Aug 22, 2013
On the eve of the start of the program's 20th season, head coach Greg Ryan sat down to discuss the upcoming campaign, expectations, challenges, the conference landscape and what fans can expect to see at U-M Soccer Stadium.
What are your expectations for the team?
This team has high expectations for itself. My job is to guide this team to reach those expectations, both individually and as a group. We can win a Big Ten championship. I really feel this is the first year that we can actually do that, whether in the regular season or in the tournament. We have enough talent and depth to do that. It's going to be a huge challenge. I think this team can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but those are one-game eliminations and things have to fall your way. We are capable of doing a lot of great things this year that can be very positive.
What's the biggest challenge this year?
The challenge is within our players. We've found that we have so many good players that we can keep ourselves fresh and substitute more than we ever have before. We can be fresh and we can have the legs on the second match of a weekend. Again, there are so many positives, but our players have to dig in and fight for everything. We need to have that chip stay on our shoulder and improve in every match. We're not playing championship soccer right now, but we've only been training for two weeks. We can't get complacent. We have to go after every opponent in every second of every match. That's what we have to get out of this team. So far, it's going pretty well.
Who is the one player fans should watch out for?
It starts with Nkem Ezurike. She is 10 goals away from setting the school's scoring record. As good of a soccer player she is, she is a better human being. She's humble, but boy, you get her out there and she is a champion. She is hitting the net really well right now with four goals in our two exhibition matches. I'd love to see her set that record, but I know that Nkem would take wins over records any day of the week. She always puts the team first. She's going to pass it off if someone else has a better chance of scoring and we have players that can complement her. Opposing teams can no longer focus solely on her. She will have help and hopefully lots of it.
What does the Big Ten landscape look like this year?
The Big Ten Conference is so good. It's improved a great deal in the five years I've been here. I truly think there are five or six teams that can challenge for the Big Ten championship and it's not just Penn State anymore. Even the teams that maybe aren't at the very top in terms of talent have great coaches that can work with what they have to make winning difficult for others. It's always been a tough conference to play in because it's so physical. Teams are going to get out there and battle. We recognize the importance of every match and how critical it is to get points. Every match is going to be a war.
What are the must-see home events?
Certainly our last match of the year against Ohio State (Nov. 2) could determine quite a bit. That match is going to be huge. The Wisconsin/Minnesota (Sept. 27-29) weekend is going to be very important, as well. Both of those teams were in the top half of the conference last season and Wisconsin made the NCAA Tournament. They're both extremely talented. In our non-conference slate, we host San Diego State (Sept. 1) and Pepperdine (Sept. 6) in the same week. Those are two teams that you'll see in the NCAA Tournament every year. They are fantastic soccer teams with great players. If we can get results in those matches, it will unquestionably improve our NCAA Tournament resume.
What kind of team or style of play can fans expect to see?
So far, we're playing our best soccer when we play a high-pressure style of defending and when we're able to counter-attack quickly. When we do that and get balls in early to Nkem, with the speed we have and the players making great runs in behind her, we can do some damage. We had nine goals in our two exhibition matches and scoring four against Dayton is not easy to do. Fans are going to see a team that is capable of scoring multiple goals in every match. It's an exciting, attacking brand of soccer that doesn't mess around.