Soccer's 2023 Season That Started With Some Struggles Instead Ends On Doorstop Of College Cup As Program Remains Top Notch
IU's Year Ends In South Bend in 5-4 Penalty Kick Loss To Notre Dame
Alumni Stadium Where The Hoosiers Season Came To An End In The Elite Eight Saturday Night
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South Bend - A 2023 season that looked like it might end much worse than any previous one instead turned around completely only to end in all-to-familiar heartbreak.
Since 2017, this program has once again become the one Hoosier fans had long come to expect under Jerry Yeagley. In that time, Indiana has been to four College Cups, five Elite Eights, picked up eight Big Ten trophies, and has never looked overmatched. While the most dominant squads were those in 2017 and 2018 that spent all season ranked in the top 5 of college soccer, the deep runs in the NCAA Tournament have continued.
This contrasts with 2005-2017 when the squad went beyond the Sweet 16 just twice (including a 2012 national title) and won five league trophies. While the biggest trophy of all continues to remain vacant since the aforementioned 2012, IU has been far closer to getting it outside of that one run.
Nothing says this more than the Hoosiers performance against Notre Dame, where Indiana fell in the Elite Eight. The Fighting Irish are a great measuring stick for the IU and since 2017 they have never officially lost to them. They sit at 5-0-3 in that time (Saturday night’s season-ending PK loss officially goes down as a tie) and each one has been a thriller. This contrasts with the previous showdowns before that when the Cream and Crimson went 2-5 and at times looked like the lesser side.
IU coach Todd Yeagley said he thinks the difference in the tournament performances is partially luck despite the numbers pointing in a certain direction.
“We have lost a lot of tough overtime games,” “Margins are tight. The program recruits really good players and we recruit winners who are able to get to these games.”
While 2023 did end in a similar heartbreak, getting to where they did was much different. While the last few seasons have started somewhat slow before taking off, this one took the turnaround to the extreme. Their RPI sat near 100 and a record of just 3-3-4 in early October. The final tally was 15-4-5 as the team finished the season 12-1-1 down the stretch. In the end, they were playing as well as anyone in the country and won both the regular season and conference titles.
However, with their RPI still in the 20’s the team did not get their normal top-16 national seed for the first time in a decade and had to play an extra round and go on the road earlier. They knocked off top Wake Forest and Virginia squads despite the increased level of challenge compared to previous postseasons.
As it turned out, the beginning of the season likely made little difference except it forced the squad to be nearly perfect down the stretch. The best start in the world probably still gets Indiana in the seven or 10 spots where the Cavaliers and Demon Deacons were with the struggles of the Big Ten. That would still create a showdown against the Fighting Irish tonight given the somewhat regional placement by the committee generally. The only time the slower beginning may have mattered was in 2021. Then the Hoosiers snuck into a 15 seed and had the toughest matchup possible against future league foe Washington on the west coast. They lost that 3-2 in overtime.
While the last three falls have turned around as October started, this one was more remarkable than any of them. A squad that looked like it might miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986, instead got to the doorstep of the Final Four.
Yeagley said everything came together later on as it generally does.
“As we talked through the year we improved in all the little areas that were holding us back a little bit,” he said. “There wasn’t a magic piece to it but there was great belief.”
Finally, the margins are so tight that the team often suffers heartbreak later in the tournament just as every squad but one does eventually in a given season. In the end, Notre Dame converted one additional penalty kick as the Hoosier’s year ended in that fashion for the second straight time. This was after Daniel Russo scored off a restart from just outside the box in the first half and Patrick McDonald equalized in the second 45 minutes from a similar spot for the Hoosiers. There was absolutely no separation between the two otherwise for the most part and unfortunately, one side had to lose.
In the end, IU was denied a College Cup in a rare northern site very near to campus in Louisville. However, ND could make the same argument as they often advance deep and never get the reward of a close-by Final Four and now will.
Indiana and Notre Dame are undoubtedly the two best programs in the Midwest and both should continue that way for years going forward with more top contests between the two on an annual basis. On a fall night in December though, the Irish got the luck their name says they often do and had the extra couple of inches.