Michigan men’s soccer’s Uriel Zeitz hungry for more as he looks to finish last collegiate season with a championship run

Jan 11, 2022 | Jews in Sports

Putting the ball in the back of the net for the first time wearing “Michigan” across his chest was a dream come true for Uriel Zeitz, but it was made more special by the support of his family. In a brisk October night game against the University of Rutgers, Zeitz crushed a through ball into goal from teammate Inaki Rodriguez, with his dad and brother cheering from the stands at the UM Soccer Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Greeted by a familial embrace at the conclusion of the game, Zeitz’s first goal with his new Michigan team brought feelings of accomplishment and excitement, and he credits his family and their support for helping him get to this point.

Zeitz began playing soccer at the early age of three in his hometown of Bethesda, Maryland. He grew interested in the sport due to the influence of his four older brothers who all played soccer growing up. Throughout middle and high school, Zeitz played for the US Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) with his local club, Bethesda SC. He was consistently a top performer, scoring 20 goals for Bethesda SC in his last three years with the team as well as acting as an assistant captain for two years. He quickly drew high-level attention, and he was invited to train with D.C. United’s U23 team during the summer of 2018. “I was exposed to a lot of top competition,” Zeitz said, which made him even more excited and determined to continue his passion for the game after high school.

He was highly recruited out of high school and had many schools to choose from, but Zeitz ultimately picked the one that was the best fit for his athletic and academic goals: Columbia University. “I loved the location and the school. New York City is a great place, and the academics were very enticing,” Zeitz said. He also felt that Columbia’s soccer program valued him as a player, which was very important to him. “I saw that I was going to have an immediate impact,” he said. And have an immediate impact he did, quickly earning high rankings as both one of the most accurate shot takers as well as one of the highest shots-on-goal percentages in the nation, while playing in all 17 games during his freshman year. He finished the season with five goals and four assists, ranking sixth in the Ivy League for goals scored.

Uriel Zeitz – Photo Credit: Courtesy Zeitz

Many of Zeitz’s goals came in high leverage moments, helping his team to a come-behind lead or powering through defenders to score the first goal of the game. His ability to create space for himself on the field has been key to his success. Additionally, his consistency, off-the-ball movement, aggressive runs, and ball placement in the attacking midfield all contributed to his Ivy League Rookie of the Year award in 2019. Zeitz calls this award the biggest personal accomplishment of his career so far, and was thrilled and humbled when he was notified of his win. “It felt good to get recognition. It meant a lot, and showed the hard work I put in. I felt especially proud to show my family, who have supported me throughout my soccer career,” Zeitz said.

After his impressive first season at Columbia, the coronavirus pandemic began to gain traction, postponing play and giving Zeitz time to reflect on his first collegiate soccer season. While he loved his experience at Columbia and his teammates, he felt the need to see if he could find success beyond the Ivy League on a bigger stage. “Over the pandemic, I decided it was in my best interest to pursue a higher level of soccer,” he said. Zeitz decided to transfer to the University of Michigan during the canceled 2020 season to continue his soccer career. “Michigan was the best place for me to pursue both my athletics and academics,” he said.

As a junior, Zeitz was ready to take on a different role for his new team, looking to use his previous success at Columbia to push himself to improve further. In an interview with SoccerWire.com, Michigan head soccer coach Chaka Daley mentioned that he saw in Zeitz a presence in the attacking midfield and “proven eye for goal” that was essential to Michigan’s NCAA tournament hopes.

During his first season at Michigan in 2021, Zeitz played in 11 games with the Wolverines while making three starts. His first goal at Michigan came in the second half of the season against a competitive University of Rutgers team, scoring the team’s first goal in their 2-1 win. For Zeitz, this game was his highlight of Michigan’s season as his family was in the crowd to see his performance. “It was really special to have my dad and brother watching and for them to see the win,” Zeitz said.

Michigan’s mens’ soccer team would go on to earn a Big Ten tournament berth and face the University of Wisconsin Badgers in the quarterfinals. Zeitz scored the go-ahead goal in the 75th minute to lead the team to a 2-1 victory, with Michigan outshooting UW 16-3. Playing such a large role in his team’s win meant a lot to Zeitz, and showed how much work he’d put in at UM. The Wolverines eventually fell to No.1-seeded Penn State in the semifinals after a hard-fought 2-0 loss. Zeitz led the team in shots on goal with seven, but the team was unable to put one in the back of the net.

Uriel Zeitz – Photo Credit: Courtesy Zeitz

Shortly after he transferred to Michigan, Zeitz made it a goal of his to get involved in the Jewish community as it was important to him to maintain his strong connection with his Jewish faith. He has been observant throughout his whole life, having a bar mitzvah and growing up going to services every weekend, and describes himself as having a very strong Jewish identity. He has also become interested in his family’s roots and is looking to discover more about his Jewish ancestors. “As I get older, I’m looking to learn more about my family’s Jewish history as well,” he said.

He’s been fortunate to be welcomed to Michigan by a strong Jewish community and has enjoyed interacting with other Jewish students and teammates he’s met. “My Jewish identity has shaped me. It stays with me wherever I go,” Zeitz said. He has been excited by the connections he’s been able to build with his Judaism, as well as with other religions. “I’ve gotten to have dialogue with athletes and students from other religions about my religion,” he said.

With his senior season at Michigan approaching quickly, Zeitz has already set goals for himself in order to improve his individual performance as well as his team’s and make a substantial playoff push. “I’m hoping to step into a bigger role for the team and help more offensively,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to building chemistry and fitness.” Although Michigan had an impressive 2021 season, Zeitz is looking to build on their previous success. “I want to hopefully win the Big Ten and have a successful season, finishing high up in the NCAA tournament,” he said.

Zeitz continues to find success at every stage of his soccer career. Now firmly solidifying his place at Michigan, he is once again poised to reach for the next level. Zeitz looks to bring Michigan its first NCAA tournament berth since 2019, and is excited to do so with his family supporting and cheering him on.

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