Indiana Daily Student

Set pieces, composed defending give Indiana men’s soccer revenge over Maryland in Big Ten semifinal

<p>Then-sophomore defender Joey Maher celebrates after his game-winning goal against Northwestern Nov. 10, 2021, at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Indiana won against the University of Maryland 2-1 during the Big Ten Tournament on Nov. 9.</p>

Then-sophomore defender Joey Maher celebrates after his game-winning goal against Northwestern Nov. 10, 2021, at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Indiana won against the University of Maryland 2-1 during the Big Ten Tournament on Nov. 9.

The floodlights at Ludwig Field abruptly shut off, casting a darkness over those donning checkered clothes in the stands.

When the power outage swept over the stadium, there was still a minute or two left to be played in Indiana men’s soccer’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal matchup with Maryland in College Park, Maryland. The eerie moment served as a sign of the inevitable, as soon enough the Hoosiers closed out the Terrapins for a 2-1 victory and pulled the switch on their foe's chances of winning both conference titles.

In doing so, Indiana earned revenge for a 1-1 draw on decision day that gave Maryland the regular-season championship. Now, the No. 4-seeded Hoosiers will make their sixth-straight Big Ten Tournament final appearance against the No. 2-seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights and earn another shot at a trophy.

“We always say to the group, ‘You’re always able to have a new opportunity to make your mark,’” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said. “It’s proud to see the program continue to be able to be in big games.”

In the absence of previous goalscoring talents such as Victor Bezerra, Indiana has relied on two methods of producing goals when faced with adversity: breakout senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink’s confident attacking play and execution on various forms of set pieces.

The same held true in Wednesday’s rematch with Maryland, allowing Indiana to grab a 2-0 lead before halftime.

Wittenbrink, who has various team of the week honors and was named first-team All-Big Ten for leading the Hoosiers in goals, assists and points, got involved from the jump against the Terrapins.

Although Wittenbrink put a free kick wide of target in the 24th minute – from a spot similar to the one he scored against Maryland back on Oct. 30 – he made up for the miss with his seventh assist on the opening goal in the 35th. Freshman forward Luka Bezerra played a ball down the left wing through to Wittenbrink, whose dribbling prowess drew enough attention for sophomore forward Samuel Sarver to burst into the penalty area for an unmarked tap-in.

“He’s improving in the areas we’ve asked him to focus on,” Yeagley said about Sarver. “His goal was exactly that commitment to get in the six(-yard box). He’s paying attention to details. That wasn’t easy, it came across hot – he had to make sure he redirected it and stayed focused.”

After failing to tack on a second goal to their advantage in the first meeting, the Hoosiers kept testing the Terrapins’ limits defensively Wednesday. Their commitment to put the match away as early as possible paid off with yet another goal from a set piece.

Sarver had a brace denied after a Maryland defender blocked his point-blank shot on the goal line in the 40th minute, but Indiana dusted itself off and focused on the corner at hand moments later. After a few passes on the restart, junior defender Joey Maher fired the Hoosiers ahead 2-0 from the center of the 18-yard box.

The strike pushed Indiana’s set piece goal tally to 13 on the season, which now accounts for over a third of the team’s 35 total goals. The communication and chemistry on restarts have reached their peaks at the right time, as the Hoosiers have scored off set pieces in each of their last three matches.

“There’s a disorganization, naturally, in those moments,” Yeagley said. “You can’t train that formally – we don’t do a lot of full-contact restart training, it’s dangerous. You look at it more in video, and that’s where we teach those moments game to game.”

When it came to defending the lead, Yeagley said the mentality coming out of halftime was to grab another goal. He said the Hoosiers weren’t looking to sit back in their own half, but the Terrapins’ desperation and momentum turned the second half into the same formidable comeback effort seen in the previous matchup.

Ultimately, the Hoosiers back line resembled nothing of its inconsistent regular-season form and came through in the biggest moments, both before and after the team took the lead.

The Terrapins created several good looks with overhead service into the penalty area during the first half, but redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie and others stepped up in time to disallow shot attempts. After a 61st-minute Terrapin goal cut the lead in half, the Hoosiers kept their composure and worked tirelessly in their block to prevent the equalizer. Even freshman midfielder Jack Wagoner found himself on the final line of defense, making a crucial challenge to block a pass toward the net.

A few hits off the crossbar and deflections went Indiana’s way at the same time, yet Maryland put itself at risk by committing so many numbers forward. The Hoosiers didn’t get their desired third goal but came close by physically imposing themselves on the counter. Eventually, sophomore midfielder Griffin Dillon earned a second yellow card and forced the Scarlet Knights to comeback with just 10 players.

“The second yellow took a little out of them,” Yeagley said. “You get those yellows when you’re putting guys on their back foot; I thought Herb and Tommy and Sammy did a great job of creating those key transition moments – when (Maryland was) vulnerable.”

For Indiana to cap off its unprecedented run toward another conference title after a back-and-forth regular season, it will need to overcome another uncommon obstacle: a second-straight road match in the Big Ten Tournament. After making its first-ever Big Ten final, Rutgers, like Maryland, is expected to have an energetic crowd and true home-field advantage.

“Their crowd’s really improved,” Yeagley said about Rutgers. “If we’re able to take care of business and get this title, it would be a uniquely different title. It’s going to be very rewarding if we’re able to win it.”

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

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