STATE COLLEGE – Just 10 days ago the Michigan men’s soccer team beat Michigan State, 3-2, in a hard-fought rivalry game in Ann Arbor. On Thursday, the Wolverines (12-4-3) accomplished the same feat with only 10 men on the field for the majority of the second half, beating their in-state rival, 2-1, to advance to the Big Ten semifinals.
As Michigan senior forward Justin Meram was sent off the field with a second yellow card for excessive celebration, the heart of an already anxious team sank a little.
They were tied in the second half of a single-elimination Big Ten Tournament matchup. The scene seemed all too familiar, mirroring the last meeting between the two sides.
“At halftime, I thought our guys were a little antsy,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “I had to assure them that this is exactly the kind of game that we wanted to have and expected to have.”
Just minutes into the second half, Meram scored, but his celebration earned him a red card. After Meram’s goal and dismissal from the game, the team showed energy and maturity, rallying around its dynamic duo — the Saad brothers, Hamoody and Soony.
“It was definitely difficult to adjust to being a man down,” freshman forward Soony Saad said after the game. “But that being said, I think we did really well when it came to our defending and keeping our discipline.”
Being a man down made a difference, but not the one that people expected.
“I thought that it really hurt Michigan State, because they expected themselves to carry the play,” Burns said. “It pulled State really out of their play.”
Finally, their hard work paid off when Soony Saad earned a free kick at the top of the box. Soony – the forward who scored game-winners from 40 and 60 yards this season – tood over the ball looking at a 19-yard free kick to take the lead.
“After the foul, Hamoody looked at me and he said, ‘Take it, it’s yours,’ then started laughing,” Saad said. “It made things easier on me and it was good the team had confidence in me. Right when I hit it, I knew it was going in the top corner. I didn’t even see it hit the back of the net, I just ran to celebrate.”
The Wolverines’ 10-man defense held on to the lead to beat Michigan State (11-7-1).
“It was a very mature win from our guys — a group that we typically start five or six underclassmen,” Burns said. “Its always satisfying to see a team growing up in front of your eyes.”
On Friday, the team will play for a chance at the Big Ten title against Wisconsin, which won in penalty kicks against Ohio State today.
“We are going to play our 4-4-2 and we are going to play the best way we know how to play,” Burns said.