Given its eight won corners and about as many free kicks, its advantage in possession and its willingness to drive forward in the second half, Indiana could not be faulted for lack of effort Wednesday night. But that none of that commitment produced a single goal was, in the end, the Hoosiers’ undoing against No. 8 Notre Dame at Armstrong Stadium.
IU, itself No. 11 in the country at the moment, bossed the Irish for long periods, particularly in the second half, winning a number of restarts in the process. But the lethal touch in the final third — or the well-timed run off one of those many restarts — never arrived, as Indiana was beaten by a Notre Dame header against the run of play in the latter period.
“Notre Dame’s a good team, and we’ve got to string 90 minutes — good minutes — together to beat a team like Notre Dame,” sophomore forward Eriq Zavaleta said after the match. “We’ve just got to have more urgency to get it done and to have (one) special play come out of it.”
That “urgency” was a talking point not just for Zavaleta, as Indiana, worryingly, began another game slowly.
“We’ve got to come out of the gates faster and punish teams early,” he said.
Indeed, Notre Dame created the game’s first chance, as Indiana struggled to find a rhythm. Visiting keeper Patrick Wall launched a long ball upfield that found its way to a friendly boot. Luis Soffner, Wall’s counterpart, turned a nifty shot around the outside of the post, and the ensuing corner was cleared away.
The Hoosiers found their legs and pushed back into the game, eventually gaining control of what turned into a rather cagey first half, and one that didn’t entirely please coach Todd Yeagley.
“We’ve had periods of below-average performance, and a team like that can punish you, so I thought we were fortunate (to be at 0-0) at half,” Yeagley said.
The second-half display was much more to his liking. With Dylan Lax and Femi Hollinger-Janzen replacing Harrison Petts and Andrew Oliver after the intermission, the Hoosiers were more direct and bright. Possession swung heavily in their favor to begin the second period, and the home team went close to scoring an opener a number of times, only to miss narrowly.
But Notre Dame held firm. Organized and experienced in defense, the Irish rarely allowed the prolific Zavaleta space, and when it came time for Indiana to turn possession in the middle third of the final into a solid chance in or around the visitors’ 18-yard box, playmakers like Petts, A.J. Corrado and Nikita Kotlov found precios little space in which to work.
The Irish were equally adept at snuffing out opportunities from restarts. From those corner and free kick opportunities, Indiana produced a handful of nice deliveries, but precious few real chances. Between those tries and work in open play, the Hoosiers tallied 12 shots on the night, but just one of them landed on goal, a credit, Yeagley said, to Notre Dame’s organization.
“They’re a good team, and they have some good size, and our execution on corners was a little bit off today,” Yeagley said. “Credit them. It wasn’t that we did poorly with that. I think they just defended it well. They seemed to be in the right spots, and so much of restarts is being right there when the ball comes to your spot.”
Notre Dame’s goal, perhaps a bit cruelly, was the kind for which Indiana searched all night — opportunistic and off of a restart.
Senior defender Grant Van De Casteele, solid in the middle of defense as an organizing voice all evening, found space to meet a corner swung in from the left. His header flashed back across goal, beating Soffner, who made a number of excellent saves on the night but could do nothing about this particular effort.
“It was a tight game, where it was going to be a special play, a mistake, a restart was going to be, probably, the difference,” Yeagley said. “In their case, it was the restart.”
Afterward, Yeagley wasn’t entirely displeased with his team’s effort.
He said the Hoosiers need to learn how to be more aggressive from the start of a match, and he said he would like his team to be willing to take a few “half chances,” rather than laboring too much for an ideal shot. But in all, he said he thinks Notre Dame a good side that beat the Hoosiers with just one moment of difference.
That confidence will be needed to carry Indiana back into Big Ten play Saturday, when the Hoosiers travel to Penn State for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Indiana started the conference slate 1-0 with a shutout win at Ohio State and will hope to stay perfect in Happy Valley, something that will only happen, according to junior midfielder Jacob Bushue, if the Hoosiers move on quickly from Wednesday’s disappointment.
“We can feel sorry for ourselves tonight,” he said, “and then tomorrow we’re gonna come back and look to get a W (in a) A big, big Big Ten game.”
Man of the Match — Grant Van De Casteele
An organizing force at the back and the scorer of the game’s only goal, Van De Casteele was involved in the match throughout Wednesday.
Dillon Powers helped dictate the Irish attack, and Bushue was his usual controlling self at the heart of Indiana’s midfield, but with Van De Casteele anchoring its defense, Notre Dame simply proved impregnable and impossible for Indiana to work out Wednesday night. The winning goal was certainly rounded out the display, but equally valuable was his laudable work in defense.