It’s been 96 days since IU men’s soccer head coach Todd Yeagley sat at the first press conference of the season and discussed the upcoming year, and it has been even longer since what would have been the fall season opener for the Hoosiers.
Since then, IU has won both the regular-season Big Ten title and the Big Ten Tournament. It faced poor weather that moved games indoors, dealt with cancellations due to other teams’ positive COVID-19 test results and lost its team captain, senior defender Spencer Glass, to a season-ending lower leg injury.
Yet on Sunday, the Hoosiers finally returned to what they’ve always done best: winning in the NCAA Tournament.
IU beat St. Francis College 3-1 in penalty kicks after a 1-1 finish in regulation in Wilmington, North Carolina, to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, two weeks after IU last played in a penalty kicks victory over Penn State to win the Big Ten Tournament.
“Well, it was penalties again,” Yeagley said in a post game Zoom conference. “That was quite an interesting game. I felt the layoff was a little evident tonight, first and foremost.”
The win was not pretty, and likely would not have been possible without sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano, who made five saves in regulation and overtime and three during penalty kicks.
“Tonight was survive and advance, as they say in the tournament,” Yeagley said. “That was really the theme of how I felt the game went tonight.”
Survive and advance IU did. The long road that began in January will wind a little bit further.
Back in that Jan. 26 press conference, Yeagley talked about the excitement and uncertainty surrounding the long-awaited schedule release for 2021.
“The guys have done a great job of just putting one foot in front of the other,” Yeagley said then. “Just saying, ‘Tomorrow is the day,’ and not trying to think about the what-ifs that could happen.”
Going into overtime, with his team frustrated by its performance, Yeagley pulled the Hoosiers together to put the game in perspective.
“Guys, we’ve been in this situation,” Yeagley told his team heading into overtime. “We don’t have to be an A-game, it’s OK. We just need to make a play.”
The Hoosiers didn’t get that play in regulation, but Yeagley said they were comfortable putting the game in Celentano’s hands if they went into penalty kicks.
By the end, the game nearly became a case of Celentano against St. Francis’ junior forward El Mahdi Youssoufi.
Youssoufi, who scored both St. Francis’ goal and its penalty kick, came into the tournament without a point in six games. After adding a goal and an assist in the first round against Milwaukee University, Youssoufi played through a leg injury to create five shots and nearly beat IU single-handedly.
Without Glass and freshman defender Joey Maher, who was suspended for the match after picking up a red card against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament championship, St. Francis was able to continuously find holes in IU’s defense.
But Celentano defended the goal well, helping lift IU past its second round opponent. IU will move on to face Marquette University on Thursday in Cary, North Carolina.