Time and time again this season, No. 2 IU has leaned on the strength of its back line and Friday night was no different when the Hoosiers took down North Carolina 1-0 in the College Cup semifinals.
Posting its 18th shutout of the season, IU once again held its own on the defensive end against one of the best offenses in the country. The Hoosier defense showed that it can show up at any stage and put on a solid performance.
IU struggled for most of the game on the offensive end, and couldn’t seem to create any separation with the Tar Heels defenders. After IU scored the lone goal of the game in the 50th minute, all the Hoosiers had to do was ride on the backbone of the 2017 squad, its defense.
“They gave us some challenges tonight with their individual abilities,” IU Coach Todd Yeagley told reporters. “I thought our team defending, which has been tremendous all year, helped us win when we needed it the most, in the biggest moments.”
North Carolina pressed the Hoosiers into uncomfortable situations early on and forced bad passes and miscommunications among IU’s squad. As the first half went on, the Hoosiers found ways to expose the Tar Heel defense and were able to come up with some key moments to put the pressure on North Carolina.
The Hoosiers’ defense stayed consistent for the majority of the game, although it wasn’t their cleanest performance of the year. IU managed to hold off one of the most potent offenses in the country on the biggest stage of college soccer.
After junior defender Andrew Gutman took the lead for the Hoosiers, IU kept the foot on the gas and continued to press and apply pressure. Once they pulled ahead of the Tar Heels, the Hoosiers did a great job of containing their attacking line and recovering when needed.
“We couldn’t get the flow that we obviously wanted offensively, certainly in the first half,” Yeagley said. “We just couldn’t find our rhythm, but once we got ahold of them a little bit, I thought the first half was good. In the second half we got the goal, and then we had to work hard to press and stay aggressive.”
One of the main factors for slowing down Tar Heel wingers, and sophomore midfielder Cam Lindley and senior forward Alan Winn, were IU’s full backs. Gutman and junior defender Rece Buckmaster had to make some individual plays along the sideline in order to stop North Carolina’s attack.
“It was a tough game defensively with all the things they were throwing at us,” senior defender Grant Lillard said. “North Carolina has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the pitch and Cam had a phenomenal game like I thought he would. They brought it out wide and made their guys go one-on-one with us, so Gutman and Rico did a phenomenal job individually and helped me recover when needed to. We stepped up when we needed to and good help defense from the rest of the team.”
Reaction saves and critical stops made by freshman goalkeeper Trey Muse helped IU shut out the Tar Heels, who were riding high, scoring a total of six goals in the NCAA Tournament. Averaging two goals per contest, UNC’s attack was met by the force that was the Hoosier backline, who once again rose to the occasion.
IU now moves onto the national championship where they will face No. 9 Stanford in an effort to earn its ninth title.
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