The Indiana men’s soccer alumni team named the ‘Hoosier Army’ played their first game of The Soccer Tournament at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC against professional soccer club Borussia Dortmund Thursday morning and dominated the German side on a 5-2 victory.
What is The Soccer Tournament?
In 2010, Jon Mugar had the idea of creating a basketball tournament with a winner-take-all prize of $1 million called The Basketball Tournament. Since then, it has partnered with the Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul, hosted over 400 games and is now an essential part of ESPN’s summer programming.
The Soccer Tournament (TST) was created in 2020 after soccer players, Mike Volk and Henry Tembon, pitched the idea of applying the same high-stake, open-to-all format to soccer. This year is the inaugural tournament.
TST features seven-member teams, a smaller field and smaller goals, but the ‘closeness’ creates high-event games that resemble indoor soccer.
The TST has a ‘World Cup’ format, with 32 teams divided into eight groups of four. After each team has played each of the three other teams in its group, the top two teams advance to the knockout stage. The knockout stage is made of single elimination games in brackets. Teams advance as they win until they reach the winner-take-all final with a prize of $1 million.
How do the games work?
TST games have no offsides or throw-ins, do not allow slide tackles and are made of two 20-minute halves plus a Target Score Time. The Target Score Time is added after the 40 minutes of play.
The target score is composed of the winning team’s score plus one and the first team to achieve the score wins the game. Target Score Time has no clock, but one player is removed from each side every five minutes to make the game more dynamic and open.
Hoosier Army vs. Borussia Dortmund
The Hoosiers played the tournament’s opener against Dortmund Thursday morning in Cary, NC. Indiana’s starting lineup featured goalkeeper Christian Lomeli, defenders Francesco Moore and Grant Lillard, midfielder Jeremiah Gutjahr and forward Austin Panchot –– who were all teammates between the 2015 and 2016 seasons on Indiana’s men’s soccer team.
The lineup also featured Joris Ahlinvi, who played for the Hoosiers in 2019 as a senior and Nikita Kotlov, who played for the Hoosiers from 2010 to 2013, winning the College Cup with Indiana in 2012.
The Dortmund side featured ex-players Kevin Grosskreutz, Felipe Santana and Dedé. The three were teammates at Dortmund from 2009 to 2011 and Grosskreutz and Satana were part of Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga title in 2012.
Despite all of Dortmund’s experience, the Hoosiers were in control the whole game. The Hoosier Army started the game with two very clear chances within the first 30 seconds of play but couldn’t convert.
With the dominance, it wasn’t long before the Hoosiers broke the scoreless tie. Eight minutes in, Thomas Warr, who played for Indiana from 2017 to 2020-21, opened the scoring. Warr received a lateral pass at the top of the box that took Dortmund’s goalkeeper out of position and hist shot was tipped, which was just enough for the ball to go between Dedé’s legs.
Not long after that, Gutjahr improved the lead. With 12 minutes played, the Hoosier midfielder shot from distance and, with a little help from Dortmund’s goalkeeper, made it 2-0 Hoosier Army. The shot wasn’t particularly difficult to save but the keeper fell late as the ball slid underneath.
The Hoosiers were forcing Dortmund to play the long ball, which was not working for the German side and made it easy for Indiana to retrieve possession and keep pressing.
In the 26th minute, Ryan Wittenbrink's goal put the Hoosier Army in a comfortable lead, 3-0. The Hoosier forward played from 2019 to 2022 and made the NCAA Men’s College Cup All-Tournament Team in 2022. Wittenbrink cut to the right from outside the box and fired a perfect shot in the bottom right corner that hit the post and went in, showing that he is still in top form from last season.
Indiana did not allow Dortmund a single shot on goal in the first half. The only shot attempt was a free kick from Dedé that went way over the crossbar.
Dortmund came back from the half better and recorded its first shot on goal in 24 minutes. Seven minutes later, Dortmund’s Adam Misirly scored a header from a corner kick and cut the deficit to 3-1. The German club started to attack more and the game became more open.
Despite the fast pace, the Hoosier Army managed the game and scored with just a minute left in regulation. Indiana had a great sequence of passes inside Dortmund’s box and found Joshua Gatt in the middle with a wide-open goal, which put the Hoosiers up 4-1 to finish regular time.
In Target Score Time, Indiana only needed one goal to win the game, but Dortmund struck first. After a side pass on top of the box, Dortmund’s Keegan Woolly shot struck the top left corner to make it 4-2.
Five minutes passed and both teams were down to six men. With more space on the field, the Hoosier Army penetrated the box and was awarded a penalty.
“Just stay calm, you know, do my thing,“ Wittenbrink said postgame what was going through his head from the penalty spot.
Calm as you like, the Hoosier scorer forced the goalkeeper to the right and shot left, winning it for the Hoosiers 5-2.
In the 2022 NCAA College Cup final, played in the same stadium in which TST is held, Wittenbrink scored his last penalty kick for Indiana in the penalty shootout against Syracuse University, which ended in a 7-6 defeat for the Hoosiers last December.
“It’s a pretty cool experience to be here,” Wittenbrink said. “Awesome to get the first Target Score goal ever, I’ll never forget it.”
The Hoosier Army plays Kingdom FC Thursday afternoon, June 1 at 5:30pm EST in Cary, NC.