On a cool, crisp, perfect autumn night on Friday in Bloomington for Indiana men’s soccer’s first home conference match, the Hoosiers and Michigan State Spartans played to a 1-1 draw.
Brett Bebej scored the first goal of the match for Indiana in the 44th minute, but it was canceled out by a header from Greyson St. Mercer in the 79th minute, giving Indiana little time to eke out a winner considering golden goal is no longer a possibility in the regular season.
Here are my three takeaways:
1. The ability for Indiana to have multiple players play in different positions is crucial
With this match being the third straight match redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie has missed, Maouloune Goumballe dropped back into the right-back position in the first half but played on the right wing in the second half. Nick Sessock moved from the right to the left as a result, but if you haven’t watched him before this season it would have seemed that he has played there his entire life. Sessock even made a key block in the box in the first half after the ball was pin-balled by the Spartans towards the frame of goal. Sure, having the reigning Big Ten Defender of the Year back would be huge, but for now, it appears his absence isn’t glaring.
2. The game was a tale of two halves
Indiana looked like a team that used the four days off to good use and scored first for the sixth time in seven matches this season. Or, Michigan State looked like a team that was playing its first Big Ten match after conceding four unanswered goals to No. 4 Washington a week ago. Regardless, the pressure that Hoosiers put on the Spartans in the first half was reminiscent of that during the Akron match, which was by far Indiana’s best 90 minutes of the season. Indiana’s first 45 was on par with the way they played against the Zips, but the second half was a complete flip of the script. Michigan State had plenty more of the possession and took advantage, scoring on its only shot on goal in the match. Indiana has had second half lapses this season against teams like Portland and St. John’s, losing focus and allowing the opposition back into the match when they had a stranglehold.
3. The inability for Indiana to penetrate down the middle prevented the key second goal
The wing play, particularly on the left from the aforementioned Sessock and Ryan Wittenbrink, was exquisite, but the majority of the chances coming on crosses and not through balls down the center severely hindered Indiana’s chance of potentially putting the game away with the elusive second goal.
Indiana played well enough in the first half to avoid losing two straight for the first time since 2013, but it will go down as another match Indiana should have come away with all three points, considering they outshot the Spartans 19-8 and had six shots on goal compared to Michigan State’s one. Indiana has just one point through two matches in conference play, and considering there are only eight matches on the Big Ten slate, there is room for some concern regarding the team. Granted, Indiana also lost its Big Ten opener last season and played for the regular season title in the end, so you can never count such a historic program out.
As entertaining as the match was, the final few moments were chaotic. With five seconds left and the ball in the midfield nowhere near either goal, Michigan State’s Louis St. Sala elbowed Patrick McDonald and sparked pushing and shoving near the student section as time expired. The referee showed St. Sala a red card and emotions were high at what appeared to be the end of the match, but the official went to the monitor and ruled that the red card was too harsh and a yellow card was the appropriate course of action for the silly challenge. There were also four seconds left on the clock when the challenge occurred, which gave Indiana a glimmer of hope. Wittenbrink slammed the ball forward and after an initial header, Joey Maher had a free header from six yards, but bounced it into the hands of goalkeeper Owen Finnerty, who made some outstanding saves throughout the night to earn the visitors a valuable point.
It wasn’t over then, either. Maher claimed Finnerty caught the ball behind the goal line, sparking the referee to once again go to the pitch-side monitor and take a peek. After a few minutes of suspense, Maher jumped up and down thinking the call on the field of no goal would be overturned, but there wasn’t conclusive evidence to change the call and give Indiana what would have been one of the craziest last minute goals in recent memory. Both teams went on their separate ways with a point each.
Indiana will look for its first Big Ten victory on Wednesday when they are back at home to take on Northwestern. Kickoff is again at 7:30 p.m. from Bill Armstrong Stadium.