Women's Soccer vs. Arkansas
Arkansas 2 - Michigan 0
Before getting into some of the details of the game, it would help to refer back to the season preview that FormerlyAnonymous wrote last Sunday. The biggest thing to note, is that this Michigan's first home game in 2 years. Last year the team played at local high schools and even the occasional baseball outfield. While this facility is very temporary (the "locker rooms" are those portable buildings used as construction offices), the team appeared to really appreciate having a true home pitch with a grand stand and lights. I got there about five minutes into the game, and the stands were almost totally full, with about one third of the fans rooting for Arkansas. After the game I asked Coach Ryan what it was like to have his first true home game at Michigan:
Michigan has given us a great place to play. I want to thank the administration for providing us this wonderful venue. It is great to be able to play at home, at night and in front of our own fans. I just wish we would have played well.
I'll get to the last part in the second, but the Athletic Department really did put some money in a facility that will be replaced in year. The amenities are spartan (port-o-potties, mobile hot dog cart), but the field itself is amazing. Walking across it, I felt like I was walking down a fairway of a Country Club that should have thrown me out. It's just about the nicest patch of grass I've ever seen.
On the actual game, Michigan started out fairly well. They were able to move the ball and control the flow of the game. Most of the action was kept in the Arkansas end of the pitch with Michigan getting two decent shots on goal and three corner kicks. While the team was playing fairly well, there were a number of missed opportunities, either passes out of range of the cutting player, crosses that didn't get far enough into the box and players losing individual battles against the defenders. Coach Ryan described it:
I don't think we attacked like we meant to score a goal. I think we did very well getting up from the back into the final third, but then we wanted to go back again. I am very disappointed that we didn't take the kind of risks to score goals.
Despite the opportunities, Michigan wasn't able to get a goal. In the 36th minute, Arkansas got a mini break and got a rare opportunity in the Michigan zone. Kaily Anders ripped a shot from 30 yards that just snuck in under the crossbar. To me, that really seemed to change the game, and Coach Ryan agreed:
...I think the game really changed when they scored that first goal. I think the girls were shocked since they were playing better at that point and Arkansas gained some momentum.
From then on, Michigan never really had any momentum, and just let Arkansas dictate the rest of the game. In the 77th minute, Arkansas got another goal, and Bill Martin, who had been taking in the game with his wife, decided the game was basically over and took off. To all you resolute Michigan fans that stay through the entire game, the Event Staff person I was standing by made sure to jovially call Mr. Martin out on it. The game was effectively over at this point. There was one late free kick about 25-30 yards out which stood out to Coach Ryan when I asked him about set pieces after the game:
[Our set pieces] were terrible. We had one there near the end where we didn't even get the ball past the defensive line and they countered us off it.
One of the lone bright spots was the play of the two freshman starters, Eunnie Kim on the left wing and Holly Hein at center forward. Kim had a really nice shot attempt in the second half that elicited a nice diving save by the Arkansas keeper. A lot of action seemed to go to her side and she handled herself very well even in some physical plays in her first collegiate game. Hein's play was not as obvious to me in the middle. She had some nice balls to start breaks, but Ryan said she needs to be used more. Like a talented post in basketball, a good center forward needs to have quality ball touches in order to make an impact.
Coach Ryan was very obviously upset by the play of his team. I asked him what needed to change in order for the team to become successful against Valparaiso and into the future, and he didn't really lay out a rosy picture:
Mental toughness, grit. If your playing scared of Arkansas, your going to be scared of every team in the Big Ten. We're either going to have to toughen up or wait until we get players that are tough enough.
This isn't going to be a quick turnaround, especially when Ryan only had two scholarships to hand out. With the new facility coming next year (Ryan claims it will be one of the best in the region) and five scholarships coming available, we should really be able to see Ryan's vision come to fruition. As of now, despite being in his second year, he doesn't have many of his players and some of the players he inherited aren't really suited to what he wants to do (any parallels you can think of?). In 2010, we should see the plan coming together, and in 2011 this will be Coach Ryan's team, and if they are not competing for a Big Ten title, it is all on Ryan.
Note: Michigan played Valparaiso today, winning 2 - 1, despite only scoring one goal. Valpo went up 1-0 early with the equalizer coming on an own goal when a ball was served into the box and headed into the goal by the defense. The winning goal was scored by Kristen Goncalves who beat the goalie on a 1 on 1 after a long pass from midfield by last year's goal leader Amanda Bowery. Maybe these are the types of risks Coach Ryan was talking about.