethora of offensive chances, the 1-0 score held until senior midfielder Emily Jaffe put the game out of reach in the 77th minute. After the Wolverines earned a corner kick, Zadorsky arched a cross to Jaffe. The 5-foot-6 midfielder elevated over a Boilermakers’ defender to fire a screaming header just under the crossbar.
A smiling Jaffe credited Zadorsky’s pinpoint pass for the goal, which sealed the win for Michigan.
“Shelina sent in a perfect corner,” she said. “I just hit it in.”
A week ago, Jaffe had never scored for the Wolverines. But after tallying the overtime winner in Wednesday’s victory against Michigan State, Jaffe has quickly become a key offensive presence. Coming in as a late-game substitute in both games, she has made the most of her playing time, scoring in consecutive games.
Michigan coach Greg Ryan has taken notice, and plans on using Jaffe more in the future.
“She’s like our secret weapon,” he said. “Probably not-so-secret any more.”
In the second half, the Wolverines played with a strong wind at their backs, which helped them control possession and wear down the Boilermakers. But despite commanding the match, Michigan struggled to capitalize on their scoring opportunities. Ryan wasn’t too concerned with those difficulties, though, choosing instead to focus on the chances that the offense created.
“I was very pleased that our kids were stepping up to the plate and taking that many shots,” he said. “If you start thinking about missing, it’ll mess you up.”
The Wolverines’ win kept a 10-game unbeaten streak and undefeated record at home intact. More importantly, it helped Michigan keep pace with conference-leading Penn State. The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions (8-0, 14-2) narrowly defeated Iowa on Sunday afternoon. But the Wolverines control their own destiny, and can earn their first regular-season championship by winning its final three games.