It was a different atmosphere in Bill Armstrong Stadium on Friday night.
Perhaps it was the presence of Indiana men’s soccer’s 2012 national championship squad who were honored prior to the match, or maybe it was the mass of Hoosier supporters whose raucous cheers filled the air for 90 minutes. Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, Indiana played its most complete match of the season en route to a 2-0 upset of No. 9 University of Akron.
Despite defeating St. John’s University 1-0 on Tuesday, Indiana nearly had its first win of the season spoiled due to a deep back line and a lack of urgency on the attack. On Friday, however, the team threatened Akron’s back line for the entire match with intense pressure from speedy attackers like sophomore forward Sam Sarver.
The Zips’ notoriously potent offense started the match as advertised. However, instead of settling deeper and letting the Zips pepper junior goalkeeper JT Harms with shots in goal, the Hoosiers pushed their trio of center backs higher to stop the attack before it neared the 18-yard box.
Post-match, head coach Todd Yeagley praised his defenders for their efforts.
“Our team defending won this game first and foremost,” Yeagley said. “The way we turned them over in key spots generated a lot of our attacks, and I’m just really pleased.”
The Hoosiers struck first in the seventh minute on Friday night courtesy of a header from Sarver into the bottom corner. Stringing together passes and building from the back led to senior forward Herbert Endeley bursting down the wing and ultimately sending a cross into the box for the assist.
Yeagley spoke about Sarver’s relentless pressure and penchant for giving the Hoosiers early leads.
“(Sarver) works, and he’s always probing both defensively and offensively,” Yeagley said. “He’s got so much emotion in his game and that helps you start. He’s like going zero to 60 in a second.”
Midway through the first half, Indiana had tallied six shots compared to just one from Akron. With aggression and discipline from the back line springing constant threatening chances for Indiana, Akron was forced onto its heels and had to rely on long balls or clearances to establish any attack.
In the 39th minute, the Hoosiers again found themselves attacking the Zips’ back line. Senior forward Karsen Henderlong eased his way down the side of the 18-yard box and centered a perfect ball to junior forward Nate Ward, who slid in for the shot to put the Hoosiers up by two.
After the match, Ward expressed the excitement he felt when he scored his first goal of the season and ultimately defeated Akron.
“I was just fired up,” Ward said. “It was a hell of a ball from (Henderlong), so it just felt good. It took us a little while to get rolling this season, but we knew we had it in us and we just wanted to take the game to them.”
As the match progressed into the second half, desperation from the Zips set in. With two yellow cards within the span of 30 seconds, it was evident the Zips would increase their levels of physicality to chase the two-goal deficit.
Additionally, the Hoosiers sustained injuries to key players on Friday night. Redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie, fifth year senior defender Nyk Sessock and Henderlong all were slow to come off the field, but Yeagley attributed this to cramps, saying they should be fine.
After two straight wins, Indiana will look to carry its momentum when they take on Butler University at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, in Indianapolis. Butler is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation, according to the United Soccer Coaches poll.