Indiana women’s soccer failed to score for the third time this season in its 1-0 defeat to Michigan State on Sunday at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
The Hoosiers’ fall to 6-2-1 this season with the loss, and they are now 0-2-1 in the matches in which they haven’t found the back of the net.
The Spartans spoiled the Hoosiers’ Big Ten home opener through an extremely organized defensive performance similar to what Hoosier fans have so often seen from their own team this year. The Spartans had only allowed three goals in their previous seven matches, just one more than the Hoosiers conceded to start the season.
The Hoosiers had 19 shots in the match, more than doubling the Spartans’ total of nine, but only five were on target and hardly troubled redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal. She earned her fifth clean sheet of the season.
“They deserved it and we didn’t,” Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom said. “We were far away from our standard.”
Freshman forward Jordyn Levy, who leads the Hoosiers with four goals this season, registered both of the team’s shots on frame in the first half. In the 12th minute, Levy dribbled past a pair of Spartan defenders in the 18-yard box, but Kozal stepped up to her in time and deflected her shot wide.
The fast start was short-lived for the Hoosiers, who struggled to move themselves up the field as a cohesive unit for most of the first half. The high-pressing Spartans forced the Hoosiers to turn the ball over far too often.
Van Bennekom said Indiana’s offense wasn’t able to create chances primarily because of the possession its defense allowed Michigan State to maintain.
“We were sloppy on the ball and defensively we didn’t work hard enough,” van Bennekom said. “Their possession caused us to defend for long periods of time and give chances away.”
Indiana was unable to escape the pressure unscathed, and in the 16th minute Michigan State dealt what would ultimately prove to be the killing blow.
Indiana goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg played a poor ball to one of her defenders on a goal kick, and senior forward Camryn Evans took advantage of the defensive miscommunication to give Michigan State a 1-0 lead.
The frustration continued for the Hoosiers in the second half.
Whenever the Hoosiers managed to clear the ball from their own half to midfield, they lacked the numbers upfield to be enough of a threat going forward. Sophomore forward Jen Blitchok tried to give her fellow Hoosier attackers more time to get back up the field with her hold-up play as a false nine, but the Spartans’ defense worked as a unit to swiftly dispossess her.
“We couldn’t get in a rhythm,” van Bennekom said. “We had a couple open players we weren’t able to find from the back and weren’t confident enough.”
Of their six corners in the match, five came in the final 20 minutes of play during a late push where the Hoosiers desperately attempted to find an equalizer. After several scrambles and headed attempts on target, the final whistle blew and the Hoosiers’ efforts fell short. It was the Hoosiers’ first loss in Bloomington to the Spartans since 2011.
Indiana’s lack of creativity in the attacking third has been a disappointing theme in the three matches it hasn’t won this season. In all three of those results, including a 0-0 draw at the University of Notre Dame and 1-0 defeat at the University of Memphis, Indiana has been held scoreless.
Despite this poor trend for Indiana against arguably its best three opponents so far this season, van Bennekom said there’s no real cause for concern in the long term and expects improvement.
“I’m always concerned if we don’t score goals, but no, we have the quality and it’ll come,” van Bennekom said. “We just weren’t good enough today.”
Indiana won’t have long to regain its offensive touch before it faces Iowa at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Iowa is 7-1-1 this season.