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‘Success is not created from coincidence’: Former IU men’s soccer player Eriq Zavaleta leans on Hoosier roots

The number eight has an odd way of following around former IU men’s soccer player Eriq Zavaleta. It’s been eight years since he wore the Hoosiers’ iconic cream and crimson jersey. He helped IU win its eighth national championship in 2012, which was eight years after IU’s previous national title in 2004. Now in his eighth professional season, Zavaleta has tallied eight career shots on goal.

Eriq Zavaleta moves downfield against Wisconsin on October 6, 2012 at Bill Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington. (Photo: IU Athletics)

Coincidence? Probably. But just as the number eight has seemingly stuck with Zavaleta, so too has his Hoosier roots.

“One thing I have learned since my time at IU is the importance of sharing the experiences I’ve been afforded,” Zavaleta said.

The former unanimous Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year spent two seasons in Bloomington, where he tallied 28 career goals, 10 game-winning goals and 65 career points. 

It’s a career often lost among IU’s cluttered collection of former All-American’s and MAC Hermann trophy winners, but a career that Zavaleta still leans on almost a decade later.

“Coach (Todd) Yeagley brought an element of intensity and professionalism that has been crucial to my success as a pro,” Zavaleta said. “I learned so much from my short time at IU.” 

Though playing time in Major League Soccer has been harder to come by than his days at IU, Zavaleta, currently a defender on Toronto FC, is finding other ways to contribute. Whether it’s off the field, in the locker room, or on the bench, his years of professional experience and burgeoning leadership are helping him mentor the next wave of rising stars.

That mindset didn’t simply appear for Zavaleta, though. It was groomed years ago, long after the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year had already cemented his legacy on the hallowed grounds of Jerry Yeagley Field at Bill Armstrong Stadium. 

Enter, former IU player Drew Moor, Zavaleta’s teammate on Toronto FC from 2016-19. 

“Drew Moor, who was at IU before me, was one of the most important people I’ve come across in my life because of the things he taught me through words and actions,” Zavaleta said.

Zavaleta, 28, and Moor, 36, are separated by eight years in age, but their connection as IU alums created a unique bond that helped to quickly overcome the disparity. Through that bond, the duo grew into a force on Toronto’s backline, appearing in 78 matches together over four seasons and winning the MLS Cup in 2017.

Eriq Zavaleta during Indiana's match against SIU Edwardsville on September 14, 2012. (Photo: IU Athletics)

Simply having a mentor can do wonders for a young player’s growth, but for Zavaleta, it was more than that. Moor understood what it meant to wear the Indiana script logo across the chest. Moor understood what it meant to be a national champion, winning consecutive national titles with IU in 2003 and 2004. Moor understood the pressure of playing professional soccer after an illustrious career in Bloomington.

Under Moor’s guidance, Zavaleta learned how to be a professional, act like a professional and teach like a professional.

“I strive every day to pass those messages down to any young player,” Zavaleta said. “Like with another Hoosier like Griffin Dorsey that I play with today. This is one of the things I am most passionate about.”

In two seasons, Dorsey has appeared in only two matches for Toronto FC. It’s a stark contrast from the two seasons Dorsey spent with the Hoosiers, where he appeared in 44 matches and was named a second team All-American in 2018.

But despite Dorsey’s inevitable frustrations as a young newcomer, Zavaleta understands. From one Hoosier to another, he’s ready to teach his most important lesson of all.

“Success is not created from coincidence, but rather relentless preparation and execution,” Zavaleta said.

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