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Marla Ridenour on Sports

What Michigan is saying before match vs. UA

By Marla Published: December 10, 2010

Here's what Michigan coach Steve Burns and players were saying before Friday night's NCAA College Cup men's soccer semifinal match against the University of Akron.

Coach Steve Burns –We’re extremely excited to be in Southern California and next to the ocean. Its’ nice weather, and I think our players are very loose, and this team has performed at a high level when we’re loose, and I see that with the guys right now, and we expect them to carry that in to Friday’s game.”

On progression of program

Coach Steve Burns –I reflect a lot on that, and look back at all the people that have supported us over the years and all the players that have come through the program. Prior to the program going varsity in the year 2000, all those University of Michigan club soccer players that helped advance our team on a club level win a couple national championships. And it’s tough to put it in perspective.“

 “It’s tough to put in perspective. Certainly I had a vision in my mind that I had sold to our athletic department on the interview process for the coaching position and that was, we wanted to be a program that was playing in our own soccer specific stadium, regularly with 3,000 people, under the lights. A team that was consistently winning Big Ten championships and perennially in the top 20, getting into the top ten, competing for national championships. And you can see that vision is getting pretty close. You know? You can see this is the first taste of it for the guys.  It’s not something that we’re feeling elated about. I think the guys all know it’s the next natural step in the progression of what we want to do at Michigan.”

 On last game vs. Akron

Coach Steve Burns –Akron beat the snot out of us that day. Two days after we were on the road to Bloomington and lost a game on the Big Ten Network to Indiana, 2-1. Their crowd was very lively and really helped pull our guys out of the game, and we got exposed for not being a strong enough defensive team. And I think what you’ll see going forward was that game was humiliating for us. And if you’re humbled like that, if you want to get better, you need to really think about what you didn’t do well enough and address it. Our guys have been challenged from that point on, October 19th until now, to be a better, more disciplined defending team on an individual level and on a team level. And I think what they realized is that we can get the ball back quicker, and we’re a pretty dangerous attacking team.  And a team that values possession. So they’ve all really bought into that defensive concept and there’s a direct correlation of why we’re here—because of that game.”

 Has Akron gotten even better since then?

Coach Steve Burns –  “We certainly know that when Akron was playing against Cal, and the score of our game against Maryland, 3-2, that Michigan won--we heard that the crowd started chanting 7-1! 7-1! They obviously got really excited that they were facing Michigan again. Both teams have a mutual respect.”

 “There’s a familiarity, there’s a respect. I think Friday, we’re going to see. I don’t have an answer for you. We know that Akron is a strong team. We know they’re a great team in possession. We know they’re, like us, a team that values possession, and a team, that when they get a rhythm going to the game, they can expose anybody. And I think we’ve done a good job of doing a lot of that as well. It will be interesting to see how much we’ve improved since then, because we know that they are going to come in with a real determination to win their first championship for their school.”

 On fresman Soony  Saad

Coach Steve Burns – “He’s a legend in his own mind. He was the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. You never know how that is going to translate, coming from the youth game to the Division 1 game, and in this case, it has translated very well. He’s a player that has a natural ability for scoring goals, and not any specific type of goal. He’s good in the first 6 yard box making that dangerous run. He’s good a mid-range, and he’s very good at long range. There’s scouting reports out there and anywhere from 35 yards and in is a real threat for the kid, and it means that teams have to devote their defensive resources to come closer to him and take away some of those shooting lanes that’s he’s looking for. What I’m most proud of with Suny is his  development recognizing when he’s pulled a defense out of position and how to bring his teammates into the play, and that’s probably the greatest improvement over the course of the season. And certainly 19 goals—and he’s scored some big ones—he’s a very strong player. He’s that fox in the box that everyone’s looking for.”

 On team leadership

Chris Blais – “It’s something we really addressed last spring. We knew we had some high power freshmen coming in. We also have a lot of sophomores that get a lot of playing time. We wanted to make sure that those guys felt it was as much their team as it was ours and I think that’s really one of the special things that this team has had this year. We do have great senior leadership, probably some of the best since I’ve been here at Michigan. We also have younger guys that have taken leadership roles that are big—they talk a lot on the field. They command things from others. And we knew we had freshmen that were going to come and score goals and play significant time. I think that’s what’s really brought this team together. It’s a very close team and it’s not just seniors talking down to freshman like we’re these big guys on campus. We wanted to make sure everyone felt they were part of the team and I think we’ve done that.”

 On team’s current confidence:

Chris Blais – “We’ve told the guys to be relaxed. The guys are used to playing on tv, but it’s definitely big stage. With wins that we’ve had in the past, I think everyone’s confident. And that’s the biggest. We’re not really focused on how big a stage this is, and that really helps the team.”

 Alex Wood –This team has a lot of unsung heroes and we’ve got the guys who get a lot of stats and goals, and we need that—absolutely. The glue that keeps this team together is the people that you don’t really see in the headlines, in the articles. It’s an absolute, complete team effort. Every guy on this roster has bought into we wanted to do. We’ve had ups and downs, but in the end, those things just made us stronger. I’ve never been part of team that’s been this close-knit and that wants to fight for person next to them, just like this Michigan team.”

 Alex Wood –It’s the final four, and if you didn’t realize that, I think you have to check your pulse. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity to be pioneers for Michigan soccer in this sense, and I think a lot of people are taking advantage of that. And in saying that, once you get to the college cup, you can throw statistics out of the window. All four teams here want to win a national championship. More than anything, there’s a lot of passion that come into these games and the better team on the day will win. But once you get here and get so close, you can almost taste that national championship trophy. No one’s going to rollover, no one’s going to give up. It’s going to be a fight the whole game.”



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