With returning All-Americans, depth at all positions and a top recruiting class, the IU men’s soccer team entered the season considered one of the best squads in the country.
But with no more than a three-game winning streak, the No. 23 Hoosiers’ year has not gone as planned.
Their roller-coaster regular season culminates at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bill Armstrong Stadium with a conference match against No. 8 Northwestern.
The Hoosiers are 9-5-3 for the season and 2-3 in the Big Ten.
Junior midfielder Eric Alexander said the team is confident in its chances to finish the season strong.
“We know we have the fight to win games,” he said. “(Against Penn State), the second half showed how well we could play. We are looking forward to Northwestern, and it will be a good game.”
Their 1-0 loss against Penn State last Saturday was their first defeat in the past five games. The IU defense allowed five goals in those five games.
Although the offense has stepped up its scoring attack in the last few weeks, it was absent in its loss to the Nittany Lions.
“It was one of those games we came out kind of slow,” senior goalkeeper Chay Cain said. “We weren’t firing from the beginning and it hurt us.
“We came out and got behind and tried to fight back to get back in the game.”
The absence of senior midfielder and captain Brad Ring was one missing piece that might have hurt the Hoosiers. Ring is out with an injury.
IU coach Mike Freitag said his team should still play to its potential each game, regardless of whether a player is out with an injury or not.
“Brad is a very important player for us,” he said. “I would be lying if I said we are not missing him, but that is part of the game. It is something that we will have to deal with.”
With an overall record of 12-2-2, Northwestern is 3-2 in the Big Ten and sits in third place in the conference behind Michigan State and Michigan. The Wildcats are coming off a 1-0 loss to the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., last Sunday.
Northwestern’s defense has forfeited seven goals all season. Sophomore forward Matt Eliason leads the Wildcats’ offensive attack with 11 goals.
With only one loss in their last five games, the Hoosiers hope to carry the momentum into their matchup against Northwestern and the post-season tournaments.
Still, the Hoosiers are wary of the challenge ahead.
Though the Wildcats have lost two of their past three games, Freitag said they are one of the premier teams in the nation.
“Northwestern is a team that is doing things the right way,” he said. “They are finding a way to win, playing within themselves, and their record proves how good they are.
“It is all about scoring goals and not giving up goals, and they have done that very well this year.”