Let’s get one thing straight — When it comes to IU men’s soccer’s fierce freshman forward Sam Sarver, all he wants to do is celebrate.
Celebrate wins. Celebrate goals. Celebrate assists. Heck, even celebrate foul calls that he initiates before popping right back to his feet and jawing back at the opposing instigator. It doesn’t matter.
Whatever Sarver has to do to get his team and home crowd fired up, you don’t have to ask twice.
“He’s a dynamo,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said of Sarver. “He is tenacious. He loves big moments. He loves scoring. He wants to just go celebrate.”
And celebrate he did Monday night at Armstrong Stadium as his 10th-minute goal, the first of his young career, sent the 2,690 fans in attendance into a thunderous uproar. Sarver’s lone tally was all the top-ranked Hoosiers needed to get past Xavier, 1-0, in the final match of the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic.
The game-winner was a crafty one, almost as if the Ohio native was a veteran at the college level, not some novice with just three games under his belt.
It started with a deflected, second-chance ball knocked back out to Sarver. He had two choices: finesse his way forward and attempt a closer shot on net, or chip a ball over the head of Xavier’s goalkeeper and hope it finds the back of the net.
Of course, the flashy freshman is rarely going to pass on a window to shoot, no matter how small the margin. So with a flick of his right foot, the ball arced in the air and danced beneath the night sky, not falling back to Earth until the sound of nylon netting echoed around Yeagley Field for a brief moment.
Armstrong Stadium erupted. Sarver ran toward the far sideline where the student-anointed Hoosier Army showered him in cheers and hugs.
For the first time in an Indiana kit, Sarver celebrated himself.
“It’s just who we his,” IU sophomore defender Joey Maher said of Sarver. “He’s just an unbelievable worker, very selfless and it’s a privilege playing with him.”
Not only was the goal an important one to put the Hoosiers ahead and establish early momentum, but it was also a symbolic erasing of last Friday night’s domination at the hands of Creighton. A 3-0 defeat in Bloomington is something of legends, but the Bluejays did just that, much to the chagrin of Yeagley.
Fortunately for Indiana, the quick two-day turnaround meant a chance to exorcise its early-season shortcomings.
“We were much more clicked in tonight,” Maher said. “It was very uncharacteristic of us and IU conceding three goals at home, and it was just kind of a slap in the face. We needed it.”
Though the Hoosiers still didn’t appear to play up to the standards of a team ranked No. 1 in the nation against Xavier, the final result was indicative of a side still working through struggles but having the mental fortitude to keep battling.
For a plethora of reasons, the clean sheet was likely a much-needed reset for the reeling Hoosiers. Last season they faced very little adversity throughout their run to the College Cup, but it’s been a different story early this season.
The return of reigning MAC Hermann Trophy runner-up Victor Bezerra, alongside Sarver, provided a major boost Monday night when IU desperately needed it, too. After missing the previous two matches due to a lingering knee injury, Bezerra’s return to the Starting XI against Xavier signaled a return to normalcy in IU’s attack.
“He made a really quick recovery,” Yeagley said. “He told me the other day he felt really good, and if he tells me he’s good, I’m good, and the trainer gave me clearance, so we went ahead and used him.”
Bezerra’s presence alone, and his threat to score from just about anywhere on the field, helped to initiate Sarver’s game-winner.
And on a night when Indiana needed to rediscover its old form, all it took was a single flick of a right foot from its freshman forward.
You don’t have to ask Sam Sarver twice.
“Probably the most important player tonight to get a goal was Sam because he’s played really well,” Yeagley said. “He’s drawn some penalties, he’s been in good spots, but for him to also keep his composure on the goal, I thought was really great.”