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IU’s biggest weakness exposed in difficult 3-0 defeat at Maryland

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It was supposed to be the biggest match of the season. The revenge game. The game that would put IU in the driver’s seat in the conference title race. The one that would prove it’s a national title contender.

Griffin Gonzalez/HN

But instead, it was the opposite. It was easily Indiana’s worst performance of the season, perhaps the program’s worst since the 3-0 defeat to Kentucky on the road last season.

Maryland labeled this “Beat Indiana” week to represent the five matchups between the programs this week in five different sports. On Friday, IU fell victim to the trap in the Hoosiers third athletic defeat to Maryland this week.

But in IU’s 3-0 loss to Maryland on Friday, IU showed its true kryptonite. It struggles defending teams that match the Hoosiers in size and speed.

In a sense, the loss closely resembled the performance IU put forth last year against Maryland in the College Cup semi-final. Maryland scored early and IU simply couldn’t climb back in the race.

The Terrapins struck early with a 15th minute goal from the Slovenian midfielder David Kovacic. Kovacic was inserted into the Starting XI before the game to switch up the Terrapin attack. It paid off for Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski. Maryland’s offense had struggled in recent matches with Michigan State and Georgetown, scoring just one goal in those two. But Maryland rebounded nicely.

This was simply a match Maryland had to have. It came into the match fifth in the conference table, one spot off from potentially hosting a first round match in the conference tournament.

It got the game it needed. Maryland’s Eric Matzelevich added another goal just 13 minutes after Kovacic’s in a one-on-one matchup with freshman IU goalkeeper Roman Celentano.

Maryland essentially iced it in the 29th minute with a header from Johannes Bergmann to give IU its biggest deficit of the season.

This wasn’t the defense that has become synonymous with IU soccer. Jack Maher harps on shutouts night in and night out. The Hoosiers didn’t conceded in its last two matches and it hadn’t trailed since a loss at Butler a handful of weeks ago.

Maryland was far and away the better team Friday night. It did a good job of exposing IU’s biggest weakness: its defending against premier defensive teams with speed and size.

IU saw it against Butler a handful of weeks ago. Kentucky dominated IU in the attacking half last week. The Di Rosa brothers, Ben and Matt, did a tremendous job out of the wing-back roles in stopping IU’s attack. There was nothing Joris Ahilnvi, Herbert Endeley and Josh Penn could do.

Every run was met at the edge of the box. Every shot was blocked before it got towards the net. IU looked out of form in nearly every aspect. When IU can’t create chances at a high rate, the opposing attack often finds the Hoosiers on their back foot.

The response from IU will be crucial to determine how the rest of the season goes. After the defeat to Butler, IU went undefeated in its next five.

IU has the talent to make a third straight run to the College Cup. And it also has the weaknesses to be knocked out in one of the opening weekends of the NCAA Tournament. IU remains a young squad. This was only its fourth road game and easily the most rowdy crowd the youth had seen this season.

Maryland students hounded Celentano all night, standing behind his back in both halves. They hung over boards at the base of the elevated stands behind the goal, chanting at every goal kick similar to that of an NFL kickoff. Maher and Daniel Munie looked rattled out of the center-back roles.

IU will certainly keep this one in the back of its mind. Last season, IU won 12 straight games after the disappointing road result at the hands of Kentucky. The question remains if IU can do that once again.

Friday’s road defeat at Ludwig Field in College Park proved that the Big Ten isn’t completely locked up yet. It also proved that before IU can book a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it will have to figure out its biggest weakness.

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