By Brad Rudner / U-M
The University of Michigan men’s soccer team enters its 20th year of varsity competition on the heels of back-to-back 12-win campaigns. With one of its deepest rosters in years, the Wolverines aim to win their second Big Ten title in three years and look to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, a feat that, if achieved, would be a program first.
Michigan went 12-5-4 in 2018 (4-2-2 Big Ten), reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It scored 36 goals and tallied 108 points — the highest totals in each category since the program’s College Cup run in 2010 — and conceded only 18 goals, a program record for a single season.
The Wolverines are 24-11-6 over the past two seasons, which includes a 17-6-3 record at U-M Soccer Stadium. Since 2017, U-M has a plus-26 goal differential (68 goals, 42 goals against).
The roster features nine freshmen: forward Moshtaba Al-Hasnawi (Dearborn, Michigan), defender Brennan Callow(Cincinnati, Ohio), goalkeeper Owen Finnerty (Walled Lake, Michigan), defender Carter Payne (Phoenix, Arizona), midfielder Harry Pithers (Tampa, Florida), forward Christian Pulselli (Pembroke, Massachusetts), midfielder Evan Rasmussen (Libertyville, Illinois), midfielder Inaki Rodriguez (Santiago, Chile) and defender Ryan Schultz (Short Hills, New Jersey). Graduate transfer Nebojsa Popovic (Rochester Hills, Michigan) also enters the mix after spending three years at Oakland.
The Wolverines will begin the season ranked No. 24 in the first United Soccer Coaches poll.
The Wolverines will play 17 matches in 2019, of which 11 will take place at U-M Soccer Stadium. The home opener will be played Friday, Aug. 30 against Florida Gulf Coast (7:30 p.m.).
The schedule features home matches against Big Ten opponents Rutgers (Sept. 21), Northwestern (Oct. 6), Wisconsin (Oct. 25) and Michigan State (Oct. 29). The Wolverines will travel to Penn State (Sept. 27), Ohio State (Oct. 2), Indiana (Oct. 13) and Maryland (Nov. 3).
Michigan will face 10 teams from the RPI Top 75 in 2018. Marquee non-conference matches include Washington (Sept. 8) and at Notre Dame (Oct. 22). Both teams made NCAA Tournament appearances last season.
Breaking Down the Squad
Forwards: Leading the attack is senior Jack Hallahan, last year’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a United Soccer Coaches All-America (second team) selection. One of the country’s most prolific scorers, Hallahan has combined for 17 goals and 15 assists over the last two seasons. Among the program’s career leaders, he enters the season ranked seventh in points (57). Hallahan became the fifth player in program history to reach the 20-point plateau in back-to-back seasons (25 points in 2018, 24 points in 2017). Entering the 2019 season, he is on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List and was named a preseason All-American (first team) by College Soccer News.
Juniors Umar Farouk Osman and Mohammed Zakyi bring back experience and goal-scoring potential. Osman split his time last season between the midfield and the wing, but had a breakout year nonetheless, with a team-leading nine goals. Zakyi had two goals and four assists in the first six matches of the season, but injuries slowed him for final two months. He had six goals and four assists in 16 matches as a freshman in 2017.
The Wolverines also welcome graduate transfer Nebojsa Popovic, who spent the last three years with Oakland (2016-18). Popovic was an All-Horizon League (second team) and United Soccer Coaches All-North Region (third team) selection last year after he appeared in all 18 matches and led the Golden Grizzlies in points (19). In three years at Oakland, Popovic had 14 goals and 16 assists.
Midfielders: The midfield will look different after the graduations of multi-year captains Robbie Mertz and Ivo Cerda. Leading the group is two-year starter Marc Ybarra, the Ann Arbor native who has started 39 of 40 matches to begin his Michigan tenure. Sophomore Kevin Buca, though only 5-foot-5, had an impressive spring and will compete for minutes. There’s also freshman Inaki Rodriguez, an intriguing attacking talent from Chile who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice.
Defense: The Wolverines fielded one of the stingiest defenses last season, posting a school record for fewest goals conceded (18). Several student-athletes from that unit return, led by junior Jackson Ragen. The Seattle, Washington, native had a breakout season as a sophomore, as he started all 21 matches and led all field players in minutes played. Senior Abdou Samake has plenty of experience, logging 23 starts over the last two seasons.
Junior Joel Harrison — after spending the 18 months of his college career rehabbing from injuries — is perhaps the most versatile option on defense, capable of filling in at center back, fullback or even as a holding midfielder. On the edges, junior Austin Swiech is back after starting 17 matches last season. Sophomore Declan Gaffney saw reserve minutes last season and could be primed for a bigger role this fall, while freshman Carter Payne has extensive club experience playing with Barca Academy in Phoenix.
Goalkeepers: Senior Andrew Verdi headlines a three-man group to play between the goal posts. Though he did not play last season, he started 13 matches in 2017, during which he posted a 1.02 goals-against average and a .708 save percentage. Freshman Owen Finnerty is coming off an impressive summer after seeing action for Detroit City FC, and junior Jacob Nunner rounds out the group.
Individual and group tickets are now on sale. To purchase, call the Michigan Athletics Ticket Office at (866) 296-MTIX or visit the men’s soccer tickets page for more information.
Individual tickets are $6 (general admission) and $8 (reserved). For group orders of 10-plus tickets, prices are $3 (general admission) and $6 (reserved). Sign up a group to be ball chasers for a game this season.