Indiana men's soccer played its three preseason matches with the daunting thought of who awaits them — top-ranked Clemson in the season-opener less than a week away.
The Hoosiers constructed their preseason schedule accordingly.
"If you walk through the preseason and play some soft teams, that's not going to prepare you for Clemson," Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said. "So this preseason was intentional to prepare us for the open."
Yet, Indiana may have bitten off more than it could chew, confronting two opponents that appeared in last year's NCAA Tournament — and losing both matches. The Hoosiers’ latest defeat came Friday night, where they suffered a 3-1 result against Louisville in their final preseason match.
Friday night's road loss was the most number of goals Indiana conceded in a single preseason exhibition this season. Despite the Hoosiers leading at halftime, Louisville came surging back in the second half and scored three goals in 20 minutes — all in different fashion. The first; a strike outside the 18-yard box perfectly placed in the top right corner. The second? A well-executed corner kick scored by 6-foot-5 defender Josh Jones. And the third resulted from a pass that flawlessly split Indiana's three-player backline.
Only three days prior, the Hoosiers fell 1-0 to No. 25 Bowling Green after the Falcons scored a late penalty kick. Following that loss, Yeagley stated the team looked more flat than where they needed to be. And though the Hoosiers displayed more urgency right at kick-off against Louisville, Yeagley declared that front-half play and capitalizing on opportunities needed to be sharper. The head coach also revealed after the Louisville match that fierce competition seemingly began to take its toll.
"I think some of the confidence with some of the players is wavering a little bit in some of their individual performances," Yeagley said postgame. "And if the team doesn't get a result, you just don't want that to creep into the group."
While that may sound doom and gloom, these preseason results don't count toward anything. Sure, Yeagley articulated performances in some areas still need to be addressed. But the exhibition stretch doesn't influence Indiana's regular season position — or any other team in the country. Everyone receives a clean slate.
"We all have a fresh start and going into a team that won the championship last year, it's a great opportunity for us," Yeagley said. "Two historical bluebloods, if you will, in college soccer."
Facing the top-ranked team on the road is undoubtedly a demanding start to the season. However, one upside for the Hoosiers is that they can view the opener as theirs to win — and Clemson's to lose. After all, Indiana enters as the underdog into the hostile home of the highest-ranked team in the nation. Sound familiar? Just last season, Creighton upset No. 1 Indiana in Bloomington, earning a 3-0 shutout victory. So it's not out of the realm of possibility, though yes, it will still be an arduous feat.
"Clemson's just going to be really good in all areas."
Those were Yeagley's words following the Bowling Green loss roughly one week ago. Now, having gone through the wringer of tough preseason foes, Friday night's standoff will determine whether that pays dividends for the Hoosiers. And as Yeagley pointed out, all eyes will be watching the marquee matchup on ESPNU.