Michigan coach Greg Ryan called it his team’s best game of the season, but it still wasn’t good enough for a win. Despite strong defense, the Michigan women’s soccer team fell to No. 21 Illinois 1-0 yesterday in Champaign.
The loss came two days after a 1-1 double overtime tie against Purdue in West Lafayette. Facing one of the Big Ten’s quickest attacking units Sunday, Michigan (0-2-2 Big Ten, 3-6-4 overall) was still able to thwart most scoring opportunities through skillful tackling and good communication. The Wolverines have not yielded more than one goal in a single game since a 6-2 rout of Oakland on Sept. 11.
“We were really able to limit their chances (by) staying tight and compact,” said sophomore defender Jackie Carron, who Ryan called the “linch pin” of his back six.
The game remained scoreless until the 78th minute, when Fighting Illini forward Jordan Hibrands scooted a header past senior goalkeeper Madison Gates’ outstretched arms.
“It’s a challenge having so many young players, but they rose to the occasion (Sunday),” senior co-captain Katie Miler said.
Though the Wolverines couldn’t score Sunday, their offense established long possessions, which allowed Michigan defenders to enter the Illini zone and create additional scoring opportunities.
Carron provided a strong offensive threat against Illinois (3-1, 9-4) with well-placed free kicks and Michigan’s only shot on goal.
The Wolverines have struggled with offensive production this season. They have only two goals in their last six contests, both coming off the toes of defenders. Though Ryan said his top-ranked freshman class has improved tremendously, his three starting freshman forwards have often failed to convert on scoring opportunities this season.
And against Purdue Friday, it took a sophomore to score the Wolverines’ only goal. Carron’s equalizer in the 85th minute, her first career goal, was booted from the 25-yard line after a futile Purdue attempt to clear the ball.
Ryan said the Wolverines were fortunate to stay in the game after being dominated in the first half.
“The first half we were very flat and we didn’t play well, and in the second half we gave up a goal early,” Ryan said. “But we were able to fight back and get some chances.”
Gates stopped a barrage of Boilermaker shots in the closing minutes, recording nine saves in the game.
After a tough weekend on the road, Michigan can only hope that stingy defense will finally translate to a win.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be competitive in Big Ten games,” Ryan said. “But the defense is giving us the chance to stay in every game.”