Donning raincoats and bundled in blankets, Hoosier fans piled into Bill Armstrong Stadium on Friday night for Indiana men’s soccer’s conference home opener against Michigan State.
While it wasn’t quite a must-win match, the Hoosiers certainly wanted to take care of an inferior Spartans squad following a 2-1 loss to Ohio State. However, despite Indiana’s dominating play, the fans would file out of the bleachers disappointed after a 1-1 draw.
Post match, Yeagley expressed disappointment and said that his team was capable of a different result.
“We did enough to win the game,” Yeagley said. “I thought we were in control from first kick to last kick. I think we had four or five really quality chances and limited them, so (I’m) just disappointed.”
The first half belonged entirely to the Hoosiers. With swarming defense and electric attacking play, the Spartans simply looked outmatched.
Indiana compiled nine shots in the first half, compared to just four from the Spartans. While utterly dominating in time of possession, the Hoosiers could not quite break through and consistently work into the final third until late in the period.
In the 40th minute, senior defender Nyk Sessock hurled a long throw into the Spartans 18-yard box. After the ball trickled around the box for a moment, senior defender Brett Bebej controlled the ball just a few yards from the goal.
Bebej fired a shot between the goalkeeper’s legs, and the Hoosiers could breathe as they finally broke the deadlock. The goal was his first of the season, and one that seemingly would give way to the team’s first conference win.
Yeagley spoke glowingly of Bebej after the match.
“I thought Bebej was very good tonight, and he just shows how versatile and important he is to our team,” Yeagley said. “Everywhere we’ve put him he’s been really good and tonight I thought maybe was his best game, and that’s outside the goal.”
In prior matches, the Hoosiers have been victims of a “tale of two halves” story in which second half mistakes outweigh first half accomplishments. According to Yeagley, however, the team improved as the match went on.
Still, one defensive lapse was all the Spartans needed to spoil the night. In the 72nd minute, graduate student midfielder Louis Sala sent a cross from just outside the corner of the Hoosiers’ 18-yard box.
Despite being marked by two Hoosier defenders, junior forward Greyson Mercer soared to place a header past the outstretched gloves of junior goalkeeper JT Harms. As Spartan players and staff celebrated, the Hoosiers could only put their hands to their hands and watch.
Yeagley said after beginning conference play with a loss, the players viewed the draw as another defeat.
“They were disappointed,” Yeagley said. “The locker room felt more like a loss than it did like a good tie. You know, you get three points to start (conference play), maybe the disappointment’s not as heavy as it is now.”
After Michigan State drew level, the Hoosiers played a bit more frantic. The Spartans took over on the front foot and became the aggressors as desperation sunk in for Indiana to chase the go-ahead goal.
Nonetheless, following a series of back-and-forth attacks from both sides, it appeared the match would conclude with the sound of the buzzer. However, with five seconds on the clock, chaos ensued.
As the match winded down, Sala elbowed sophomore midfielder Patrick McDonald near the student fans. Sala was given a yellow card after much deliberation from the referees, and with four fateful seconds, the Hoosiers had hope.
Redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink sent a long free kick into the Spartan’s box, and after a deflection, junior Joey Maher was all alone six yards in front of Michigan State senior goalkeeper Owen Finnerty.
With one second remaining, Maher headed the ball towards goal, but it was directed right into the waiting gloves of Finnerty.
After an emotional and chaotic draw, the pressure will turn up for the Hoosiers to make up ground in the conference. Their next chance will come 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, when they host Northwestern.