FORT WAYNE – The Indiana men’s soccer team has sought an identity throughout the spring.
Even for a squad returning most of its attacking player, that cohesion has been hard to come by – namely because one big body in the middle is playing professional soccer.
IU lost its leading goal scorer, sophomore Eriq Zavaleta, who was selected by the Seattle Sounders Football Club in the MLS SuperDraft.
Zavaleta scored 18 goals, including 10 game-winners, last season. One of those came in a double-overtime victory against Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. The Hoosiers went on to win their eighth national title.
IU will play Notre Dame again at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Fort Wayne Sport Club in the Shindigz National Soccer Festival.
I don’t think we have an 18-goal scorer in the group, IU coach Todd Yeagley said of his team. I could be wrong. We have a lot of guys that could increase their number considerably. They could bridge the gap, and that’s what we need.
Yeagley has tried to implement a more fluid attack with a greater variety of options this spring. The Hoosiers are 0-1-2 in the spring, and they have scored two goals in three matches.
The chances are there, Yeagley said. There just isn’t a finisher of the caliber that Zavaleta was.
We have been having trouble getting the goals, defender Matt McKain said. It’s sort of a work in progress.
Junior Nikita Kotlov, the team’s second-leading goal scorer last season with nine, will be among those expected to step up his scoring. Some incoming freshmen could also be leaned on for their offensive acumen. For now, the Hoosiers are working with what they have and figuring out what formations and patterns work best for the current group.
Our goal is just to figure out the best possible combination going into next year, Kotlov said. (Zavaleta), obviously, is a great player, a great forward. He really knew how to put goals away, and he was really good at holding the ball.
Losing him definitely makes it tough, but we’ve been working on that part of our game, whoever the forward might be.
Yeagley stressed that process as the key to spring play, not results. While his team has lost, the coach said it has been to good effect and his players are figuring out how to play without a pure scorer like Zavaleta.
I think the chances are going to be there, it’s just that a finisher is a finisher. We’ve got to find guys, Yeagley said.
We think we’re going to have a pretty nice, dynamic attack. We just have to make sure we have someone who can put the ball in the back of the net.