HOOVER, Ala. – For years now, Indiana forward Eriq Zavaleta has been destined for Major League Soccer. But destiny can wait at least a few more days.
The nephew of former MLSer and US national team defender Greg Vanney, Zavaleta has spent time with three MLS academies in Columbus, RSL and Chivas USA, but on Sunday he leads the front line for his Indiana University Hoosiers as they battle Georgetown for the NCAA title (2 pm ET; ESPNU, ESPN3.com).
“It’s rare you’ll find a team at this point of the season without someone who can put the ball in the back of the net,” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley told reporters on Saturday. “And Eriq’s been that player for us this year.”
Zavaleta enjoyed a successful freshman campaign, scoring 10 times, but it’s in 2012 that he’s proven his potential MLS credentials. The Indiana native has struck 18 times this season, tied for third-most in the NCAA. However, that only tells half the story.
“What’s been outstanding is it hasn’t been three goals in one game then disappearing for three or four games and coming back,” said Yeagley.
Indeed, 11 of his 18 strikes this season have been either game-tying or game-winning goals, with the biggest ones coming in tournament upsets of top-seeded Notre Dame and ninth-seeded North Carolina, the defending champs. The clutch goals are just one aspect of Zavaleta’s game that cause an inevitable comparison to another Hoosier, Houston Dynamo forward Will Bruin.
It’s something not lost on the sophomore. Bruin’s scored 23 goals across all competitions in his first two MLS seasons, and started in last weekend’s MLS Cup final as Houston dropped a 3-1 decision to LA.
“The similar comparison is always to Will,” Zavaleta told reporters. “But I think we’re different players.
“He does a good job of getting hard runs into the box and I’ve certainly tried to emulate some facets of his game into mine and others. But I think that I’m my own player and I like to do things that many other players don’t.”
Whether Generation adidas comes calling after this season or next, there’s little doubt that Zavaleta will see the next level, but first he has some business to finish on Sunday.
“Coming to Indiana, it’s been in our heads that we really want to get to a Final Four and win a national championship,” said Zavaleta. “Any player that steps foot on that field at the beginning of the year, that’s the goal in their mind.”