Nine of those players were defenders, among them IU sophomore Grant Lillard, who may have been the top defender by camp’s end, IU Coach Todd Yeagley said.
“Grant’s already confident in a really good way, but that validation, he, I think, walks away feeling like he was the best back in that group,” Yeagley said. “We got very good feedback from the coaches, so Grant is ready to roll.”
Included in the 28 players called in by the U-23 Coach Andy Herzog were players like Connor Maloney, Big Ten Offensive player of the Year, Patrick Hodan, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and Brandon Vincent, PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
The camp lasted three days, including an intra-squad scrimmage and a match against Club Tijuana’s Segunda Premier Team, which the U.S. won 3-1.
“It was a great camp. It was a good experience, and I’m glad I got called in,” Lillard said. “It was a lot of fun to play with those guys, and it was good competition.”
Lillard also spent this summer traveling and training with professional teams, trying to gain a better understanding of what it takes to play professionally.
Through all the camps and training sessions, Lillard said he is bringing back one thing in particular for his sophomore season at IU. He said he learned to never relax on the field, no matter the opponent.
“Being consistent and sharp and being on your A-game all the time, being consistent with that,” Lillard said. “You can’t have days off. You always have to work every single day. That’s just not how the best players get it done.”
To start this season, Lillard was named a player to watch for IU by the Big Ten Coaches. In the preseason, Lillard was a part of a backline which produced two shutouts in three tries and even scored in IU’s 2-0 win against Western Michigan.
Scoring is nothing new for the 6-foot-4 defender, who scored five goals last season, tied for second-highest on the team. Lillard also played forward in high school as part of a Brophy College Preparatory team that won the Arizona State High School Championship.
Still, Lillard has foot skills more akin to a quick central midfielder than a big, strong center back.
On many occasions last season, Lillard would intercept a pass, and instead of simply playing a long ball forward or laying the ball off to a teammate, he would take it up the field himself. This forces the opposing defense further back and provided another attacker to be accounted for.
Junior goalkeeper Colin Webb said this season Lillard has become even better than before at attacking the opposing team’s defense.
“Grant’s always had great composure and that’s something he’s continued to improve on as he was away this summer,” Webb said. “With his composure he has good touches, and I think with his good touches he’s started to make a lot better decisions going forward.”
As for Lillard, he isn’t too concerned with his summer activities. For him, the training and identification camps were simply more opportunities to play soccer.
If anything, the camps exposed Lillard to flaws in his game and what he needs to improve, he said.
“It’s nice to be recognized but it doesn’t mean anything really, it’s just a camp and more soccer to play,” he said. “I’m still, obviously, very happy I got called in and got to play against some of the best competition, which just shows me what I need to work on and improve to get better.”