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IU men's soccer learns valuable lessons about itself in final preseason tune-up

Indiana accomplished a feat Saturday night against Louisville that hadn’t been seen from the Hoosiers since Oct. 4, 2016 -- they conceded four goals in a single match.

Chalk it up as a preseason misstep? Fine.

An aberration for a backline and All-American goalkeeper who have proven to be among the stingiest in the nation? I’m listening. 

A much-needed kick in the teeth before the match results start counting for real in less than a week? Absolutely. 

For a team that allowed an NCAA-best six goals all of last season despite playing the most matches in the nation, Saturday’s preseason bookend against the Cardinals was a harsh lesson that last season was last season. And IU head coach Todd Yeagley sees it no differently.

“Sometimes you got to get a hit a little bit,” Yeagley said, “and not that this group wasn’t focused, but they also didn’t give up much goals last year. So it’s just the littlest reminder that the smallest details will make a difference.”

In many ways, IU’s 5-4 win over Louisville, capped off by sophomore Joey Maher’s game-winner in the 87th minute, was perhaps the perfect result for the Hoosiers to head into the regular season. That is, in order to truly learn about a team, adversity must come first and a response second.

Adversity: A hand-ball called against Maher gifts the Cardinals a penalty kick in the 41st minute, which Pedro Fonseca finishes with ease to take a two-goal advantage.

Response: Maher becomes the hero as he finds himself in the right place at the right time and uses a header off a corner kick to help the Hoosiers deliver the final blow of the night. 

Adversity: Louisville scores three unanswered goals in a 12-minute span to take a 3-1 lead just before halftime.

Response: Indiana punches right back less than a minute later as senior right back Nyk Sessock lands a pin-point cross at the feet of freshman midfielder Tommy Mihalic who buries the goal.

Adversity: Indiana still faces a 3-2 deficit at halftime.

Response: MAC Hermann Trophy runner-up Victor Bezerra calmly drills a pair of penalty kicks in the 54th and 60th minute to secure the hat trick and turn the advantage back in IU’s favor.

There it was on full display Saturday, the yin-and-yang of what many already knew the Hoosiers to be, and what we’ve yet to see. Case and point, IU’s offensive explosion that wasn’t as prevalent a season ago.

“This year’s team, we have a bit more pressing mentality with our players and some athletic tools that we didn’t have last year and we want to utilize that,” Yeagley said. 

It starts with Bezerra, obviously, but this season, the supporting pieces around him might be even better. 

Across three preseason starts, forward Sam Sarver looked every bit the Robin to Bezerra’s Batman, something the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year didn’t have in abundance last season. Sarver’s skillset, tenacity to fight for 50-50 balls, and game-breaking speed, paired with Bezerra’s striking prowess, presents all the makings of potentially one of the most dangerous attacking duos in the nation.

“Sam is very dynamic, he’s constantly improving, and he’s got a phenomenal work rate.” Yeagley said. “...I think Sam and Vic are quite complementary.”

Then there’s the midfield and backline, where Mihalic, Joe Schmidt and Maouloune Goumballe teamed up with Sessock, Maher, Daniel Munie and Lawson Redmon for much of the night to mixed results.

At times, the absence of sixth-year captain Spencer Glass (shoulder injury) was evident, especially with the sophomore Redmon ceding his spot at left back. However, the quantity of goals wasn’t necessarily indicative of the quality of shots. 

“(Some of the goals were) concerning,” Yeagley said, “but at the same time this team’s proven to be very stingy defensively, so I’m not worried big picture.” 

When it comes to preseason matches that don’t officially count in a record book, a common reaction is to overreact. But Yeagley isn’t doing that, at least not for a match that the Hoosiers gutted out and showed a different, fiercer side of themselves. 

If nothing else, Indiana’s final exhibition gave a glimpse of its intangibles this season; the things you can’t pencil onto a stat sheet. 

It was evident as the Hoosiers came roaring back from a not-up-to-standards first half. 

And it was evident as Yeagley made his way into the locker room at halftime and glanced around from face to face. 

“I told the guys at half, I said ‘This is going to be our game, you’ll find a way to win this game,’” Yeagley said. “I felt that. I could sense the determination at half, they were fired up. They were a bit upset that they were in that position, but very much motivated.”

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