IU soccer Q-and-A: bonus edition

I sat down with IU soccer coach Todd Yeagley earlier this week to talk about the season, the program and college soccer in general. Two parts of that Q-and-A appeared the H-T and on HeraldTimesOnline.com, but here’s the rest of our conversation that didn’t make the paper:

Question: Looking at the teams in the College Cup (No. 11 Providence, No. 2 UCLA, unseeded UMBC, No. 16 Virginia), that’s sort of an illustration of how razor thin the line is between success and disappointment, isn’t it?

Todd Yeagley: It is. It’s not college soccer 20 years ago. It’s just not. There were 10 or 15 premier programs, maybe amongst those five or six of the elite, and they regularly showed up.

The women’s game has had it a little bit more where it’s the same characters typically show up, and now it’s a little bit of parity starting to enter, but I think they’re still 10-15 years behind us.

There’s just that many good players. When you play the nature of our sport, you can make a game, if it’s a tight, a lot of things can happen, and to be able to be in this round now consistently is a really tough task, no matter how talented you are, no matter how much you have. It’s just — the UMBC’s of the world, a Providence, these are programs who have never even been to this level, yet have been really good teams. If you ask anyone in the last five years, who’s a good team you play and you don’t necessarily hear of it, but there’s five others you could come up with immediately that would be similar.
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It’s a good thing for our sport, but for an elite program, it’s challenging to always continue being at the highest benchmark at the end of the season.

I love that challenge, but it’s just the reality of what we’re in right now.

Q: Shot percentage, your team was .104. UCLA, very similar in goals per game, but shot percentage of .117. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but … ?

TY: It’s enough to tip the scale. It is.

As a staff, we identified the importance of finishing with this group, so the way we structured training, the way we went after one of the areas we needed to get better was that. Knowing that we probably won’t be able to generate as many chances as the ’13 team did, but we need to find ways to convert the ones we have.

Restarts are a really good way for that (to happen), becuse it’s a controlled scenario. This team believed in them, this team understood that it was important. Other teams, they all know it’s important, but they don’t necessarily have the enthusiasm or the conviction of the importance of it. This team really understood it, and it showed with our restart ability. That’s a strength of this team, and it gave us some important goals.

Getting back to the preparation, you can train and work all you want with some of the attacking players, but there’s certainly an instinct and a skill set. It’s no different with a player that doesn’t have the speed you want. You just can’t tell him to run faster. You can train it, you can do all you want, you can get a little margin, but with a goalscoring mentality and also just that composure, you can’t teach the high end one. You can make the other ones better, and that’s what we’re trying to do, make all the ones a little bit better.

That’s the main focus for recruiting, to find, can you get a 15-goal scorer?

You look at Maryland’s goal production after last year with Pat Mullins leaving. It drastically dropped. And they had al ot of good players till. But that was 18 goals, and they made the College Cup final. This year, they were out in the first game. It effects everyone.

Q: Scoring in general is just more difficult than it was 15 or 20 years ago, isn’t it?

TY: Because the defenders are better. That’s really what it comes down to you. There’s less ways to break teams down. Used to be you’d find one back on a back line, that you were, ‘OK, we’re going to expose this.’ You move your player where you need to, you get the matchup you want, and it’s done. The best IU teams always had that player.

Now you look at these teams, and there’s not a weakness. There’s not an area where you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a real difference in where we are.’ Now, player for player we’ll have better spots collectively, but the margin is smaller than it was 15 years ago. That’s where we are in college soccer. That’s for anyone out there.

So when you get that goalscorer, that special player, it is often the difference in how far that team might be able to go. It still doesn’t give you a pass to the final, but it’s going to give you, in tight games of the tournament, when you see these games, UCLA being the exception, it’s zeros, one-goal, maybe penalty kicks, who’s going to make the difference?

Q: Looking at your finish in the Big Ten (fifth) vs. nationally (fifth seed), it seems like the Big Ten is not as big a deal for your guys because of the schedule you play. How do you rate the importance of the conference?

A: It’s important, certainly. You always want to be able to win a title and have that part of it, but the reason that we’re a five seed is the way we schedule mid-weeks. Other Big Ten schools are starting to adopt that and understand taht playing that 150-200 RPI team mid-week is going to give you the win most likely and help you prepare a little bit with rest for the weekend Big Ten game, but it may not ever get you in a top-seeded situation.

I would rather have the seed situation at the end of the year and also prepare your team to play against the type of teams you play in a tournament run than give that up a little bit for a better, fresher chance to win the Big Ten weekend game. So that’s the balance.

I like where we’re at, because every game becomes so important, and our players like that. I think as an athlete you want that, but it does put some strain and stress on the group at times, and I can’t be naive to not notice that. So I think, like the Wisconsin game (a 2-2 tie) was a good example of that. We just ran out of gas at that time of the year, and the performance showed. …

There was a reason why we did perform like that. They were just exhausted, physically and mentally. That’s the what-if that can happen, fortunately we didn’t lose (the game), but that’s that balance you’re always trying to have when you do you’re scheduling.

Again, I’d rather have the way we are now than the other side.

Q: With the expanded Big Ten, it sort of limits your schedule in terms of typically making a West Coast trip or something like that?

TY: The way I view it, Rutgers is going to be on an upcurve. They were better than their record this year. So Rutgers is on the upswing, so you look at our third weekend (of the season), that would be a Maryland-type game and ptentially a Rutgers where we would go to the West Coast and play a UCLA and a San Diego. That’s Maryland and Rutgers now.

So you get it now in conference. You get one of them away, so you get that away difficult environment, travel, which is important that they experience to have to win on the row, flying, different region, officiating might be different. We get that now organically in the conference.

We are working to get the ability to travel on the second weekend and work with Notre Dame on taking a break from one another’s tournaments. You’ll see that in the years to come. The second weekend we wouldn’t go to Notre Dame, we would go somewhere else, and they would still come to our tournament. The next year you’d see us go to their tournament, and you won’t see Notre Dame in our tournament.

So we’re working to get that flexibility in the first two weekends to go somewhere still out of region every couple years, it just wouldn’t be every year.

It might be St. Louis one year, it might be a closer one game one year it might be going to Akron’s tournament. Doesn’t mean it’s always out of region, but just another two games that give you big competition.

We would like to go to the West Coast once in a four-year cycle, that would be nice, just for our players and to feel what it’s like to go out there. So we’re working on that, but our schedule is really well-structured right now to give us what we need RPI-wise, challenge-wise, to be ready.

Our players, I just know in the tournament, they were not going to be intimidated by any situation. They just weren’t. And that gives you confidence.

Q: Having seen Maryland Rutgers in the conference for a year, is it a good thing for the Big Ten to diversify a little bit?

TY: I really like our number right now. Would I love for more programs to be varsity in the Big Ten? Yes.

But from a scheduling standpoint and diversity of what we play, I feel our conference is the most difficult because of the range of who you play, where you play, styles and just talent. It’s a tough conference.

Rutgers and Maryland really give us, again, two different types of teams that we haven’t had.

Rutgers plays different than a lot of the Big Ten teams. They’re very attack-oriented, they have some good international players, they’re dangerous.

We have Northwestern, which is very disciplined and sits and makes you break them down. Then there’s kind of everywehre in between.

I think there are some conferences where it’s kind of the same thing every week, same type of team.

I like that about us.

And Maryland, I think why you’ll see epic games with Maryland and Indiana, after talking with their coach, we just both talked at the showcase, he said, ‘OUr players love playing against you guys, because they know you’re going out to win the game,’ as his players are.

It’s two teams that are unwilling to sit or sacrifice to go win it. There are plenty of teams we play this year that are not wanting to lose. And it is refreshing.

Tactically, we’re smart certain games, but there’s a mentality that we’re going to try to put our game into you, and that’s why that (Big Ten) championship game at Maryland was an absolute battle. That was fun to be involved with as a player and a coach, because you’re just on the edge of your seat. You thought every moment was going to be the moment. Obviously didn’t go our way, but that’s the type of game you love your athletes to be involved with.

Q: Grant Lillard was talking after that Maryland game how he was disappointed not to win a championship, then the NCAA loss to Xavier, but does that leave a little more hunger there going into this offseason?

TY: It does. When you win it all, no matter what you say or do, it has to be the internal group dynamic. Some teams are better prepared to do a double, whether it’s the Big Ten, whether it’s the NCAA, just the DNA of the team, and I think this group, although they can reflect and be proud of what they did and all the new things that this team had within it, but there is going to be an offseason hunger that I don’t need to stir the pot much on it.

That’s what I love. That’s partly how we recruit. You talk about where we are as a group, that’s where you want it. I don’t want to hae to externally motivate a group on how close we were. Let it drive them. We’ll do what we need to do externally, but I think this group internally is very motivated to continue to find not only the important wins, but get over the edge in a championship game.

When you have a taste of it, it is hard. That’s what’s so great about the ’12 group. They’ve talked about it, we’ve shared the examples of what it takes to win those types of games. We’ve played at that level, in certain games, that wins you championships — that level of performance, that level of focus. And we played like that in a lot of games this year. To be able to share those as a player to another teammate, like, ‘We need that, because that’s what we’ve got to do for four to six games.’

This is a hungry group, it really is. One that is very motivated to leave their mark, as we always say. This group I think has an opportunity to do that.