Written by: Billyle Alman
The Michigan Wolverines opened up Big Ten play on a cool Friday night in front of one of the biggest Michigan Soccer crowds we can remember. A completely full Michigan Ultras section played witness to a very fast paced start here at UMSS.
As both teams showed dangerous flashes early, it was Michigan who struck first. A fabulous build up out on the left flank resulted in a through ball played to Robbie Mertz. From there it was magic. Robbie took on his defender with an inside outside move, followed by a cruyff back on to his left foot where he then fired off a cross that met the head of Ivo Cerda. The Chilean was able to convert and gave the Wolverines the 1-0 lead in the 7th minute.
The goal could not have been a more promising start for this club when considering Francis Atuahene was dressed but started the match, once again, on the bench. It was Cerda who was given his second consecutive appearance at the forward spot.
Following the goal, Michigan opted to sit in more to absorb some of the oncoming Wisconsin attack. The threat of the Badgers was known as umich was seen making various tackles in their own defensive 3rd. Daniel Mukuna was given a yellow card for his defensive efforts on the Wisconsin playmaker, Chris Mueller. That said, Michigan was up to the task.
Things changed tactically when Francis Atuahene entered the game as a sub replacing Umar Farouk Osman. Michigan turned up the pressure and things started to click for the club wearing Maize. After earning a corner in the 37th minute, the service was taken by Tristan Jacob. After a scrum in the box, the ball found the feet of Abdou Samake. Abdou wrestled off Wisconsin defenders and, some how some way, poked the ball over to Marc Ybarra who blasted the ball home in the 38th minute. The freshman’s first career goal put the Wolverines up 2-0.
Michigan stood tall and battled their way to close out the half with their lead remaining at 2.
The home team came out in the second half in a lineup that included Atuahene. The half time talk was clear for Michigan, keep the pressure on. The Wolverines fired 2 shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Wisconsin goalkeeper, Phillipp Schilling deserves credit for multiple saves that kept his side alive.
After weathering the Michigan attack, Wisconsin was able to apply some pressure of their own. Andrew Verdi came up with a massive save in the 73rd minute that stopped a clear Badger breakaway.
Wisconsin did find their break through late in the 85th minute poking one in past the Michigan Goalkeeper. With 5 minutes left the Badgers pressed as hard as they could for the equalizer, but they would come up short (2-1).
Credit once again has to be given to this Michigan back line. These men, in addition to Peter Brown coming on as a sub, were able to give this club its most important defensive performance of the young 2017 season. Michigan flexed their muscles in this contest, got the win, and sent Wisconsin on their way.
We have been waiting for Robbie Mertz, and he gave us magic in the 7th minute. His assist on the goal to Cerda reminded us of the past where he saw time out wide. We still trust him as a central midfielder, but boy is he dangerous in those flanks.
Let us be clear, though the score may not suggest it, Wisconsin looked very dangerous in this match. Our MVP was Marc Ybarra. He was able to track back and aid his teammates, coming up with big time tackles all game. Not to mention, earning his first career goal for Michigan.
The pulse of this group just changes when Francis steps on the field. We have to credit Coach Daley in his tactics as Atuahene on as a sub. At full strength, Francis will be a starter, but he has changed these games as a reserve of late.
Finally, this team is for real. 5 games in, even though all of them have been at home, this group understands what it takes to finish off games. 3 points earned in 1 game played in the Big Ten. We’ll take it.
Even more so we like the upside. Zakyi may not be ready for the Indiana match, and Atuahene may not be 100%, but how dangerous is this club with all of their guys. We won’t blow it up just yet, but this group can play.