The practice fields are barren. Nine players are gone. One assistant coach has been swapped for another.
With three additions to the IU men’s soccer team, the Hoosiers are using the spring season to integrate a new starting lineup and a former player turned coach.
IU will take on regional foe Louisville at 7 p.m. today at Cardinal Park.
After two home wins against Evansville and Butler, the Hoosiers have their first spring season road match against the Cardinals.
They defeated Louisville 1-0 in October off a penalty kick from sophomore Andy Adlard.
While the team outscored their first two opponents 5-2, they are paying more attention to individual and team unity rather than studying opponents’ game tape.
“We only spoke briefly on Louisville,” said junior defender Ofori Sarkodie. “We’re focusing on us.”
The “us” looks different than last year’s Hoosiers, who progressed to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, losing 3-2 to St. John’s.
Both senior captain Brad Ring and junior defender Kevin Alston were taken in the MLS SuperDraft in January, and seniors Kevin Noschang, Chay Cain and John Mellencamp will also be missed. Sophomore Michael Munroe left the team, leaving it with only one goalkeeper.
“It’s definitely been a building stage, just getting to know each other’s tendencies, each other’s comfort zones, seeing what each player can now bring to the team,” Sarkodie said.
As one of five returning juniors, veteran midfielder Lee Hagedorn said he’s emphasized the importance of competing to the underclassmen.
“Just come out and play hard every day,” he said. “Last year we didn’t always come to practice to play our hardest.”
Helping the players is new assistant coach Aleksey Korol, who joined the team in February after Wisconsin hired former IU assistant coach Todd Yeagley as its head coach. Hagedorn said Korol has fit in well with the team.
“He’s really active in all our practices,” he said. “He’s got a player’s perspective.”
Freshman forward Will Bruin, who started all 24 matches last season, said he takes the games seriously but appreciates the spring season’s ability to allow experiments with formations.
“It’s time to get other people playing time and in-game situations, so they’re not new when it comes to fall,” Bruin said.
Replacing Cain, a senior first team All-Big Ten goalkeeper, is freshman Luis Soffner. Although he didn’t play during the 2008 season, Soffner said it’s been easy for him to jump in as the team’s new goalkeeper.
With four spring season matches remaining, Soffner said he hopes the team will adjust to his presence.
“They were probably comfortable with Chay back there,” he said. “They just got to get used to me back there.”
IU coach Mike Freitag said several players have stepped up in the second semester. He listed sophomore forward Alec Purdie, freshman midfielder Nick Blevins and Bloomington High School South senior and IU recruit Caleb Konstanski as contributors.
While he has seen improvement, the team’s newness has presented a challenge to the fifth-year coach.
“When you take a couple pieces of the puzzle out, it’s a whole new puzzle, it’s a whole new picture,” Freitag said.
Korol, who won two championships as a Hoosier in 1998 and 1999, said the adjustment period is exciting.
“That’s what college is all about,” Korol said. “People come and go all the time, you just got to rebuild.”