Heading into Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers were undefeated in the six games in which they have scored first this season.
That remained true during the 2-0 win against the Badgers.
“They are feeling it now,” IU Coach Todd Yeagley said. “Tonight, there was an edge to them. The boys wanted to be in control of their destiny in the Big Ten, and that’s a powerful feeling. I haven’t seen that in a lot of years here, because you can’t force it upon your team, but these guys have turned a corner.”
Sophomore forward Eriq Zavaleta marked the first notch in the scoring column, scoring his 10th goal of the season and tying his total goal count from last season.
The goal came in the 11th minute following a corner kick from junior midfielder A.J. Corrado. Junior midfielder Nikita Kotlov tracked the ball inside and achieved a flick across the box to Zavaleta, who had his back to the goal.
In two motions, the sophomore scoring leader used his chest to hit the ball down and rocketed a left-footed volley in the net.
“We’ve been noticeably more sharp in the last couple of games,” Corrado said. “We’ve got some great targets on our team in Eriq, Caleb (Konstanski) and Nikita for restarts. All those guys can get up and fight for the ball, making my job a lot easier.”
That offensive pressure continued throughout the rest of the first half. Corrado, Kotlov, and junior midfielders Harrison Petts and Jacob Bushue looked to maintain offensive intensity in the middle of the field.
This allowed the defensive wings, sophomore Patrick Doody and junior Matt McKain, to push into the offense as passing options.
“Bushue and Harry (Petts) and all the guys in the middle are buying into that pressure,” Yeagley said. “When we do that, it is hard to play against them. Bushue is an animal in there, and I know teams hate playing against that guy for 90 minutes.”
The first realistic scoring opportunity for the Badgers did not come until the 27th minute. Following a cross into the box, the ball hopped into the middle of the defensive area and was headed high to senior goalkeeper Luis Soffner’s right side. The co-captain jumped to block the attempt, but it was unnecessary as the shot sailed above the post.
Nearing the end of the first half, a cross came in from the right side of the field. Badger forward Chris Prince used his chest to flick the ball down and volleyed a shot toward the upper-left corner of the Indiana goal. Soffner kept his clean sheet intact for conference play by diving and deflecting the ball around the left post.
At the beginning of the second half, Zavaleta would find the net again in the 48th minute. His 11th goal of the season marks a new career high.
Corrado dribbled the ball down the right field line until he reached halfway. Corrado and Zavaleta then connected via a through-ball from inside the six-yard box.
The ball reached Zavaleta just in time for a one-timer chip shot over the keeper and a sliding defender.
“Coach has put a lot of focus in finishing for us,” Zavaleta said. “We need more goals, and I took it upon myself with the rest of the attacking midfielders to put more in the back of the net. I think we’ve done a better job of that.”
Halfway into the conference schedule, IU tops the charts with an undefeated record and scoreless defense to match. Corrado said he believes the team has set themselves up for success as the season progresses.
“I think if we can keep playing like this, then we’re going to find ourselves in good spots this postseason,” he said. “I think it just all comes down to a newfound heightened focus.”
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