|School – University of Michigan|
|Conference – Big Ten|
|Coach – Chaka Daley (5th Season)|
Background – Michigan was 8-6-4 overall in 2015 with a 3-3-2 mark in conference play.
The 2012 season was Chaka Daley's first as the head coach of the Wolverines. Michigan has had a winning record in three of the past four seasons. The Maize and Blue has a 33-32-11 overall record to date under Daley with a 12-11-5 overall record in Big Ten play.
Daley is just the second head coach in the history of the Michigan program. He took over the reigns of program from Steve Burns who resigned at the conclusion of the 2011 season after serving as the Wolverine head coach from 2000 through 2011. During Burns' twelve year tenure Michigan had a 122-98-22 overall record.
During the sixteen seasons to date that the program has been at the varsity level, Michigan has appeared in the NCAA Tournament a total of five times with the last berth coming in the 2012 season.
The Maize and Blue won the Big Ten Conference title in 2010. They were awarded the number ten seed in the NCAA Tournament and subsequently advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) while securing a program best seventeen win season.
Midfielder Francis Atuahene was named to the 2015 All-Big Ten Conference First Team and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Defender Rylee Woods was named to the 2015 Big Ten All-Tournament Team.
Offense – Michigan must fill the void that exists on the offensive side of the ball due to the graduation of starting midfiedler Colton McAtee (5g, 2a) and forwards James Murphy (3g, 0a) who missed ten contests last year due to injury and William Mellors-Blair (3g, 4a). Murphy was a four-year starter, McAtee was a three-year starter, and Mellors-Blair was a starter for two seasons after transferring in from Georgia State as a junior. The trio of McAtee, Murphy, and Mellors Blair contributed eleven of the twenty-seven goals the Maize and Blue put into the back of the frame last year.
Michigan will look to sophomore forward Francis Atuahene (10g, 3) to play a key role in the attack in 2016. Atuahene will seek to build on a banner rookie season during which he joined former Wolverine Soony Saad (2010) as the only freshmen in the history of the Michigan program to be named an All-Big Ten First Team selection.
The ten goals Atuahene placed in the back of the net last year were the second most in a single season by any Michigan player. He will no doubt be a tightly marked man in 2016 but there is every reason to believe that he will once again be a tough matchup for opposing defenders.
Newcomer Jack Hallahan who has the benefit of international experience playing with Ireland's U-17 and U-19 squads is a dynamic attacker with the potential to play a prominent role up-top or elsewhere. He appears to have all the ingredients needed to make an immediate impact.
Senior Yamann Saholol who appeared in eleven contests last year and sophomore Robbie Mertz (0g, 1a) who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014 in Pennsylvania are among other returning forwards who will seek to play a greater role and help fill the void in the attack that exists due to the departure of McAtee, Murphy, and Mellors-Blair.
Senior Brett Nason and sophomores Ivo Cerda (2g, 0a) and Marcello Borges (0g, 1a) are among key returning midfielders. Borges, who is a member of the U.S. U-20 National Team, is among returning players whose role should expand in 2016. Redshirt juniors Tyler Anderson (0g, 1a) and MIchael Kapitula (2g, 3a) are among other returning midfielders who will look to play a greater role in 2016. Both Anderson and Kapitula played well in 2015 which is a good sign for 2016.
Defense – Michigan allowed a total of twenty goals last year against a very competitive slate of opponents. Eight of the twenty goals the Maize and Blue allowed in 2015 came in their final two contests of the season when they were topped 3-1 by Ohio State in their final regular season game and 5-2 by Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines look to be in good shape on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2016 season with their entire starting backline and netminder slated to return.
Seniors Lars Echenrode, Rylee Woods and Andre Morris and junior Billy Stevens are expereinced and talented backs. Sophomore defender Peter Brown who appeared in seven contests last year and freshman center back Abdou Samake out of the Montreal Impact Academy should also be in the mix for playing time.
Junior Evan Louro who has been the starter in goal for the past two seasons returns to anchor the defense. Louro had a 0.83 goals against average last year and recorded seven shutouts. Redshirt junior Braden Horton and senior Grant Mattia also return in goal along with highly regarded freshman Andrew Verdi who could challenge for playing time between the pipes.
Newcomers – Three and a Half Star Recruiting Class
Coach Daley stated, "Our staff has worked diligently to find student-athletes that will complement our very ambitious and competitive returning group. They are not only highly regarded in the classroom, but they are soccer players who can and will compete in the growing culture of futbol on this campus, in the Big Ten and in the NCAA."
Jack Hallahan – Forward – Redditch, England – Member of Ireland's U-18 and U-19 National Teams. Played for Albion U-18 Academy.
Joseph Hertgen – Midfielder – Toms River, New Jersey – Toms River North – New Jersey Central II All-State in 2015. First Team A-South Division. Member of New Jersey State ODP Team 2014 -2015.
Lucas Rosendall – Midfielder – Grand Rapids, Michigan – Forest Hills Eastern – Played for Crew SC Wolves Academy. Two-Time All-Conference selection. 2015 Academy Team to Watch.
Abdoulaye Samake – Midfielder/Defender – Bamako, Mali – Louis-Riel High School – Played for Montreal Impact Academy U-16 and U-18 teams.
Andrew Verdi – Goalkeeper – Ivyland, Pennsylvania – Played for U.S. U-18 National Team. Played for Philadelphia Union U-18 team. Ranked by CSN as the number 113 player in the class of 2016,
Prognosis for 2016 – Michigan will be experienced and deep on the defensive side of the ball which is a big plus. Senior center back Lars Eckenrode and senior left back Rylee Woods have been starters since arriving in Ann Arbor in 2013. Senior Andre Morris was a starter in the back last year along with junior right back Billy Stevens who has two years of starting experience under his belt. Junior Evan Louro returns in goal.
A solid nucleus returns in the midfield led by senior Brett Nason and sophomore Ivo Cerda. The ability of returning players like sophomores Marcello Borges and Robbie Mertz and redshirt juniors Tyler Anderson and Michael Kapitula to play a greater role in the midfield in 2016 could prove to be the X-Factor that determines Michigan's ability to up their overall win total and move upward in what looks once again in 2016 to be a highly competitve Big Ten race.
The ability of senior defenders Eckenrode, Woods, and Morris and senior midfielder Nason to provide leadership and set the pace also looks to be an important factor for Michigan in 2016.
The bottom line is that Michigan will be relatively young but talented on the offensive side of the ball. Francis Atuahene is coming off an outstanding first season and should be a force once again particularly if he gets the bump in effectiveness that many get after having a season of playing time under their belts. However, he will be a tighly marked man which means that others will need to add balance to the attack and help fill the void that exists due to graduation. Newcomer Jack Hallahan is among those who appear to have the talent and the toughness needed to help fill the gap and make an immediate impact.
The Wolverines had a productive spring season in which they were 3-0-3. The spring season can be a false positive in terms of predicting success during regular season play but nonetheless it is a good sign.
Michigan will enter the season with enough talent on the offensive side of the ball and experience on the defensive side to be more than competitive. Chaka Daley clearly knows what it takes to win at the highest level. How that will translate in terms of wins and losses in 2016 remains to be seen.
It is likely that Michigan will be stronger in 2016 than in 2015 but at this point there are several unanswered questions so it is difficult to predict how the Wolverines will fare in the Big Ten race or their chances of returning to the NCAA Tournament field in 2016.