I don't mean to step on John's State of the Nation post, or AJ's novel "What to expect when you're expecting" series' latest effort, but I've got a moment to update loyal Hoosiers on this year's Men's Soccer progress. And... we are where I'd thought we'd be this season (good!), but it does not look like these Hoosiers are ahead of schedule at this point.
A repeated response to whenever I've talked to Hoosiers here and elsewhere about IU Soccer this season is a very simple question - are these guys a title contender yet? And my response has generally been that this roster looks like a reasonable longshot, possibly even a solid darkhorse for title contention.* And there's a number of other teams look like pretty good bets for the championship. Still, I've been saying that our first peak at how good the IU Men's Soccer team really is would come last weekend with neutral site games against the annual title contender Akron and a sleeper Oregon State team. A review of these games, and what they mean, below the jump:
*quick tier of my off-the-cuff vocabulary of team strength, from strongest to weakest (favorite, contender, darkhorse, longhsot, sleeper, and then there's those probably-shouldn't-be-considered in championship discussions)
A simple look at IU official site will reveal the split that Hoosiers forged last weekend, falling to 4-1-1 on the season. In South Bend, Indiana fell 1-0 against Akron, and rallied to win 3-2 against OSU. This sent them spiralling down from #7 & #10 in the rankings to #16 in both. Which is kind of unfair, I feel, but not outrageous for now. I think IU is as good as or better than several other teams (UCLA, for example) and I'm pretty confident that IU will notch more wins and bounce back up into the top 10 soon enough. Why am I confident? Because they're playing good teams, and playing them well. Against teams that are unranked like Cincy or OSU, they are putting up multiple goals (or are just unlucky not be - *ahem* SDSU). And Oregon State is not a bad team. They've played three ranked teams, and although the lost to IU and Notre Dame (#8/3), those were one-goal losses. And the Beavers tied #6/7 UCSB 2-2 in OT. So the Hoosiers did pretty well to overcome a dangerous foe on neutral ground, and not suffer a let-down from their previous loss. Really notable in that OSU game, IU was down 2-0 but didn't put their head down even late in the game, and scored in the 62nd, 64th, and 66th minutes to jump ahead. And they weren't done, outshooting the Beavers 5-2 over the last 20 minutes.
Now, let's be fair - Akron outplayed the Hoosiers (who were outshot, outpossessed, and obviously outscored by the Zips) . But the Hoosiers played them tough and gave themselves chances to tie or even win. Akron's better right now - and showed why they'll probably get one of the top seeds in the NCAA tournament. However, by the end of the season, you could see that these Hoosiers could easily grow to exact revenge at the right time, these guys aren't that far away! There's a potent offense, the midfield and defense have depth, and a lot of youth here with potential yet to be realized. And Luis Soffner is playing at perhaps his best level ever, currently posting an 83.3 save percentage - so far besting his previous best mark, last year's 80.6%. If there's one defensive number that I've looked at that correlates most closely to good defensive results, it's save percentage.
The Hoosiers take on #22/25 SIU-Edwardsville (5-1) at home this Friday, launching into a particularly tough stretch: at Ohio State (2-3-1), at home vs. #8/3 Notre Dame(5-0), at #24 Penn State (3-1-1) before travelling to Kentucky (1-4). Currently, future foes ranked and/or also receiving votes include Northwestern (3-0-2), Evansville (4-0), and Louisville (2-2), but the home game in two weeks versus Notre Dame should be the pre-conference game of the year. This game, as well as the SIUE and tOSU games will all be televised on BTN. Go Hoosiers!