Coming off a pair of emotionally draining matches in which Indiana men’s soccer came away with just a point to begin the 2022 season, the team earned its first victory with a 1-0 win over St. John’s University on Friday at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
The win boosted the Hoosiers’ record to 1-1-1 to start nonconference play. After conceding six goals in their previous two matches, the Hoosiers collectively grinded out their first clean sheet despite facing another tiring barrage of shots and dangerous crosses.
There was no shortage of attacking opportunities for Indiana in the first half, as the team used its extra rest — courtesy of Saturday’s postponed match against the University of Notre Dame — and eager legs to put the pressure on St. John’s early.
Head coach Todd Yeagley’s shift back to a 3-4-3 formation led to a large concentration of forward play on the wings. As a result, senior forward Herbert Endeley thrived, generating spurts of link-up play with teammates and pushing the pace as the Hoosiers looked for an opener.
“Even in the first two games, there’s been a lot of good moments,” sophomore forward Tommy Mihalic said. “Moving the ball, we’re finding spaces. Today, that first 30 minutes, we showed that.”
The Hoosiers also had a pair of players, redshirt junior midfielder Quinten Helmer and freshman midfielder Jack Wagoner, make their first appearances in the starting lineup this season. Helmer was especially effective in the attacking third, firing away three of the Hoosiers’ nine total shots and enforcing a commanding presence both on and off the ball.
“(Helmer) brings a swag to the team that’s important,” Yeagley said. “He helped move some pieces of the jigsaw puzzle with our spacing.”
Despite the positive signs, the teams remained scoreless at halftime.
The Red Storm’s approach in the opening 45 minutes was a dramatic change from the blitz strategy the Hoosiers experienced against both defending national champion Clemson University and the University of Portland. Against the Red Storm’s narrow and packed defensive shape, the Hoosiers kept attacking but lacked a finishing touch.
Only a moment of individual quality could break the deadlock. With only a few minutes gone in the second half, Mihalic provided it.
Amid confusion between Red Storm defenders over a deflected shot, Mihalic stayed alert in the 18-yard box and was first to react with a perfectly timed bicycle kick that beamed its way into the bottom right corner of the net. The goal, which was eventually enough for the Hoosiers to come out with all three points, was Mihalic’s second of the season.
“Perfect time to try it,” Mihalic said. “I haven’t even tried doing that (before).”
Mihalic said the Hoosiers knew not to overreact or get frustrated after getting nothing meaningful out of a dominant first half performance. He said the team is aware it will usually be taking the attacking initiative in matches, leaving opposing teams in tight formations in their own half.
St. John’s was forced out of its defensive shell following the goal, but grew exceedingly comfortable with pressing Indiana and sending more numbers forward as time dwindled.
Though the Red Storm made life uneasy for the Hoosiers and ultimately surpassed them in shots with 11, redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie and junior defender Joey Maher remained composed. The two made countless critical tackles and blocks on crosses to deny clear goal scoring chances.
“They’re an extremely fit team; they took a little bit out of us in the second half,” Yeagley said. “I wish we played the whole game like the first 30 (minutes).”
In net, redshirt senior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt made his second consecutive start and dealt with various bursts of high pressure from the Red Storm with effective clearances. However, in the 54th minute, Pratt suffered what appeared to be an arm injury when he collided with a St. John’s attacker following a save.
Junior goalkeeper JT Harms, who played between the posts against Clemson, replaced Pratt and ended up contributing to Indiana’s clean sheet with three crucial saves. Yeagley said Pratt will be evaluated in the coming days.
“We’re using these games to see which one separates,” Yeagley said. “They’re both supportive of one another. I was pleased with how JT came in. He didn’t sulk when he didn’t start and was ready.”
Indiana will look to continue its current 11-match unbeaten streak at home when it faces the University of Akron at 8 p.m. Friday, which will conclude a three-match home stand.