A scoreless game at the half quickly turned into a offensive battle Wednesday night, but unfortunately for Valparaiso, the Crusaders came out on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision against Big Ten co-leader Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“Congratulations to Michigan, not only on the win tonight which they certainly earned, but on this beautiful soccer facility we were able to play in,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “It's got to be the nicest college soccer field I've been on, and it's really a testament to the team here and what they've done and how Coach Burns and his staff has built the program. It was a really fun environment for us to play in tonight.”
Both sides had plenty of first half opportunities to crack the scoreboard, with Valpo tallying nine shot attempts and Michigan seven, but neither squad pushed a shot across the goal line. None of the Crusaders' nine shots in the opening 45 minutes were on frame, while fifth-year senior goalkeeper Ryan Schwarz (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) stopped three Wolverine shots in the first half to keep the game scoreless.
Both Schwarz and Michigan netminder Chris Blais had to work to keep the opposition off the board in the early stages of the second half, as both goalkeepers made a trio of stops in the opening 12 minutes. Finally, the Wolverines' Matt Schmitt broke into the scoring column in the 59th minute, as his shot deflected off a Crusader defender into the back of the net to give Michigan a 1-0 advantage.
Redshirt junior midfielder Stefan Antonijevic (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson [College of Lake County/Marquette]) would even things up for the Crusaders in the 72nd minute, though, heading in a cross from the left flank for his third goal of the season. Senior Adrian Ortiz (Berwyn, Ill./Morton West) and junior Chadd Sult (South Bend, Ind./John Adams) each received assists on Antonijevic's marker, the former earning his 12th career assist.
Michigan quickly regained the lead, as goals by Soony Saad in the 74th minute and Schmitt in the 76th minute gave the Wolverines a 3-1 lead. Less than three minutes after Schmitt's second goal, Valpo pulled back within one goal, as sophomore Jaymie Bullard (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) set up senior Jake Freisinger (Saint John, Ind./Lake Central), who fired a shot through the defense and into the back of the net for his second goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. But Saad would add his second tally of the match in the 83rd minute for the final tally as the Wolverines earned the two-goal win.
“I thought we held up pretty well tonight, all things considered,” said Avery. “For the better part of an hour, it was a very evenly played game. I think the goals that came in started to change the complexion of game, which got really wide open. We were forced to push forward to try to get back in the game, which left us exposed in the back and probably created a final score which was a little bit flattering towards Michigan.”
Both teams created plenty of chances Wednesday, as Michigan (8-2-3) registered 24 shot attempts to Valparaiso's 19. Schwarz ended the match with six saves in goal for the Crusaders, while Blais stopped four shots in the winning effort for the Wolverines.
“All in all, the guys played well tonight,” said Avery. “We created a lot of good chances and scored a couple of nice goals against the Big Ten leader at their place. I'm proud of our guys, and we look forward to another big opportunity at Ohio State on Sunday to go out and see what we're all about.”
Valparaiso (6-5-2) moves from one Big Ten co-leader to another, as the Crusaders will travel to Columbus on Sunday to take on #16/17 Ohio State. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m., with live stats available at www.valpoathletics.com. Live video for the game is also available for a fee through Ohio State's website.