The first game of the season for the Indiana men's soccer team certainly looked like it.
During some parts of the match, it looked as though the Hoosier side was just picking up where it left off from last season's national championship run. Other times it looked as though they were taking the pitch for the first time.
Head coach Todd Yeagley commented on the fact that his team "didn't seize the 2-on2 and 3-on-2 opportunities, and normally we work hard on that."
This was evident from kickoff. The Hoosiers looked to press early and often, but for the first 15 minutes the attack had no form, just players scrambling to the ball and pushing forward. They had a couple of below average chances for shots which were either saved or off target.
The failing chances ended up being the gift their opponents needed: 11 minutes into the match, SMU began a counter attack off a failed Indiana cross. This brought the Hoosier defense back on its heels, namely freshman Billy McConnell. He was attempting to pick up his mark, Alfred Koroma, who slipped behind him and got on the end of a lobbed pass from his winger, which Koroma promptly slipped past goalkeeper Michael Soderlund.
While this was a freshman mistake, it would be the only one of its kind in the whole match. McConnell, with the help of junior Kerel Bradford, put his blight in the rearview mirror and stepped up for the remainder of the game, making tackles when he needed to and was not caught out of position. He even disrupted one of the better Mustang attacks down the stretch when he intercepted a pass intended for Koroma.
McConnell wasn't the only freshman to start either. Tommy Thompson got the nod to play as Indiana's only forward, and if it remains as such he will be tasked with providing similar production to that of last year's star Eriq Zavaleta, at least in the number of scoring chances created. Based on last night's performance, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. A lot of college defenses tend to play physical through the center with speed on the sides, and Thompson showed last night has the skill set to be able to beat both and create for this team.
In his first true match for Indiana, goalkeeper Michael Soderlund had a good of game of would expect. He was caught out of position on the lone goal, but then again he had to think McConnell would clear. Every other shot on frame was dealt with calmly, similar to any ball that bounced or rolled into his box. He timed his runs well on corners, and was able to relieve any danger that came through the air. This will be very important down the line, as his back four aren't the tallest group. If he can continue to dominate his six-yard box on crosses and corners, his defense will be able to slow down things that come in the run of play.
Both goals for IU came from the midfield being able to pass and move effectively. This was always going to be a strength of the Hoosiers, and it showed when they were able to settle down and sharpen up their passes later in the game. The first came after both Tanner and Tommy hooked up on the right side, and Tommy found an open Matt McKain, who fired a rocket off the crossbar. This fell to Femi Hollinger-Janzen, whose header found the back of the net. It is important to note that both Tanner and Femi were substitutions made by Yeagley, because it shows the depth this team has in the midfield department.
The second came off of a set piece eerily similar to the one they were practicing just a day previous. They crowded three around the ball, and A.J. Corrado touched back to Patrick Doody, who had been peppering the goal all night from distance, and his ground skimmer went to the opposite post, putting Indiana up for good. Yeagley was particularly happy with this goal, citing that they expected to be fouled a lot, and if they could put in goals off of restarts that it only makes them that much more dangerous.
The midfield was always going to be the talk in terms of attacking, but the biggest surprise is the effort they put into providing pressure when SMU had the ball. As soon as the Mustangs held possession there was a Hoosier sprinting to close the gap between the two. This was wonderful to see, as it doesn't allow an opponent to settle on the ball and dictate, but forces them to pass or move more quickly than they would like. It was what kept the visitors on their toes and off balance. It would be the norm to say these things about the two captains, Jacob Bushue and Harrison Petts, because they play further back in the 4-5-1 scheme, but even the attacking mids, especially Dylan Mares, were always quick to find who had the ball and not allow them space to do much with it.
With UCLA up next, we will have a good sense of where Indiana stands this season when reflecting on both matches. SMU played a lot of quick counter attack played through their forward Koroma, and UCLA has more of a building offense with different threats coming off of their possession time. One thing is for sure, is that if a team tries to sit back in its half and just keep the Hoosiers out, most likely they will find themselves picking a ball or two out of the net before the full 90 is up.