It’s rare for coaches to turn down speed.

SAID ALSALAH/Daily
Michigan Wolverine, Matt Schmitt is tackled by Steffen Thoresen of the Buffalo Bulls on September 14th at Saline High School.

Rich Rodriguez’s team thrives on it. John Beilein’s team uses it too. And when walk-on tryouts came around two years ago, Michigan men’s soccer coach Steve Burns took a shot on speed by putting Matt Schmitt on the roster.

Since then, Schmitt, now a redshirt sophomore, has steadily evolved from pure athlete to role player to rising star.

“You can’t usually teach a soccer player to be a good athlete,” Burns said. “But you can teach a good athlete to be a soccer player, and that’s why we wanted Matt on our team.”

Schmitt saw some action last year, scoring three goals and adding an assist for a total of seven points, but he started in just six games for the Wolverines.

“Last year, he was more of a two-dimensional player,” Burns said. “Now he has a great back-to-the-goal game and allows the ball to do the work for him.”

Schmitt’s improvement from last season has been apparent: in 19 games last year he tallied three goals with one assist. Through six games this season he has one score and six helpers.

Schmitt has become a symbol of perseverance and hard work.

“He’s ‘Cinderella Man’,” Burns said. “It’s a classic underdog story. We wanted to convert him into an attacking player, and he’s more of a pure forward now than before.”

He may be piling on more points, but Schmitt still plays with a whatever-it-takes-to-win attitude in each game.

“Whether it is setting somebody up or making a key tackle, I just try to win games overall,” Schmitt said.

That attitude has already led to two game-winning assists, the first coming in the season-opener against Wisconsin–Green Bay and the second last Sunday against Buffalo.

He also scored a goal last week in a tournament game against San Diego State on a diving header, giving the Wolverines their only goal in a 1-1 tie. Schmitt was later named to The Courtyard Marriott San Diego Central All-Tournament team after racking up a total of five points as the Wolverines finished 1-0-1 in the tournament.

Schmitt leads the Big Ten with six assists this season, twice the total of the four players tied for second. He is tied for fifth in points in the conference along with senior teammate Jake Stacy. Schmitt is already in fifth place on U-M’s single-season assist list, seven behind the current single-season school record of 13 set in 2002 by Adam Bruh.

“Obviously, he has worked really hard,” senior captain Danny Gray said. “But his speed is a huge attribute to his game, and he’s using that better than last year.”

Burns sees an even brighter future for his rising star.

“Each summer he comes back a different player for the better,” Burns said. “He’s very coachable, and there’s no ceiling to maximize his potential because he has so much.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *