Thursday night at Ludwig Field, Michigan came out in a different formation than they've played in all year. Maryland, understandably, wasn't ready for a 4-4-2 rather than the Wolverines' customary 5-2-3, and it showed early in the match. Michigan took five shots and earned four corner kicks in the first 17 minutes of the game. Terrapins head coach Jonathan Morgan said "it was a surprise," and that he wasn't sure if the change was made out of respect for how his team has been playing, or for some other reason.
Despite the lopsided stats, much of the early match was spent with the ball in the midfield. Play began to open up around the 20th minute, with both teams putting together some counterattacks and taking advantage of suddenly vacant spaces of grass. Michigan nearly scored when midfielder Madisson Lewis charged up the length of the field and took a shot that Maryland goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands stopped but couldn't control. Luckily, defender Kayla Shea was in position to clear the potentially dangerous rebound.
Forward Alex Anthony had Maryland's first three shots, all coming within a seven minute span starting in the 19th minute. "As a forward, that's what I'm supposed to do, I'm supposed to hit shots," Anthony said, "I was hoping to bring up the team's level, and I think that it did."
Anthony's shots were created in a variety of ways; the first went wide from just outside the top of the box after setup from Amanda Gerlitz and Riley Barger. Anthony showed impeccable timing with a run in the 25th minute that helped her to reach a Madison Turner pass behind the defense, but Anthony again went wide with her shot, this time trying to beat Michigan keeper Megan Hinz to the far post from a tight angle. A similar effort resulted in a save a couple of minutes later after Sarah Fichtner poked the ball to a closely marked Anthony.
The Wolverines broke through in the 36th minute off a botched clearance from the Terrapin defense. Michigan midfielder Christina Ordonez played a rather tame long ball forward and Amanda Gerlitz played the ball off her thigh. The pass ricocheted to a waiting Emma Groffsky, who blasted a shot past goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands for her fourth goal of the season. Beanlands did get a hand on the ball as it went by, but had no chance of stopping a shot with such power from quite close range.
The second half looked more like the first fifteen minutes, with less open play than the latter stages of the first half. Unfortunately, despite looking better than the first half, Maryland notched just five shots in the second and none before the 71st minute. They were doing a much better job of preventing the Wolverines from creating chances, limiting them to four shots in the second half.
Anthony continued her strong performance from the first half, though she didn't take a second-half shot until the 83rd minute. Despite dealing with near constant double and triple teams, Morgan said "Anthony did a great job of making herself available and holding onto the ball, and also creating her own shots."
"Coach Morgan has talked to me about knowing that's going to happen," Anthony said of garnering disproportionate attention from defenses. "I'm going into these games knowing that I may be marked up with more than one player, so that doesn't affect me at all, mentally."
Beyond Anthony, though, Morgan didn't have much positive to say about the team's performance, especially its mentality. "I thought we did a poor job of coming out to compete," Morgan said. "I think some of the players were afraid of the physicality, or afraid to compete."
"Some kids laid it on the line today, and some other kids just folded."
He credited the improved play in the second half to a couple of different things, among them a formation change. "We went to a 4-4-2, and I think we matched up with them a bit better. We gave them less time on the ball," Morgan said, "and I think we were a little bit more competitive."
"Some of it was a mentality change for kids, and some was the tactical change. But at that point we were already down and chasing the game."
Maryland (5-7, 0-4) has now lost its first four conference games, and as Morgan put it, the team has "given away five of the past six games," dating back to a September 10th overtime loss to James Madison. Other than an unexpected formation change, Morgan couldn't pinpoint anything that Michigan did special or unconventional to attack Maryland.
"We would run side-by-side with a girl and allow ourselves to get pushed off the ball. We would play a ball, and we should go track it and pressure, and we did't do it," the fourth-year head coach said.
"That's not Michigan, that's us. We just kind of crumbled."
The team will have plenty of time to pick up the pieces, as the Sunday match against Michigan State has been cancelled in anticipation of weather problems. There has been no word on rescheduling the game, and their next match is scheduled for next Thursday against #13 Penn State (7-2-2, 2-1-1).