Todd Yeagley has been present for every one of Indiana’s 21 College Cup appearances going back to 1976, when he was all of 4 years old.
As of Tuesday, however, the Indiana men’s soccer coach wasn’t sure if his father Jerry, who was head coach for the first 16 of the Hoosiers’ trips to the final four of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament, would make it down to Cary, N.C. for the No. 3 seed Hoosiers 8:30 p.m. national semifinal game Friday against No. 2 seed Pittsburgh. The Hoosiers have already played three NCAA Tournament games in North Carolina with the entire event being played there, and neither Jerry nor anyone else from the Yeagley extended family has been down for it yet.
“I’m not sure about my father yet,” Yeagley said. “He likes to watch from his comfort areas a lot. I’m not sure if he’ll make it. I’m talking about it with him. Our family, they told me to get the College Cup and they’ll come over. You talk about some pressure to get there.”
Even in the first family of Indiana soccer, the expectations are high. Indiana has only had varsity soccer since 1973 when Jerry finally convinced IU to put funding behind soccer after it had spent 26 years as a club sport. The Hoosiers reached their first College Cup in their fourth season as a varsity program in 1976, which means in the 45 years since they’ve averaged an appearance almost every other year. This one marks their third in the last four seasons.
But Todd Yeagley is making a point to enjoy this experience for its uniqueness, which actually means spending less time with his family and his father who built the program and more time with the players who are apart of it now.
In normal years, the Hoosiers would have played their first three games of the tournament at home in Bloomington as the highest overall seeded team in their region and only now would they be leaving their apartments and dorms to travel. But the NCAA created a bubble environment for this event North Carolina somewhat similar to the one it created in Indiana and Texas for the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March, so the Hoosiers have already been together for more than a week with just themselves.
“Usually, you go to the College Cup and you’re there for three days, hopefully,” Yeagley said. “This time, to commit to come down to North Carolina for 10 days or so was a lot for everyone, our administration, our families. So it’s been really nice just to have our team in our little mini-bubble. They’d spent a lot of time together this year, but individually together, in apartments. To have the whole team bantering together, playing cards, having great laughs, playing songs I’ve never heard, I’m learning a lot of new songs, it’s just been really fun. It’s been fun for everyone. It’s been a great trip, and we’re hoping to keep it going as long as we can.”
Yeagley believes this team has the mettle to go further, in part because it’s been tested and won games in a number of different ways. The Hoosiers are listed at 11-1-2 but they’re functionally 13-1 because both of their ties were tournament games decided on penalty kicks and they won both of those — the Big Ten tournament final against Penn State and their first round NCAA Tournament game against St. Francis-Brooklyn.
They have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 30-5 and they have never allowed more than one goal in a game, but three of their wins have been decided by one goal, including their NCAA Tournament win over Marquette and a key double-overtime win over Michigan during the regular season.
“This team has not been a team that has overwhelmed our opponents,” Yeagley said. “We don’t kid ourselves and feel that’s the way we’re going to go out there. We can play really good soccer and certainly this team is very capable, but it’s built very well at the center of the field. We have guys who can change the game on the wings. We have an outstanding goal keeper, a strong spine, and a goal scorer. Those ingredients have proven very important to us in many of our title runs. … There’s a great grit about this group that has developed over the course of a season.”
To get to the national title game and get a crack at a ninth national title, Yeagley has to defeat a coach who once played for his father in Jay Vidovich. Vidovich played for the Hoosiers in 1978 before transferring to Ohio Wesleyan, but he has stayed in touch with the Yeagleys since throughout his coaching career.
“I was Jerry Yeagley’s East Coast experiment,” said Vidovich, who was born in Detroit but played his high school soccer in Connecticut. “… He became the Midwest dominator there. I was fortunate to go in at a tremendous time. I think my recruiting class was the one that got him his first star, but I didn’t make it that far. I wasn’t good enough for the program. But coacy Yeagley is a master and a maestro and everything else and he still makes me feel like family to this day.”
In a way Vidovich is doing for Pittsburgh what Jerry Yeagley did for Indiana. The Panthers have been a program for a lot longer than Indiana was when the elder Yeagley took over, but Vidnovich, who won a national title at Wake Forest in 2007, is taking them places they’ve never been.
They were 2-13-2 in 2016, Vidovich’s first season, but in 2019, they reached their first NCAA Tournament since 1965 and won their first tournament game in school history. This year, they’re 16-3 and in the College Cup for the first time ever.
“To see where we started and where it is now, that’s exciting,” Vidovich said. “There’s a lot of kids who helped get us there who aren’t around to get the reward. … Long journey. Very excited about where we are.”
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