Entering its matchup against Michigan State, the Michigan women’s soccer team was not only looking for its first win in the series since 2003, but it was also searching for its first score against its in-state foe in roughly three years.
The Wolverines (3-3-1 Big Ten, 8-5-2 overall) will have to wait another year to try to snap both droughts, as they were shut out once again 2-0 by the Spartans.
“They’re a good team all around,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “They’re a solid defensive team, but I don’t think they were really worried about defending us because they knew that we didn’t have our personnel in place, and rightly so. I give them a lot of credit for having a very aggressive game plan.”
Playing shorthanded, Michigan wasn’t able to absorb the pressure applied by Michigan State (4-3-0 Big Ten, 11-4-0 overall). Already without junior midfielder Holly Hein and sophomore forward Meghan Toohey for the remainder of the season, the Wolverines were also without their leading scorer, sophomore forward Nkem Ezuirke.
Ezurike was forced to sit out this contest after receiving her fifth yellow card of the season against Northwestern. NCAA rules state that if a player receives her fifth yellow card of the season, she must sit out the following game.
Her physical presence was sorely missed — Michigan’s offensive attack floundered all game against the Spartan defense.
“It completely changes our team,” Ryan said. “We just didn’t have that target player who could hold that ball up for us today. It was a very, very difficult game.
“We’re also still trying to figure how to adjust to Toohey’s loss, because she was such a dynamic force in our midfield, and not having both those players on the field made it very difficult for us today.”
Without its usual level of confidence, Michigan played passively and defensive-minded for the majority of the game. The Spartans outshot the Wolverines 12-1 in the first half, and they held a 5-2 advantage in corner kicks.
But despite the lopsided statistics, the Wolverines did initially shut down Michigan State’s offense. The two teams played to a scoreless draw entering halftime.
The second half was a different story. Taking advantage of Michigan’s lack of offense, the Spartans kept attacking and found the back of the net in the 71st minute. Off a corner kick, multiple Spartans got a head on the ball before it fell in front of substitute midfielder Megan Marsack, who fired the ball past redshirt junior goalie Haley Kopmeyer.
“I think they had a corner kick advantage of 8-3,” Ryan said. “If you’re giving up eight corner (kicks), eventually something is going to fall.”
Marsack’s goal snapped a drought of 330:46 of scoreless soccer played between the teams, dating back to their 1-1 tie in 2008.
Six minutes later, forward Laura Heyboer added an insurance goal for Michigan State as she tallied her 16th goal of the season, taking advantage of a Wolverine miscue on the back line.
“We just didn’t have a sense of direction without (Ezurike) out there on the field,” Ryan said.