MEXICO CITY — IU freshman defender Jack Maher is getting more comfortable as a leader.
The center back who started every match of the 2018 season is the lone returning starter from last year’s roster, and he’s making sure Indiana’s current squad doesn’t have any growing pains.
He, along with senior transfer Simon Waever, junior Jordan Kleyn, and freshman Daniel Munie have started in defense for both of Indiana’s matches in Mexico. The quartet, along with goalkeepers Sean Caulfield and Bryant Pratt have two clean sheets in two matches against talented Mexican youth teams, including a 1-0 win over UNAM University on Thursday.
Maher lies in the heart of that back line at center back. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year was a mostly quiet player alongside Timmy Mehl in 2018, but this spring Maher wants to be more vocal and lead by example.
“We have a team full of leaders, but for me especially, I feel really comfortable,” Maher said. “Whenever it’s time for me to step up and have my role, I’ll be able to do that.”
The Hoosiers leaned on the back line against UNAM, a team that had most of the possession. It’s something Indiana is not used to. Against NCAA opponents, the Hoosiers like to dominate possession and control the match, but in both games in Mexico, the roles were flipped. Indiana has been the one waiting patiently for its opportunities because both of its opponents controlled most of the possession.
UNAM came out in the match aggressive, taking multiple shots at goal within the first 15 minutes. It wasn’t until the 40th minute where IU got its first significant chance of the match, and it took advantage of it.
Freshman attacker Ryan Wittenbrink played sophomore Ian Black through on goal, and the latter was able to round the keeper and slot the only goal of the match into the bottom corner of the net.
— Michael Ramirez (@michrami_) March 15, 2019
For a team that’s used to keeping the ball throughout a match, IU was forced to play a different style against UNAM. It didn’t shake the team’s confidence.
“We had a lot of defending, more than we typically do in our season,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “We made plays tonight. We had good help positions when we got beat in the first half. We bent a few times, but we didn’t break.”
The goal came minutes after a tactical adjustment was made by Yeagley. He moved Munie from right back to left back, Waever to right back and sophomore Spencer Glass from left back to right wing. Putting Glass in the attack created more space for the Hoosier midfield, and it helped the defense get more comfortable as the match went on.
Yeagley said he wanted to get Glass up top because of fitness issues he was having in defense. By putting him in the attack, it gave him more space and a little more time to rest in between sequences. This adjustment reinvigorated the lineup, and it was able to create the goal-scoring opportunity.
Once Indiana scored its goal, it relied heavily on the defense to hold strong. UNAM kept putting pressure on IU’s defense throughout the match, and in the second half, Caulfield was subbed out for Pratt due to a presumed quad injury. The substitution was precautionary, but it meant that Pratt would be getting his first minutes on the pitch in Mexico.
“Pratt’s huge,” Maher said. “We knew he was able to step in at any moment because he’s always ready. He’s been waiting for his turn, and he got it and played extremely well.”
Making a few key saves, Pratt and the rest of the defense held together and didn’t break. The Hoosiers escaped with a 1-0 victory over UNAM, and once again, the defense came up big.
“It’s really special, just the whole team fought really hard,” Maher said. “The environment and the altitude really has an impact on the game and the style. We didn’t play our style that we’re accustomed to in the states, but it doesn’t matter — we’re Indiana soccer.”