Bloomington, Ind. -- There are just 10 days remaining before the Indiana men's soccer team kicks off the 2014 season.
That's not a lot of time to restructure a team with just three returning starters, but two exhibition games in five days will go a long way in speeding up the process, starting with Tuesday night's 7:30 p.m. clash with Xavier at Armstrong Stadium.
IU coach Todd Yeagley has a plan of attack for both games, starting with the Musketeers.
"We'll play one period with a lot of newcomers, then one with more of our projected rotations [against Xavier]," he said. "But again, with three returning starters, which half is the newcomers' one? It's going to look different either way, but the deal is we'll put out a group we haven't seen enough of and might peck their way into the top group, then play a period using 14 players. That's our two goals in that game, then Washington [on Saturday in Fort Wayne], play with may be what we see as our top 15. We have such a narrow window to put guys together to create partnerships."
Creating partnerships and an overall positive chemistry is one of the key aspects of the preseason for the Hoosiers, who are coming off a season where they set school records for losses and Big Ten losses while giving up 1.73 goals per game.
"I think with so many new pieces, just forming an identity [is key]," senior defender Patrick Doody said. "We had a group that was here for a while, so the identity was stable. With new guys, new personalities, that's kind of a hard thing to figure out in such a quick amount of time. If we're walking away from the preseason with a good, strong identity in something that represents IU soccer well, I think everyone will be happy."
Yeagley said that will have to happen naturally, but he sees a unity developing.
"We've had a great team culture of playing for each other," he said. "And this group, everyone is really on the same page and fighting for one another, and I think that component can take this team somewhere. I think it's a mentally tougher group. Those are some identity pieces that will develop.
"But we can't say, 'This is our identity,' because ... identity does vary from team to team a little bit. We can't force it down their throat, it has to happen organically. We see it developing, and we'll know a lot more in days ahead. They have to take ownership of it."
One position where ownership has been taken is at goalkeeper, where Colin Webb started the final five games of 2013 as a true freshman and carries the starting job into 2014.
"Colin is the returning starter from the spring," Yeagley said. "He's the No. 1 at this time, and the other keepers know it's a dogfight for that position and others. He is No. 1 from his body of work from fall and spring."
The defense in front of him is another matter. Doody has been a fixture at left back, and ditto for Kerel Bradford at center back. Bradford is still regaining his fitness level, although Yeagley is optimistic he'll be ready for the opener or soon thereafter. The other center back position and right back remain question marks, one that Tuesday's exhibition should help answer.
"We expect really good competition," Yeagley said. "We lose Matt McKain at right back, the center back position was one where we had inconsistencies with injuries and young guys fighting for a spot (last year). That's why we brought a pretty back-loaded field in the group of 10 freshmen. Will I be surprised to see one or two of those in the lineup or very close to it? No, I won't be surprised. But again, we have to see it out here. The role is there for them to fight for it. There's spots open."
As for the rest of the team, there are plenty of positions open, but Yeagley believes no matter who fills them, there are some leaders poised to emerge.
"We have the most natural leadership in a class since I've been here is this freshman class," he said.