Marquette Men’s Soccer: Islami nets winner in 2-1 victory over Michigan

It was impossible for Marquette freshman forward Kelmend Islami not to smile on Sunday afternoon, after he scored his first collegiate goal with 51 seconds left in the second overtime to give the Golden Eagles (2-4-1) a 2-1 victory over the Michigan Wolverines (2-6-1) in Ann Arbor, Mich.

After not playing the first period of extra time, Islami came on at the start of the second period.

“He didn’t play every minute of this game, but he played invaluable minutes,” coach Louis Bennett said. “I had a funny feeling if we could get him one-on-one in a foot race, he was calm enough (to finish).”

With about 25 seconds left in the second overtime, Check saved a shot from the top of the box off a corner kick, held onto the ball and then punted it down the field where he found Islami—who escaped from Michigan’s defenders to knock in the game winner.

“I knew (Check) would play it, and he got it right over the defender,” Islami said, “and I was one-on-one with the keeper, and he slipped. So I just hit it over him.”

Islami made it sound easy, but it was anything but. Michigan central defender Brian Klemczak missed his attempt at a header from Check’s punt, and Islami anticipated it perfectly. The freshman from South Milwaukee, who scored 43 goals in his senior year at South Milwaukee high school, put the ball over Grinwis, to end the game.

Islami has been an asset to the Marquette offense this season, causing trouble in opponent’s backlines, but hadn’t scored before Sunday.

“I got a lot of confidence from this,” Islami said with a smile. “I’ve always scored, so I’m used to it. Been waiting for a while, so it feels good.”

Marquette went down a goal in the 11th minute when Michigan’s captain midfielder Adam Shaw put a shot past junior goalkeeper David Check, low and to his right from about 18 yards out.

After allowing that goal, Check was flawless between the pipes, making nine saves through the next 109 minutes and 11 seconds of action.

“We bent but we didn’t break,” Bennett said. “(Our defenders) were the roots that kept the tree upright.”

The Wolverines dominated the first half, creating many chances—including a free kick from freshman forward Matthew Rickard that hit the post late in the first half.

Bennett admitted his team needed halftime. And when it arrived, Marquette adjusted to the way Michigan played.

“Surprisingly, Michigan did something it hasn’t its two previous games,” explained Bennett, “they played from midfield. We didn’t adjust very well (in the first half). It looked like we were chasing shadows.”

At halftime Bennett made changes in the midfield and was proud of his team’s response to those changes.

“We just rolled our sleeves up and starting picking away at a one-goal deficit,” Bennett said.

One adjustment involved altering freshman James “C.” Nortey’s position.

Nortey spent the first six games of the season played midfield. But with senior midfielder Calum Mallace jumping back into the midfield from his central defender position, there was no where for Nortey there with junior Ryan Robb and sophomore Bryan Ciesiulka occupying the other two spots.

Bennett placed Nortey in the lone striker role, somewhere he hasn’t played much this season.

The decision paid off in the 73rd minute.

After a free kick attempt from Mallace, the ball bounced about a yard in front of Michigan’s keeper Adam Grinwis, then bounced straight off of his chest into Nortey’s path. He put it right in the back of the net from about five yards out and evened the game up at one.

“C. Nortey is like lightning,” Bennett said. “We decided to play him up front, he puts one in, and that was like a spark.”

The Golden Eagles drew Michigan State 1-1 on Friday night at Valley Fields, and failed to put away their chances in the overtime periods.

“We had a pretty hard two days where we put the balls away so we could just go back to the basics, and they responded very, very well,” Bennett said with a smile. “Two overtime games with a chance to win both, and what we didn’t do on Friday, we did on Sunday.”

Marquette’s next game is its Big East opener, on the road against one of the conference’s newest defectors, Syracuse, on Saturday. The game will be carried live, on WMUR Marquette Radio, at marquetteradio.org.

Article by Matt Trebby, Special to the Tribune