Indiana Daily Student

Indiana men’s soccer falls 3-1 to Rutgers in Big Ten final, awaits NCAA Tournament placement

<p>Redshirt senior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt catches a goal attempt from Notre Dame Oct. 5, 2022, at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Indiana lost 1-3 in the NCAA College Cup game against Rutgers.</p>

Redshirt senior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt catches a goal attempt from Notre Dame Oct. 5, 2022, at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Indiana lost 1-3 in the NCAA College Cup game against Rutgers.

Back on Nov. 14, 2021, Indiana men’s soccer came up short in the Big Ten Tournament final against Penn State, as the Nittany Lions won a penalty shootout to secure both conference titles last season.

After making an unprecedented run through this year’s bracket as the No. 4 seed, Indiana gave itself a chance at redemption with another appearance in the championship game, this time against No. 2 seed Rutgers. The Hoosiers ultimately suffered heartbreak again, losing 3-1 to the Scarlet Knights on Sunday afternoon in Piscataway, New Jersey.

While the Scarlet Knights celebrated their first-ever Big Ten Tournament championship across all the university’s athletic teams, the Hoosiers missed out on conference glory for the second-straight season.

“Quiet and sad, what you’d expect,” head coach Todd Yeagley said about Indiana’s locker room. “Told them you have to get ready for the next one, and that’s all you can do.”

Indiana faced Rutgers at Yurcak Field earlier this season, when the teams played out a back-and-forth 2-2 draw on Oct. 9. Sunday’s final game picked up where the first meeting left off as both sides brought high energy and consistent pressure on the attacking ends.

An early mistake by sophomore midfielder Patrick McDonald forced the Hoosiers to play from behind in a raucous road environment. Senior midfielder Jackson Temple jumped in front of McDonald’s poorly-placed ball across midfield in the fourth minute before eagerly pushing down the open space ahead. The man advantage set up sophomore midfielder Matthew Acosta in the penalty area, and the Scarlet Knights took a 1-0 lead.

With the heavy winds blowing behind them, the Hoosiers quickly rebounded with several high-quality looks on overhead crosses. Senior defender Nyk Sessock almost found sophomore forward Sam Sarver at the back post in the 11th minute, but Sarver’s mistimed run forced his header wide.

Senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink carried on Indiana’s trend of set-piece goals with a clever corner kick in the 38th minute. Manipulating the wind to his advantage, Wittenbrink curled in the corner to the far post, where McDonald redeemed himself by heading in the ball off a Rutgers defender and into the net.

The switching of sides in the second half doomed the Hoosiers, as the wind and momentum turned against them. The unfavorable conditions forced them to be perfect in their passing sequences going forward, and the pressure to do so mounted even higher when the Scarlet Knights retook the lead through their own fortunate dance with the wind.

From the same spot Wittenbrink set up Indiana’s goal, junior forward Ola Maeland whipped in a corner kick that awkwardly wiggled over the head of junior goalkeeper JT Harms and other players on the goal line. The result in the 54th minute was an "Olimpico" goal, directly attributed to Maeland off the corner.

With time winding down, the Hoosiers exposed themselves on the counter by sending everyone forward in an effort to equalize. Regardless of the deficits they faced, though, they spent most of the match in control, frequently finding pockets of space to attack. The Hoosiers matched the Scarlet Knights in shots at 14 apiece with six coming on target, but last-ditch defending came out on top.

“Once we established possession our chances were well-created,” Yeagley said. “Every time we gave them something they were dangerous and created chances. If we weren’t creating moments, I’d be more concerned.”

Soon enough, the Scarlet Knights scored their second goal in transition. Senior forward MD Myers, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, beat his defender on the right wing and set up freshman forward Ian Abbey with a low cross for the 3-1 lead and the title.

If not for Harms’ heroic efforts in net, the Hoosiers would’ve found themselves down by multiple goals much earlier.

Harms made five total saves on the day, including a quick-reflex stretch that tipped a header onto the crossbar and in front of the goal line. After a battle with redshirt senior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt all season, Yeagley said Harms has earned the starting role for the rest of the postseason.

“Anytime your keeper gets confident, you get a couple big wins, those things become clearer in your decision-making,” Yeagley said.

Looking ahead, Indiana will await its placement in the NCAA Tournament when the selection show is broadcast Monday. Winning Sunday’s match would’ve secured a top-16 seed for the Hoosiers, but now their fate is uncertain.

“The committee doesn’t have the good fortune to watch games at the level of every team’s scenario,” Yeagley said. “The games we lost or tied, most of those, the result could’ve been flipped, and it was not that Indiana didn’t show up on that day. We’re a deservedly seeded team based on our body of work.”

Follow reporters Kamil Gut (@GutKamil) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s soccer season.

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