By securing the No. 13 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament — pushing its streak with a seed to nine seasons in a row — Indiana men’s soccer earned the privilege of playing a home match in the second round.
The Hoosiers’ RPI, which fluctuated throughout the regular season, stood at 20th-best in the nation after their recent Big Ten Tournament Final loss to Rutgers. Despite the less than reassuring ranking, the Hoosiers’ late conference run boosted them out of a midweek matchup in the first round.
In the first press conference since Monday’s selection show, Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley cited the team’s strength of schedule as the most important reason the Hoosiers have a number next to their name in the bracket.
“Our willingness to go on the road, overall average win and the eyeball test,” Yeagley said. “All those factors pushed us up to where we are. (The committee’s) job is always to get it as right as they can. The (Indiana) name certainly doesn’t hurt, but I don’t know if that pushes us that much farther.”
After several days of uncertainty, the wait is over. Indiana knows its first opponent on the quest for a ninth star above its crest: Saint Louis University. A trip to the Sweet Sixteen is on the line at noon Sunday at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
Saint Louis defeated the University of Memphis in the First Round on Thursday night, winning 4-2 in an overtime thriller. The Billikens fell behind 1-0 to the Tigers early but rallied to a 2-2 draw through 90 minutes and scored in each of the two extra periods to the delight of their home supporters.
In the meantime, Indiana used the extra days off given by the bye as an important recovery period after a demanding week of Big Ten play. Yeagley said the group would’ve been ready to go if the Hoosiers didn’t get a top-16 seed but fully expects all players to be healthy with the additional rest.
“That was a lot of energy spent with those three games in a short period of time,” Yeagley said. “The legs were a little tired in that second half against Rutgers. Anytime you play in the conference final, that takes a wear on the group.”
Finally, the true postseason has arrived for the Hoosiers, and they can put their full focus into the first of five matches on the road to College Cup glory.
While Indiana is chasing a ninth title, Saint Louis already has 10 under its belt — good for the all-time men’s record. Even though the Billikens haven’t been crowned champions since 1973 — the end of a dominant 15-year run since the NCAA Tournament’s inception in 1959 — they’ve now qualified for the national tournament in 35 of the 48 seasons since.
Indiana’s gotten the better Saint Louis in the postseason, though, winning all four previous meetings under those circumstances.
More college soccer royalty could also be in Indiana’s path, as a Sweet Sixteen date with No. 4 seed University of Virginia — third-most men’s national championships with seven — is possible.
“As someone who’s been in it a long time and grown up with it, I love the historical piece of it,” Yeagley said. “What we always take away is a lot of confidence that the expectation to get results is always there. Belief is a lot, the willingness to not get rattled. Maybe that’s where the program helps the most: instilling that belief that they can dig more and have a lot of pride in what they do.”
The Billikens didn’t reach this point by accident, as indicated by their four-goal performance against Memphis. They topped the Atlantic 10 Conference with a 6-1-1 record and followed it up with a postseason conference title.
Despite playing in plenty of high-scoring contests throughout the season, Saint Louis simply kept and surpassed its opponents’ offensive firepower. Three different players have scored six or more goals for the Billikens this season, and they’re led by senior midfielder John Klein’s seven goals in attack.
“They have a good spirit in their team,” Yeagley said. “The A-10’s a tough league in the sense there’s some interesting places to play, you have to be able to grind out wins and play different styles — they were able to do that.”
Yeagley said he expects Saint Louis to play more compact defensively than most opponents, attributing its strong results to a balanced play style and structure. He stressed the importance of fending off set pieces by the Billikens, who have enjoyed a similar amount of success on restarts as the Hoosiers.
“We’ve played teams with similar makeups, so that’s a positive for us that we’ve seen that,” Yeagley said. “We’ll have to be sharp — both teams have confidence in that area.”
The two teams will battle in Bloomington, but facing this particular opponent serves as a sort of homecoming for several Indiana players.
Redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie, senior defender Jansen Miller and freshman midfielder Jack Wagoner are a few Hoosiers who played at club level in St. Louis, Missouri, and surrounding areas. While they shouldn’t brush the personal significance of this aside, Yeagley knows his players will be locked in for the task at hand.
“It doesn’t affect what we do when we enter that field,” Yeagley said. “Is there a subconscious piece to that? Could be. I know as a player I maybe had a few things in the back of my mind. A lot of it slips out of your mindset when you’re in the game.”
Sunday’s Second Round matchup, expected to be played in frigid conditions, will be broadcast on ESPN+.
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