The IU men’s soccer team should be happy with the draw it received in the NCAA Tournament on Monday.
After a subpar regular season in which the Hoosiers failed to win the Big Ten regular season and the tournament title, this team has a real chance to make the program’s first College Cup appearance since 2004.
A first-round bye means just three victories separate the IU men’s soccer team from Frisco, Texas, and could save this senior class from being the first class to graduate without making an appearance in college soccer’s version of the Final Four.
Despite having six losses in the season, the Hoosiers earned the No. 6 overall seed on the strength of the team’s high RPI ranking, thanks in part to the particularly difficult schedule the team faced and the depth of talent in the Big Ten Conference.
The Hoosiers could have had a higher seed if the team had beat Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament championship game last Sunday, but the team was unable to convert several scoring opportunities into goals.
“Sometimes the better team doesn’t win,” IU head coach Mike Freitag told the Indiana Daily Student after the loss. “It is all about putting the ball in the net, and they did it and we didn’t.”
For Freitag and the Hoosiers, the Michigan State game was another in a disturbing pattern of losses and ties where IU out-shoots the opponent and controls the tempo of the game, but comes up short in terms of finishing opportunities.
This trend has haunted IU throughout the past three NCAA tournaments, where failed opportunities led to disappointing early-round losses at home to inferior competition. As good as the Hoosier defense can be, the scoring attack will have to be consistent for the team to make the 18th College Cup in program history.
IU awaits the winner of the St. Louis and Drake match up in the second round. This should be a victory for the Hoosiers. The team can’t keep its current streak of upset tournament losses at Bill Armstrong Stadium, can it?
If the seeds hold to the round of 16, IU would then play host to conference rival Michigan. The teams split their meetings this season, both with final scores of 1-0 – Michigan won the regular season contest in Bloomington while the Hoosiers won the rematch in the conference tournament.
A win against the Wolverines would likely set up a quarterfinal date with No. 3 seed St. Johns, which the Hoosiers last played in the 2003 national championship game, winning 2-1 to capture the program’s sixth national title.
IU would be a slight underdog playing on the road in a quarterfinal game against St. Johns, but an experienced Hoosier team could go into hostile territory and get the victory.
The road is not easy, but this Hoosier team has the talent to make a run at the College Cup.
Questions remain about whether the team can finish opportunities, whether the team can get out of the early rounds and how some of the young stars will react in a single-elimination format, but I have a feeling this team will pull things together and advance to the College Cup.