Over the years of Indiana men’s soccer’s decorated program, the Hoosiers have seldom been viewed as underdogs. On Saturday night when No. 2 University of Kentucky comes to Bloomington, however, head coach Todd Yeagley’s squad will be fighting an uphill battle.
The match won’t exactly feature the highest stakes. Indiana is right in the thick of a heated Big Ten title race, and a loss to Kentucky wouldn’t change that. Still, Yeagley sees this opportunity as a chance to boost both morale and the team’s resume.
“I’m excited. It’s a really fun game in the middle of this Big Ten race,” Yeagley said in a Wednesday press conference. “This would be fantastic for resume purposes. If you can get that test at this point in the season, that’s really beneficial.”
The Hoosiers have quietly been gaining footing in the Big Ten over the past few matches. After putting together their first consecutive conference wins against Penn State and Wisconsin, the rotations and the team’s identity continue to become clearer.
Indiana ranks second in the Big Ten with a little over two goals per match, a testament to their diversified attack. With the sudden emergence of redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink, who is on track to receive Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year consideration, sophomore forwards Sam Sarver and Tommy Mihalic and senior forward Herbert Endeley have had more space to operate and threaten opposing backlines.
“We have pretty balanced scoring,” Yeagley said. “I think most importantly — not only the stats, but just true danger. We have guys coming in different spots, and I think that creates problems for our opposition. They’re talented, but they’ve also had a lot of experience to know how to break down and read defenses.”
As for the opponent, Kentucky has enjoyed success in its history but has thrust itself into almost yearly contention as of late. Joining the Sun Belt Conference along with the University of South Carolina this season, the Wildcats have needed little time acclimating.
With wins over No. 11 University of Louisville and No. 12 Lipscomb University — along with draws against No. 6 Marshall University and No. 19 University of Dayton — Kentucky has not just beat up on inferior competition.
The program’s rise to prominence has been impressive. Unlike Indiana’s roster, which is composed almost entirely of domestic talent, Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren has a healthy recruiting presence overseas. Senior midfielder Nick Gutmann, who hails from Germany, and sophomore midfielder Casper Grening, a Denmark native, lead the team’s potent attack along with senior forward Eythor Bjorgolfsson, who is originally from Norway.
“I think Johan (Cedergren) has done a great job of mixing his recruiting. He’s gotten some good domestic players, but his special players have been international,” Yeagley said. “That’s a really good model that a lot of programs are going with. They’ve really put some investment into soccer which is good for the sport.”
Boasting the second-best scoring offense in the nation with 2.75 goals per match, Kentucky’s ability to devastate opposing backlines is clear. Despite the Wildcats’ attacking prowess, Yeagley said the team is complete from top to bottom.
“This is the best team they’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” Yeagley said. “They’re older, they’re mature, they’re athletic, they’re good all around the field. This is going to be as tough a team as we’re going to face.”
Looking at Kentucky’s unblemished 8-0-5 record, Saturday night’s match can appear daunting. However, the Hoosiers, who hold a 5-0-2 record at Bill Armstrong Stadium this season, will have the home crowd behind them.
In what will surely be Indiana’s greatest test since opening the season at Clemson University, Yeagley said he is expecting a hungry and feisty Wildcats side. With first kick slated for 7 p.m., time will tell if the Hoosiers are up to the task.