On a gorgeous October evening, Michigan defeated in-state rival Oakland 2-1 thanks to a late, late first half penalty kick and Noah Kleedtke’s first goal of his Michigan career.
Oakland had the first chance of the match as senior midfield man Jacob Moore had a volley go too high to trouble Henry Mashburn. While Oakland did not have a single shot on target in the first half, their attempts were not bad at all. Outside that, however, the game entered a bit of a lull of back-and-forth action.
In the 22nd minute, it was Michigan’s turn to get a chance. Robbie Mertz delivered an outstanding cross to Jack Hallahan who headed on near post. It was Sullivan Lauderdale who was called into action for Oakland, and he answered the call with a stellar diving save. This was Michigan’s best chance for the majority of the half, and it took a fantastic save to stop it.
Oakland had their opportunity in the 38th through star striker Nebojsa Popovic. The junior has six assists on the year, but he went for goal himself this time with a chip of Henry Mashburn. It beat the sophomore, but the shot found the post. It was the keeper’s best friend in that moment, and it opened up the moment for Michigan to break the deadlock.
Hallahan had a moment of magic in the last minute of the game as he took the ball near midfield and beat at least four players in white before being brought down in the box. Marc Ybarra was given the ball on the spot and Lauderdale guessed the right direction, but Ybarra placed it brilliantly to the keeper’s left, giving Michigan the lead right before the half.
The second half was plenty of Michigan chances to start, as shots fired at will from the Wolverines. The maize and blue thought they had a second in the 54th as Hallahan’s curling effort was punched away, but Umar Farouk Osman was offside on his header. Hallahan then crossed another ball in to Ivo Cerda, but his half-volley was saved and held. But Michigan would get their second in a fantastic moment.
Cerda had a go in the 61st, but again, Lauderdale was there to make the save. Oakland was not out of the woods, however, and Noah Kleedtke finished with a nice effort. It’s a great moment for the senior who was able to tally his first career goal in yet another productive start leading the line for Michigan in place of Mohammed Zakyi.
It was not over, though. Popovic got his goal eventually with a neat turn and finish from point blank range. Celebrations halted for Michigan for the time, and Oakland even had a header off a corner go just barely wide. The final couple of minutes, though, were all Michigan and Hallahan even had a last-minute effort hit the inside of the post. Once the clock hit ninety minutes, Michigan could breathe easily and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Robbie Mertz had one of his finest performances of the season, which is impressive given his consistency this season. Mertz closed down well in defense on Oakland men all night offering them no opportunities to breathe. Oakland found very little freedom through the center of the pitch, and that’s in a large part due to the senior captain’s ability. Ivo Cerda and Marc Ybarra continue to be outstanding in the midfield as well. They are a three-headed monster in midfield and were absolutely vital in forcing Oakland to play wide.
Tonight was also a big night for Jack Hallahan who was sparkling as usual. His penalty run was magnificent and even more impressive given the wet pitch. The run from him on the penalty was one of the highlights of his season and his superior quality was on full display against the Oakland full backs. While he was not on the score sheet, it was clear to those in attendance that his attacking attempts were the most dangerous from Michigan this evening.
Michigan will need to improve some things still before their clash on Sunday against #2 Indiana. Jacob Moore and Napoleon Outlaw III, the Oakland wingers, found some space on the wings in solid positions. Diagonal balls also found space from Oakland in the gaps of the Michigan defense. Oakland’s goal was also perhaps a bit too easy for them to get into a good position. These are all things Chaka Daley will certainly look to iron out before Sunday’s match.
Michigan also has some fitness concerns to worry about before the match on Sunday as well. Austin Swiech went out in the second half after a hard tackle and was on crutches following the match. Declan Gaffney came on for him immediately, and Joel Harrison made his debut in maize and blue after his own stretch of long-term injuries subbing on for Peter Brown. If Swiech is not fit, and Marcello Borges remains out, the two young players could make their starting debuts. Also of note is the fitness of Mohammed Zakyi, who partook in mild warm-ups before the match, but did not enter the match. All three will need their fitness monitored before the match.
The game Sunday will be at Michigan at 3 PM in a top-15 match-up. It is surely the biggest match of the season and it will be broadcast on Big Ten Network. After then, it will be a pair of non-conference matches for the Wolverines: Detroit on October 10 and #15 Notre Dame on November 16.