Fueled up on the sour taste of Friday night’s disappointing and surprising 2-1 loss to Oakland, the Michigan men’s soccer team proved its resilience yesterday by earning a win in overtime against Kentucky 1-0.
“Resilience was a theme we talked about in the beginning of the season,” senior captain Ryan Sterba said. “We knew we’d have to learn how to bounce back. Our team showed a lot of resilience (yesterday) after our game against Oakland.”
On Friday, the Wolverines struggled with their ball movement and were unable to make many attacks on the goal. The game became heated during the second half after freshman Michael Holody went down after being hit by an Oakland player. But the Wolverines weren’t able to capitalize on their charged emotions, and the clock wound down on them just as senior forward Ryan Alexander was about to get the ball across the goal line.
“I didn’t feel like we played up to our potential on Friday,” Alexander said. “We let a game that we thought that we should have won slip away.”
Michigan coach Steve Burns knew that he couldn’t let his team falter like that again. He told his team that they had to play like they needed to win instead of just wanting to win. His speech seemed to hit home with the team.
“This game against Kentucky was one we needed to win in order to keep us on track for our goals this season,” Burns said. “I give a lot of credit to our team because they put it together mentally in their pre-game and they came out and played exactly how we wanted them to, intensity-wise. It was that urgency and a little bit of recklessness that set a great tone for the rest of the game.”
In an exhibit of physical matchups along all portions of the field. Kentucky battled its way through the game by pushing and pulling down Michigan players and the Wolverines fought back. The referees gave three yellow cards and two red cards – one against midfielder Alex McDonald and the other against the coaching bench – to the Kentucky team. Coach Burns felt that the tough pressure from both sides was something that made the matchup so great.
“I think you’re seeing the beginnings of a great rivalry,” Burns said. “Both teams come out and really get after each other with a lot of intensity. There is a focus and determination to spill all of their competitive guts on the field.”
After being scoreless for the 90 minutes of regulation time, the game went into sudden death overtime. As the additional 10 minutes of time were added to the clock, both teams displayed a sense of urgency, scrambling to gain possession of the ball at the midfield. Senior captain midfielder, Adam Bruh created an opening on the field with five minutes remaining and got the ball down the right side to freshman forward Jake Stacy who was able to find senior Ryan Alexander. Alexander made a clean finish into the goal as the keeper came out to defend the Wildcats’ net. Alexander barely escaped the goalie and slipped the ball into the net to give Michigan the win.
“Jake and I made some eye contact and I curled around to the right and he just bent the ball into me,” Alexander said. “It was a great ball. I was lucky that the goalie didn’t get me. I got there a half second before him.”
After scoring, Alexander ran down the right sideline with his arms spread out to his sides like he was flying. Giving high fives as he ran by the crowd, the rest of his team chased him down to congratulate him.
“It was a fantastic feeling,” Alexander said. “Everyone wants to win a game in overtime or hit a last second shot. To get the game winning goal (yesterday) was awesome.”
The Wolverines head into their Big Ten season next week as they open with Northwestern at home on Sunday. (1 p.m.)
“The Big Ten is different from non-conference games,” Sterba said. “There’s a lot more energy and games are decided can be decided by just one mistake.”