Before the season opener against Pittsburgh on August 30th, check out the rest of The Hoosier Network’s Indiana Soccer position previews:
Trey Muse, along with everything he brought to the Indiana Men’s Soccer program, has come and gone. After two of the most remarkable seasons ever for an IU goalkeeper, Muse signed a homegrown contract with the Seattle Sounders franchise, joining former Hoosier Will Bruin in the Pacific Northwest.
A season ago, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year posted the sixth-best goals-against average in the country, and was obviously a major component of Indiana’s nation-leading 15 combined shutouts. After what Muse did in net during Indiana’s back-to-back trips to the College Cup, it’s hard to imagine an Indiana team without him — then again, you could say the same for any other position group on the 2019 roster.
Indiana carries four goalkeepers on its active roster to begin the fall, all of whom have seen time on the pitch during this year’s preseason. Despite limited minutes and experience in years past, the skill and ability is certainly there, as is the leadership, in the form of projected starter Sean Caulfield.
It’s difficult to even consider a way Sean Caulfield doesn’t start in goal for Indiana come Friday night, when the 2019 campaign gets underway against Pittsburgh.
Caulfield appeared in three matches last year, logging just over 50 minutes. Though the numbers are modest, he’s also been called on historically in penalty sessions because of his veteran ability to read a ball and lay out for it without hesitation. In that sense, it comes as no surprise that his first career appearance came in the 2017 Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin, during the PK shootout.
Caulfield is lean and athletic, but also built to goaltend, standing tall at 6’2”. He has a proven athletic ability to lean and dive, always going out of his way to protect the game.
For a short time during the 2017 preseason, it looked like the starting spot in goal was Caulfield’s to lose; that is, of course, until Muse came into the picture, and from there, the rest was history. If Indiana’s presumed starter performs as he is expected to this year, we’ll again remember how he set the tone early on, specifically this past spring in Mexico. Caulfield, along with redshirt freshman Bryant Pratt, came up big and recorded two clean sheets across two matches against Mexican youth teams UNAM University, and the Cruz Azul U-20 group. It was Caulfield’s first real opportunity in four seasons to call the team his own.
“Those two games in Mexico were the first time we saw the new 11 guys playing on the field together,” he said in the spring. “Learning tendencies of the guys around you is really important.”
Perhaps most significant of all, Caulfield, now a captain, is viewed as a senior leader for a youthful Indiana team. His time on the pitch in the spring, as well as into the fall preseason, has been imperative to further developing that role.
“Even when he wasn’t starting,” sophomore Jack Maher said, “he was preparing as if he was the starter, and that’s something that, at Indiana, you do. His play will speak for itself shortly, but I’m so confident with him. He’s very vocal, he’s a natural leader.”
The Columbus, Ohio native comes back for his second year on the Indiana roster after redshirting in 2018. He joined the program in the spring of 2018, so this fall actually marks his fourth full semester in Bloomington.
Pratt has shown glimpses of a promising future, again helping to back up Caulfield in Mexico and contribute to the superb play in goal. For Pratt, soccer is most certainly a contact sport. The way he comes off the line, initiates involvement, and aggressively gets after the ball sums up the exact kind of player Todd Yeagley has recruited to Indiana for years. His innate reflexes are solid, and he has an incredibly powerful right leg.
He entered in the second half against UNAM, when Caulfield went down with a presumed quad injury — the substitution seemed precautionary. Pratt capitalized on the moment, recording multiple big saves to help preserve the shutout.
“Pratt’s huge,” Maher said. “We knew he was able to step in at any moment because he’s always ready. He’s been waiting for his turn, and he got it and played extremely well.”
Pratt’s ability to perform when he was needed most is exactly the type of play Indiana will call on in order to consistently compete in 2019. It represents the bend-not-break mentality which multiple players have alluded to through this year’s preseason. After the departure of nearly every IU starter from a season ago, it could very well turn into a sort of mantra for this year’s group.
Gruber is another in-state kid who played his high school soccer at Cathedral in Fishers. He chose to redshirt in 2017, and has seen time in Indiana’s preseason matches this fall.
In the springtime, he helped combine with Pratt for a 3-0 shutout over Lipscomb. Of course, his sophomore season will depend heavily on what happens to Caulfield and Pratt. He should be the next man up if one or both of them are unavailable, or if he separates himself enough in the preseason.
The freshman from Naperville, Illinois rounds out Indiana’s 2019 crew. Before coming to Bloomington, he was the starter for the Sockers FC Academy U-18/19 roster, with 68 caps and a 65.13 save percentage.
His ability to dive despite his height is what sticks out most and he’ll only improve with time. He’s another prime example of a tall and athletic defender — the exact type of player that new goalkeepers coach Christian Lomeli will look to further develop this fall.