As graduate transfer forward Nebojsa Popovic re-entered the scoreless match in the 66th minute, hope abounded that the team’s leading goal-scorer could spark a stagnant Michigan attack.
Just a minute later, a goal was scored — only it was Indiana breaking the ice, not the Wolverines.
Hoosiers midfielder Spencer Glass tip-toed his way past the Michigan defense down the left flank before blasting a near-post goal over the head of senior goalkeeper Andrew Verdi. The goal proved to be the difference in what was a 1-0 loss for the Wolverines (6-3-3 overall, 2-1-2 Big Ten) against No. 4 Indiana (8-1-3, 4-0-0) on Sunday in Bloomington.
“We take advantage of our opportunities and we have them,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “They took one of theirs, and we were not fortunate enough to have one of ours.”
In the game’s waning moments, Michigan created one last chance in an attempt to notch the elusive goal. A right-side corner resulted in a frenetic game of pinball in the box, the ball bouncing off two Wolverine heads before landing at the feet of junior defenseman Joel Harrison. Harrison unleashed a strong bottom-center shot, only for it to wind up in the hands of conveniently-positioned Indiana goalkeeper Roman Celetano.
Michigan’s defense continued to serve as an anchor, limiting a potent Hoosier attack to just one goal. Junior midfielders Marc Ybarra and Carlos Tellez in particular helped set the game’s aggressive tone from the onset.
“That’s a confident group,” Daley said. “You know, they haven’t conceded more than one goal since game one. So that’s a six-week period where they’re not accustomed to conceding goals. Defense is a big team effort, back to front.”
The Wolverines especially embodied the definition of team defense in the 16th minute, when Verdi strayed far out of his net chasing a tailing cross from the left side. Though the ball found its way to an Indiana forward before Verdi could get it, junior defender Jackson Ragen intervened to protect the goal, denying the threat by stepping in front and absorbing the shot with his body.
Verdi’s play in the net also offered the defense a firm backbone — recording four saves in the match.
“That’s what we ask out of our goalies, to give us an opportunity to win the game,” Daley said. “And he did that with a good performance.”
Noticeably absent in the Michigan attack was senior forward Jack Hallahan, who missed the contest due to injury. Still, without Hallahan, the Wolverines were able to generate opportunities with nine shots and three corners. Despite the loss, competing with the perennial Big Ten favorite in Indiana offers reason for optimism.
“The group believes that we can play toe-to-toe with anyone in the country, even with a bit of a depleted squad,” Daley said. “So if we can get ourselves with other guys that are coming back full circle, that will be helpful. Within the group, the belief that we can do this against a tough team is there.”