Following Tuesday’s confidence-boosting victory against Northwestern, which took pressure off Indiana men’s soccer to earn its first Big Ten win, the Hoosiers are looking to climb up the conference table quickly.
Through three Big Ten matches, Indiana’s 1-1-1 record puts the team in a three-way tie for third place with 4 points, while league-leading No. 8-ranked Maryland possesses 7 points. With just five conference matches left, the Hoosiers can’t afford to drop many points in the pursuit of the regular season title.
The Michigan Wolverines represent the first challenge on the Hoosiers’ journey toward consistency on the attacking side of the ball after a clinical showing against the Wildcats. Indiana will head to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to face Michigan at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“Hopefully we can keep this momentum going,” senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink said after the Northwestern match. “All of our focus is on (Michigan) now.”
Wittenbrink, who scored Indiana’s fourth and final goal in Tuesday’s win, leads the team with four goals and 10 points. He was also involved in the Hoosiers’ second goal against the Wildcats, directly assisting senior forward Herbert Endeley’s lead-changing strike. Endeley himself earned an assist a minute later.
The pair of veteran attackers, along with the sophomore forward duo of Samuel Sarver and Tommy Mihalic, are the Hoosiers’ leading point-getters heading into the halfway point of the regular season schedule. That’s an important progression which must keep trending in the same direction for those head coach Todd Yeagley said were the expected primary contributors.
Individually, Wittenbrink’s play and significance in Indiana’s buildup hasn’t missed a beat since his move from the bench to a starting role a few matches ago.
“I know what the team expects of me, and whatever role they see fit I’m going to give 100%,” Wittenbrink said.
Although Indiana has yet to be shutout after eight matches, it struggled to dominate vulnerable teams on the scoresheet before the turnaround against Northwestern. With Michigan up next, it’s possible for a pattern to form.
The Wolverines’ early-season form as they head into Sunday’s matchup with a 3-5-2 record overall and 1-2-0 mark in conference play leaves much to be desired. The lagging results also make scouting them a head-scratching process.
“Much better than their record, based on what I’ve seen,” Yeagley said.
Among a deeply veteran midfield and attack, no Wolverine player has broken out ahead of the pack on the scoresheet. The team has scored a concerning seven goals through 10 matches, with senior midfielder and forward Inaki Rodriguez and junior midfielder Quin Rogers carrying the load with two goals apiece.
Despite an in-state rivalry game loss to Michigan State in its last match, Michigan also pushed over Northwestern with a 3-1 win and held Maryland, the current team to beat in the conference, to a tightly contested 2-1 loss.
“The other games I’ve seen, I know they had Maryland on the ropes in the first half,” Yeagley said. “They’re a good side. It’s going to be a tough match.”
Typical of the 17-time Big Ten regular season champions, success has been common for the Hoosiers against the Wolverines. The all-time series stands at 23-4-3 in Indiana’s favor, but this matchup has been defined by close contests in recent years.
Not only did Indiana need a penalty shootout to defeat Michigan in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament championship game, but the last two meetings were also decided in extra periods. The Hoosiers won 1-0 in double overtime on the road in the shortened COVID-19 spring season, while the Wolverines scraped out a 2-1 overtime victory in Bloomington last season.
With the overtime rule now exiled throughout college soccer, both sides, desperate for points in bunches, will need to prepare accordingly to avoid a fourth consecutive draw through 90 minutes.
“Our guys are confident,” Yeagley said. “It’s a good opportunity to win on national TV and have a good performance.”
Sunday’s match will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.