BLOOMINGTON – A coveted spot in the College Cup, NCAA soccer’s version of the Final Four, was up for grabs Friday evening at Bill Armstrong Stadium with two in-state schools hoping to punch their tickets.
Second-seeded Indiana will pack its bags for Santa Barbara, Calif. for a return trip to the College Cup after downing No. 7 seed Notre Dame, 1-0. The Hoosiers fell to Stanford in last year’s national title game and will now look to atone. This year’s trip marks Indiana’s 20th appearance in the College Cup, extending its NCAA record.
“It’s a tremendous program obviously, but every team’s different,” explained IU athletic director Fred Glass. “For these guys to go almost all the way last year, they weren’t to be denied this year. They’ve been on a mission, and to beat Notre Dame — one of our biggest rivals — here on our home field in front of a sellout crowd, is a very, very special night.”
The match showcased an intriguing clash of styles. Indiana, with its high-flying, direct approach out of a 4-3-3 formation, presented a stark contrast to Notre Dame’s more methodical, possession-oriented system in a 4-4-2.
But early on at least, the Fighting Irish proved much livelier than expected. Fresh off a literal last-second overtime victory in the Round of 16, they parlayed that emotional high into a stellar first half. The visitors kept plenty of the ball, and their offense was often sparked by a swarming defense.
Notre Dame players worked in unison all over the field to fly to the ball to close space and passing lanes. A flummoxed Hoosiers side generated a few quality opportunities of its own before the break, but perhaps felt lucky to head to halftime scoreless after an Aiden McFadden header required a diving parry by Indiana goalkeeper Trey Muse.
Indiana sorely missed the services of injured captain and central midfield cog Francesco Moore for most of the match with a hamstring knock. The Hoosiers lacked the polish they typically exhibit in linking play from the back four to the forwards — until Moore made a cameo in the second half, that is.
“Obviously, I want to start and play the whole game, but we looked at it,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lot of really good players on this team and it’s a team effort. An hour before the game I knew I couldn’t go for 90 minutes, so the plan was to kind of see how the first half went.”
Moore instantly improved the cohesion of the Indiana midfield, and shortly after his insertion, the hosts opened the scoring. Left back Andrew Gutman, the unanimous choice for Big Ten Defender of the Year, took a pass from NCAA assist leader Trevor Swartz and hit a low, driven ball to a wide-open Austin Panchot for a header at the far post. It ended up being the only strike Indiana needed.
“I like to think that I’m the engine of the team,” Moore said of his role. “There are so many talented players on this team, so many more people that are talented (besides) me, that I need to bring something different to the field. And I think one of the things that I bring is my work ethic, my engine, my intensity.”
The Hoosiers will face Big Ten foe Maryland in the College Cup semifinals Dec. 7 at Harder Stadium.
“We’ll see what happens out in Santa Barbara,” Glass added.