Illinois soccer visits Indiana in first road trip

Illinois soccer (6-3-2) will go on its first Big Ten road trip of the season this weekend as it takes on Purdue (6-4-1) and Indiana (8-2-1). The Illini are currently sixth in the conference through three games played.

Illinois is coming off a weekend where it handed a formidable Iowa side (9-2-0) its second loss of the season but also lost to Nebraska (8-2-1). In an ongoing battle of defensive organization, the Illini took a step back. The mostly inexperienced side conceded four goals over both games and the next task in the season checklist would be finding the defensive solidarity.

“You solve one problem and that usually exposes the next one in line,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “(With) both Iowa and Nebraska we had a pretty common problem of marking in the box. … This is certainly the next (problem) in line for us to fix.”

The Boilermakers will be Illinois’ opponent Friday as the Illini travel to West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue is currently 11th in the conference after losing two of its first three conference games. Purdue’s last weekend produced contrasting performances as they allowed six goals against Penn State but recovered on Sunday with a 1-0 shutout of Ohio State. The Boilermakers only netted twice that weekend and will probably not be as much of a test for Illinois, but their unpredictable defense will be a bigger threat. With the ninth-ranked offense in the nation, Illinois will be looking to explore inconsistencies in Purdue’s defense.

With captain Vanessa DiBernardo’s sprained knee keeping her status day-to-day, Illinois will look to its forward Jannelle Flaws to carry the offense. Flaws and DiBernardo have combined to lead a strong offensive unit so far, but with one figure questionable this weekend, the focus will be on the other half of the partnership. DiBernardo went down against Iowa and since then Flaws has played every minute for the team, scoring three goals in that time frame.

“I haven’t played 90 minutes in a game since high school,” Flaws said. “Last game was challenging but they wanted me on the field for a reason. I just tried to work as hard as I can, rest when I can, (but) keep going the whole time.”

Flaws currently shares the joint lead of the top goal scorer in the Big Ten with 12 goals, and she has a one goal per game average of 1.091. Her clinical form in front of the goal also has her one goal shy of the best tally in the country.

On Sunday at Indiana, the Illini will face another unpredictable team. The Hoosiers (8-2-1) remained undefeated through the nonconference schedule but have come up with a win and two losses in conference play. With a recent slump in form, they will probably be looking to capitalize on the home field advantage they have over a visiting Illinois side and return to their winning ways. Indiana is undefeated at home, winning all six games it has played in Bloomington this season.

Lanre can be reached at [email protected] and @WriterLanre.