Thanksgiving week was very good to IU men’s soccer coach Mike Freitag and his team, as the Hoosiers notched two impressive home victories in the NCAA Tournament and received a commitment from one of the top high school soccer players in the nation.
The commitment came from Zionsville, Ind., native Harrison Petts, who is ranked as the No. 5 high school junior player by the Web site www.TopDrawerSoccer.com. Petts chose the Hoosiers among several of the top programs in the nation and is another recruiting coup for Freitag.
I have seen a lot of high school and youth club soccer in the past 15 years as a player and spectator, and in that time, I have not seen many (if any) players who have the natural scoring abilities of Petts (for full disclosure, I am friends with his family, and Petts sometimes practiced with my team when I played club soccer). He will bring that scoring ability to the Hoosiers, but unfortunately for Freitag, he cannot use Petts in the Hoosier attack until 2010.
In 2008, however, the No. 6-seed Hoosiers have found a scoring touch of their own during the team’s 3-0 victory against Michigan in the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. It couldn’t come at a better time for IU, as the team has struggled to find the net this season, which cost the Hoosiers wins this season in games the team controlled.
The win against the Wolverines sets up a quarterfinal matchup against No. 3-seed St. John’s – the third ranked opponent IU has played in three tournament games.
Freitag prepared his veteran team for a deep tournament run with a difficult schedule this season that included games against 10 opponents – both in and out of conference – ranked in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America top 25 at the end of the regular season. Including Big Ten Tournament results, the Hoosiers went 7-4-2 in those games.
“We played a hard schedule for a reason,” Freitag said in a statement after the win against Michigan. “Sometimes this season we have faltered and made mistakes. But we have made a conscious effort this last part of the season to do better, and it shows.”
The Hoosiers will face St. John’s on Saturday night in a rematch of the 2003 NCAA Championship game, which IU won 2-1 to capture the program’s sixth national title.
The Red Storm is all that stands between the Hoosiers and the College Cup, but getting to college soccer’s version of the Final Four will be the biggest test of the season for Freitag’s team.
Playing on the road is a natural disadvantage, especially when traveling to play a team with just two losses on the season. There is good news for the Hoosiers, though, when examining results against the three common opponents the two teams have this season. The Hoosiers are 2-0-1 against Louisville, Notre Dame and South Florida, while St. John’s is just 1-2-1 (the Red Storm played USF twice).
Breaking down games against common opponents is fun for pundits and fans before the contest, but in the end, I don’t think those games matter too much.
This IU team is hitting on all cylinders at the right time and will win this weekend. The combination of the Hoosiers’ experience and skill all around the pitch will be enough to send the program to another College Cup.