It’s finally here. The biggest non-conference matchup for the IU men’s soccer team will take place on Tuesday night as the Hoosiers welcome the No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish to Bill Armstrong Stadium.
These two programs are very familiar with each other. The in-state rivals have been regularly playing each other since the late 70s and in recent editions of the game they’ve almost always been high-stakes matchups between two of the elite teams in the nation. Overall the Hoosiers lead the series 31-10-2 and they’ve won the past three matchups including a pair of games last season. Last September Todd Yeagley’s crew traveled to South Bend and took a huge win thanks to a golden goal from Justin Rennicks. That wasn’t enough for IU, as in the national semifinal the Hoosiers once again met up with the Fighting Irish and once again, with much higher stakes, they came out victorious. The Hoosiers booked their trip to the College Cup thanks to a goal from Austin Panchot. He was assisted by star left back Andrew Gutman.
This year’s matchup has plenty of juice. The Hoosiers are a consensus top-five team in the nation and the Fighting Irish sit in the top 10. It should be the biggest non-conference matchup of the season for both teams and getting a win here would be very valuable for either team’s NCAA Tournament resume, particularly when it comes to deciding if or how long they will host games during the postseason.
Notre Dame sits at 3-1 on the season. The lone loss for the Fighting Irish was in their last game which came at home against the Clemson Tigers. Clemson is a top 10 team as well, so it isn’t necessarily worrisome for the Fighting Irish that they lost that game. Other than that they have wins over Saint Louis, Seattle and Denver under their belts.
The Notre Dame attack has performed well so far this season. The Fighting Irish have failed to score multiple goals in just one match so far this season, their 1-0 win over Denver. Jack Lynn has been a standout so far for Notre Dame. Last season he scored his first collegiate goal in the match against IU and finished with nine points on the season with three goals and three assists. He already has nine points this season as he’s scored four goals and tacked on an assist. Felicien Dumas will also be a key player in this match. The defender is one of Notre Dame’s leading scorers with two goals and two assists so far this season. Last season he was named Third-Team All-ACC and was one of Notre Dame’s primary set-piece takers. This match could easily be decided by a set-piece and Dumas could be the player to make a difference.
What to Watch
1. Restarts, restarts, restarts
If you hear Todd Yeagley speak about soccer, he’ll inevitably get around to how important restarts are. He mentions it repeatedly, sharing that a large percentage of the goals scored, at least on the collegiate level, come via a restart. Specifically, free kicks and corner kicks should be absolutely crucial to this match. Both teams have their share of weapons to use in those situations. Last season IU won the regular-season matchup on a corner kick.
While the Notre Dame attack has been working well so far this season, the defense has been a bit suspect. The Fighting Irish have allowed fewer than two goals just once, when they shut out Denver. In the only match they’ve played against a genuinely top-tier team they allowed four goals. IU has the attacking weapons to be able to take advantage of that weakness, but the Hoosier defense hasn’t been perfect either. Two goals allowed against Pittsburgh and one each against UCLA and Denver wasn’t a great start, though it didn’t hurt IU’s record, but the Hoosiers are coming off a shutout against Seattle so things may be trending upward.
Don’t be surprised to see a scoreline closer to 3-2 or 4-2 in this matchup rather than 1-0 or 2-1.
3. First Big Test
For the Hoosiers this is the first time they’ve played a truly top-tier opponent. Pittsburgh is an ACC team which is nice, UCLA has a good program and Denver was ranked in the preseason, but none of them are Notre Dame. For the first time this season the Hoosiers will face a top 10 team. For the first time in a lot of the players’ careers they’ll face a top 10 team. How the young players like Joshua Penn, Victor Bezerra and Aidan Morris fare against an opponent of this caliber will be one of the biggest factors in this one. If you want a positive note, it’s that many of these young players have experience with pro/youth clubs in training or in real action (like Penn playing for Indy Eleven in both USL Championship and the U.S. Open Cup before he arrived on campus) that should allow them to come into this matchup relatively unfazed compared to the traditional freshman.
The Hoosiers and Fighting Irish are scheduled to kick off at 7:00 p.m. at Bill Armstrong Stadium. If you can make it out to the stadium it should be one heck of an atmosphere. If not, you can still watch on the Big Ten Network. Like the real one. Not BTN+. Though you can also still stream it. Probably. Watch soccer.