Tournament season starts a match early for Indiana men’s soccer.
A win against Maryland on Sunday earns the Hoosiers a fourth consecutive Big Ten regular season title. A loss ends the streak, and condemns them to either second or third in the Big Ten Tournament.
This Friday edition of the Q49 Journal breaks down the biggest match of Indiana’s season so far, pulling from past performances and past meetings between the perennial contenders in the Big Ten.
HOW HAVE MARYLAND GOT HERE?
Maryland enters Halloween weekend ranked No. 7 in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, with an overall record of 11-3-1 and a conference record of 4-2-1.
The Terrapins’ path to a regular season title requires them to win at home against the Hoosiers, and for the Wisconsin vs. Penn State matchup to end in a draw or loss for the Nittany Lions.
Heading into this week Maryland controlled its destiny, facing off against Penn State and Indiana in the space of six days. Things trended well against Penn State, with goals from Ben Bender and Caden Stafford inside 30 minutes setting themselves on the path for a road victory. However, the Terrapins began to unravel just before halftime with Nittany Lions forward Peter Mangione firing home from eight yards out after poor inside-the box defending.
A Maryland throw-in inside their half turned into a tap-in at the back post for Seth Kuhn, sending the match to overtime. The Terrapins will count themselves unlucky that a deflected free-kick golden goal sentenced them to defeat, but to drop a match from a position of strength will be worrying for head coach Sasho Cirovski.
Although it’s a rather flawed way of viewing performance, the goals conceded follows a trend of leakiness from the Maryland defense. Through seven conference matches, Maryland has conceded eight goals, shutting out just Rutgers in a goalless draw.
The clear key player for Maryland lies in midfield, with Ben Bender, whose six goals and four assists leads the team in both categories. The first goal against Penn State was a wonderful outside the left foot shot from the edge of the 18-yard-box from Bender.
The best freshman in the nation in Top Drawer Soccer’s mid-season Top 100 Freshman Joshua Bolma will also pose threats for Indiana’s defense that has maintained shutouts in their last seven matches.
Blessed with individual talent, Maryland are seventh in the nation for a reason. Indiana will have to be disciplined and focused in defense if they hope to wrap the regular season on their shutout streak.
HOW HAVE INDIANA GOT HERE?
My last piece spelled out Indiana’s defensive issues through the first eight matches of the season. Sitting at 5-2-1 at the time of posting and conceding just over a goal a game, Indiana followed it up with a 2-1 loss at home to Michigan.
Slight panic set in amongst the fan base. But not in the Hoosiers’ locker room.
Indiana have won seven straight, conceding none and scoring 21 goals (at a clean rate of three per game). Their last match against VCU was the culmination of a season of improvement and fine-tuning. The Hoosiers had two goals within eleven minutes against a team that garnered top-25 votes just a day prior.
“Tonight you could feel it from the beginning. It felt good all night,” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said after the match.
The re-introduction of Sam Sarver to the starting lineup worked wonders, as he scored twice and assisted another in his best individual game of the season.
“It was one of the reasons we inserted him in tonight, we knew he could create a lot of havoc in that press,” Yeagley said after the match.
Indiana are trending up in the perfect time. To read more on the VCU victory, Jared Kelly wrote a great piece on the overall night from Indiana.
HOW HAVE THESE MATCHES GONE IN THE PAST?
Heading into the season, Indiana and Maryland were not expected to battle it out to be the dominant force in the Big Ten. Indiana was a unanimous first choice in the preseason poll coming off a National Championship appearance, but Maryland was selected fourth behind Penn State and Michigan.
A regular season later however sees them playing the deciding match for the title.
Last season the Hoosiers and Terrapins met in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, with Indiana winning 2-0 off the back of a Victor Bezerra brace.
The starting XI this fall will look slightly different, as Indiana had Brett Bebej filling in for the injured Spencer Glass at left-back, now-graduated A.J. Palazollo in the midfield, and Nate Ward leading the line. Expect Glass to return, and potentially Ben Yeagley and Sarver to start in College Park on Halloween.
The predominant creative force for Indiana in the spring encounter came down the right hand side, with Brett Bebej’s defensive inclination at left-back allowing Nyk Sessock free reign to bomb forward, providing width and support from a deeper position. He notched his first Indiana assist with a beautiful right-footed ball into Bezerra inside the box.
His role will likely be more balanced this time around, with Glass also looking to attack from the left-back position in his last regular season game in an Indiana shirt.
Of note from my second viewing of the match was the passing of Bezerra. He frequently dropped deep into the midfield and spread the ball out wide, mainly to the right wing for Herbert Endeley to free him into 1v1s. Given Maryland’s struggle from cross-field balls against Penn State, expect the junior to play a slight quarter-back role again.
The last match in College Park was heavily one-sided for the Terrapins, who had three goals inside half an hour. That match stretches back to 2019 however, and six of the starters have since moved on from Indiana.
Expect the atmosphere and occasion to play a large role in the early proceedings. Indiana would be well advised to be more cautious on their press than they were against VCU. Both teams can start fast, but the home atmosphere might edge the early moments with the crowd behind them.
Indiana’s regular season is over in many aspects. Every match from now until December furthers the chance of silverware.
A legendary quadruple double looms for the Hoosiers. It’s time to reach out and claim it.