The terms “Indiana men’s soccer” and “family” seem to be almost synonymous with each other.
The Yeagley dynasty is alive and well, as Todd Yeagley has become one of the most successful active NCAA coaches while working on the field named after his father. Joey Maher has become an integral part of the Hoosiers’ success, much like his older brother Jack was when he donned the Cream and Crimson. The youngest Maher, Josh, will continue the bloodline when he arrives in Bloomington next year. Luka Bezerra, younger brother to renowned forward Victor Bezerra, has also joined the Hoosier ranks and is now in his second season at Indiana.
Family means more than blood, though. When they arrive at Indiana, many players are already familiar with each other — they could have played on the same club (or college) team, or in the same area in high school. Some might have even grown up together.
Karsen Henderlong and Jansen Miller played together at Xavier University and both ended up transferring to Indiana in 2022. Miller has also been friends with Maher since the two were 14 years old. JT Harms, who transferred from Duke after the 2021 season, has known Sam Sarver since high school.
Players talk frequently about how they’re playing with their best friends for life, their family, their future groomsmen. It’s clear there are connections throughout the team that run deeper than the normal teammate-to-teammate bond.
It’s not just the current players who feel like that, though — it starts with the coaching staff. And it just so happens that they all played at Indiana as well.
The Indiana men’s soccer staff is special, and not just because it’s filled with alumni of the program. Each member of the staff has a great amount of experience and talent, they cover a wide age range and, at the end of the day, they all love each other.
“As cliché as it sounds, it does feel like a family,” assistant coach Christian Lomeli said.
Lomeli is the perfect example of how interconnected the coaching staff is. He was roommates with Director of Operations Jeremiah Gutjhar when they played at Indiana and lived with assistant coach Tanner Thompson when the two played professionally with the Indy Eleven. Kevin Robson, now Indiana’s associate head coach and recruiting coordinator, held the role of assistant coach when Lomeli played for the Hoosiers. And of course, Todd Yeagley was his head coach.
Affectionately known as “C-Lo”, Lomeli is one of the younger members on the staff and it shows in his personality. He’s fun and energetic, and is able to connect with the players in the way a friend or brother could.
Thompson, who graduated from Indiana in 2016 and returned to the staff in 2022, has a similar role. He described the staff in the way of a family tree — Thompson, Lomeli and Gutjahr as the older brothers to the players, Robson as the uncle and Yeagley as the father.
“We’re covering all the bases and I think that’s what helps make it feel like a true family,” Thompson said.
Thompson certainly knows a thing or two about family when it comes to Indiana men’s soccer, as his father Gregg led the Hoosiers to their first NCAA Title in 1982 and is a member of the IU Athletics Hall of Fame. Thompson’s brother Tommy also played for Indiana in 2013 and currently plays for Major League Soccer club San Jose Earthquakes.
Family ties first brought Thompson to Indiana, and the family he became a part of when he was a player ultimately brought him back as a coach.
“I always knew I wanted to come back at some point,” Thompson said.
Those deep bonds within the staff mean everyone is very comfortable with each other and they pride themselves on having a fun, healthy work environment. Staff members play different roles in terms of helping the players, and they also bring different things to the inner workings of the staff itself.
“I think it’s different now as a player, like I’m a couple years out, then it was when Roby finished playing and when Todd finished playing,” Gutjahr said. “So it’s good to have different generations of how the game is being played as a player at different levels in time.”
Soccer is an ever-evolving game, and every member of Indiana’s staff has something special they bring to the table. Lomeli works primarily with goalkeepers, as he was a keeper in his soccer career. Thompson, a three-time All-American, works on scheduling daily training and scouting. His talent on the field hasn’t faded, and his mere presence on the field elevates the program, Robson said.
Robson himself has extensive experience as a player, winning two national championships with Indiana, and working with Yeagley on the field as teammates. That background and knowledge of Indiana culture helped move him up the ranks to become the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. He would say he’s sort of an “older statesman” within the program.
“I feel like I’ve got a pulse on the program,” Robson said. “I’ve literally done everything.”
He’s not the only one. Most of the staff has worked their way up the ladder in one way or another, including Yeagley.
“I didn’t just become a head coach out of the gate,” Yeagley said. “So I know what it’s like to have to kind of pick and choose what you say and when you say it, and also letting the assistants have some space to do things.”
Yeagley’s approach to coaching makes the work environment one that his staff can’t say enough about.
“He’s surpassed my expectations,” Thompson said. “And my expectations were extremely high of him, with all the success he’s had especially in the last six or seven years, but he’s surpassed those expectations…everything that he does is high end and there’s no question why the program is where it’s been the last five, six years.”
Yeagley is more than his success on the field, though, and that’s ultimately what drew all of his staff back to Bill Armstrong Stadium. He prides himself on staying close with his players and former teammates alike, works hard to develop those relationships and often sees the fruits of his labor when those bonds extend to life off the field.
“It’s not uncommon that players will say they love you,” Yeagley said. “That’s a pretty big moment…that’s extremely rewarding. You have to have a lot of trust. So when you hear those things and you hear the impact they have…it makes you smile and appreciate (the culture of the program).”
Indiana’s motto of “Tradition of Excellence” comes to life during games, but it starts off the field. Whether it’s on the bench, in the locker room or in conference rooms, Indiana’s coaching staff sets the tone.
“It’s hard not to see just how connected we are as a staff,” Lomeli said. “To have a staff like ours that is so intertwined and interconnected, I think it really does resonate with the group to know that we are like a family.”
To that end, there isn’t really a hierarchy among the staff. While Yeagley is, naturally, the leader, he doesn’t impart authority over everyone all the time. He lets his staff give their own opinions and ideas, fully aware of the experience and talent they all bring to the table. After all, he essentially hand-picked his personnel.
“He doesn’t treat you as an employee, he treats you as an equal,” Robson said.
Robson’s story is a testament to the allure of Indiana men’s soccer for those who were once a part of it. After graduating from IU, Robson turned to work in the private sector. He was a youth coach on the side, but he knew that wasn’t really the position he wanted to be in.
“That’s when he kept calling me,” Yeagley said. “He’s like, ‘I don’t mind my job, but I don’t want to do this for the next 30 years.’”
Working as a coach was always something Robson had his eye on, so when a volunteer position on the staff opened in 2013, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I was like, ‘I gotta do this,’” he said. “I want to come back to IU and be a part of it. It’s an unbelievable experience to be back here.”
Now 10 years later, Robson has established himself as a very skilled and personable coach and has helped Indiana reach the NCAA College Cup four times. He’s been named a Top Assistant Coach multiple times by College Soccer News and has brought in top-10 signing classes every year since he was named recruiting coordinator in 2017.
“He certainly could be a head coach if he wanted,” Yeagley said. “But he’s very picky…that’s when you have a good feeling, when your assistant who could be taking jobs stays.”
That’s how much Indiana means to Robson.
Other guys, such as Lomeli, didn’t think they would ever be a coach, much less for the program that meant so much to them.
“I always joke my LinkedIn bio when I was in college was ‘Aspiring Economist,’” he said. “To say I knew I was always going to be a coach, that would be lying.”
But Yeagley reached out and planted the seed when Lomeli was playing professionally, and he returned to Bloomington to follow that career path as soon as his professional career ended.
“To have him come to me and instill that kind of belief and trust that I could be a coach for Indiana, it was pretty special,” Lomeli said. “I’m super thankful for him and the opportunities he’s given me.”
Gutjahr and Thompson have similar stories; they kept in touch with Yeagley and he encouraged them to join the staff when positions opened.
“It says something about the program and about Yeagley as a head coach that everyone wants to come back and work from him and learn from him,” Thompson said.
While it’s not a requirement for Indiana men’s soccer coaching staff to be former Hoosiers, there are certainly benefits that come with a staff full of people who are already familiar with each other and the program they work for.
“It’s awesome to have all of us that we know what it means, we know what it means to people, we know what it means to the guys on the team because we’ve all lived it,” Robson said. “We’ve all been in that locker room and through the highs and lows.”
Indiana soccer is something that’s hard to truly comprehend without being a part of it. The level of success that is demanded in every season, every game and every practice is distinct from many other programs. It seems to just mean more.
A staff that understands that right from the jump makes everything just a little bit smoother. From building rapport as a coaching staff off the field to figuring out how to coach with each other, the Hoosier connection provides a very strong foundation.
Because of their similar backgrounds, the coaches can compare current players to past players and know everyone will understand what they’re talking about. They can reference certain games or situations without having to add context or extra details, because everyone was probably either there in person or watching it somewhere.
They are all also very familiar with everyone else’s coaching styles, allowing for fairly seamless integration. Everyone knows what they’re in for. Success is a tradition for Indiana men’s soccer, and no one wants that to change.
“There’s not this big onboarding process,” Yeagley said. “They’re not coming in trying to reinvent things.”
The 2023 season was one full of ups and downs for the Hoosiers, so much so that some were even questioning if the team would be able to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
An uncharacteristic start in September saw difficult losses to Washington, South Florida and Michigan State and ties with Wisconsin and Michigan. However, the Hoosiers buckled down and were able to snag a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and win the Big Ten Tournament Championship, thereby earning their fourth “Big Ten Double” in eight years.
Indiana is also set to make its 37th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and 48th appearance overall. While the Hoosiers didn’t earn a national seed, the fact that they’re in the tournament is a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone in the program.
And of course, the togetherness of the coaching staff played a big part in that.
“When you’re not winning, like we’re used to, you have to depend on each other a lot more,” Lomeli said. “And things can and do and will get hard, but the fact that we’re still as tight as we are, it’s important in the tough times and the good times, and you just kind of have to ride the wave at the end of the day.”
Nobody in Indiana men’s soccer is used to, or accepts, losing. Every season, they have three goals: win the Big Ten regular season championship, win the Big Ten Tournament and win the NCAA championship. They’ve achieved two of them this season.
Now, they won’t be satisfied until they get that ninth star. And it all starts with the coaching staff.