IU men’s soccer begins NCAA Tournament in quest for ninth title

Todd Yeagley knows quite well by this point what a national championship men’s soccer team looks like.

He played on two College Cup teams at Indiana under his father Jerry and was part of his father’s coaching staff for the national championship squads in 2003 and 2004. He claimed a national title as the Hoosiers’ head coach in 2012 and led two more teams to the College Cup in 2017 and 2018.

In this year’s Indiana team he certainly sees a squad capable of that kind of run. The Hoosiers enter the NCAA Tournament — which began Thursday evening with IU slated to play Sunday at 5 p.m. against St. Francis-Brooklyn — as the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament. They enter the tournament with a 9-1-1 record, though the one tie was decided in the Hoosiers’ favor on penalty kicks against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game.

Indiana has outscored its opponents 25-3 this season with goalkeeper Roman Celentano posting shutouts in seven of the Hoosiers’ 11 games and combining with fellow goalkeeper Bryant Pratt on an eighth. No Indiana opponent has scored two goals in a game.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have nine players who have scored at least one goal with sophomore forward Victor Bezerra leading the Big Ten in goals with 11 and total points with 25.

“This team can certainly score goals,” Yeagley said in Zoom press availability on Wednesday, video of which was posted on the IU athletics YouTube account. “We’ve shown that in restart. And Victor is an elite goal scorer. We don’t have those every cycle. … A goalkeeper that is as confident and as talented as Roman and a goal scorer is a key to everyone’s success.”

The path for this team is different than the others who have claimed titles. This one won’t get to start the NCAA Tournament at home as it traditionally would because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the Hoosiers will play their first round game in Wilmington, N.C., and then the rest of the way in Cary, N.C. where the College Cup will be held.

The rules for the bubble will be slightly less strict than the ones for the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as the teams will be able to get out of their hotels more, but it still is a significantly different tournament environment than what they are used to.

Plus, of course, they’re playing in late April after starting play in February instead of playing the tournament in late November and early December as is traditional.

“With the bubble and the COVID, everything is different and new,” Yeagley said. “It’s strange to be playing in April, no doubt. Going out and training and the temperature is just a different feel. This will be new to all of us. I think what we have to do is just keep things as consistent and simple as they need to be and not overexaggerate or overthink, really, the fact that we’re all in a bubble and we’re not playing at home. This is what we’re dealt and we’ll deal with it.”

They also get the benefit but also the burden of a first-round bye, which meant preparing for two teams until one emerged on Thursday evening when St. Francis-Brooklyn defeated Milwaukee 2-1 in double overtime.

The Terriers won the Northeast Conference and carry a 6-1-2 record into Sunday’s game. They outscored their opponents 11-6 this season with goalkeeper Callum James posting three shutouts and keeper David Santiago posting another.

“We’ll start introducing our opponent to them on Friday once that game’s wrapped up,” Yeagley said. “We’ll use some of the tendencies we picked up from the Thursday game. We’ll be ahead. We’ll use some of the video and tendencies we picked up from the Thursday game. We have enough information on both teams at this point from both teams that we’ll have a good idea of what we need to do to take advantage and prepare for their strengths.”