Under the lights at Elbel Field on Friday, the Michigan men”s soccer program will begin a stretch of home games that will shape the course of its season. For the next four weeks, the Wolverines will play nonconference teams on Friday, and take on Big Ten opponents on Sunday. Prior to their Oct. 7 meeting against mighty Indiana, the young Wolverines have an opportunity to develop their identity in some winnable games.
Friday”s opponent, Butler (0-3-0), has participated in three out of the past five NCAA tournaments. Coming off three losses, it is certain that Butler is anticipating its first victory against Steve Burns” young program. A school that traditionally recruits heavily in Michigan, Butler wants to make a statement against the Wolverines, a team that has bit heavily into the state”s talent pool.
While Elbel certainly does not provide the best surface for play, the Wolverines do have the opportunity to attract a noisy student crowd at night.
“With a spirited crowd composed of unruly college kids, we can establish the home field advantage that is so vital to success,” Burns said.
Sunday”s opponent, Northwestern (0-2-2), had a disappointing season last year, going winless. However, new coach Tim Lenahan is bringing in a tenacious attitude. With an increased commitment from their athletic department, the Wildcats might punish overconfident conference opponents this year. In their preparation, the Wolverines have taken notice of the Wildcats” more intense style.
“We have prepared for a team that will play very defensively and fight tooth and nail for a goal,” Burns said.
The Northwestern game will be played at the Varsity Soccer Field, which has a better playing surface than Elbel. As a result, the Wolverines will look to establish a more controlled game plan against the Wildcats. Michigan wants to methodically advance the ball to upfield targets, then isolate the defense by pushing the ball wide.
Though the team wanted to compete very badly last weekend, the time off has given the coaching staff an opportunity to improve its squad. Because Michigan is predicated on being a strong ball possession team, the 12-day break has allowed the team to build on that philosophy with speed-of-play and development games.
“[The drills are] something the players enjoy because they are challenged mentally to play faster then they are accustomed,” Burns said.
The practice time has also allowed the coaching staff to evaluate the skill development of its players. Kevin Taylor has emerged as the torch-bearer of the defense, while J.J. Kern is thriving after a switch to his natural position, left-midfield.
Burns would like the backbone of his team to step up, beginning with sweeper Taylor, goalkeeper Joe Zawacki and stopper Mike White. The Wolverines” possession attack needs to be finished by central midfielder Knox Cameron along with forwards Robert Turpin and Jody Keeling. Turpin especially should be able to break out this year in terms of goal production.
After last week”s horrifying events, the Wolverines are craving an opportunity to play. Following a week of sharp, intense and attentive practice, Michigan wants to launch into the meat of its schedule with some strong wins this weekend.