No. 4 Indiana dipped out of conference play on Wednesday night for a top-25 bout with No. 16 Kentucky. The match, which ended as a scoreless draw after 110 minutes, tested the Hoosiers in a multitude of ways, yet still proved that IU is one of the top teams in the nation.
On Sunday, IU returns to the Big Ten campaign for a battle with Michigan at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
The Wolverines come to Bloomington as one of the conference’s least talked-about teams despite a 6-2-3 record. A win for IU over Michigan on Sunday would leave it as the only undefeated team in the conference.
“It’s a talented team in the attack,” IU coach Todd Yeagley said. “They’re a team coming into the season, was one of the favorites to be in contention. Both of us have some really good individual talent at the same time collectively play well.”
Michigan’s offense is one of the most dynamic in the conference, due in part to 2018 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Jack Hallahan. He’s only recorded one goal this season but has added five assists and forty shots on the campaign.
Joining Hallahan on the frontline for the Wolverines is Nebojsa Popovic and Derick Broche. The two have combined for 10 goals this season and have become one of the most fearsome trios in collegiate soccer.
— Michigan Men's Soccer (@umichsoccer) September 18, 2019
Wednesday, IU had to deal with the physicality and tenacity of Kentucky in a 110-minute scoreless draw. On Sunday, Michigan will give IU a new challenge of speed and precise execution.
Even with just three days to prepare for a crucial conference match, Yeagley believes the importance of the match will override the hangover of a long-winded scoreless draw from Wednesday.
“It’s helpful that it’s a big, important match,” Yeagley said. “Every game is important points-wise whether it’s in the top-half or bottom-half. It’s not difficult to get up for. I think the matchup with Michigan in particular, are players enjoy. We know it’s a big challenge.”
If there was a bright spot from the Kentucky match, it might be that IU was able to work 17 players into its rotation over the 110-minute match. Forwards Ian Black and Joris Ahlinvi have played the last two matches after working back from injury.
IU is getting its roster to full-health for the stretch run of the conference season. Yeagley was forced to shuffle his cards early in the season, playing a wealth of freshmen due to various reasons.
Those moves at the beginning of September have set up Yeagley nicely for the middle of October and November, giving him a deep rotation of attacking players that have made an immediate impact this season.
“When we have everyone available, it’s really good for our team because we have a lot of great selection opportunities,” Yeagley said.
Michigan hasn’t beaten Indiana since 2013 when it won back-to-back games against IU for the only time in the series history. The Hoosiers took both matches last season with a 1-0 victory in the regular season and a 3-0 victory in the conference tournament.
Yeagley has emphasized how important every Big Ten match is in a conference with just nine teams. But with a win putting Indiana four points clear of Michigan in the Big Ten table, this one feels a little extra special.
“It’s a pivotal game for both teams and I think it’ll be a really good match,” Yeagley said.