Inside The Pitch: Red Storm Rising In Indiana
Sept. 4, 2009
By Kevin Scheitrum
December had just begun to strip the color from Queens, N.Y., and the Indiana men's soccer team had 10 minutes to go until Texas. In New York for an NCAA quarterfinal game against St. John's, the Hoosiers had stifled the Red Storm all day, grinding to a 2-0 lead with just the equivalent of a coffee break between them and the warmer climes of Frisco, Tx for the College Cup.
Fourteen minutes later, they were heading back to Bloomington with a 3-2 loss, their season over after St. John's scored two goals to send the game into OT and then got another from Nelson Becerra four minutes into overtime to move into the national semifinals.
This weekend, as the D-I Men's Soccer season officially blows open across the country, the seventh-ranked Hoosiers get a chance at revenge, hosting No. 5 St. John's, No. 3 Wake Forest and No. 13 Notre Dame in the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic on Friday and Sunday. But far beyond any thoughts of early-season payback, the showcase represents an opportunity for four teams that could all find themselves in the College Cup to show how close the dreams of the preseason come to meeting up with the reality of a new year.
"It's a classic," said Indiana coach Mike Freitag. "That's what classics are supposed to be. A lot of people invite cupcakes - we want to find out what we're made of from the start."
"I think it's really exciting," said St. John's coach Dave Masur. "Indiana has an unbelievable soccer history, unbelievable players, and Notre Dame, they're recruiting good players and coaching the heck out of their teams. ... Both of these programs are at the pinnacle of college soccer."
The weekend opens with Wake Forest and Notre Dame kicking off at 6 p.m. (ET) on Friday in Wake's first game since the Demon Deacons' record-setting season was cut short by North Carolina in the national semis. [Click here for a podcast with Wake coach Jay Vidovich] Then, at 7:30 p.m., comes the showdown.
For both Indiana and St. John's, with lineups that should look a lot like the ones that took the field in 2008, expectations are understandably high. Indiana's bringing back seven starters; St. John's returns 94.9 percent (37 of 39 goals) of its scoring offense and its entire back line. Both lineups feature all-conference players, with supporting casts very capable of chipping in everywhere.
Not that that all means a whole lot, Masur said.
"To be able to exceed  this year is gonna be the real challenge," he said. "In coaching circles I always warn coaches that for the players to come back it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing."
So expect both clubs to press with the same manic but measured energy that both Masur and Freitag, two of the games' elite, have come to be known for.
Look for the Indiana offense to run through reigning All-Big Ten teamers Andy Adlard and Eric Alexander, along with last year's Freshman of the Year Will Bruin. The defense rests on its anchor, Ofori Sarkodie.
For St. John's, two names rise above a roster saturated with talent. Picked to the Soccer America preseason All-American teams, seniors Joel Gustafsson and midfielder Nelson Becerra form a core as good as any in the country. Gustafsson, the reigning Big EAST Defensive Player of the Year and member of the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy Watch List, will carry special importance early as a team founded on defense looks to replace departed star goalie Neal Kitson. Transfer Derby Carrillo, the only returner who saw game action in goal last year, will get the start on Friday.
For Becerra, whose eight goals and seven assists both led the Red Storm last year, it's a matter of fitness. Hampered by a herniated disc in the offseason, the midfielder's been training the past week - "but, it's a big difference between training and the game," Masur said.
But, Masur said, he'll be ready. And as St. John's looks to begin a quest toward the program's first-ever national championship - something that looks very possible this year - and Indiana looks to take home a national title that no one currently in Hoosier red has, there's not a better way to start the year.
"To be successful is a journey and along that journey you gotta work and battle through," Masur said. "Every team I've coached at St John's has taken a different path in finding their personality. And the teams that we play define our journey."
"Every day of training is competitive," Freitag said. "We continually let them know about the tradition of Indiana soccer. They know those seven stars on their chest [for Indiana'seven national titles], they're looking to add something to that. Even though we haven't won since 2004, the guys know what that's all about."
Sunday's games pit St. John's against Notre Dame at 11:30, followed by the hosts and Wake Forest at 2 p.m.
THE CHAMPS ARE HERE
The last time Maryland stepped onto the field for an NCAA soccer game, it walked off of as winners - the final winners of the 2008 season and the recipients of the limits of volume a packed Pizza Hut Stadium could muster.
There were 6,594 people that day in Frisco, Texas. On Friday in College Park, Maryland coach Sasho Cirovsky said, there'll be more.
"It's probably the greatest sign of respect you can have when you excite the student body to the level we have," Cirovsky said. "It's an enormous sign of respect, a great privilege, and we want to make sure we can play well for them."
Cirovsky said he's expecting more than 7,000 fans to flood into Ludwig Field on Friday, when the defending champion and top-ranked Terrapins take the pitch for their 2009 season-opener against No. 19 UCLA. There to watch the Terps play an official game for the first time since Maryland's national-quarterfinal win over Creighton Dec. 6, the crowd will be filling a bigger, brighter Ludwig Field - one capable of providing all the shine a team that's won two titles in four year has earned.
Ludwig's undergone a number of changes since last December. Most notably, the goal commemorating the 2005 national championship moved to the far side of the field, making way for the 2008 team's marker. Then there's the little addition of 1,000 more seats, swelling to accommodate what looks to end up as the largest home crowd in program history.
The festivities leading up to the 8 p.m. ET kickoff - complete with Under Armour CEO and Maryland alum Kevin Plank passing the first ball of the year, after a day of Under Armour-sponsored events - are set. What isn't so sure is what'll take place when the Terps, gutted by graduation and teeming with untested talent, hit the pitch.
"We're very young, and we're making progress," Cirovsky said. "Seventy percent of our squad is freshman and sophomores, and that's probably what we're gonna have in the starting lineup. We have quite a bit of talent, it's just a matter of getting in-sync.
"We just know that we've earned the right and privilege to have a big bulls-eye on our back," he said. "But last year its filed and tucked away. This is just another beginning with a new team, and we're trying to find our identity."
OTHER WEEKEND GAMES TO WATCH
(all games ET)
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 23 Cal Poly | Saturday, 8 p.m | Omaha, Neb.
No. 12 Connecticut vs. No. 24 Boston University | Saturday, 8 p.m. | Storrs, Conn.
No. 4 Akron vs. No. 14 Tulsa | Sunday, 8:30 p.m. | Tulsa, Okla.
No. 10 Illinois-Chicago vs. No. 20 Michigan State | Sunday, 7 p.m. | Chicago, Ill.
SET PIECES - Trinkets from around the country, teed-up just for you.
Ten current NCAA players were selected to the U.S. Under-20 Men's National team for the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt from Sept. 24-Oct. 16. UCLA and Notre Dame both feature two players on the team - losses that might sting as both teams enter the thick of their schedule. But, as the patriots they are, the Bruins and Irish have agreed to push on.
South Carolina senior defender Mark Wiltse suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Gamecocks' 3-1 win over Charlotte on Tuesday. Wiltse has started 52 of 53 games at SC, and will be eligible for medical hardship.
Tuesday saw two top-25 teams lose to unranked teams at home in their openers, with No. 17 Loyola (Ill.) falling to Villanova and No. 20 Cal Poly taking a loss against UNLV. Three top teams - No. 6 Creighton, No. 11 Northwestern and No. 24 Boston U - all tied.
After a rash of flu-like symptoms flushed through the Xavier campus, the men's soccer team canceled its match with Radford on Tuesday on the recommendation of the Cincinnati Health Department.
No. 10 Notre Dame welcomed its fans to their first game at the brand-new, $5.7-million dollar Alumni Stadium with a 5-0 shredding of No. 21 Michigan.
Reigning CAA Player of the Year Devan Carroll has been suspended for the year from the UNC Wilmington men's soccer team due to a violation of team rules
ASSISTS - Stories not written by us, but ones we wish we had.
Cat Scratches Feature: Rice Looks To End Kentucky Career With Title
Kentucky's Erin Lindsey wrote a dynamite story on defender Barry Rice and the pain the Wildcats have endured come Tournament-time over the past three years. Great quote by Rice, too:
"When the NCAA show came up and I saw that weren't in, I felt like I died," Rice said. "It was one of the worst feelings in my life. I thought we started to do something really special over the last year and I really wanted to keep going. It was painful."
Cal's Jacob Wilson Sounds Off
This one isn't exactly a story, but it is a pretty good read. CalBears.com did a Q&A with super-senior defender Jacob Wilson, who's now in his sixth year at Berkeley after two injuries kept him out of action - and allowed him some extra time in the East Bay.
CalBears.com: Do your teammates ever joke with you about being at Cal for so long?
JW: Freshmen are turning 18 and I am turning 23. I'm five years older than the freshmen, and they do make jokes about me being here forever.