Eleven matches into Indiana's schedule, and you've probably heard this phrase by now: this match was either an adequate or poor draw.
That's just the new norm when describing college soccer matches. The absence of overtime in regular season contests, a new rule implemented this season, produces frequent draws, at least against conference opponents. The numbers back that.
During Indiana's 15-win campaign last season, the team drew only once while suffering six losses. This year, the Hoosiers have already tied four times. Indiana's latest: a 2-2 draw Sunday afternoon at Rutgers.
Now yes, multiple teams in the Big Ten Conference likely have a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid. So, scrappy matches resulting in ties can be somewhat expected. But still, teams are slightly more than halfway through their schedules, and already, they've matched their draw totals from last season. Take a look.
Screenshots of standings from bigten.org
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley wasn't available postmatch to discuss. It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts, though either way, this result falls in the poor draw category. Yes, Indiana was on the road, and entering the match, Rutgers had scored the most goals this season out of any conference counterpart. But the way Indiana drew flowed with frustration. The Hoosiers led twice in this match, and lost the lead twice.
You'd think Indiana scoring immediately in the third minute set the tone. Yet Rutgers, taking advantage of a turnover in Indiana's defensive third, responded five minutes later with a trio of crisp passes in the box. Daniel Munie's 2-1 go-ahead goal — starting from a midfield run to the box before faking out the Rutgers' keeper one-on-one — was overshadowed by a Rutgers give-and-go in the box 15 minutes later. Their composure in Indiana's defensive third was impressive.
For an Indiana fan, it was probably hard to be satisfied with the first half. The Hoosiers outshot Rutgers 7-6, four of which were on target, but Rutgers had also put up two goals. The first-half outburst for both sides promised a fiery second half, but both offenses quieted down. Of their combined 11 shots in the second half, only one was on target, which came from Indiana's end. And I'd say the Hoosiers easily controlled the possession margin. Though, that doesn't seem to help their case. Because sure, that was hopeful, but having a slew of positives in a draw only makes the aftertaste more bitter.
If the Hoosiers had won, they'd be slotted in the top third of the conference with eight points, and within striking distance to go after first-place Maryland. But following the draw, Indiana remains in the middle of the pack with three conference matches to play. Maryland recently drew with last-place Northwestern, to move up to 11 points. But again, that almost makes the draw sting more, knowing Indiana had the chance to gain ground.
The good news? Indiana still plays first-place Maryland and second-place Penn State at home. The Hoosiers post an unbeaten 4-0-2 record in Bloomington this season, while struggling on the road, with a 1-2-2 record. That does ring some alarm sirens, though. That could be trouble if Indiana doesn't fix its road slump before the conference and national tournaments.
The profitable outcome from playing Maryland and Penn State directly is that Indiana can simultaneously gain and deny points. Unlike baseball, it's tough to tell what opponent losses Indiana needs to have a chance at first place, given the varying point values of results. Still, the 11-6 gap from Maryland to where Indiana is could mean Indiana's chances at a regular season conference title are over. Especially because draws are more frequent and provide one point.
At least, it looks like the Hoosiers will need other teams to beat up on the soon-to-be medalists. But for now, Indiana still has to wait for its 800th victory in program history, which would have provided a more straightforward path if achieved on Sunday.