The Hoosiers' play over the past weekend left much to be desired at a quick glance. A come-from-behind win and a scoreless overtime loss might indicate to some that the preseason No. 1 isn't all it was hyped up to be.
That would be wrong.
The two opponents that Indiana faced during the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic, Southern Methodist University and UCLA, were top of the line teams, with the latter being ranked in the top 10 in the nation. These were not games to pad the win column for the Hoosiers, coach Todd Yeagley said after practice on Tuesday. They were games to place a measuring stick by the team and gauge where they stood.
"We schedule the way we do so that we might take a tough loss, but it's not going to hurt us in the end," Yeagley said. "I would much rather have that to see where our strengths lie than play soft teams and feel good about ourselves."
Throughout both performances, the pace of the game dictated how Indiana moved forward. When the midfield would try to counter quickly in short pass-and-moves, the form would fall apart and the ball dispossessed. In the second half of each game, the team would slow the pace when moving forward, making sure passes were sharper and keeping their heads up looking for the best play to make, instead of just taking the first option.
This led to several scoring chances. In the SMU match, it allowed a free kick from about 25 yards out, which Patrick Doody smashed into the bottom left corner of the goal.
This type of smart, tactical play showed up again in the UCLA match, when the pressure applied by the Hoosiers took off, and culminated in Thommy Thompson drawing a foul inside the penalty box. The shot from the spot wasn't converted, but the pattern is slowly arising that when the team settles down and dictates play, it is much more likely to score.
A big question coming out of the weekend was why sophomore forward Femi Hollinger-Janzen was absent in the second half, as he would bring fresh and experienced legs onto the pitch. The reason for this was because over the summer, Hollinger-Janzen injured his knee, and is still in the final stages of recovery. Yeagley didn't want to push the recovery, and saw it best to keep him out of the second half of the more physical match of the weekend.
"When he is 100 percent, we will be using him more," Yeagley said. "We just want to make sure he doesn't go backwards."
In practice on Tuesday, the team worked as a whole on trying to get better at pushing the pace while maintaining effectiveness in the attack. Not only did this allow the chance for the offense to work on this style repeatedly, but it also gave the defense the opportunity to set up against the attack, which would keep coming every other minute.
The team seems to really like the idea of pushing forward quickly when gaining possession, and wants to make it work so that they can add to their arsenal of ways to attack, and at the same time make game planning that much harder for opponents.
When talking about the defense, a big takeaway from the weekend was the play of not just goalkeeper Michael Soderlund, but the unit as a whole. The stat sheet will show that in his first two games as a starter, Soderlund allowed a goal in each match with minimal saves. The bigger picture was his confidence and ability to step out on crosses and corners and punch them away, something that proved quite useful in the UCLA match.
The defensive end was tested early and often in the opening weekend, but aside from the two goals allowed, the entire back line was solid, making sure to pet quick pressure on attackers and not allowing space to work either in front of the goal or on the wings.
The combination of Kerel Bradford and Billy McConnell as center-backs looks to be working nicely, as both possess the skill needed to withstand the test of a long season. Bradford brings the leadership to the back four and was integral in making sure McConnell didn't dwell on his blunder in the first match, having allowed SMU striker Koroma to net the match's opening goal.
Since the goal however, McConnell has shown why Yeagley regarded him as the best defender in his class, being able to use his body to deny forwards the ball, as well as his positioning when his mark has the ball, making it hard to get a shot off around him.
Both ends of the field will be tested in the team's first away match of the season, when they travel to UAB to take on the No. 18 Blazers (2-0). The Blazers will be the second ranked opponent in the first three games the Hoosiers have played.