With Michigan’s 3-1 victory over Ohio State, the mid-way point of the season has officially arrived. The Wolverines have cracked the top-20 of the national poll, coming in at #19 in the most recent poll, but with the way Michigan have played thus far, there is no reason to think that the best has already happened. These are the five things that have struck us about the squad at the halfway point of the season.
1. Wingmen Still in Form
Questions loomed around the program following Francis Atuahene’s departure about whether or not this team would continue to have the consistent attack they did as with Atuahene. The answer to that question has been a resounding yes.
Jack Hallahan was named First Team All-Big Ten last season, but he has somehow been playing at an even better rate than last season. Four goals and three assists in just 511 minutes is already impressive, but he offers so much more than that. His first touch is simply awe-inspiring and his delivery into the box, either off a set piece, cutting inside with his left, or continuing a run with his right, is second-to-none. He’s been playing like a star and at this rate will easily repeat his all-Big Ten season.
Not to be outdone is the man on the left for Michigan, Umar Farouk Osman. Taking the number ten after Atuahene’s leaving, he scored his first career goal against UC-Riverside. Since then, he’s been continually in form with five goals in the last six games. A player of his talent is able to offer up much more than just goals, though. Three assists highlight his delivery, but in terms of things you can’t quantify, Osman’s speed up the left wing has been vital in starting attacks for Michigan. His partnership with Mohammed Zakyi, who himself has been very good as a central striker this season, is simply sublime for Michigan. Hallahan, Osman, and Zakyi combine to make one of the most dangerous front threes in the Big Ten.
2. Breakout Sophomores
The Michigan defense is a unit that returned plenty of players and lost only one starter, right back Billy Stevens, after last season, but saw some reshuffling. After a 2-1 defeat on opening day, one of those shuffled positions was at the right back position where Austin Swiech, a midfielder who played just 44 minutes last season, came into the line-up. Since then, Swiech has been the beacon of consistency for Michigan. This season, Swiech has logged his first career goal and over 600 minutes played already. Swiech has covered himself in glory defensively as well as in attack, and he will be asked to do plenty more this season.
Jackson Ragen saw a fair bit of action last season, including ten starts, but the trust Chaka Daley has in his young leader is exemplified by the fact that he is the sole outfield player to not be subbed off at any point this season. Ragen is good in the air, understandable given his 6’5” frame, but also does well making forward runs and passing the ball from a center back position. He has all the confidence of a future Wolverine captain and is doing key in the current Michigan side.
3. Depth Perception
Michigan have had to deal with a handful of minor injuries to start the season. The depth of this Wolverines side has allowed those injuries to be dealt with quite well. Lucas Rosendall, junior from Grand Rapids, started in place of Hallahan when the Englishman was not fully fit to start the season. Noah Kleedtke, senior from Brighton and AFC Ann Arbor alum, has featured in every match, but his start against Ohio State in place of Zakyi was well-earned. There are also multiple options in defense with Abdou Samake, a regular starter last season, still just a junior and still solid as a center back, and Peter Brown able to play any position in the back line. Michigan is able to turn to the bench with a multitude of players at various positions, and it’s a great look for them as the season picks up steam.
4. Seniors in the Midfield
Michigan’s two captains, Robbie Mertz and Ivo Cerda, have been the heartbeat of Michigan soccer in the midfield throughout recent history. The pair both have a goal or two in in them, but where their contributions are appreciated most is in the realm of not just motivational leadership, but on-pitch leadership. Both men roam the field well and playing in front of a deeper midfielder in sophomore Marc Ybarra, it gives them the freedom to operate in tandem. One man can get forward and lead a press when needed and get forward making a key run while the other can hang back and win vital tackles. Both are out-and-out central midfielders who get can forward with plenty of freedom and are quite good technically as well. It can be a bit odd to think of them as ‘unsung heroes’ especially considering they are the two team captains and have started for three of their four years at Michigan (or, in Cerda’s case, all four years) but they can be given how their contributions are very rarely on the stat sheet. Take the Ohio State game for example. Cerda wins a tackle at the halfway line of the pitch and pushes the ball forward to Hallahan on the wing. Mertz, who helped win the tackle, has a brilliant touch pass at the top of the box for Osman, who gets a shot away, has it saved, then buries the rebound. Neither man will get credit for an assist on the play, but without their contributions that goal does not happen. It’s one instance, but it’s representative of just how important both men’s contributions are to the team.
5. Memorable Moments
An opening match loss against Tulsa may have scared some, but it is a blip in the radar now for this team. Michigan has had plenty of other memorable matches for the right reasons this season. A nationally televised victory, in front of your own fans, over Ohio State, in the pouring rain, is bound to be a highlight remembered throughout the season. One also cannot forget Ivo Cerda’s golden goal against Western Michigan in overtime in a 3-2 victory over their in-state rivals. Michigan also have four multi-goal victories in which they held a clean sheet, showing off the best of both worlds. It’s been a fun season for Wolverines fans so far, but there is plenty reason to believe that there is much more to come. With meetings against #2 Indiana, #5 Michigan State, and #20 Notre Dame yet to come, as well as the always exciting match against Maryland to close the season, all the makings are there for an exciting second half of the season.