It was a first half to forget for No. 23 IU men’s soccer on a cold and rain-soaked Monday evening at Armstrong Stadium. The pace was slow, Michigan State was the aggressor, and before the Hoosiers had a chance to catch their breaths, they found themselves in an early hole.
But the sluggish start against the Spartans is hardly a newfound revelation. It’s the same reason IU dropped a 1-0 stunner to Northwestern just a few weeks ago. And it’s the same reason IU head coach Todd Yeagley hasn’t minced words when lamenting his team’s lack of his consistency to begin matches.
Not on Monday, though. Nope. Instead, Indiana, faced with its first real, prolonged deficit of the season, dug deep and dug itself out of an early 1-0 hole thanks to a second-half resurgence led by sophomores Victor Bezerra and Daniel Munie.
Or, in far fewer words, the Hoosiers grew up.
“These are the growing moments where this team is different than last year’s team,” Yeagley said. “They haven’t had a come-from-behind win. Last year’s team had four overtime wins. Those are big moments and you build on that.
“So I thought tonight was a building time for this team. And I told them, I go, ‘I’m really happy you felt that and experienced and were able to come through with it because that’s going to be valuable for us moving forward, in the short term and long term.”
Through five matches, a postponement against Penn State, and a home opener delayed by several weeks due to weather, consistency hasn’t been easy to come by for Indiana. Whether it’s a playing rotation that’s constantly been in a state of flux due to injuries or experimentation, or an offense that comes and goes in unpredictable spurts, the Hoosiers are still searching for themselves.
Against Michigan State, however, IU’s second-half performance looked more like the Hoosiers of seasons past rather than the Hoosiers of the first half. After falling behind early due to a goal from Michigan State’s Luke Morrell in the 24th minute, IU salvaged an imperfect first 45 minutes and headed into halftime trailing 1-0.
Instead of letting inexperience and adversity dictate IU’s second half, though, a flip switched for the home team.
“Second half, you felt like it was just coming any time,” Yeagley said. “Those are really important wins to come from behind against a good team. Michigan State is a good team … So to comeback in a bit of a dogfight when we had to play better, tougher and just with more swag, I really liked that.”
And in the 62nd minute, Bezerra personified the toughness and swag that Yeagley yearned for.
A strike from just outside the 15-yard box that took an improbable bounce off a Michigan State defender’s back and curved past the outstretched hands of Spartans goalkeeper Isiah Handspike gave way to a swag-laden celebration near the IU sideline.
As for the toughness, a tooth infection that has prevented Bezerra from sleeping soundly or practicing comfortably for several days can explain that one.
“(Victor) was tired today and I really got after him,” Yeagley said. “He played really hard the second half, but he’s been on limited sleep with what’s going on with his tooth. Maybe I shouldn’t have started him like the Northwestern game, but he can change the game for us.”
Bezerra’s equalizer was perhaps just what the doctor ordered — for both Bezerra’s tooth and the Hoosiers’ comeback bid. Finally, after 60 minutes of frustration and uncharacteristic play, Indiana received the jolt of energy it needed.
Staring a potential draw in the face, Munie and the Hoosiers channeled that energy to bury the Spartans in the 88th minute. Redshirt senior captain Spencer Glass ignited the game-winning sequence as he rifled a free-kick restart into Michigan State’s box that deflected off Herbert Endeley’s heel, trickled to Munie in front of the net, and finished off with a redirection that sealed the game-winner.
“The ball had eyes for the back post,” Munie said. “I don’t know how it got through, but I was able to go flick on it and the rest was an exciting time.”
Exciting, indeed, as Munie’s goal and IU’s eventual 2-1 win propelled the team atop the Big Ten standings and in sole possession of first place. But in order to hold on to the top spot throughout the remainder of the season, the Hoosiers will need to replicate their second-half selves.
With a rugged schedule down the stretch that still includes Michigan, Maryland and Penn State, the lessons learned from IU’s come-from-behind triumph on Monday can’t be taken for granted, nor can they be forgotten.
For a team with aspirations of a third consecutive Big Ten Double, continued growing moments are all IU can ask for.
“We found a little bit of our identity, and I think we still haven’t reached our full potential,” Munie said. “I think we still have a lot to prove.”