CHESTER, PA - It wasn’t a match in which IU had a lot of. Rather, it was one they had enough of to grind out a win.
The North Carolina Tar Heels made it tough for the Hoosiers to gain time on the ball and do what they wanted to do. North Carolina, through the first 25 minutes, had the majority of the possession and when IU got the ball back, North Carolina’s high press was able to win the ball back.
But in a game of such magnitude with a trip to the College Cup on the line, it was just one moment IU needed to beat North Carolina, 1-0, and advance to the National Championship match.
“The game wasn’t that fluid, there were a lot of turnovers,” IU junior defender Andrew Gutman said. “I didn’t think we kept the ball that well, but we knew set pieces were going to be our strength and we knew if we could get one, it was all we needed because our defense is so sound in the back.”
The one they were able to get was all they needed to score Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium. In the 50th minute, IU earned the first corner of the night.
IU junior midfielder Trevor Swartz had an in-swinging corner from the right corner flag. He sent it to the back post and all Gutman had to do was put his left foot on it to redirect the ball into the back of the net. Just like that, the Hoosiers had a lead.
North Carolina kept pushing forward, but ultimately the No. 1 IU defense was just too strong. In a match where chances were not aplenty, the Hoosiers did what they needed to do on offense, then locked down on defense with their 18th clean sheet of the season.
“They scored on a set piece, we didn’t defend set pieces very well,” North Carolina midfielder Cam Lindley said. “I just think we’re better than that and we should have done better in that aspect of the game, but we had our chances.”
The Tar Heels ended up outshooting the Hoosiers eight to seven. It took IU awhile to adjust to the match, but it ended the first half with momentum after Swartz had a long-shot that was saved. That momentum transferred over to the second half and they got the goal in under four minutes.
From there, IU had to hold on in the back. It’s what they have done all season long and they continued that Friday. It was a tough, close, physical battle and IU Coach Todd Yeagley said that’s how games get this time of year.
“There wasn’t tons of flow, kind of back and forth, guys are tired,” Yeagley said. “You can say all you want about being ready, but there is anxiety that you can’t replicate in training or in a round prior. Restarts are the one aspect where you have more control and there’s a belief with the group that they can execute those.”
Looking forward to the championship match, it is a contest with storylines galore. These two teams played to a 0-0 draw last season in Bloomington in what was a very physical battle between two blue-blood programs.
IU senior Grant Lillard said he didn’t recall much from last year because he didn’t play much.
“I got two yellow cards in like the first 20 minutes,” Lillard said. “I don’t remember that much.”
But he may have said it best while looking at the big picture heading into IU’s first title match since 2012. Stanford has won the last two titles, while IU is looking for number nine.
“Coming here to Indiana you know all about the history and tradition,” Lillard said. “Having the opportunity Sunday to add to that tradition is unbelievable. Also, we get to play in a national championship game. I’m really excited we get to play Stanford, the two-time defending champs. You have to beat the best to be the best.”
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