It’s the beginning of the conference season for the Indiana men’s soccer team, and just like the beginning of the season, they’ll be facing tough competition.
The No. 11 Hoosiers (3-0-1) open Big Ten play Saturday night against No. 16 Penn State (3-0-1) at 7:30 at Bill Armstrong Stadium. The Nittany Lions present a number of challenges for the Hoosiers.
”It’ll be nice to get back going in the Big Ten,” sophomore midfielder Tanner Thompson said. “Penn State, especially. We lost to them in the regular season last year. It’s always a battle with them.”
One player IU will keep a close eye on at all times and present challenges is sophomore forward Connor Maloney. The Big Ten’s leading goal scorer, Maloney has accounted for four of Penn State’s six goals this season.
Facing prolific scorers is nothing new for the Hoosier defense, though, which has played against Georgetown’s Brandon Allen among other talented strikers. This familiarity is why IU is treating Maloney no different than any other offensive player they’ve faced this season.
“He’s a good player, we’re not going to treat him any differently though,” senior defender Patrick Doody said. “But if we can keep play defense like we are right now, that’s what’s most important.”
Yeagley also said the players won’t treat Maloney any differently.
”He’s a nice player. We think highly of him,” Yeagley said. “We’ll certainly have his number figured out in the field, but again, that’s why we play the competition we do. We’ve played other types of talents similar to Maloney.”
While Maloney will be prominently featured in the starting lineup, another veteran player will be noticeably absent for the Nittany Lions.
Goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton, the reigning B1G Goalkeeper of the Year, received a red card as a result of handling the ball outside the box during Penn State’s previous match against James Madison University. The red card means he will be forced to miss Saturday night’s match.
Despite his absence, the Hoosiers are preparing like they normally do.
“It doesn’t change our approach,” Thompson said. “He was the Big Ten goalie of the year last year, so he’s a good keeper, but I’m sure they’ll have a backup coming in. We’re just going to play our game and things will take care of themselves.”
With Wolverton’s absence, Yeagley said the only difference is what the strengths and weaknesses are of the backup goalkeeper.
“Like a lot of good programs, I know that we have very capable guys who can step in,” Yeagley said. “I’m sure they feel the same way. So our preparation doesn’t change, except knowing and hopefully getting the tendencies of this new goalkeeper.”
Up until last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with James Madison, Penn State had shut out its opponents in four consecutive matches – all with Wolverton in goal. IU, on the other hand, still has its shutout streak going and will look to continue that on Saturday.
Doody said the shutouts are good for the team.
“This is what we want,” he said. “We want these zeroes to keep popping up, but we’re four games in. Each week is its own little battle, and we just got to make sure we stay zoned in for those 90 minutes and keep trying to get shutouts.”
The players recognize not only the challenges but the magnitude of Saturday’s game as well.
”Conference play is huge,” Doody said. “Especially playing against Penn State, who’s done well in the conference the last few years. Saturday’s big, Saturday’s a big night.”