Forward Nkem Ezurike scored twice, midfielder Christina Ordonez added a tally of her own, and the Michigan women’s soccer team’s defense set a program record by holding its opponents scoreless for five games straight as it routed No. 14 Wisconsin, 3-0, on Sunday afternoon.
The team’s streak of more than 450 minutes without allowing a goal improved its conference-leading goals-against average to a slim .36. Michigan coach Greg Ryan attributed his players’ latest clean sheet to a back four that was well prepared for the Badgers’ style of play.
“We’ve been able to take teams out of their rhythm,” Ryan said. “Today, it caused Wisconsin a lot of problems.”
Thanks to the Wolverines’ standout defense, fifth-year senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer was rarely called into action. The Badgers (1-2 Big Ten, 7-3-0 overall) did not fire a shot on target until the 65th minute. Kopmeyer and the defense have allowed just four goals all season long, and none since Sept. 2 at then No.-11 Long Beach State.
“Kopmeyer is really the leader of our defense,” Ryan said. “The back four are very organized and very disciplined.”
With the victory, Michigan (3-0, 9-2-0) maintained its share of first place in the conference.
While the defense once again stole the show, the Wolverine offense displayed plenty of firepower in Madison. Taking advantage of Wisconsin’s aggressive play, Michigan played the counterattack to perfection. In the 16th minute, junior midfielder Meghan Toohey slotted a ball to fellow junior Ezurike at the top of the 18-yard box. Ezurike, alone with the goalkeeper, drove the ball just inside the far post.
“It was a good ball,” Ezurike said. “I just finished it.”
The reigning Big Ten offensive player of the week struck again just a minute into the second half. When freshman forward Corinne Harris recovered a Wisconsin turnover, the Wolverines immediately went on the attack. Harris passed the ball to Ezurike, who returned it right away. Sprinting downfield, Ezurike was in perfect position to receive a through ball from her teammate and fire a shot past the Badgers’ goalkeeper. It was her fifth goal of the season and third of the weekend.
“It was a great team effort,” Ezurike said.
In the 77th minute, Christina Ordonez’s tally sealed the win for the Wolverines. The freshman gained possession of the ball about 30 yards from the Wisconsin goal. Finding herself relatively unmarked, Ordonez dribbled the ball into the Badgers’ 18-yard box and slotted a shot into the back of the net.
Though Wisconsin was ranked 14th in the country, Ryan did not consider the victory an upset. In fact, after scouting the Badgers during the week, he said he expected his squad to pull out a victory.
Ryan said he knew that the Badgers liked to send their wing defenders forward, leaving their defense vulnerable. He instructed the Wolverines to rely on sound defense to keep Wisconsin off the scoreboard and make the Badgers pay for every turnover by attacking as soon as they regained possession, and it worked. Michigan’s counterattacks caught Wisconsin out of position and led to all three goals.
“We were by far the better team,” Ryan said. “It was a very dominating performance.”