The Hoosiers are playing for their first ticket to the College Cup since 2005. Pictures and a first-hand account are available from LoneStarHoosier's fanpost, but here's a long-time fan's perspective on the biggest Hoosier Soccer win in the Todd Yeagley era, thus far. Official recap and boxscore are here, of course, and you can see that Indiana played some great soccer against the (previously) best team in the nation. Also, IU soccer fans made a big pilgrimage to South Bend to outnumber ND fans, and that the Hoosiers played with a confidence and fire that seemed totally gone in the Big Ten tourney. Perhaps it all really was just a matter of getting the previously-injured Jacob Bushue back in the lineup, or perhaps Nikita "Mr. November" Kotlov finally realized what time of year it is and started making up for lost time. In any case, this is simply the biggest win that I can remember for the Hoosiers since they won their last championship in 2004. They've beaten #1 teams more recently, but not in the postseason.
If you don't the story, here's the backstory: Indiana had lost to Notre Dame on September 26th. This game was notable for a few reasons, but the chief reason was this: the Hoosiers got outplayed at home in a way that belied the 1-0 score. Sure, it was an up-and-down affair, but there were only three games this season where the Hoosiers got outshot, out-shot-on-goal, and outscored, and the other two were at Michigan State and a neutral site game against Akron (who ended up as the #5 seed in the tournament). But neither of those teams held the Hoosiers to a single shot on goal like the Irish did, and both of those games were away from Bill Armstrong stadium. So, for Hoosier fans, there was reason aplenty to be apprehensive about this road trip.
In short, in this rematch, IU comes out with fire in the first half, and dominates, registering the first five shots of the match. Notre Dame is lucky to be going into the half unscathed, but the Hoosiers look sharp and determined. The Irish rally in the second half, scoring 10 minutes after the break against the run of play. Harrison Shipp and Kyle Richard came off the bench for ND to break through on the Irish goal, when Shipp found Richard at the top of the box . Richard buried it in the lower corner for the lead. Undaunted, Indiana comes back just 56 seconds later when Nikita Kotlov received a nice pass from AJ Corrado and scored on a tight-angle shot. It was Corrado's 12th assist of the season, leading the team. ND's Patrick Hodan nearly takes the lead back when his shot, mere seconds later, rings off the IU post. Notre Dame matches IU down the stretch, and almost had a game-winner when Dillon Powers sends a free kick into the box that slips off a header past Luis Soffner, but the whistle blew for a foul just before the play, rescuing the Hoosiers. The first overtime was thin on chances, but two minutes into the second, IU back Matt McKain crosses a ball into the box, Nikita Kotlov slips it back and sophomore star Eriq Zavaleta pounds away his 17th goal of the year for the walk-off winner, and his first tournament goal. The Hoosiers move on to face #9 seed North Carolina, who are coming off back-to-back double-OT wins, and will travel to Chapel Hill to face the Tarheels at 6pm (EST) this Friday.
Here were some positives that I loved from this game:
- I love that the Hoosiers came out fighting. I thought the Hoosiers would've been amped to take on Notre Dame at home after the Irish walked away with the Adidas/Credit Union Classic title (and the Berticelli title, too).But the Irish controlled that first contest, so it was great to see IU outshoot the Irish 8-2 in the first half, with Indiana getting 5 on frame to ND's goose-egg. This has been a second-half team all year long, so to see these guys come out hard makes me think they're starting to realize what it takes to be really, really successful.
- I love the attitude: IU had taken it to the Irish, creating all of the dangerous chances in the first half, and the goal by ND could've totally taken the wind out their sails - to work that hard for that long and find yourself on the losing end, it's tough. But Indiana didn't even blink, taking right back at them and scoring 56 seconds later.
- I love that the number 1 team isn't bitching about the foul that called back an apparent game-winning goal or complaining that they just laid an egg. They came back from IU's fiery challenge to make a classic out of this game, and evidently ND coach Bobby Clark said of the game: "“It was a great game and somebody was going to be heartbroken and I’m afraid in this case it was us”
- Also, Irish Goalkeeper Will Walsh tied his career high in saves with 8.He evidently even had a nice adjustment on a deflected shot to keep the score level during regulation. Without a solid performance by Walsh, this game isn't close.
There were some slight negatives, too:
- The Irish scored on their only shot on goal, as Luis Soffner registered zero saves for the night. This isn't meant as a criticism of Soffner, as he clearly handled a lot of pressure throughout the game very well. Over the last two seasons, Soffner has played the role of savior a few times, so it's good to see IU triumph without a big performance by the keeper. Still, the Hoosiers will likely need to see him register some saves against the Tarheels.
- Finishing. The Hoosiers had 17 shots in regulation, and only notched one goal. They average 14 shots on goal per game for the season, and 1.8 goals per game, so that was more shots with less accuracy before the OT period. That said, Notre Dame has a really good defense that simply shut down a hot Michigan State squad, so there's probably something to the level of competition with this stat. Again, the Hoosiers need to make the most of their chances in the next game if they want to reach the College Cup.
- Nikita Kotlov's injury: Shortly after scoring the first goal, he had to leave the game with an apparent leg injury. He shook it off, coming back in and getting just enough of a head on the ball to slip it to Eriq Zavaleta for the game-winner, so here's hoping he's fine. But I don't want to see anything messing with this guy's mojo right now. With half of his goals coming in the last two games, the Hoosiers need Kotlov at full strength and confidence.
In summary, I'm simply thrilled here. Indiana finally got a huge win over a #1 seed, is playing their best soccer at the absolute right time, and has a great chance to get to back to the College Cup. And thanks again to LoneStarHoosier and all the other IU fans who came out for this game and helped cheer the team on. You guys rock!