Hoosiers remain stout in defensive third

Hoosiers

Photo credit: Indiana men’s soccer

Defense, defense and more defense. Indiana men’s soccer has long had a motto — defense wins championships. 2017 is no exception to that rule. As a matter of fact, 2017 is making history with every match played.

With one match left to play, IU (18-0-6) leads the nation in defensive categories: save percentage (.909), goals against average (0.233), shutout percentage (0.750). Friday night goalkeeper Trey Muse tied Indiana’s all-time record for shutouts with 18. The last goalkeeper to accomplish that feat was John Putna in 1979. Muse has made 60 saves on the season, while allowing only six goals.

Defender and Mac Hermann Trophy finalist Grant Lillard is a key to the Hoosiers backline. He directs traffic and ensures that everyone is paying attention. Friday night, North Carolina came out throwing offense at the Hoosiers from the first whistle. Lillard said he had faith in those around him.

“As a backline we’re really confident, withstanding any pressure a team throws at us,” Lillard said. “So just coming into the game, the first 15 or 20 minutes we’re comfortable with being under pressure. In critical moments, we know that guys are going to do the right things. Just having that confidence allows us to stay composed, it doesn’t freak us out. Tonight was just an example of being able to grow into a game that didn’t necessarily start the way we wanted it to but we were able to take some of their pressure and figure out what we wanted to do to adjust and we were able to execute a little better as the game went on.”

After 90 minutes of play, the Hoosiers weathered the storm. North Carolina outshot Indiana 8-7, with five shots on goal. But Muse was forced to make just two saves, in part to the backline. And it doesn’t stop there. Any time a UNC player received the ball, he was swarmed by a sea of red.

Sunday Indiana faces Stanford, who ranks second in the nation in the same defensive categories: save percentage (0.909), goals against average (0.401), shutout percentage (0.682). Stanford shut down Akron in Friday’s first semifinal by a 2-0 result. The Cardinal held the Zips to seven shots (five on goal). Stanford goalkeeper Nico Corti kept his net clean with five saves.

“First of all, it was a really tough game defensively dealing with all the things they were throwing at us,” Lillard said. “North Carolina has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the pitch. They did a really good job of getting it out wide and having their guys go one-on-one against us. We had help in coverage when we needed to so it’s more guys stepping up when they needed to step up and getting help defense from the rest of the team.”

Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said IU is very aware of what Stanford brings to the table on Sunday.

“They (Stanford) are excellent defensively. They work from the top back, which I think is a strength of our team,” Yeagley said. “Their striker starts their defense and every player knows their role and they are accountable. They are a very disciplined team and I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done.”

Lillard said IU will be ready. “You’ve got to beat the best to be the best.”

Follow Kathryn on Twitter: @Katknapp99.

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