A big test for the Hoosiers arrived to Jerry Yeagley Field on Thursday in their matchup against Penn State, which head coach Erwin van Bennekom considers one of the best teams in the country.
A 63rd-minute goal from Penn State’s Kerry Abello was the difference maker in the Nittany Lions' 1-0 victory. Indiana forward Chandra Davidson had the team’s best chance in the game from inside the box in the 88th minute, but was unable to convert.
Three storylines stood out in Indiana’s first loss since Sept. 22:
Hoosiers show they can hang with an NCAA Tournament hopeful
Penn State entered the game with a 7-6-1 record, but won the regular-season Big Ten title last year and returned many key players such as First-Team All-Americans Kaleigh Riehl and Sam Coffey. Van Bennekom thinks of Penn State as one of the most well-coached teams in the country and is proud of the way his team competed.
“Ninety-nine percent of the game we were quality,” van Bennekom said. “But that 1 percent, we probably could have nicked a goal and defended that better.”
Indiana came out in the second half playing a more aggressive style and nearly found an equalizer on multiple occasions from Melanie Forbes, who had four shots, and Davidson with one. While van Bennekom said the team should be disappointed with the result, he was proud of the team’s defensive organization and ability to keep the ball in today’s game.
“I think we hung tight and worked extremely hard,” van Bennekom said. “We were pretty good with the ball for the most part. I’m nothing more than proud.”
No one will outwork the Hoosiers
Throughout the season, van Bennekom said he has heard many complaints about the way his team defends or gives the ball away, but no one has questioned this team’s work ethic.
“I don’t think anybody is going to outwork us,” van Bennekom said. “That’s one of our staples. We’re going to outwork anybody defensively and offensively, so I am proud of that part of our game.”
Van Bennekom has recently discussed the importance of strong defensive organization. Before Thursday's loss to Penn State, the Hoosiers had three consecutive shutouts. Indiana was unable to keep this streak alive, but van Bennekom doesn’t think this number in the loss column is indicative of his team’s hard work. In his mind, all they can do is prepare for the next game and maintain a strong work ethic.
“My biggest goal is to win the next game and we didn’t do that,” van Bennekom said. “This would have been a nice three points, but this Penn State team is going to be in the NCAA Tournament and they are going to grow and get better.”
Too much time wasted in the first half
The Hoosiers opened the game playing a very conservative style of soccer. Indiana seemed content to wait on a perfect chance in the first half, allowing the Nittany Lions to possess the ball for the majority of the half.
“To play with the composure we did I’m super proud,” van Bennekom said. “Obviously the way we played right away in a really passive defensive shape going 1-0 down against a team like this is always tough.”
While this strategy worked in the first half, leading to a 0-0 score at halftime, Indiana might regret not taking advantage of every opportunity throughout the game. The Hoosiers finished with seven total shots, but didn’t produce their best chances of the game until they were down 1-0.
“The first goal today was to win the game,” van Bennekom said. “Not to play well, not to show ourselves well, not to be in the game, it was to win, and we didn’t do that.”
Indiana has a quick turnaround with a game Sunday versus Ohio State, who comes into the matchup with a 4-7-1 record. This game will begin at noon ET and can be seen on BTN+. For van Bennekom, each game is just as important as the next.
“We have another big game Sunday and we have five more big games left,” van Bennekom said. “We are going to take this one game at a time and learn from this one and go on to the next one.”