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What constitutes a successful season for Indiana men's soccer?
It's a question I've been asked numerous times over the three years I've covered this storied program -- whether on podcasts, by fans, or within my own conscience -- and I always return to the same answer: I'm still not sure, to be honest.
It's a conundrum of sorts, if you're Indiana or a fan of the program. It's almost always a lose-lose situation, one that can only be reconciled with a trip to the College Cup, and sometimes that isn't even enough to satiate the thirst of the fanbase.
To equate it to something a bit more mainstream (though college soccer remains on an encouraging upward trajectory), Indiana is to college men's soccer as Alabama is to football; Kentucky is to men's basketball; Vanderbilt is to baseball. In essence, the annual expectation for each of the aforementioned programs is to compete for a national championship. Anything less is often met with disdain, a sense of failure, or a combination of the two.
So, with Indiana falling to No. 2 Washington, 3-2, in the Sweet 16 on Saturday afternoon, the initial question becomes salient once again: Was this season a successful one?
For 99 percent of college men's soccer programs, the answer is unequivocally yes. Heck, many might even think about hanging a banner for a Sweet 16. However, Indiana doesn't have this same luxury, and you could could argue it hasn't been held to 'normal' standards since Jerry Yeagley rode off into the sunset in 2003 with a sixth national title.
When you step back and truly think about what Indiana has accomplished in its near-five decade history (plus many more years when the program was still operating as a club sport), the records and accolades are simply astounding.
IU hasn't missed out on the NCAA Tournament since 1986 -- 35 consecutive postseason appearances.
IU hasn't entered the NCAA Tournament as an unseeded team for eight-straight seasons.
IU hasn't failed to reach the Sweet 16 for seven-straight seasons.
And prior to Saturday's loss in Seattle, IU was the only program in the entire nation to make three College Cup appearances in the past four seasons. Except, an extension of that feat was laid to rest at the hands of the Huskies and Dylan Teves' golden-goal in the 97th minute.
I could write an entire story chock full of random numbers, streaks and records that Indiana currently owns or shattered at one point in program history. However, that would only belabor the point, which is this:
Whereas Sweet 16's are celebrated amongst a vast majority of soccer programs; Sweet 16's are seen as a letdown for the Hoosiers and their fans. It's the price one has to be willing to pay by pledging its affiliation or allegiance to arguably the greatest men's soccer program in NCAA history. And it makes sense, too.
When you firmly establish yourself as the pinnacle of a certain sport, the target is always on your back, no matter what the seeding or record might indicate. Sure, Indiana had to travel to Washington -- first time since 2015 that IU has played a road match in the NCAA Tournament -- and, accordingly, was viewed as the underdog, at least at a national level. But make no mistake, Indiana is always the hunted.
In Todd Yeagley's own words, playing Indiana is most teams' "super bowl." In the case of Creighton, which this season handed Indiana its worst home defeat in recent and modern memory, celebrated in the visitors locker room as if it had just won a College Cup. And taking nothing away from Creighton -- it dominated that 3-0 result from start to finish, and leveraged the win for a spot in the NCAA Tournament -- for all intents and purposes, that was the Blue Jays' biggest win of the season. Many other teams likely would've celebrated in a similar fashion, at Bill Armstrong Stadium, no less.
So, how should we view this season?
For a team that was coming off an overtime defeat in the previous College Cup finals, the only realistic way IU could top that was by winning the whole thing this season. But it didn't.
All the pieces were in place, too. A returning front-runner for the MAC Hermann Trophy in Victor Bezerra -- check. A returning All-American goalkeeper in Roman Celentano -- check. A returning All-American left-back in Spencer Glass -- check. A backline that returned all four of its starters, plus a fifth-year midfielder in co-captain Joe Schmidt -- check. A highly-regarded recruiting class with impact freshmen in Sam Sarver, Tommy Mihalic and Patrick McDonald -- check.
The stars aligned for Indiana this season, which set expectations astronomically high and, for several weeks, had the Hoosiers ranked No. 1 in the country. Then came the 3-0 loss against Creighton, a 2-1 loss against Rutgers, a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime loss against Michigan, and a pair of Big Ten title chances squandered against Maryland and Penn State.
At certain points this season, Indiana looked like a team that couldn't be beaten. A seven-match shutout streak is evidence of that. At other points of the season, however, IU appeared to have more questions than it had answers.
The backline play, anchored by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Daniel Munie and center-back stalwart Joey Maher, ran into bouts of inconsistency and vulnerability. The attack relied heavily on a trio of freshmen -- McDonald, Sarver and Mihalic -- for its scoring production, and those three eventually hit the proverbial freshmen wall late in the season. Bezerra, who ranked second in the Big Ten in goals scored and third in points, couldn't churn out another Herculean-like season. It all compounded into a season where IU never truly seemed to click cohesively for a sustained stretch.
To Todd Yeagley and the coaching staff's credit, they made the necessary adjustments. Whether it was moving a veteran Ben Yeagley into a starting midfield role down the stretch, or strategically picking and choosing its moments to utilize Sarver's dynamism, or plugging Brett Bebej in at right-back to help stabilize an unpredictable right side of the field, IU did what it could with the personnel it had.
The two glaring pieces the Hoosiers lacked, though, was an alpha midfielder and a go-to striker capable of shouldering the scoring load.
In losing A.J. Palazzolo to the transfer portal last offseason, IU was without a true big-bodied enforcer in the midfield who could win back 50-50 balls and command the tempo of games. For all of Schmidt's toughness, tenacity and organizational strengths, he was never quite able to fill Palazzolo's void. Neither could Yeagley, McDonald, Quinten Helmer and whoever else IU tried in the midfield next to Schmidt.
Then there's Bezerra, who, at his own volition returned to Indiana for one last chance at a national championship. Though the scoring rate wasn't near what it was from a season ago, Bezerra was asked to engineer IU's attack in a way he hadn't previously. No longer was he just IU's goal-scorer, but he was also thrust into the role of IU's creator, initiator and attacking leader. That meant opponents constantly man-marking Bezerra, even double-teaming him at times, leading to fewer and fewer true opportunities to take over a game.
At Indiana's core, there was nothing inherently wrong with its philosophy or strategic shape. In many ways, the roster was designed to mask its weaknesses and emphasize its strengths. However, the pieces seemingly couldn't complement each other for an entire season, which made for volatility in performance and results.
Now, the Hoosiers are left asking what if?
What if Glass never broke his leg last season and returned this season at top form?
What if IU's backline played all season like it did throughout the seven-game shutout stretch?
What if Mihalic and Sarver were a year older, freeing up Bezerra's attacking responsibilities?
Those are questions that'll remain unanswered, much like the initial question posed at the top of this story.
While Sweet 16's are often celebrated, Indiana doesn't have that luxury. The standard has been set, and was set decades ago: It's College Cup or bust.
The Hoosiers will have to wait at least another season before its quest for a ninth star continues in earnest.
Indiana junior defender Daniel Munie only had two Division I offers in high school. Four years later, he won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at Indiana. (Photo: IU Athletics | Graphic: Ethan Masel/HN)
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Dimly-lit street lights on Bloomington's west side illuminated a mom and her son as they lingered in a Chick-fil-A parking lot late into Friday night. The son had just finished a soccer game around 8 p.m., and by then most restaurants were either packed from the dinner rush or getting ready to close. Sandwiches and milkshakes would have to suffice.
Shortly before departing each other for the night, the mom back to her hotel room and the son back to his apartment, the mom stopped and turned toward him.
"Daniel, this has been a pretty good day," she said.
"No," he responded, a smirk quickly brushing across his face. "This has been a great day."
Daniel Munie, now an Indiana redshirt junior defender and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, couldn't have planned Sep. 20, 2019, to go any better.
That morning he was inducted into the Kelley School of Business after being denied direct admission over a year earlier. That afternoon he sat in the locker room at Bill Armstrong Stadium -- Indiana set to host Wisconsin in about an hour -- as the team celebrated head coach Todd Yeagley's 47th birthday. And that night he scored his first career goal in an IU uniform, the game-winner to seal the Hoosiers' eventual 3-1 win over the Badgers.
Daniel was a late bloomer, though. He was never quite big enough to stand out among a talent-rich St. Louis FC club team. He never had the physical build or the flashy skillset to garner any significant Division I looks. On weekends when Daniel and Cheri, his mom, made the long, arduous drives to soccer camps around the Midwest, hoping for even a single recruiter to catch a glimpse of the lanky defender, most college coaches had already cleared out before Daniel could get in front of them.
"Every time he had a showcase that came around, it just seemed like the timing was bad," Cheri says, "or he played in the third game and all the coaches had already gone home."
So the marathon continued, Cheri shuttling Daniel from St. Louis to Grand Park, Indiana, to Madison, Wisconsin, to Bloomington to any camp, really, that offered even an inkling of hope for a chance encounter with a college coach.
At a U-14 showcase event in Minnesota during Daniel's freshman year of high school, Cheri received an urgent phone call. She had always made the necessary sacrifices, scheduling her own errands and plans around Daniel to be with him at every camp. Except on this weekend, Cheri couldn't make it. It was one of the only camps she can recall ever missing.
"Uh, Daniel's at the hospital," the caller said.
"What do you mean he's at the hospital," Cheri frantically replied from her home in Maryland Heights, Missouri.
Daniel went airborne on a non-contact play. A freak accident. The prognosis was a snapped bone, and there was no way he could finish the camp that weekend. One of the first thoughts that sprung into Cheri's mind was about Daniel's continued string of misfortunes. "Oh my gosh, he's gonna miss the next showcase event," she recalls thinking.
Unlike college basketball and football, where most high-major prospects are scrutinized and followed until they sign on the dotted line their senior year, most upper-level soccer recruits commit to a school before the end of their junior year to far less fanfare. Daniel was still uncommitted, though, and the level of interest from college coaches rarely peaked beyond a cursory glance or passing conversation.
Daniel finally came to terms with his outlook following another unsuccessful showcase event in Grand Park in the summer of 2017. In the parking lot afterward he turned to Cheri and said, "Mom, I think I'm just going to play (for the) high school (team)."
Cheri sympathized with his frustrations: "He was struggling to get anything. We knew he could get Division II (offers), but he really wanted to play Division I."
But quitting on aspirations that he had talked about since he was four years old? No way Cheri could allow Daniel to do that so swiftly, at least not until he saw through the entire recruiting process. Daniel reluctantly agreed.
"That was all Daniel ever wanted," Cheri says, "is for somebody to just give him a chance."
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="337"] (Courtesy: Cheri Munie)[/caption]
Kevin Kalish already had one foot out the door, making a beeline to become the next head coach of Saint Louis University men's soccer. After spending 16 years overseeing the St. Louis Scott Gallagher club program -- one of the top prep clubs in the nation -- Kalish was hired in the winter of 2017-18 to lead the Billikens. Though he still had a few months left serving as vice president and club director of St. Louis FC, nothing was forcing him to continue vouching for and developing club players at the rate he once did.
Except when it came to Daniel. Kalish made it a priority as one of his final acts to land Daniel with a college soccer program. "I find it my job to get you to where you need to be so you can be seen," Cheri remembers Kalish saying. And it was the least he could do after guiding the unheralded defender through the club ranks for nearly 12 years.
However, before Kalish could hold up his end of the promise, Daniel had to do his part first. That meant continuing to attend showcase events and camps during the summer leading into his senior year. Not much changed, though: The playing time was still sparse, and the attention of coaches remained fleeting at best.
Kalish gave one piece of advice: "When you're out there, even if it's for those 10 minutes, those 15 minutes, you play lights out. You have to play so hard that the coach doesn't want to take you off the field."
Daniel clung onto every word from that initial discussion.
As a senior, Daniel logged the most minutes of any player on his club team. At the same time he also experienced a long-awaited growth spurt, finally long enough, tall enough and bulky enough to play a demanding center-back position. His physical skills also began to turn heads. Years later, Yeagley would refer to Daniel as "one of the most athletic players we've ever had."
And then the camp invites came shuffling in. "That was the turning point," Cheri says. No longer did she have to shell out $500 dollars to take Daniel to showcase events; coaches were eager enough to see him in-person that they were willing to waive the entrance fee.
In late December of 2017, Indiana called. Daniel had been on their radar for a while, but they were never convinced enough to dole out an offer. This time, however, the coaching staff wanted him to come to Bloomington for a camp they were hosting. Daniel immediately said yes.
When the camp ended, Cheri says she had to almost force Daniel to talk to IU's coaching staff, so he navigated his way through a line of other high school prospects and waited his turn.
The coaching staff said they were intrigued by his late growth spurt and emerging athletic tools, but Yeagley was also up-front and brutally honest with Daniel. "You're a project," Cheri recealls Yeagley saying. But he was a project that the Hoosiers were willing to work on, and a project they couldn't risk letting go to another school.
A few weeks later, Indiana offered Daniel a spot in its 2018 signing class.
"They were really the only school that looked at me besides SLU (Saint Louis)," Daniel says. "I think it was between SLU and here (IU), and obviously I've heard great things about the history of this school."
All he had to do was say yes to IU, but hesitancy crept in.
Saint Louis was Daniel's chance to play close to home. They offered him more academic and athletic money than Indiana could give. He was granted direct admission into Saint Louis' business program but not Indiana's. The opportunity for early playing time at Saint Louis was tantalizing, rather than redshirting at Indiana. And to top it off, Kalish would be his head coach.
Something about the Hoosiers kept drawing Daniel toward Bloomington, though. He says he still can't quite pinpoint exactly what. Cheri thinks Daniel simply wanted to go farther away from home. Eventually, Yeagley and Indiana won the recruiting battle over Kalish and Saint Louis.
But mustering the courage to tell Kalish his decision was perhaps the final, most difficult part of the process. The man who, since the start, held up his side of the promise to Daniel, was also the man Daniel would have to turn down in the end.
So two hours after Daniel called Yeagley to pledge his commitment to the Hoosiers, he pulled Kalish aside after their club game had just ended.
With one deep breath, the words came flooding out of his mouth. Indiana was his choice. How any of it was possible, though, Daniel made it clear to Kalish.
"You're the reason that I got to go to Indiana."
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="360"] (Courtesy: Cheri Munie)[/caption]
The only IU game Cheri has ever missed in Daniel's career was on Oct. 6, 2019, at Penn State. Her flight was already booked for that day, but a combination of extreme weather and an expensive plane ticket that probably couldn't be refunded had she waited too long made for a rare decision to forgo the trip to Happy Valley. It was Daniel's third career start, and the Hoosiers cruised to a 3-1 win over the Nittany Lions.
Ever since then, Cheri's made the three-and-a-half hour trek from St. Louis to Bloomington for every IU home game, and paid whatever expense was necessary to fly to every away game. Tedious as it may seem, for Cheri and Daniel, it's all part of the reward.
"A lot of people have asked me just recently this year, they're like, 'Cheri you go to every game, isn't that a lot of work?' And I said, 'No, this is the joy of what's come of everything,'" Cheri says. "It's kind of like this is the fun part, going to games. What's hard is getting him to practice five times a week when he was younger. Now, I just get to go and watch for fun."
As a single mother with three kids, the time for sitting down and relaxing was rare. There would be weekends when Daniel had eight games in a three-day span. They'd often load the car with three different uniforms -- baseball, basketball and soccer -- and they'd dart from town to town and game to game. Eventually those endless weekends became the norm in the Munie household rather than the exception.
Fast-forward a decade later, and the kids are still Cheri's first priority. Only now, it's a night spent in a hotel room, a day spent at Bill Armstrong Stadium and a long drive home.
"She doesn't miss a game, it's crazy," Daniel says. "It's pretty unreal, but I appreciate that."
So when the mother and son stood in the Chick-fil-A parking lot two years ago, it was a culmination of sorts. Finally, Daniel had found his home.
But very little needed to be said in that moment. One look at the grin on Daniel's shadowy face and Cheri could sense the palpable relief.
"That was the day that I knew everything he had worked for -- got into the business school, soccer was starting to work out -- it was a lot of work," Cheri says. "And I was like, 'OK, finally all that work is coming to fruition.'"
And the work never stopped. After earning his first career start on Sep. 27, 2019, against Sacramento State, Indiana's coaching staff couldn't keep him off the field. He's started every single match -- health permitting -- since that day. The statistical production soon followed.
2019: 14 starts and three points.
2021 spring season: 16 starts, two goals, All-Big Ten Second Team, National Championship runner-up.
So far in the 2021 fall season: 20 starts, three goals, three assists, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
As Yeagley puts it, the 6-foot, 180-pound center back is a prime example of waiting your turn in the Hoosiers' system.
"He's grown every year," Yeagley says. "He was a redshirt kid, he came along, got his first chance in 2019 after waiting for a little bit... His accolades are well deserved, no doubt."
There's often a certain stigma that comes with being the "redshirt kid," though. Except in IU's proverbial soccer factory, which annually churns out professional players, redshirting is nothing to be ashamed of.
Just ask Daniel -- as a recruits' parent did in late 2019.
"How did you handle being redshirted?" the parent inquired.
Daniel's lips curled into a familiar smile before letting out a simple answer: "I'm happy here."
We've got a lot to chat about as Indiana's road to the College Cup just got a bit more interesting. Following IU's 3-0 loss at Penn State on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament final, the Hoosiers snuck into an NCAA Tournament seed and a first-round bye.
What does all this mean? Well, let's break it all down.
Joey Maher saw it all unfold in front him.
He stood inside Indiana's own net, acting as IU's last line of defense, as he watched goalkeeper Roman Celentano swat away not one, not two, not even three Northwestern shots, but four to save the Hoosiers from their own demise.
Two-and-half minutes later, he stood in front of Northwestern's net, his feet chopping, his eyes up, his brain analyzing the chaos as it happened. Then, the ball suddenly laid at his feet.
One chance to repay Celentano for his Herculean effort.
One shot to send Indiana to the Big Ten Tournament final on Sunday at Penn State.
One golden-goal to forever cement himself in Big Ten Tournament lore.
Maher didn't think twice. With a swift right-footed touch to settle down an incoming pass, and a second booming, crashing, echoing, reloading swing of his right leg, Maher buried the ball into the back of the net.
In the sophomore center-back's own words, no explanation is necessary.
"I can't even explain it, to be honest," Maher said. "That was all in just such a blink of an eye."
All of it. From a shaky first half that saw Northwestern's relentless attack pepper Maher and IU's backline with dangerous chances, to a momentum-shifting second half that turned the advantage in favor of IU, to Celentano's overtime heroics, to the eventual golden goal, if you blinked, you missed it.
There wasn't a sigh of relief to be had for anyone on Wednesday evening at Bill Armstrong Stadium until Maher's decisive shot in the 97th minute. But when the final whistle sounded, the pandemonium erupted and the Hoosiers swarmed their game-winning savior, a collective exhale was finally released into Bloomington's cozy autumn air.
Even Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley, even-keeled as he so often is, couldn't help but throw his hands in the air, whether out of sheer relief or palpable joy.
"Joey's composure, for a center back to make that play at the end," Yeagley said, "was really cool. You've seen a lot of kids just blast it (the shot), but he picked out where the opening was."
But the goal likely never happens had it not been for Indiana's veteran leaders emerging late. After 96 minutes and 15 shots resulting in exactly zero goals for the Hoosiers, the upperclassmen took matters into their own hands.
The winning sequence began as sixth-year captain Spencer Glass sent a crisp pass forward to redshirt junior forward Ryan Wittenbrink inside Northwestern's 18-yard box. With the end-line leaving little real estate to roam and two Wildcat defenders quickly converging, Wittenbrink had to make a decisive pass.
Maher stood on the receiving end of it, all alone, in front of Northwestern goalkeeper Miha MIskovic, and never fazed. The result: "Just a great, great team goal."
One of the first teammates Maher sought out following the ensuing chaos was Celentano, clad in an all-baby blue kit that could be seen from the furthest end of Jerry Yeagley Field. After all, without Celentano's four saves in a 30 second span just minutes earlier, Indiana could've easily found itself on the wrong side of defeat.
Sprawling, diving, stretching every last centimeter of his 6-foot-3-inch frame, Celentano turned away the Wildcats at every single crossroads -- none bigger than the Herculean-like effort displayed in the 95th minute.
"Roman's unbelievable," Maher said. "It's an honor to be playing with the best goalie in the country. You see it day in and day out."
For Celentano, it's business as usual in these types of postseason games. Never in his entire college career has he fell short of a Big Ten Tournament title. Not as a freshman in 2019, not as a sophomore in 2020 and, if Wednesday was any indication, not as a junior in 2021.
"What's hard is he really didn't have to do a lot today," Yeagley said. "That's where I think he's grown the most. I think a freshman Roman, I still think he can make that play, but he didn't try to overplay today."
It's true, for 94 minutes and change, Celentano was forced to make just one save -- a 23rd-minute shot from Northwestern forward Justin Weiss that never had enough power behind it to truly threaten Celentano.
But then, in an instant, Celentano was thrust into action, and he responded with a save sequence befit of the first ever two-time Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year.
In the aftermath, all Maher and Celentano could do was smile at each other, embrace and finish off the Wildcats for good.
"These teammates, these guys, they just want what's best for each other," Maher said. "It's an incredible feeling playing here."
First it was Ben Yeagley. Then it was Joe Schmidt. Then Victor Bezerra, twice. And a slew of other players strewn across Jerry Yeagley Field on Sunday afternoon, clutching various parts of their ailing bodies.
For a moment, it felt like Indiana couldn't catch a break. But neither could Rutgers. From missed calls to no-calls to injuries and more, Sunday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals turned a soccer match into a proverbial football game.
Indiana, however, withstood the punishment for long enough to topple Rutgers, 1-0, and advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Wednesday against Northwestern. Freshman forward Sam Sarver scored the only goal of the match in the 27th minute after taking a well-placed pass from junior forward Herbert Endeley and burying a shot to the far post past Rutgers goalkeeper Oren Asher.
The key ingredient for the Hoosiers' revenge win over the Scarlet Knights? Simply, competing.
"I thought we fought hard," Yeagley said. "The response from last Sunday was competing. We just didn't compete hard enough that last game, and there was some things we missed here and there, but we competed, every player."
The "last game" that Yeagley referred to was Indiana's 2-0 loss last weekend at Maryland, which effectively squashed all hopes of a fourth-straight Big Ten regular season title for the Hoosiers. However, the lack of competitiveness became too glaring of a problem that Yeagley felt changes were needed.
One of the sources of IU's deficiencies, though, came from an unlikely name: sixth-year left back Spencer Glass.
"He just didn't put out the effort that we needed last game," Yeagley said, "and it's inexcusable. And he owned up on it, so I thought it was important for him to come off the bench."
So that's exactly what Yeagley and the coaching staff did to begin the postseason, bench Glass. Perhaps it was the wake-up call that IU's captain and unequivocal leader needed, to see the game unravel from the metal bench in order to reignite the competitive spark within himself.
"Spencer and I had long talks this week," Yeagley said. "It was not the performance (we expect from him) or the way he handled that (Maryland) game, and sometimes you have to come sit with the staff a little bit."
Glass wasn't the only regular starter who took an unfamiliar seat on the bench beside him. Senior right back Nyk Sessock also found his name absent from the starting XI, and in their place stepped junior Brett Bebej at right back and sophomore Lawson Redmon at left back.
The revamped backline was an adjustment, said IU junior center back Daniel Munie, but not one that felt awkward or unadaptable.
"It wasn't too different," Munie said. "We know whoever goes in they're going to do a good job."
Glass and Sessock didn't have to wait long before getting the call to enter the game, though. Within 20 minutes of the opening whistle, Glass had already spelled Redmon and Sessock began readying himself to come on for Bebej.
The quick substitution seemed to give the Hoosiers a shot in the arm, too, following a shaky opening 15 minutes. The Scarlet Knights nearly found the back of the net twice in the early moments as the Hoosiers struggled to limit giveaways and clear balls out of the box.
Once Glass entered, however, a light bulb seemingly switched on for IU. And less than 12 minutes after asserting himself into the match, Sarver found the back of the net and scored the lone tally needed to advance IU in the Big Ten Tournament.
"This was the week that we were like hey, for us to make the run we want," Yeagley said, "we've got to have a couple things, experiment, but obviously it's not one where it's the first time we did it."
And Indiana really had no choice but to experiment a bit, especially with the amount of injury stoppages that occurred throughout the second half.
In one instance, IU junior midfielder Ben Yeagley collided heads with a Rutgers defender after attempting to play a ball in front of the net. The collision immediately elicited both teams' trainers to run onto the field, though both players eventually walked off under their own power.
In another instance, senior midfielder Joe Schmidt and another Rutgers player crashed into each other while trying to head away an airborne ball. The immediate aftermath looked like a car crash had just taken place at midfield, but extensive stoppage time wasn't necessary for either player.
Then there was the first of Bezerra's two blows in the second half that left him rolling on the ground. After jockeying for a loose ball at midfield, Bezerra took an inadvertent hit to the head that was severe enough to elicit a video replay review from the match official. No card was eventually shown to either side.
Nonetheless, the plethora of knocks and pauses in the second half eventually took its toll on the game flow.
"The game stalled out a bit," Yeagley said. "Obviously the stoppages, with looking at the reviews, that kind of killed the tempo. The game didn't really have a good flow for either team."
With tempo and flow at premium, Rutgers' urgency to find the equalizing goal was impeded at nearly every turn. In the second half, the Scarlet Knights were only able to get off four shots, while the Hoosiers backline was more than happy to play conservative and play out of their own defensive end.
In fact, with less than 15 minutes left to play, Yeagley deferred to a defensive-heavy lineup that included Nate Ward, Maouloune Goumballe, Sessock, Quinten Helmer and Redmon all re-enter the game in the late stages. In total, IU played seven different players off the bench.
"I think our depth is going to carry this team to the farthest point," Yeagley said. "I really believe that."
And that depth will be put to the test on Wednesday afternoon against Northwestern, which defeated two-seeded Maryland in penalty kicks on Sunday afternoon for the right to play Indiana in the semifinals.
Although it won't be the chance at vengeance against the Terrapins that some Hoosiers were hoping for, a second postseason match at home makes it a much easier pill to swallow.
"There's part of the group that really wanted to go to Maryland, to be honest with you," Yeagley said, "because it left a bitter taste. But any time you can play in front of your home fans, it trumps anything."
Todd Yeagley couldn't have scripted it any better -- the weather, the performance, the final result.
If there was ever a time and place for Indiana to honor its departing seniors on Senior Night, it was Wednesday night in Bloomington against a VCU team who entered as one of IU's most dangerous non-conference opponents and exited with a 4-0 beatdown at the hands of the Hoosiers.
But beyond the 90-minute, one-sided affair that had Bill Armstrong Stadium's crowd on the edge of its seat all match, there was one particular moment that trumped all else in Yeagley's eyes: "For the seniors... It was great to get them all on the field."
As all four seniors trotted on and off Jerry Yeagley Field for one of the last time's in their careers, the moment became bigger. It was almost as if each of the quartet became different embodiments of the very pillars that IU's program has rested on for decades.
First, there's Isaac Sarosy -- the four-year walk-on who came to the program knowing playing time would likely be sparse, yet still worked his tail off every single day in training as if he were a key contributor.
Next, there's Joe Schmidt -- the 5-foot-9, tough-as-nails midfielder who's been charged with leading Yeagley's so-called 'engine room' in the midfield, a role that is arguably as important as any in the program.
Then, there's Nyk Sessock -- the only player on IU's roster who didn't start his career in Bloomington but came via the transfer portal, and has stabilized the right-back position since the moment he arrived.
Finally, there's Spencer Glass -- the six-year veteran who had to wait his turn for three years, stuck behind the likes of MAC Hermann Trophy winner Andrew Gutman, before finally ascending to the role of IU's unflappable left-back and unquestioned captain.
Four seniors. Four entirely different journeys and roles. One night to soak it all in.
"It's always good to put a team away early and get some other guys on the field that you want to see," Glass said. "To get Isaac out there and Trey (Kapsalis) and some other guys, yeah, couldn't ask for anymore."
Not only did Indiana put away VCU early, it did so in less than 11 minutes from the first touch.
All-American striker Victor Bezerra opened the scoring just 2 minutes, 50 seconds into the match as freshman Sam Sarver threaded a pass between three Rams defenders to a streaking Bezzera, who promptly buried his sixth goal of the season with a toe-tap shot to the far post.
But the Hoosiers weren't satisfied with one early goal, and Sarver wasn't satisfied with only the assist. So in the 11th minute, Glass sent a cross inside the 6-yard box that dipped and dodged its way past VCU's last line of defense and found Sarver all alone at the far post for the tap-in score.
Ten minutes and 26 seconds. That's all the time it took for Indiana to assert itself on its home turf, and VCU seemingly had no answer. In fact, across the full 90 minutes the Rams mustered just one lone shot and three corner kicks compared to IU's 20 shots -- seven on frame -- and 17 set piece opportunities. Indiana junior goalkeeper Roman Celentano didn't even face a single VCU shot on target.
After leading 2-0 at halftime, Indiana eventually tacked on two more goals in the second half for good measure. Sarver secured a brace in the 52nd minute as he volleyed a cross from Herbert Endeley to give IU a 3-0 cushion, then Ryan Wittenbrink put the final stamp on the match with a 57th-minute laser from the top of the 18-yard box -- his third goal of the season.
From opening whistle to final whistle the Hoosiers seemingly never fell out of control, much to Yeagley's pleasure.
"It was a really sharp performance from the whole group," Yeagley said. "To give a team of VCU's quality... just, like, not many dangerous attacks says a lot."
And in particular, Sarver's five points especially stood out to Yeagley among the litany of other IU positives.
"Getting Sam two goals was really a big moment tonight for us," Yeagley said. "He's been up and down the last six, seven games. He started really bright, and he's playing well in training, and we thought tonight would be a game to get him hopefully rolling and he rolled."
Perhaps lost in the pomp and circumstance of IU's dominant victory and extension of its seven-match shutout streak, however, is Glass, who tallied his second assist of the season but has looked healthier and healthier as the season has progressed.
Of course, a return to top form was never going to be easy for Glass after suffering a broken leg just seven months ago on March 27, and his steadily improving play is evidence of that. But even when he's not contributing tangible statistics, it's his calmness and demeanor that has meant even more for the Hoosiers.
Take, for example, IU's run to the College Cup last season. Glass could've opted to stay home and rehab, rather than traveling to Cary, North Carolina, and entering the quarantine bubble with the Hoosiers. But what kind of captain would he be if he simply chose to sulk in his own misfortunes?
"Spencer's been a really important player for our program," Yeagley said, "and the way he was able to support the team last year -- one of the most difficult years any kid could have, dealing with COVID and the season and his own personal setback with the broken leg -- he was phenomenal.
"The whole entire NCAA Tournament run he was right by the team, encouraging them and leading and supporting. He's a great teammate."
It all came full circle for Glass on Senior Night, his leg finally "100 percent", per himself, and his presence manifesting both on the final scoresheet and in the final result.
That kind of leadership and resiliency, Yeagley said, is something all current and future Hoosiers can learn from.
"He's also just a great example of a player that came in and was obviously heralded," Yeagley said, "but took some time to find his way, and redshirted, kind of supported Andrew Gutman, and (became) the starter. That's the story other players need to know.
"It may not be an instant, but if you wait and you continue to develop then -- obviously he's an All-American, he's got opportunities at the next level, there's all kinds of things coming Spencer Glass's way."
But those future opportunities will have to wait a little bit longer because Glass and the senior class still have unfinished business to tend to: a fourth-straight Big Ten Double and, of course, the coveted ninth national championship.
If Wednesday's penultimate regular season match against VCU was any indication, the Hoosiers may not be too far off from having a chance at accomplishing those goals.
Now, Indiana turns its full attention to Sunday's regular season finale at Maryland with the Big Ten regular-season title on the line.
As for the IU's mission heading into College Park, Glass puts it succinctly.
"Dominate... A win is all we want."
It's been quite a few weeks since we last chatted in column form, huh? A lot of that is in large part my fault with everything else going on in the Indiana athletics sphere, so I'll try to make to make it up to you today.
But oh man, do we have quite the Indiana men's soccer hysteria to catch up on. It's not like the Hoosiers have won eight of their last nine matches and recorded six-straight shutouts or anything. Well, actually, that's exactly what has happened in the last month.
With all that being said, I have a bunch of thoughts, you clicked on this article for a reason, so let's not waste anymore time.
(Note: Myself and Jack Edwards have a weekly IU men's soccer podcast that's seven episodes in, and includes several notable guests. Feel free to check out all previous episodes by clicking here.)
Indiana men's soccer operates like a factory -- bringing in green, unseasoned freshmen and spitting out professional-ready players four or five years later. It's a system that has allowed the Hoosiers to remain atop college soccer's kingdom despite losing impact players on an annual basis.
But Tommy Mihalic isn't your typical freshman. He arrived in Bloomington last spring, watched and studied from the sidelines as Indiana fell just one game short of a ninth national title, and knew his moment would eventually come.
On Sunday night against Wisconsin, Mihalic's moment finally came in the 106th minute, penning his name alongside some of the dramatic golden-goals in recent memory at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
A well-played cross into the six-yard box from Ryan Wittenbrink. A heroic header from Brett Bebej to keep the ball inbounds. A perfectly-placed pass from Daniel Munie over the top of Wisconsin goalkeeper Carter Abbott. That's what it took to set up the game-winner.
And then there was Mihalic, who never gave his next move a second thought: "I knew once Munie got the header on net, it followed me and I got there at the right time."
The 5-foot-11 midfielder, calm, cool and composed, squirmed past Wisconsin's last line of defense and buried the golden goal with a simple flick of his head.
Cue the pandemonium.
Ryan Wittenbrink couldn't help but smile when he heard the news late Wednesday night.
"We've decided to credit Ryan with the goal tonight," an IU spokesperson announced.
"Lets go!" Wittenbrink blurted out, a sense of euphoria overcoming his face. "That's huge!"
For a player who ranked second on the Hoosiers last season in goals scored and points, the redshirt junior had largely struggled to replicate that same success this season. He entered Wednesday's match against Evansville with just one goal to his name, which came against Division II Trine University a few weeks ago.
But this late in the season, it doesn't matter how the goals come nor the circumstances surrounding them. All that matters is that they count, and Wittenbrink's tally in the 72nd minute was the final dagger the Hoosiers needed to put away the Purple Aces, 2-0, in Bloomington.
"We feel great, we're clicking on all cylinders," Wittenbrink said.
For several minutes, though, even after the crowd at Bill Armstrong Stadium had cleared out, there was still no indication if Wittenbrink would be awarded his coveted second goal of the season. Not even the PA Announcer was sure how to call out the goal.
But make no mistake, Wittenbrink did everything in his power to create his own so-called luck.
The winning moment began with the Libertyville, Illinois, native making a run down the left flank and a lone Evansville defender in hot pursuit. Though Wittenbrink won the foot race to the ball, he paid the price by taking a hard tackle, falling to the ground and writhing in pain -- embellished or not.
Yellow card against Evansville's Francesco Brunetti.
The showmanship worked, and Wittenbrink popped right back up to his feet as if nothing happened. This was his free-kick and he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. Within seconds the ball launched off his right foot like a cannon, weaved through the first wall of defense, deflected off an Evansville player's head and snuck past goalkeeper Jacob Madden's out-stretched arms.
Wittenbrink kept the celebration short and sweet: a simple fist pump as he turned toward Indiana's bench.
After a goal like that, though, for one of IU's most lethal weapons marred in a season-long slump, the celebration couldn't have come in a more timely manner.
"Witt(enbrink) was a big piece of our attack last year," Indiana head coach Yeagley said. "To bring him off the bench, we said you're a starting level, but when the game kind of settles for a moment he's at his best. And it's just been working for us with him in that role."
The latter can probably be said about most of Indiana's pieces in the second half of the season. After stumbling to a 5-3-1 record to begin a campaign filled with high aspirations, the Hoosiers have seemingly found themselves in the last month, recording five-straight clean sheets and winning seven of their last eight matches.
One of IU's major catalysts for its late resurgence has been a return to top form for reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Victor Bezerra. Since Oct. 1 -- when IU lost 2-1 against Michigan -- Bezerra has scored five goals, dished out three assists and tallied 13 points. And against Evansville, he struck again.
It came off a well-executed set piece in the 24th minute as the Hoosiers were awarded a free-kick from just outside Evansville's 18-yard box. Senior midfielder Joe Schmidt and Bezerra both hovered over the dormant ball -- a strategy they've employed a few times before to keep the opponent guessing -- but everyone in Armstrong Stadium knew who was taking the shot.
As soon as the whistle blew, Schmidt simply tapped the ball backward to Bezerra who uncorked a shot to the left of the net and tucked it just inside the bottom post.
It was a goal that would've been the norm last season for the Hoosiers, but after struggling to finish set pieces with the same success rate, Bezerra's finishing ability was a welcome sight for fans.
"Our set pieces are certainly a strength," Wittenbrink said, "I think you've seen that last year and this year. It helps us, if we can't get a goal in open play, we can get goals on set pieces, so it just makes us more dynamic."
And set pieces won't be the only aspect that will determine Indiana's true ceiling this season. Defense will, too.
Only now, at least within the last three weeks, something has seemingly clicked for IU in all phases.
"We haven't had some of those self-inflicted moments," Yeagley said, "and I think that's what was hard (earlier in the season). When you're team hasn't had that -- this particular team and program -- it kind of rattled them. They kind of weren't understanding like 'well, why is this happening? We've never had these moments.'
"You can look at the first three or four games and see those giveaways, either a poor clear, a lack of communication... things we really pride ourselves on. But we didn't panic, and we said we really have to clean this stuff up."
So far, the clean up is well underway, and it has been since the Hoosiers' 2-1 loss against Rutgers on Sept. 17.
With just three games left in the regular season -- two against Wisconsin and Maryland, and a final non-conference test in VCU -- Indiana continues to inch closer to the team that went to the College Cup last season, rather than the team plagued by injuries, inconsistencies and uncharacteristic mistakes at the beginning of the season.
But even now, Yeagley will be the first to tell you that the real work is only beginning, and not until the Hoosiers are hoisting a fourth-straight Big Ten trophy over its head will he be satisfied.
"We still can grow," Yeagley said. "...We've got a couple more guys that I feel are still growing and learning, whether it's an experienced guy getting fully back healthy and sharp, or a freshman or sophomore getting to learn how to play with each other more."
Sometimes all you need is a little luck.
For Indiana on Sunday afternoon in Happy Valley, the luck came in the form of a Penn State own-goal in the 75th minute initiated by senior right-back Nyk Sessock, giving IU the late advantage necessary to finish off a 1-0 road win.
After 74 minutes of frenetic play and a howling wind blowing the ball every which way, all it took for Sessock and the Hoosiers was a curving pass into the 18-yard box that deflected off the head of Penn State defender Brandon Hackenberg, sending the ball whizzing past Penn State goalkeeper Kris Shakes and into the back of the net.
There was nothing Shakes could do but slam his fists into the ground in a fit of frustration and confoundment.
Though it probably wasn't the manner in which Indiana envisioned stealing a crucial conference victory, the bottom line is this -- the Hoosiers desperately needed three points to keep their Big Ten regular season title hopes alive, and it didn't matter what form or fashion it happened.
Now the circumstances become this -- the Hoosiers and Nittany Lions tied atop the Big Ten standings with two weeks left in the regular season, just as it was a season ago at the exact same time in the conference calendar.
But for a large portion of the match, up until the decisive 75th minute, an Indiana win was no guarantee. In fact, with as much attacking pressure and advancing success as Penn State was having, the Hoosiers likely would've been content with escaping Jeffrey Field with a draw.
The blustery weather conditions certainly didn't help either side, also. Whether it was set pieces sucked into the air stream, corner kicks that hurdled several feet too high and several feet out of bounds, or shots that had no prayer of going on frame as the wind swiped them away, a near-perfect defensive effort was needed to pull out a win.
Roman Celentano and Kris Shakes, step right up.
It was a matchup between two of the Big Ten's best goalkeepers, Celentano the reigning Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, and Shakes a three-year lynchpin between the pipes for the Nittany Lions. The end product did not disappoint.
In just the first half alone Celentano and Shakes combined to save nine shots, five for the former and four for the latter. Without each goalkeepers Herculean-like efforts inside the six-yard box, the end result would've looked entirely different.
No moment encapsulated the goalkeeping joust more eloquently than in 37th minute, when Celentano sprawled out to deny two Nittany Lions shots within a 14 second frame. But less than six minutes later, Shakes had the last laugh of the half, besting Indiana freshman Tommy Mihalic on a shot seemingly headed for the back of the net.
After 45 scoreless minutes and each side firing six shots apiece, it became a matter of which side could fend off the fatal mistake the long. And in the second half, with the wind at Indiana's back and time ticking down, it was clear that Penn State wasn't going to budge -- at least not a team so disciplined and fundamentally sound.
So Sessock took matters into his own hands. If the Nittany Lions weren't going to beat themselves, Sessock had to force the Nittany Lions to beat themselves, both figuratively and literally.
In the end, one final pass earmarked for chaos inside Penn State's box proved to be the difference, Hackenberg's head colliding with Sessock's pass at just the right angle to sneak the ball into the bottom right corner.
On an afternoon when the Hoosiers had a golden chance to exorcise its early season struggles and firmly re-establish their presence in the Big Ten race, they effectively did just that in a hostile road environment and against a team which had yet to lose a conference game this season.
Winners of six of its last seven matches, Indiana is starting to play like the team many anticipated at the beginning of the season.
And that team is an awfully daunting proposition -- for the Big Ten and nationally.
It was only a matter of time, and Maouloune Goumballe knew it.
Whether it was his first goal of the season or Indiana finally stringing together a consistent run of results, one way or another, in Goumballe's mind, both outcomes were bound to come to fruition sooner than later.
And on Tuesday night under the lights at Bill Armstrong Stadium, the junior forward spoke it into existence as Indiana handled Ohio State, 3-0, in arguably the Hoosiers' most complete performance of the season. Goumballe, freshman Tommy Mihalic and junior Brett Bebej each netted a goal, while All-American goalkeeper Roman Celentano denied four shots to lead IU to a crucial conference victory.
"It's a Big Ten game, and obviously we knew it was going to be a big game for both teams," Goumballe said after the match. "We wanted to come in and put 'em down early."
The match wasn't just an ordinary conference tilt for Indiana, though. And neither was the collective sigh of relief and joy as the scoreboard ran down and read 00:00.
The Hoosiers were playing for so much more against the Buckeyes -- they were playing for associate head coach and longtime Indiana assistant Kevin Robson, who could not attend the game due to the recent passing of his father, IU head coach Todd Yeagley announced after the match.
"This is a game that our players obviously wanted to win for his family," Yeagley said. "... We kind of dedicated this game to Kevin."
With the added motivation and 2,154 roaring fans in its corner, the Hoosiers came out firing from the opening whistle.
In the 18th minute, Mihalic and junior forward Herbert Endeley teamed up to break into the scoring column first.
Endeley danced his way to the top of the 18-yard box before curving a nifty pass to the streaking Mihalic on the left flank. After a momentary pause to dissect his options, coupled with a savvy run from senior left-back Spencer Glass to move Ohio State's backline out of position, Mihalic blasted a bending shot to the far post that Buckeyes goalkeeper Noah Lawrence had little chance at saving.
"Tommy scored a phenomenal goal, but Spencer's run created that moment," Yeagley said, "and we've been asking for those moments when we watch video."
Perhaps the biggest moment of the night didn't come until the final seconds of the first half, however, as Sam Sarver outran and outmuscled Ohio State's final line of defense to chase down a long IU pass. With nothing but open space ahead for Sarver, Buckeyes defender Owen Sullivan had no choice but to yank the freshman forward down from behind, which elicited a brisk and immediate red card.
It was a massive blow for Ohio State, not only as Sullivan's night came to a close due to the automatic ejection, but that the Buckeyes had to endure 45 more minutes in enemy territory with just 10 players on the field.
The end result -- a hole far too deep for the Buckeyes to crawl out of.
"The red card changed the game," Yeagley said. "Sammy (Sarver) has drawn three penalties this year. His speed and his opportunistic mentality really changed the game."
With the Hoosiers leading 1-0 at halftime and harnessing the man advantage thanks to Mihalic and Sarver, a chance to put the stubborn Buckeyes away for good sat on a proverbial silver platter.
Though playing with leads earlier in the season has caused IU problems, Goumballe wasn't going to let his moment slip, especially not with three pivotal points in the Big Ten standings up for grabs.
In the 64th minute, celebration ensued.
A misplayed ball from Ohio State's midfield allowed Victor Bezerra, Goumballe and the Hoosiers to mount a quick counter-attack. It began with the All-American Bezerra, who methodically toed his way to the top of the 18-yard box despite having two defenders draped on him. Goumballe followed closely on his tail.
Then, in an instant, Bezerra left the ball behind for Goumablle who found a slight window of opportunity and rifled a shot past Lawrence from about 20 yards out.
"I know I was hungry for a goal," Goumballe said. "I knew if I just put my head down and kept working hard, the goals would come, and it came today."
Saddled with a 2-0 lead late, sophomore defender Lawson Redmond assisted Bebej in the 85th minute to put the final touches on Indiana's triumph and Ohio State's last gasp of breath.
It wasn't just the high-flying Hoosiers' attack that lifted them over the Buckeyes, though. It was also All-American goalkeeper Roman Celentano, who before Tuesday night hadn't been mentioned much this season compared to his breakout 2020-21 campaign that saw him earn Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year honors.
Of course, conceding just six goals over an entire season that ended with a run to the National Championship was never going to be easy to replicate. Not for Celentano, and certainly not for a vast majority of goalkeepers at any level.
But against Ohio State, Celentano solidified himself once more with the Hoosier fanbase -- though it's not like he had much more to prove to begin with.
Whether it was punching away with a closed fist a slew of dangerous set pieces and corner kicks inside the 6-yard box, or denying all four shots on frame that the Buckeyes generated, Celentano refused to add a blemish to IU's otherwise clean score sheet.
"He made one or two big saves that you need a keeper to make," Yeagley said. "I also feel Roman is getting back into his best form."
And Yeagley's right. Following an underwhelming start to the season in which the 6-foot-2 Celentano allowed nine goals in the Hoosiers' first seven games, questions began to mount, both internally and externally.
Since then, Celentano has seemingly regained his focus and swagger, recording four shutouts in the last five matches.
"The first half of the season, he hasn't given up that many goals in years," Yeagley said. "It rattled him a little bit, too... I think now he is in rhythm."
That rhythm is one the Hoosiers are hoping to sustain, not just for a brief period, but for the entirety of the season.
Sure, IU has yet to meet the lofty expectations set forth at the beginning of the season. But if the recent string of performances, especially Tuesday night, is any indication, the Hoosiers just might be coming together at the most opportune time.
And this version of Indiana, if permanent, is a daunting proposition for the Big Ten and the entire nation.
"We're definitely seeing results in front of the goal, which we were missing in the first half of the season," Goumballe said. "Things are are starting to click offensively, and I definitely think we're starting to find our stride."
Todd Yeagley felt it building. Tick, Tick, Tick.
Spencer Glass felt it coming. Tick, Tick, Tick.
Victor Bezerra felt it happening. Tick, Tick, Tick.
The 1,511 fans at Armstrong Stadium that braved intermittent storms for over two hours felt it dragging. Tick, Tick, Tick.
Late Wednesday night in rain-soaked Bloomington, it was a matter of when, not if.
Surely it was coming late in the first half, right? No? Definitely early in the second half, then? Fine, but there's no way it doesn't happen in the first overtime time period, huh?
Tick, Tick, Tick. After 109 minutes, still nothing. Tick, Tick, Tick.
Then, with just 23 seconds remaining: pandemonium. No more ticking, just the screams from crimson-colored jerseys as they dashed across the field toward the opposite sideline to tackle the Hoosier hero.
All Bezerra could do was stand there and wait for the crimson-clad mob to trample him and pile on. All Omaha players could do was crumble to the ground in exhaustion and disappointment, a sea of white jerseys strewn across the field.
It was a scene befitting the occasion as Bezerra and the Hoosiers pulled off a last-second heist, scoring a golden goal in the 110th minute to topple Omaha, 1-0, in double overtime.
"I felt all day that it was coming," IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. "I felt that the group maybe could smell it a little bit, that there was a sense of urgency but not panic throughout the game."
For more reasons than one, Indiana's win was perhaps as crucial as any this season.
While, sure, a draw or loss to a struggling non-conference foe at home would've been disastrous, a poor performance leading to a draw or a loss might've been the final dagger to sink IU's confidence to unforeseen levels.
But it didn't play out that way. Bezerra wouldn't let it. Glass wouldn't let it. And the Hoosiers, for nearly two hours worth of match time, surviving missed chance after missed chance, wouldn't let it.
The end result was sweet for Indiana and its fans, but the circumstances in which it happened, not even Yeagley could've scripted it more eloquently.
"It's the perfect scenario in the end, winning in overtime," Yeagley said. "I don't like going to overtime many times, but I felt like this one was really good for our group."
The perfect scenario was certainly just that -- perfect.
It started with the Hoosiers mounting one last attack as time dwindled down and the final whistle was all but ready to be blown.
Glass, the All-American left-back, danced with the ball briefly on the left flank. His neon green cleats flashed under the bright lights of Jerry Yeagley Field with every decisive touch. His head remaining upright as he surveyed his options.
Then, in instant, the ball was gone, floating through the night sky, darting around a sliding Omaha defender, and landing at the feet of the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
All it took was two touches from Bezerra: one to settle down the ball, a second to uncork a laser past the outstretched mitts of Omaha goalkeeper Nathanael Sallah and into the top left corner. Cue the pandemonium.
"That situation I've been in so many times that it's kind of second nature," Bezerra said. "I know what to do with the ball, I know what the first touch is in order to finish, so [I was] definitely more composed more than anything else."
Indiana head men's soccer coach Todd Yeagley made his way up to the press box in seemingly record time on Friday night. Though IU fell 2-1 in overtime to Michigan -- the Hoosiers' third home loss of the season -- Yeagley's demeanor and words painted a much different picture.
Maybe he had places to be or obligations to fulfill. Or perhaps his mind was wandering, and rather than linger around the locker room or inside IU's soccer complex, Yeagley just wanted to get away and clear his head as quickly as possible.
For a program whose external expectations this fall teetered on College Cup or bust, a 5-3-1 overall record is seemingly trending toward the latter. Case and point, a squandered 1-0 lead against the Wolverines when all the Hoosiers had to do was just hang on for 23 more minutes.
But in Yeagley's eyes, he can live with a loss if the effort and performance indicate positive momentum forward.
"We played well today in most phases, honestly," Yeagley said. "It was a good performance in a lot of ways."
Maybe that's the reason he was so eager to march up to the press box for the post-match press conference.
After all, what else is there for a head coach to say when he feels his team left it all out on the field and displayed one of their best all-around performances of the season?
The answer: well, not much.
"If we perform like that, continue to create chances, we'll be fine," Yeagley said. "The margins get smaller as we go forward."
And there's a case to be made that Indiana's match-to-match improvement this season is something worth hanging its hat on. Take Friday night, for example.
Sure, the result wasn't in IU's favor, but when all was said and done, Indiana outclassed Michigan in nearly every statistical category -- shots (IU 14, Michigan 10); shots on goal (IU 8, Michigan 5), fouls (IU 8, Michigan 16), corner kicks (IU 7, Michigan 6).
Perhaps even more important and encouraging, All-American forward Victor Bezerra finally opened his scoring account after being held scoreless for nine-straight matches to begin the season.
The tally came in the 68th minute following a hard tackle on junior forward Herbert Endeley inside the 18-yard box, which prompted a whistle and a penalty-kick signal. Anyone could've stepped up to take the shot, but Yeagley only had one person in mind: Bezerra.
"Whether it's a penalty or a free kick or a great play, it's important for him to get a goal," Yeagley said. "We didn't hesitate, obviously, to put him on that (penalty kick)."
And the decision paid off, for both IU and Bezerra, as he tucked a shot past the outstretched arms of Michigan goalkeeper Hayden Evans and buried the go-ahead goal just inside the left goal post.
The 1-nil lead likely should've been the talk of the match after 90 minutes had passed. Ditto, IU's end-to-end advantage over Michigan.
But the Wolverines had other ideas in mind, namely an 81st-minute goal off a free kick from Evan Rasmussen to the the game, and the golden-goal winner in the 93rd minute from Derick Broche off a throw-in.
All that good work done by the Hoosiers over 80 minutes -- poof, gone.
"Our sport can be tough and cruel," Yeagley said. "It's tough margins, like I said, and it's one play that changes the complexion (of the match)."
Even beyond the performance, the result or the final box score, though, Yeagley said leaving the fans with a sense of disappointment is what bothers him most.
"We have such a great fanbase, the students have been awesome, the fans have been great," Yeagley said. "So you want to reward them, you want them to leave excited... I feel for the fans because they usually leave Armstrong (Stadium) smiling, as we all do, and it's not easy to drop one."
But it hasn't been just one. It's now three home losses this season, with a conference schedule that isn't getting any easier moving forward.
Is it a foreshadow of just how large the parity within the Big Ten has gotten? An omen of a league that's finally catching up to Indiana's once-dominant ways?
Perhaps it's still too early to tell, but as Indiana sits following its most recent loss, there's significant work to be done if the Hoosiers want to make win a fourth-straight Big Ten Double.
However, Yeagley isn't thinking that far ahead. He's thinking about the present, and the present dictates that positive results need to come -- immediately.
"We've gotta get results, we all know that," Yeagley said. "But if we continue to perform on and off like we've been at times this year, we're not gonna get where we want to go, so we've gotta get that piece."
Indiana head men's soccer coach Todd Yeagley had one simple request for his team prior to the Hoosiers' road match against Northwestern on Tuesday night: "Just go out and play."
The message might seem nominal or cliché, right? But what else is the head coach supposed to say when his team, just a few months removed from playing for a National Championship, can't seem to gel together?
Talent hasn't been the issue for Indiana either -- rarely is it ever. Rather, it's been a slog of matches that have left the Hoosiers appearing disjointed and tense. Yeagley has even admitted so.
Thus, entering Tuesday night's showdown, IU found itself in unfamiliar territory -- with a 3-2-1 overall record, 0-1 in Big Ten play, and unranked in the United Soccer Coaches' poll for the first time since 2015.
If there was ever a place and opponent for Indiana to regain its championship pedigree and swagger -- no matter how marginal -- against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., presented that opportunity.
And the Hoosiers did just that by scoring two unanswered goals in the second half to out-duel the Wildcats in a 2-1 road triumph. Goals from freshman Samuel Sarver in the 47th minute and junior Herbert Endeley in the 52nd minute capped off arguably IU's best half, from start to finish, that it's played all season.
But the first 45 minutes didn't inspire much confidence in IU's impending second half barrage.
With a steady, gusty wind blowing at Northwestern's back, and a slick playing surface at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium, the weather conditions from the onset already put Indiana at a slight disadvantage in the first half. Making matters even tougher for the Hoosiers was a revamped Starting XI which saw Sarver, Endeley and Patrick McDonald retreat to the bench in favor of Quinten Helmer, Maouloune Goumballe and Ryan Wittenbrink.
While the rotation changes doled out by Yeagley proved to be savvy in hindsight, it was a starting lineup combination that had yet to previously play together at once, and it showed throughout the first half. So did the unfavorable weather.
Six minutes was all the Wildcats needed to break through IU's backline and strike first. A perfectly placed through-ball from Northwestern's Justin Weiss allowed forward Vincente Castro to sneak behind Indiana's final line of defense, use a bit of fancy footwork, and tap in a goal past IU goalkeeper Roman Celentano and defender Spencer Glass.
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley can't quite put his finger on it yet.
Is it something schematically that's gone awry? Does the rotation and personnel need a shakeup? Why does this season's squad seemingly lack the fire and energy of past Hoosiers teams?
These are some of the questions that have been asked to Yeagley in various postgame press conferences this season. If Yeagley had the answers, though, No. 11 Indiana probably wouldn't have suffered a 2-1 loss against Rutgers on Friday night to open Big Ten play, the Hoosiers first loss to the Scarlet Knights since Sep. 20, 2015.
"The spirit wasn't great tonight, I don't know why that was the case," Yeagley said. "We've had a couple of those nights. Not a lot of joy in their play, so we've got to kind of reset them."
But how does that joy simply disappear, and where has it gone? For a team that returned nearly its entire roster and was just one win away from a National Championship a season ago, these don't look like the same Hoosiers.
Across six matches this season, Indiana has already conceded eight goals, with Rutgers adding two more to that tally. Last season, IU allowed just six goals the entire season. While potentially alarming on the surface, it's a microcosm of IU's struggles all season to this point.
"I don't know if the expectations of the job not finished last year (National Championship) for the returners and new guys are weighing on them," Yeagley said. "I'm not sure. We don't talk about it, but in the back of their minds it might be."
Against the Scarlet Knights, a team that hadn't scored a single goal against the Hoosiers since 2015, much less win, outplayed their counterpart in nearly every facet. Rutgers finished the match with the edge in shots (9) and shots on goal (4), while Indiana could muster only eight shots and three on frame.
For a brief time Friday night, though, IU showed glimpses of its old self -- of a team that was unified, confident and free. Redshirt junior defender Daniel Munie's goal in the 23rd minute injected life and poise into the home team. Freshman Sam Sarver and Tommy Mihalic were making runs and creating chances as if they were savvy, seasoned veterans. All-American goalkeeper Roman Celentano denied a pair of Rutgers' chances with sprawling saves.
The match result was within Indiana's clutches. All it had to do was fend off a surging Rutgers side for one more half. But as the clock ticked on, the Hoosiers began to show signs of breaking, as if they weren't quite sure how to play with the lead.
That uncertainty and conservative mindset ultimately led to IU's downfall, first beginning in the 58th minute when Rutgers forward Nico Rosamilia banged home the equalizer after IU couldn't clear the ball out of their own 18-yard box. The same issues arose again in the 70th minute, when IU failed to clear a loose, second-chance ball inside the box and Rutgers' Jackson Temple tapped in the game-winner just past Celentano's outstretched fingertips.
With IU playing from behind in the final 20 minutes, the energy and momentum from earlier seemingly never returned despite Yeagley's best efforts to tinker with the lineup. Brett Bebej logged 42 minutes in the midfield, Nate Ward saw 36 minutes of action, Quinten Helmer went on for 31 minutes, the list of IU substitutes goes on.
No matter what Yeagley tried in the final minutes, the result appeared to be written in stone already.
"We can't expect to win a lot of games when a lot of guys have below-average performances," Yeagley said. "And, again, there's got to be things we did this week that we could've done better as a [coaching] staff."
Maybe it's not even something tangible, on the field, that can or needs to be fixed.
Maybe it just comes down to the personality of the Hoosiers and their identity this season, one that lacks the spark that's required in close matches.
"The personality has to develop on the team," Yeagley said. "And we're trying to bring that out, either through encouragement, giving guys a bigger role, or maybe we need different guys on the field at different times."
Whatever Yeagley tries in the coming days, he better hope it comes to fruition sooner than later. Because as Big Ten play continues full-steam ahead, the proverbial train isn't going to wait for Indiana to figure itself.
The Hoosiers get their next crack at discovering their personality on Tuesday night as they head north to Evanston, Ill., to take on Northwestern.
"With regards to Northwestern, [the message] is just go out and play," Yeagley said. "It's as simple as that. Just get out and play and compete... This will be put behind us."
Repeat after me: rankings and results don’t matter right now.
No. 9 Indiana and No. 16 Akron played to a 1-1 draw Friday night, moving IU to 3-1-1 on the season. But for a program that opened the season ranked second in the country and moved to first after just a week, this result will be viewed by many as a frustrating start.
But the draw brought many positives, and the next step is to carry this performance into Big Ten play next Friday. Akron is the best team Indiana has played this year, in terms of ranking, and the Hoosiers matched them in every aspect of the game, even in a hostile road environment.
The score line suggests a compact, cagey match between two top-20 teams not looking to expose themselves defensively. Under the surface, however, a combined 33 shots and two sensational goal-keeping performances from IU’s Roman Celentano and Akron’s Will Meyer made for a thrilling match between two teams who should make waves late in the season.
Indiana had the opportunities to win the match, though, and Indiana probably should have won the match.
All-American striker Victor Bezerra generated two great looks in the second half, both within 12 yards of Meyer in the Zips net, yet was denied twice. Senior captain Joe Schmidt played two great passes into the 6-yard box that didn’t find a Hoosier, yet were tap-ins if the runs were just a second or two earlier.
By leaving these chances on the table, after Daniel Munie flicked a Bezerra cross into the corner of the net to open the scoring, Akron was still in the match. Indiana’s lone defensive lapse allowed Diogo Pacheco to slide a shot past Celentano to level things up less than a minute after Munie’s goal in the 66th minute.
While it’s fair to criticize IU’s midfield’s reaction and restart after Munie’s goal -- which led to Akron’s equalizer -- it’s no surprise the best performance of the season from Schmidt and freshman Patrick McDonald coincided with Indiana’s best team performance.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: Akron’s goal came from a delayed run by Pacheco, who found a pocket of space on the inside of the 18-yard box to slide a shot on frame. McDonald and Schmidt weren’t in position after the resumption of play, and left the defense out to dry.
Beyond that, Indiana dominated the midfield battle for large spells of the game. McDonald and Schmidt supported and covered any forays into the attack the other made, and showed marked improvement in their ability to handle the opposition in transition.
The role of Munie also continues to fascinate: after playing in midfield for a period of the Creighton match, he continues to regularly step out of the defense to operate as a defensive midfielder at times.
The shape of Indiana looked great, with Bezerra regularly pulling players into the match, Samuel Sarver’s movement continuing to impress, and Herbert Endeley having his best performance of the season in my eyes as well.
While a draw might not be the result IU or its fans were hoping for, the overall performance was certainly encouraging.
NON-CON SLATE: WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Head coach Todd Yeagley said earlier in the season he wanted to schedule tough opponents that would give Indiana different looks to open the campaign. The draw with Akron was Indiana’s last non-conference outing until October, with the start of Big Ten play less than a week away.
So, what have we learned from the five non-conference matches? Let’s go game by game:
The Notre Dame match was the Indiana of the spring season holding over: not particularly pretty, but did just enough to edge it on the day with a 3-2 overtime win. The emotion and excitement of Ben Yeagley’s golden-goal drowned out any real critiques of the opportunities Indiana conceded.
Butler felt the same, not particularly exciting, but handled a team with less talent and kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win. But the red flags still existed: a goal-line clearance from Lawson Redmon and several great Celentano saves made the scoreline better than the match looked.
Then Creighton. Boy was that ugly. 3-0 loss, at home, with a huge crowd at Bill Armstrong Stadium behind the team. Though Bezerra was sidelined due to injury, the issues of the first two matches cropped up again, and Indiana didn’t have it in them to squeak it out on the day. After the match, Yeagley said that the reason for the leakiness of the defense escaped him. Indiana has talent, they have experience, yet they couldn’t stop conceding chances.
The 1-0 win to Xavier dispelled some concerns. The clean sheet was big, the attitude and effort was improved, yet it still was clearly Indiana with more potential to grow into.
Akron will wrap up the five matches nicely. Sure, five wins would be great, but Yeagley and his squad will benefit more from the lessons they’ve learned now, rather than when the result is all that matters. Defensively, Indiana looked better. 16 shots allowed is quite high on paper, but the actual quality of the chance, and Akron’s ability to break Indiana down was largely nullified.
Last season, Indiana won 12 of their 16 matches, and went to the National Championship. They did it by having the best attribute a team can have: they knew how to win.
But if Indiana is to truly evolve as a team, they won’t do the bare minimum to win: they’ll dominate en route to victory.
The signs and talent are there. Now it’s time to kick it into gear.
Indiana’s first five match to begin the season (since 2017):
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."
Nyk Sessock and Sam Sarver clutched separate IU-emblazoned flags high above their heads, their hands steadily swinging back and forth.
A quick glance at the opposite sideline and you might’ve thought a few rogue students, affectionately known as the 'Hoosier Army', hopped the boards to celebrate No. 1 Indiana’s 1-0 triumph over Butler.
A second, longer glance clearly makes out crimson silhouettes of the senior right back and freshman forward running back and forth along the boards, flags still hoisted high above their heads.
The occasion? Oh, just the first regular-season home game with fans at Bill Armstrong Stadium in nearly two years, with a win over an in-state rival to improve to 2-0 overall making it that much sweeter.
“This was different,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said of the crowd. “As we fatigued in the second half, no doubt the crowd was a huge part in us getting through that phase that we were in a little bit of a funk. I just want to thank the fans, in particular the student’s were great.”
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.”
Now boarding — Dallas to Indianapolis.
Estimated flight time — Two hours.
Two hours? What’s a head men’s soccer coach and a recruiting coordinator supposed to talk about for two hours? Simple: Recruiting, recruiting and more recruiting.
So that’s what IU head coach Todd Yeagley and associate head coach Kevin Robson did in late June on a flight back to Indiana. The pair had just spent the past few days at a showcase event in Dallas. Nothing new; busy offseason recruiting is part of the job, especially for Robson who was named IU’s recruiting coordinator in 2017 and later elevated to associate head coach in early August of this year.
By week’s end, several prospects landed on IU’s radar, some probably talented enough to land an offer on the spot, others in need of more evaluating. But before any formalities could begin, Yeagley and Robson first needed to reconvene. Their cramped plane seats would have to suffice as a makeshift office, as they often do on recruiting trips.
And they talked. And talked. And talked. Not stopping until the wheels landed back on Indiana soil. “We legitimately didn’t have a break,” Robson says a month later. It’s true, recruiting waits for no one, certainly not for an eight-time national-championship program that pumps out professional players like a high-powered factory.
After nearly 10 years spent on the same coaching staff -- Yeagley taking the reins in 2009, Robson arriving in 2013 -- it’s not often that they don’t see eye to eye nowadays. The backbone of it all is an implicit trust between Yeagley and the rest of IU’s coaching staff, one where distinct responsibilities are doled out and excellence is the expectation.
But it’s also a two-way street. A mutual understanding that none of this -- the Big Ten titles, College Cup appearances, All-American selections, blue-chip commitments etc. -- happens without them.
“When you’re working for Yeags, it’s not like you’re working for him,” Robson says. “He definitely makes you feel like you have ownership in this program, and he gives you a lot of responsibilities… I almost just don’t want to let him down because of the leap of faith he took in me. That’s how I approach things, I don’t ever want to disappoint him.”
Robson had it made in the corporate world.
Within just a year of graduating from IU with a communications degree, he had already landed a job as a marketing representative with Anheuser-Busch, the $50-billion beer company. While his starting wage was nice, the job description was even sweeter.
He got to live in Boston for a year, then Denver for three more, traveling coast-to-coast to events like the Sundance Film Festival, the MLB All-Star Game, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Daytona 500, networking with top executives, climbing the corporate ladder, and beginning his life post-soccer.
After four seasons playing for the Hoosiers, winning national titles in 2003 and 2004, and a brief stint as a student coach at IU in 2007, Robson was simply ready to move on and chase new endeavors. Though soccer would always be around in some form or another, the idea of experiencing the other side of life, void of stringent practice schedules or nagging injuries, was tantalizing.
So he gave it a try. It lasted about two years.
By late 2010, he was sucked right back into the game. His mind was all-in on the corporate world, but his heart was set on coaching.
“That’s what I wanted to do most,” Robson says.
He didn’t suddenly plunge headfirst into the coaching depths and abandon the progress he’d made at Anheuser-Busch, though. The risk was too much at the time, he says. Instead, he maintained his normal day job, living in Denver at the time, while moonlighting as the head coach of the Real Colorado Soccer Club U-18 boys team.
To be back on the field and developing young players was rejuvenating for Robson, even if it was for only a few hours a week. The pinging of soccer balls off goal posts, the booming thud of cleats launching shots into the night sky, you just couldn’t replicate that symphony of sounds. It was music to Robson’s ears.
“I’d go into the office (at Anheuser-Busch), but my favorite times of the day were from 6 (p.m.) to 8 (p.m.), being with my players,” Robson says.
It was clear that coaching made Robson the happiest, even if he wasn’t ready to admit it to himself. So the juggling act continued for three more years -- account manager by day, club soccer coach by night. But this could only go on for so long before he had to make a definitive career decision, because wearing multiple hats at once wasn’t feasible long term.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to search very far for an answer.
In the summer of 2013, IU had an opening for a volunteer assistant coach. With the Hoosiers fresh off an eighth national title and Yeagley on a fast-track to reestablish IU’s place atop the college soccer kingdom, the circumstances were near-perfect. If Robson was going to bet on himself, now was the time.
“I gave up a lot of money and a good career to kind of take a chance on becoming a coach,'' Robson says. “And it’s paid off.”
In hindsight, that could not have been a bigger understatement. It took only one season as a volunteer before Yeagley promoted Robson to a full-time assistant coach. Three years later, he’d again be elevated to IU’s recruiting coordinator. And ahead of the 2021 fall season, he earned the title of associate head coach, a distinction given to only one other person, Brian Maisonnueve, in Yeagley’s 11 seasons leading the program.
All that in just eight years, not to mention the countless All-Big Ten selections, MAC Hermann Trophy finalists, Big Ten titles and College Cup appearances.
But had it not been for the time spent coaching club soccer in Denver, maybe Robson never finds his way back to Bloomington. Maybe he’s still making inroads up the corporate chain at Anheuser-Busch. Maybe soccer becomes an afterthought, of something he once was but no longer is.
Robson has no time to ponder the what-ifs.
There are recruiting battles to be won and stars to be added to the IU jersey.
Robson was standing in his kitchen when he got the phone call three years ago. It was Yeagley on the other end.
The news sounded bleak; a fierce, year-long recruiting battle for the No. 25 recruit in the nation had ceased. The decision was made. Indiana, however, didn’t seem like the final destination.
Yeagley let the disappointment stew, his soft-spoken tone slashing through Robson’s silence on the other end of the call.
Robson admits he should’ve known better, not about the recruitment but about Yeagley’s penchant for shenanigans and playful banter. Even the commitment of a generational talent couldn’t stop Yeagley from first having some fun; it’s his way of keeping situations light, no matter how tense they may be for Robson.
Then came the real news: “He chose Indiana.”
Jack Maher, the highly-coveted center back from Caseyville, Ill., had just committed to the Hoosiers over the likes of Notre Dame, North Carolina, Duke, Stanford and a laundry list of other powerhouse programs.
A celebration ensued in Robson’s kitchen.
Five minutes later, his phone rang again. It was Maher calling to personally affirm his verbal commitment. The celebration continued.
“He was one that was a program changer,” Robson says with a wide smile. Two years later, Jack would parlay into Joey, the younger sought-after Maher who succeeded Jack on Indiana’s backline in the 2021 spring season.
It was a landmark recruiting win for Robson, who led Indiana’s year-long-plus pursuit of both Maher’s. Not only did it reinforce the Hoosiers’ stranglehold over premier talent in the Midwest, but it also cemented Robson’s status as one of college soccer’s burgeoning young minds.
The recruiting classes that followed lived up to the same billing under Robson’s tutelage. In 2019, star striker Victor Bezerra arrived in Bloomington alongside future MLS players Josh Penn and Aidan Morris and a little-known goalkeeper named Roman Celentano. 2020: The No. 3-ranked recruiting class in the nation. 2021: The No. 6-ranked recruiting class.
In the seven seasons since Robson was added to the coaching staff, Indiana has never had a recruiting class ranked outside the top 20.
There’s a meticulous strategy to all of it, though. It’s not as if Robson was simply handed the keys to IU’s proverbial recruiting car, cruised around the country, flashed the program’s eight stars and myriad accolades to a bunch of heralded prospects, and waited by the phone for a commitment.
Rather, Robson’s recruiting efforts rarely stray from the rock-steady foundation that the IU juggernaut has hung its hat on for decades. “The Midwest is what we’re built on,” he says unabashedly, pointing out long-forged relationships and pipelines in St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis and Columbus.
However, he and the coaching staff also aren’t ignorant to the widespread shift happening in college soccer. That is, while IU continues to succeed with its midwestern flair, dozens of programs across the country have seemingly engaged in an arms race for international talent.
Think that’s going to change IU’s philosophy? Not if Robson and Yeagley are still around.
“We’re not naive to think that some of these international players might be more talented or more ready, we see that,” Robson says. “But we really believe in our identity and hammering those hot markets.”
As the saying goes, if it’s not broke don’t fix it, and there’s a level of inherent comfort, he says, in a formula that’s helped the Hoosiers reach three College Cups in the past four seasons.
But the process isn’t as clear-cut as one might perceive. The recruiting pitch can’t simply harp on IU’s vast tradition, and Robson acknowledges that. When recruits commit to Indiana, they’re also committing to a belief in development and a dream of playing professional soccer.
“We always say it’s not your first contract, it’s your second contract that makes your pro career,” Robson says, “We want those guys to be ready for that next level to really crush it in their first contract (so they can earn a second contract).”
But what about the majority of players who veer away from soccer like Robson did and go off to live a normal life after college -- the ones who gave four or five years to the program but are ready for life after soccer?
Yeagley and Robson also have a plan for them, too. In particular, Robson name-drops former players such as Kerel Bradford, Frankie Moore and Harrison Petts, among dozens of others, who have thrived in the private sector since graduating from Indiana.
Bradford, part of IU’s 2012 national championship team, had opportunities to pursue a professional soccer career. With Yeagley and Robson’s guidance, though, he chose a different path.
“The one thing about them is that it wasn’t an option for anything less than excellence.” Bradford says. “If you want to go play pro, then, hey, we’re going to put in the work and we’re going to make you excellent. If you want to go get your Master’s degree -- which I did -- or you want a professional working career, then you’re going to go put in that work and be excellent. So I appreciated that fatherly coaching advice.”
And that advice continues to manifest in every recruiting pitch, no matter the recruiting ranking or professional aspirations.
For Robson, building relationships and seeing former players find success is what ultimately matters to him, and it’s what has allowed him to flourish on the recruiting trail.
“You’ve got to understand how to relate with the players, I think that’s the biggest thing as a coach.” Robson says. “We can talk X’s and O’s all day, but if your players buy in and they connect with you, I think you’re going to win games and they’re going to be excited to play and be around the game.”
By now, it seems the newly-anointed associate head coach has it all figured out as he enters his eighth season in Bloomington. He’s got the charisma, he’s got the moxie, he’s got the wealth of soccer knowledge and he’s got the recruiting chops.
So what’s next, then, aside from chasing the elusive ninth national title? How much more is there for Robson to realistically accomplish at IU?
He says he loves his alma mater -- that won’t ever change -- and as far as he’s concerned, Bloomington is right where he wants to be.
It’s where he and his wife, Shannon, settled down and started a family.
It’s where he was able to hone his recruiting acumen and coaching craft surrounded by some of college soccer’s brightest minds.
It’s where Yeagley took a chance on a 20-something-year-old with hardly any college coaching experience.
But Robson also says he has aspirations of one day running his own program. Perhaps he’ll get that chance at Indiana, or maybe it’ll happen elsewhere. He’s still young, though, not yet 40 and still able to go toe-to-toe with players at practice. He sees no reason to rush anything right now.
And even when the time is right, there’s one thing IU brings to the table that most other programs can’t offer.
“It would have to be a really, really right fit because I love being in the mix and competing for national titles. And I love being here.”