Ranked nationally for the first time since 2005 and perched atop the Big Ten conference standings, the No. 22 Michigan women’s soccer team (3-0 Big Ten, 9-2 overall) will look to defend its home turf against Iowa and Nebraska this weekend at the U-M Soccer Complex.

Friday’s contest against the Hawkeyes (2-1, 11-1-0) could be the more difficult matchup. Iowa streaked through its non-conference schedule, scoring 30 goals while allowing just three. Upon climbing into the national polls at No. 25, the Hawkeyes lost their first Big Ten contest to Illinois and dropped out of the poll. The loss is Iowa’s only blemish so far this season, as it rebounded to win its next two conference games.

Nebraska (2-1, 5-5-1) hasn’t experienced the same success this year but is markedly improved from 2011. The Cornhuskers emerged from non-conference play with a losing record, but they won two of their first three Big Ten games with their only loss coming in double overtime against Purdue.

Hosting a pair of unranked teams this weekend, the Wolverines figure to be favored in both contests. But Michigan coach Greg Ryan stressed that national recognition means little this early in the season.

“Being ranked 22nd in the nation doesn’t mean you’re better than your next opponent,” Ryan said.

Michigan’s defense, which has surrendered just four goals all season, will face one of its toughest matchups of the year on Friday. Led by fifth-year senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, the Wolverines have recorded five straight clean sheets. To continue that streak, Michigan must slow down a Hawkeyes offense that leads the Big Ten in shots, goals, and also has not been shut out this year.

The back line will have its hands full with Iowa forward Cloe Lacasse. After leading the Hawkeyes in scoring last year with 12 goals, the sophomore has already found the back of the net 11 times this season. Lacasse ranks third in the country in goals and fourth in points per game (2.33).

The task won’t get much easier against Nebraska. Led by a talented group of underclassmen, the Cornhuskers’ offense has taken 30 shots in two different contests. Sophomore forward Mayme Conroy has impressed this season with six goals, and at 5-foot-9, her height may produce matchup issues for the Wolverines’ relatively small back line.

Though the Michigan defense has garnered most of the attention this fall, junior forward Nkem Ezurike has also made a name for herself as well. Ezurike scored five goals in the Wolverines’ first three conference games and was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week. Ryan attributed Ezurike’s fast start to the performance of the attacking unit as a whole.

“We have a lot of players that can score goals,” Ryan said. “That actually helps her.”

Eleven different players have scored for the Wolverines this season.

Ezurike and the Michigan offense will face a stiff challenge against Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ defense has surrendered just seven goals all season and features reigning Big Ten co-freshman of the week Meg Goodson. But Ryan said he isn’t worried.

“If we play the way we want to play, the goals will come,” he said.

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