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Indiana Soccer Preview, pt. 1

I've not been chipping in here as much as I'd like, so this post represents a renewed dedication to the cause. And there's a lot to talk about as college football starts to kick off, college basketball analysis begins in earnest, and of course, Indiana soccer kicks off this Friday at Saint Louis (8pm ET). Thus, it's time to talk about a little about last season, and the spring season, and what IU lost.

There's a highlight video of the 2011 goals here;

I will warn you, there's a commercial, and the intro is too long but still, there's some nice highlights in here. Of particular note is the backheel assist in front of the goal at the 1:30 mark, and Eriq Zavaleta's killer spin lower 90 rocket at the 3:30 mark.

In year two of the Todd Yeagley era, Indiana softened up the non-conference schedule a little bit, which paid dividends when the Hoosiers jumped out to a 6-0-2 start and notched a 6-0 confidence-boosting win over Dayton early on. However, when the schedule toughened up with games at Wisconsin and against Louisville and Creighton, the Hoosiers dropped three straight. Still, IU bounced back nicely from that to go on a ten-game "unbeaten" streak to close out the season, only finally falling in the round of sixteen to the eventual national champion UNC squad in OT. I say "unbeaten" because the Hoosiers won seven games and tied three, but the second tie against Northwestern went to PKs, where the Wildcats beat the Hoosiers and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament final. After losing multiple starters and a star like Will Bruin, a 13-4-5 season should be considered a moderate success. Finishing fourth in the Big Ten standings is something to improve upon certainly, but 1) the Hoosiers could definitely argue they were no worse than league-leading Northwestern (playing them even through two games and three OT sessions), and 2) IU only had one loss in conference play - you wouldn't necessarily expect to win the conference with a 3-1-2 record, but it should be no more of a statistical rarity than finishing fourth, surely. Furthermore, the Hoosiers' revival after the three losses really came when midfielder Nikita Kotlov got healthy and scored 8 goals in 9 games, which should be a good sign for this season.

The Hoosiers said goodbye to midfielder Alec Purdie and backs Tommy Meyer and Chris Estridge, as well as reserve midfielder Tyler McCarroll. Purdie's speed and attacking mentality will be missed, but the real danger this season is the loss of Meyer & Estridge, both of whom were solid in the back and good passers. Despite their presence, goalkeeper Luis Soffner had to bail the Hoosiers out a lot (especially in the non-conference) and finally rose to the task. Soffner actually raised his save percentage from 68.1% in 2010 to 80.6% in 2011. This is quite a jaw-dropping improvement, moving him from 174th nationally to 25th! Since there is a noted improvement of the keeper in the back, and the even though the Hoosiers gave up more shots per game, they gave up less actual shots on goal, maybe this is evidence of an ongoing rebirth of the tough Hoosier defense that we've come to expect? IU's goals allowed and shutout percentages did indeed take a sharp tick up nationally (from 126th to 25th and 177th to 37th respectively), and this progress hopefully won't be hamstrung by the loss of two starting backs.

So, what did we see from the Hoosiers in the spring season and in the exhibitions? Well, good things, mostly! The Hoosiers went 3-2-1 overall, but the two losses were generally excusable. One was a 2-1 loss to the U-20 Mexican national squad, and the Mexican youth squads, if you haven't noticed, have been en fuego lately. In the other five games, the Hoosiers outshot their opponents 79 to 39, with an advantage of 40-17 shots on goal. In fact, the only piece of bad news was for those of us who hoped reserve keeper Michael Soderlund might be the future between the pipes. He posted a just-awful 25% save percentage in the spring, and got shelled in a 5-3 loss to Bradley in which IU outshot the Braves 23-10 and put 11 shots on frame. Normally, doing this while allowing 7 shots on your own goal is a recipe for procuring a win, or even a bad-luck tie, but Soderlund only notched two saves in that whole games. Soffner played most of the rest of the minutes in the spring games and posted a 75% save percentage, allowing only 4 goals. On offense, AJ Corrado had a pretty productive spring, with two goals and three assists, but the bench strikers were great. Joe Tolen showed flashes of 2010, notching four goals, and Kyle Sparks got two goals and assist as well. The exhibition games both ended tied 1-1, with IU outshooting UIC but being outshot by Mexico's Guadalajara Chivas club, but Soffner saved 2 penalty kicks to key a 4-3 PK victory.

Personnel review and Season preview to come next!