As the end of the season looms, the Michigan men’s soccer team is furiously fighting to put itself in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines, currently ranked 26th in the RPI rankings, have done a lot of things right in hopes to achieve that aspiration.
They have played the nation’s toughest schedule, including four games against top-15 opponents, which included an upset over No. 11 Indiana on the road. In hopes of solidifying a tournament berth, the Wolverines (2-2-1 Big Ten, 5-8-1 overall) needed another respectable victory as they hosted Valparaiso (2-1-3, Horizon 4-6-5) on Saturday. The Wolverines got the win in the last minute — literally.
The Wolverines edged out the Crusaders, 1-0, after a strike by junior midfielder Fabio Pereira hit the back of the net in the 89th minute.
“We were on top of them the whole time in the second half,” Pereira said. “By the end of the game, we didn’t want to push it to overtime. (Redshirt sophomore midfielder Tyler Arnone) found me at the top of the box and I happened to put it in. It was a pretty good shot.”
Michigan struggled early on and could hardly muster any scoring opportunities against a stingy defense. Valparaiso, with a lackluster offensive performance itself, had the best chance to take the lead when a ball split the Wolverines’ defense for a Crusader breakaway in the 18th minute. A diving save from redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Adam Grinwis kept the game scoreless.
Both teams struggled offensively throughout the initial frame, spending most of their time trying to crack the other side’s defense. Michigan (1.37 goals against average) and Valparaiso (.74) both came into the match allowing under two goals per game.
“I think it took us a little bit of time (to break through) there in the first half,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Their keeper is excellent, and I think that’s the reason why they have that goals against average.”
After a scoreless line at halftime, there was a change in the pace for both teams early on and throughout the second half. The Wolverines dominated in just about every phase, as they generated several scoring chances, and continued to play sound defense to keep their NCAA Tournament chances alive.
“We had a really poor performance at first, but we really woke up in the second half,” Pereira said. “When we play like we did (in the second half), I think we can play with anyone in the country.”
Michigan will look to build off its late success in order to reach the .500 mark and eventually earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Every game from here on out is a World Cup Final for us,” Daley said. “We have two difficult games coming up, so it could go the right way or the wrong way. Our goal right now is to get to .500 and get a little bit of a rhythm going.”