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Goalkeeper JT Harms takes the field during warmups prior to IU's win over DePaul on Aug. 29, 2023. (HN photo/Kallan Graybill)
Goalkeeper JT Harms takes the field during warmups prior to IU's win over DePaul on Aug. 29, 2023. (HN photo/Kallan Graybill)

Column: Indiana men’s soccer enters Big Ten play with more questions than answers

Indiana’s form of late is cause for concern, regardless of final results

Indiana’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of South Florida last Friday night saw some season-long issues manifest in ugly ways. From poor set piece execution to lackluster finishing attempts and an onslaught of attacks from their opposition, the Hoosiers had their hands full last Friday in Tampa

If not for veteran keeper JT Harms, Indiana would have fallen to the Bulls by more than a single goal. Harms had his busiest night so far, making a season-high seven saves on eight opportunities. 

Strong defending has always been a cornerstone of Todd Yeagley’s Indiana teams, but when the opposition has free reign of the attacking third like South Florida did, the back line is bound to break down eventually. No team is capable of shutting opponents down every single match — that is not the issue. 

The lack of quality offense is most alarming. Through Indiana’s early-season slate, its biggest weakness has clearly been a lack of offensive execution. If not shored up, this could pose a serious threat to the team’s postseason aspirations.

Tommy Mihalic and Collins Oduro were phenomenal in Indiana’s three preseason matches, largely creating their own opportunities and gaining position through crafty footwork and blazing speed. Mihalic, in particular, appeared to say, “I’ll do it myself,” and became a one-man show on multiple occasions.

IU v.s Depaul MSOC-31.jpg
Collins Oduro dribbles during Indiana’s 2-0 victory over DePaul on Aug. 29, 2023 in Bloomington. (HN photo/Kallan Graybill)

Those tactics have not worked for anyone this season. Whenever Indiana tries to dribble its way into an advantageous position and send a shot on goal, it is either blocked or directed wide of the net. Opposing back lines are wise to this tactic and position themselves accordingly, often thwarting the Hoosier attack with little to no effort from the keeper. 

Yeagley has emphasized the importance of scoring on set pieces throughout the early going this season. He spoke highly of 6-foot-4 defender Hugo Bacharach’s presence on restarts, saying he expected Bacharach to score a number of goals in such situations this season. That conjecture has yet to materialize, and it speaks to a glaring issue. 

To call Indiana’s set piece execution “sloppy” would be like saying the 2023 Atlanta Braves are an average baseball team — an understatement of galactic proportions. Indiana is 0-for-30 on corner kicks through five games this year. Yeagley previously attributed this lack of success to poor passing, and that claim passes the eye test with flying colors. 

Indiana has yet to find players whose passing lends itself to corner kicks and free kicks in the attacking third, and it does not appear as though this problem will go away any time soon. In their last match, the Hoosiers had a revolving door of players take the team’s six corner kicks, but all attempts were unfruitful. Throughout this season, free kicks have been much the same — nearly every service is harmlessly volleyed away by an opposing player, or sent on goal with little power and stopped by the keeper. 

Washington, in front of a season-high 3,408 fans, was able to capitalize on Indiana’s biggest weaknesses. Indiana was tantalizingly close to scoring on many occasions, but as has so often been the case, nobody could find the back of the net. Attacks either fizzled out, hit the crossbar or were stopped by Washington keeper Sam Fowler, who had a phenomenal night between the posts. 

Despite Indiana taking twice as many shots, both squads logged the same amount of shots on goal, which is an easily-quantifiable way of pointing out that Indiana was perhaps too over-eager to force balls on net. This is not isolated to the Washington game either — the Hoosiers’ shots on goal percentage is just 34.9, while their opponents have compiled a 59.4 percent mark in the same category. 

Wisconsin visits Bill Armstrong Stadium to open Indiana’s conference slate at 7:30 p.m. this Friday. The Badgers just fell out of the United Soccer Coaches top 25 and Indiana is trending in the same direction. The Hoosiers tumbled to No. 23 after a loss to South Florida that was deemed an upset by many. Indiana was a consensus No. 2 team at the beginning of the season — they’ve fallen a savage 21 spots. 

Conference play waits for no one, and the question now is, can Todd Yeagley’s squad patch up its lackluster attack and avoid a free-fall? There is still a lot of soccer left to be played, but the Hoosiers’ performance in non-conference play leaves something to be desired. 

Indiana could get away with reckless shot selection and poor finishing against DePaul, but there are no freebies left. Matches against Wisconsin, Kentucky, Penn State and Maryland are all still to come — these contests will serve as the best indicators of Indiana’s true standing. 

There’s a saying in sports: “Great teams find ways to win.” 

Todd Yeagley has amassed a shining resume during his tenure with one of the nation’s most storied programs. After a heartbreaking loss in the 2022 College Cup, the Hoosiers are undoubtedly ravenous to add a ninth title. 

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For Indiana, that step is finding ways to effectively execute in the attacking third. Capitalizing on quality chances could be the difference, but only time will tell. 

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