Friday night, the Michigan men’s soccer team enters the Chaka Daley era when it faces No. 5 South Florida in Tampa — a treacherous opening match for Daley, who takes over as head coach of a team that went 5-14-1 last season.

But Daley wouldn’t have it any other way. One of his first duties after taking the head coaching position in December was to compile the schedule. And he wanted to make sure that his team would be battle tested come Big Ten play.

“(South Florida is) a game I put on the schedule because I wanted to get a barometer of where we are, really quick,” Daley said. “Hopefully, it’s a teaching tool in many ways.”

The Bulls’ season ended far more ceremoniously than did Michigan’s last year. While the Wolverines’ postseason was short-lived — they lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to Wisconsin, 2-0 — South Florida was beginning what Daley calls “second season,” the postseason, which he says is a right that every team has to earn. There, the Bulls plowed on to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, where they eventually surrendered to Creighton in overtime, falling just shy of a College Cup berth.

Just as the “second season” is a familiar concept to 12 of the 24 Wolverines on the roster who made it to the College Cup in 2010, South Florida is a familiar team to Daley. As the head coach at Providence for 12 seasons prior to arriving in Ann Arbor, Daley coached against the Bulls in the Big East.

This year’s Bulls team is similar to those Daley has seen in the past, despite needing to replace star forward Dom Dwyer, now with Sporting Kansas City of MLS and goalkeeper Chris Blais, a Michigan transfer. So, Daley said, nothing thrown at him should be a surprise.

“We wanted to see where we are, and we want to set a precedent that we can compete against the best teams in the country,” Daley said. “How quickly can we be competitive with the best teams? That’s to be determined, but we definitely want to measure ourselves as players and as coaches.”

South Florida’s style of play won’t be the only familiarity to Daley, however. He grew up in Florida and knows the venue, USF Soccer Stadium, and even the weather patterns well. though Daley said a thundershower is always a possibility in Tampa, it’s unlikely to rain Friday, despite Tropical Storm Isaac, which is barreling toward Tampa.

Michigan has its sights set on returning to the NCAA Tournament this season. After beginning the season on a four-game losing streak in 2011, a return trip after 2010’s miraculous run seemed unlikely and became out of the question with each increasingly frustrating one-goal loss the team suffered. But that’s hardly on the minds of the Wolverines now.

“The focus is on this season,” said defenseman Kofi Opare, one of the team’s three senior captains along with defenseman Brian Klemczak and midfielder Latif Alashe. “We know the past is the past and we’re just focusing on the team right now and what we can accomplish.”

Both Opare and Alashe emphasized that competing for a Big Ten regular-season championship remains one of Michigan’s top priorities — coming off just a five-win season does nothing to change that, Alashe added.

But the stark contrast that the program has seen — from its highest of highs in 2010 to a disappointing 2011 season — has left the team’s upperclassmen with invaluable lessons they couldn’t have learned another way.

“It’s helped to put things in perspective,” Alashe said. “You know not to get too high or too low. I think we realize now that we need to take it one game at a time. We know that we have to bring out a level of intensity that we maybe didn’t have last year to this first game and hopefully get on a roll.”

NOTE: Michigan junior forward T.J. Roehn is a Tampa native who transferred to Michigan from South Florida after last season. Roehn played sparingly in his career with the Bulls, recording one goal in 13 total games.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.