In the first part of its two-match nonconference slate to close out the regular season, Indiana men’s soccer settled for a surprising 1-1 away draw against the University of Evansville on Tuesday night.
The Hoosiers entered the match looking to defend and extend a 19-match winning streak against the Purple Aces and held a 32-4-3 advantage in the series all-time. The Purple Aces last earned a point in this meeting back in a 2-2 draw in the 1995 season.
Although the cream and crimson handled undoubtedly more talented in-state opposition earlier in the season – beating then-No. 21 Butler University in a 2-1 road comeback on Sept. 14 and shutting out the University of Notre Dame for a 1-0 win at home on Oct. 5 – they couldn’t generate enough offensively against Evansville to put the match out of reach.
Head coach Todd Yeagley made just one change to his starting lineup from Saturday’s loss against No. 2 Kentucky, replacing redshirt senior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt with junior goalkeeper JT Harms.
The Hoosiers started on the front foot and applied pressure through the lethal duo of sophomore forward Tommy Mihalic and senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink. Just three minutes into the match, Wittenbrink took on a defender down the left wing and played a short pass to Mihalic, who buried a first-time curled shot into the far-right netting.
Wittenbrink and Mihalic, Indiana’s top-two leaders in points and goals, extended their high marks with the early linkup. Wittenbrink is now in sole possession of the second-most assists of all Hoosiers with six, while Mihalic tied Wittenbrink at the top of the leaderboard with his sixth goal of the season.
Near the 30-minute mark, Yeagley made the first of a wave of expected substitutions in an effort to rest his top unit and let the team’s depth try to shine. Five starters went to the bench by halftime.
Outside of the quick start, neither team was creative enough in their attacking strategy to truly threaten the opposing back line. The Hoosiers led in total shots 5-4 at the break, but each team put just two shots on target in that span.
Freshman forward Tacredi Fadda’s turnaround volley in the penalty area in the 43rd minute, which junior goalkeeper JT Harms dove low toward to tip out of bounds, served as the Purple Aces’ most likely opportunity of equalizing through the opening half.
The Hoosiers could’ve doubled their lead through sophomore forward Samuel Sarver just minutes into the second half, but his one-on-one shot was saved at point-blank range by graduate goalkeeper Alex Vidizzoni. Sarver slipped through the back line after a clever back-and-forth passing sequence with Wittenbrink, but his extra second of indecisiveness let Vidizzoni to dive forward in time for the deflection.
Indiana’s punishment came in the 54th minute, when the team’s corner kick led to a devastating counterattack.
Despite several attempts to boot the ball back toward Evansville’s penalty area after the initial breakaway started, Indiana was sloppy with the ball and didn’t track back in time to challenge senior winger Nkosi Graham’s sprint. Graham also took advantage of Harms’ mistimed dash out of his penalty area and shot into an open net to level the match at 1-1.
Even after the wakeup call, the Hoosiers’ urgency hardly translated into quality chances. Same went for the Purple Aces, who ended the match with a 10-9 lead in total shots and 6-3 lead in shots on target even though their long-range strikes after the equalizer qualified as very savable.
Wittenbrink almost played hero for Indiana once again in the 75th minute until Evansville’s back line made its finest play of the night. After an impressive run by Wittenbrink down the byline that brought him near the six-yard box, an Evansville defender made a last-ditch tackle to deny Nate Ward a tap-in on Wittenbrink’s pass.
A couple of failed attacking sequences later, the Purple Aces celebrated their historic, hard-earned draw while junior defender Joey Maher tried to process his disbelief, his back glued to the soggy pitch.
The Hoosiers lost a touch of communication and chemistry with all the rotations made but using the starters in a limited capacity was always the plan during this two-match stretch against their easiest opponents. By not capitalizing on the early lead and failing to match the Purple Aces’ energy, the Hoosiers made themselves vulnerable for long stretches and must drive home with a disappointing result.
Indiana will look to reestablish its dominance over in-state competition and finish the season 3-0-1 against such opponents when it takes on Trine University at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Bloomington. The Hoosiers beat the Thunder, a Division III program, 9-0 last season.