In the six years of the team’s existence, no Michigan men’s soccer player has left the program with a win against Indiana. The Big Ten soccer juggernaut has been the team every squad dreams about beating.
The Hoosiers will travel to the U-M soccer field this Sunday in the much- anticipated match-up.
“Indiana has been the dominant team in the Big Ten for the last decade,” Burns said. “We use them as a measuring stick to see how far we’ve come over the past five years. We have to ask ourselves, ‘If they’re at the top, how close are we?’ “
Indiana coach Mike Freitag appreciated the compliment, but responded:
“I know Coach Burns is trying to break that measuring stick,” Freitag said. “Everyone talks about us having a target on our back, and it seems to get bigger every year. We are usually most teams’ top competition each season, and a win against us would make each of their seasons. It’s hard because we can’t have any let downs and we always have to have our guard up.”
After earning two consecutive national titles A-A– Indiana ousted Michigan 1-0 last year in the second round of the NCAA Tournament – the Hoosiers are making a run for a third this season. With three of the 25 Hermann Trophy candidates on its team, Indiana already has a leg up on most of its competition.
“Indiana has really evolved in the way they play,” Burns said. “They are a team that has great movement in the middle of the midfield. The players know how to read each other, and they have very few touches.”
Burns pointed to potential attacking threats from the freshman forward Lee Nguyen and senior Mike Ambersley, whom the Indiana coach has moved from forward to the outside midfield position.
“(Indiana) has always been known as a great defensive team,” Burns said. “But now they have a great offense that has the trademark intensity and fight that Indiana is known for.”
The important thing for Michigan to do in order to shut down the Hoosiers’ game is to take possession of the ball early and exploit the space that is available in the Hoosier’s formation.
“Indiana likes to pass the ball around a lot,” senior captain Ryan Sterba said. “They have the ability to keep the ball for long periods of time because they are able to get all their players behind the attack. We’ve sat back in the past and allowed them to (do that), but we’re going to try and get that part of the game from them.”
Even as the Wolverines try to break down the Hoosiers on the field, their toughest job will be overcoming the competitive spirit that Indiana is so well known for.
“There really isn’t a word to describe why Indiana is one of the best teams,” Sterba said. “It’s their ability to win close games. Every time they’ve needed to step up, they find a way to get that one goal to win. They have confidence, and they have some of the best technical players in the country. Winning is what happens at Indiana.”
Although Burns commented that having home field advantage will help, he knows Indiana is used to a large crowd.
“Being in the confines of our home is always nice,” Freitag said. “But we’ve traveled well in the past. I think our guys like coming into hostile environments. Wherever we go, we seem to draw the largest crowds on anyone’s field and I think our guys are fueled by that. We like to rain on people’s parades.”
The Hoosiers, however, should note that sun is in the forecast for Sunday in Ann Arbor.