MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – September was always going to be an examining month for West Virginia with trips to Georgetown, Indiana and St. John’s preceding last Saturday’s home loss to Michigan.
The Wolverines’ 2-1 overtime triumph amid heavy rain and fog in Morgantown dropped WVU to a 3-3-1 record and left head coach Marlon LeBlanc lamenting the most disappointing start to a game that he could recall during his tenure.
Lessons must be learned, and fast. Penn State visit WVU’s Dick Dlesk Stadium Wednesday in the Mountaineers’ final non-conference game before Sunday’s potentially pivotal Mid-American Conference opener against Akron, the six-time reigning regular-season champions.
“We did things that we don’t typically do,” LeBlanc told The Soccer Observer after Colin McAtee’s 25-yard blast six minutes into the first overtime period earned the win for Chaka Daley’s Michigan.
“We talked about our width and trying to get our full-backs in, but we didn’t execute anything today.” LeBlanc said. “We pinned ourselves back.
“We can’t find any penetration because we’ve got guys occupying the wrong spaces.”
Wolverines right-back Ezekiel Harris nudged the visitors ahead on four minutes from an inswinging Rylee Woods corner kick. WVU goalkeeper Lee Johnston palmed away McAtee’s initial effort before Harris bundled the ball over the line from six yards.
Johnston was called into action again minutes later to push Brett Nason’s drive to safety after James Murphy’s shot was blocked. Good combination play between Woods, co-captain Tyler Arnone and T.J. Roehn set up Fabio Pereira for another effort on 18 minutes that forced Johnston into a diving save.
West Virginia struggled to pass the ball beyond the halfway line in the opening stages. Senior forward Jay Williams briefly broke down the right wing, skipping past Woods before delivering a dangerous low cross that Michigan center-back Lars Eckenrode sliced over his own crossbar.
The visitors soon regained control with Pereira bursting into the left side of the penalty box, prompting Houston Dynamo academy product Christian Diaz to make an excellent sliding tackle. Haydon Bennett headed another shot over his goal as Michigan’s early domination continued.
WVU floundered under Michigan’s high pressure throughout the first half. Junior forward Andy Bevin, LeBlanc’s main goalscoring threat, dropped deep and wide to pick up possession. This only deprived his team of an outlet, as Bevin found to his cost on 33 minutes. Arnone intercepted Bevin’s intended pass out of the Mountaineers’ defensive third, strode to the edge of the box and unleashed a low shot that Johnston saved at his left post.
LeBlanc immediately made the first of his 14 substitutions on the night, replacing Bevin with Zak Leedom.
“I had to find something that worked,” said LeBlanc of his constant reshuffling. “In the second half we did a better job of executing what we knew we had to do.”
That game plan involved WVU bypassing Michigan’s high pressure by playing from back to front rather than into a squeezed midfield area. Left-back Alex Ochoa sent Kyle Underwood through on the Wolverines’ goal on 54 minutes with a delightful long ball over the visitors’ back line. Underwood skewed his intended lob well wide of target.
Majed Osman freed Ryan Cain in Michigan’s penalty area on 64 minutes only for goalkeeper Adam Grinwis to smartly block before the New Zealander could get his shot away.
Grinwis, a member of the Michigan Bucks team that ousted the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Chicago Fire from last year’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, was now being called upon with increasing regularity. He sprawled to his left to punch away Osman’s 25-yard drive after the Englishman’s dandy footwork created a shooting chance. Williams should have tied the game on 79 minutes, but he flashed his header high and wide from eight yards after Bevin’s cross found him unmarked at the near post.
WVU’s attacks were becoming increasingly frantic. Grinwis gathered a deflected shot from Diaz on 89 minutes after a goalmouth scramble and a throw-in granted them one final chance for Leedom to hurl the ball into Michigan’s six-yard box as the seconds ticked away.
Cain’s shot on the turn was blocked as Michigan desperately tried to hack the ball clear. Osman reacted quickest to loop the rebound beyond Grinwis with 17 seconds remaining in regulation time.
Referee Tony DeLois issued a contentious yellow card to Williams six minutes into overtime after the West Virginia forward collided with McAtee in an aerial challenge in midfield. The Michigan man dusted himself off before belting in the game winner within 13 seconds of the restart.
McAtee was allowed to step inside after collecting the ball on the right touchline midway inside WVU’s half. He punished the hosts’ failure to close him down by unleashing a scorching drive that fizzed into Johnston’s top-right corner.
“We weren’t following our own game plan,” Williams told The Soccer Observer. “We weren’t moving the ball quickly enough, and we weren’t moving off the ball quick enough.
“Those are lessons we’ve got to learn very quickly.”
Aug. 19, 2013 — Bevin’s Free-Kick Edges Mountaineers Past Buckeyes
Aug. 18, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: West Virginia 1 Ohio State 0