Last year, Will Bruin scored 18 goals for Indiana University. Then he was gone, selected in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft by the Houston Dynamo.
It would be a difficult loss for any program to absorb, but combined with the graduation of current Columbus Crew midfielder Rich Balchan, the Hoosiers had some large holes to fill heading into the 2011 season.
So far, so good for Indiana, unbeaten through eight games (6-0-2) under second-year coach and former Crew defender Todd Yeagley.
“We clicked in preseason,” fifth-year senior Alec Purdie told MLSsoccer.com. “We were playing well, got the first couple results the first games of the season, and winning’s contagious. Now the confidence is high and we’re starting to steamroll.”
Indiana’s forte so far during that short stretch has been the team defense. Anchored by senior center back and MLS prospect Tommy Meyer, the Hoosiers have five shutouts from their first eight games.
“Our team defending, we’re pressing hard, winning balls higher up the field, making it difficult for teams to play,” Yeagley told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re not giving teams high quality chances.”
The shift to a slightly more defensive approach has helped the team make the adjustment to life without the talismanic Bruin. By keeping things tight at the back, Indiana has been able to win close games as they figured out how to score.
And the Hoosiers have been able to find answers. Purdie currently leads the team with five goals. Freshman Eriq Zavaleta, who spent time in high school playing at Real Salt Lake’s Arizona Academy, has added three, as Indiana is sharing the wealth in front of the opposing net.
“It’s been fun to see because last year, we were so dependent on Will at times when we weren’t in good form,” Yeagley said. “This year, we’re finding different players in different spots.”
Added Purdie: “We’re much more balanced this year. We have [seven] different goal scorers this year, and a lot of guys stepping in and stepping up.”
How far this different, balanced approach can take Indiana remains to be seen. One of college soccer’s most decorated programs over the last 30 years, there’s every reason to believe the current team can at least contend for a 12th Big Ten crown.
But they aren’t getting ahead of themselves, and know that while this is a good start, there’s no reason to get carried away.
“Expectations at IU, everyone always wants us to be at the College Cup, Big Ten championships,” Yeagley said. “Certainly this team is capable of being a deep tournament team, not a favorite like other years I’ve had at IU, yet we’re not looking at those things at this point. It’s looking at every game, every opportunity.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.