On paper, all signs pointed toward an easy victory for Indiana men’s soccer in the leadup to its match against Michigan State.
The struggling Spartans, who were dealt an unfavorable hand in their nonconference schedule, fared poorly in their early-season tune-ups and weren’t competitive against ranked opposition. Confidence and consistency were especially lacking on the defensive end as the back line entered Friday’s matchup without a clean sheet under its belt.
Historically, bad memories were a rarity for the Hoosiers when these two teams played. They’d taken all three points in 43 of the 56 meetings all-time. Since 2015, the Spartans were winless against the titans of the Big Ten. After a sluggish showing against Ohio State, Indiana couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to get back on track against.
As is the norm in Big Ten play, though, expectations and trends rarely materialize from match to match.
The Hoosiers dropped points for a second-straight match to open conference play, as the Spartans held on and battled back from a first-half deficit to a 1-1 draw at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
Following their disappointing display against the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers rediscovered their sense of purpose in attack and played more like the cohesive unit that has earned consistent results in the past.
“I was pleased with a lot of what we did tonight,” head coach Todd Yeagley said. “We were in control from first kick to last. They were sitting a little bit and making it hard for us to break them down.”
The group poured the pressure on the Spartans from the jump and earned a lead going into halftime through senior defender Brett Bebej’s first goal of the season, but the team’s missed chances provided the visitors with the chance to chip back into the flow of the match.
Michigan State accepted this invitation with pleasure, putting its only shot on target into the back of the net for the equalizer. In the closing stages, Indiana once again dominated possession, but time was against them.
“I’m pretty confident we would’ve won in overtime,” Yeagley said. “We’re still getting used to (the new rule). The team that’s got more quality in the end is going to win it in overtime, more often than not.”
Sports are a results-based business. In college athletics, this philosophy holds more truth and weight in association with the top programs. With as much history as Indiana has, the pressure to win just about every game never leaves.
Yeagley has made it clear he understands the more points the Hoosiers drop early, the greater importance the following matches will hold in context of what the team hopes to accomplish this season. But against the Spartans, he said the score line wasn’t indicative of how the Hoosiers complemented each other on the pitch.
“The performance over time will get us to where we want to go,” Yeagley said. “If we want to be in the hunt for the (Big Ten) title, now every point is more sacred. We can’t play worried, but at the same time that’s just where it’s at.”
Still missing from the Hoosiers’ lineup were redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie and redshirt senior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt, who also sat out the previous two matches. Yeagley ruled them as day to day, so their return could come as soon as the next match. In the meantime, the team’s defensive shape held the Spartans to limited chances outside of the well-placed cross that led to the equalizer.
“That was a really good performance from our back line,” Yeagley said. “Bebej and (junior defender) Joey (Maher) were locked in. No one’s looking around and going, ‘Where’s Munie?’ They’re just going to get the next guy up.”
While Indiana is expected to get a key pair of players back soon, a different Hoosier suffered an injury scare.
Senior forward Maouloune Goumballe left Friday’s contest just before halftime. Yeagley said Goumballe aggravated his hip flexor, which he had already been feeling some discomfort with previously. Afterward, Yeagley said Goumballe told him he felt better with some time to rest after being subbed out.
During his time on the pitch, the forward-turned-right back, who has also been positioned in midfield in several starts this season, provided another option in attack for the Hoosiers on the wing. In the long run, the formation tinkering will give Yeagley the proper knowledge to send out Indiana’s strongest 11 as the schedule winds down.
“We wanted Maouloune to be aggressive going forward,” Yeagley said. “It’s another spot where we can vary our team. We’re pushed in these positions because of Munie that we have some ability to experiment.”
Despite the frustrating finish, the Hoosiers are choosing not to overreact as the challenging Big Ten schedule resumes against Northwestern at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Bloomington.