By: James Mahoney
Ahead of Maryland’s semifinals match Friday night against Indiana in Santa Barbara, I spoke with Eddie Cotton of the Hoosier Network, who was able to give us a preview from Indiana’s point of view.
James Mahoney: This is a redemption run for Indiana, making it back to the College Cup after losing last year in the national championship, what is the feel of this program heading back to another College Cup?
Eddie Cotton: I think it would be extremely focused at this point. You’ve got a group that is mostly seniors. In the starting lineup, there’s one freshman, two sophomores and the rest are all seniors. So, you’re looking at a group that has experienced last year, they know they never want that to happen again and they are taking absolutely nothing for granted.
Last year, not only did they lose in the national championship game, but they lost in the Big Ten Tournament in a shootout and they lost the Big Ten regular season title in the last game of the season because they drew Michigan State. They came into this season with the mentality that they’re just not going to mess this up, they’re not going to make any simple mistakes, they’re not going to overlook anyone. That’s why they went undefeated in the Big Ten. That’s why they’ve only lost two games, one of which they played better than the opponent and that was the first game of the season, on the road against the [then] No. 1 team in the nation.
They’ve only really lost one game, to Kentucky, where they got trounced and that was a big learning lesson. So they come into the College Cup extremely focused and aware of what they’re getting into because they’ve done this before, and it almost feels like a refusal to lose at this point
JM: Of course, this is the third time that Maryland and Indiana are meeting this year, which you rarely see in college soccer. What sort of challenge does that pose for the Hoosiers?
EC: Well, [Indiana Head Coach Todd Yeagley] said at media availability this week that it doesn’t pose that much of a challenge, which I found was interesting. He said pretty much from the mentality that once you get to this point in the NCAA tournament, you can throw a lot of things out, because if you’re in the College Cup, a lot of it just goes out the window. Especially with what you’ve seen earlier in the season.
There are a few things that Maryland can key-in on that I think they (Maryland) acknowledged in their other two matchups. One, being the obvious fact that Andrew Gutman is so vital offensively for Indiana, scoring all three of the Hoosier’s goals against Maryland. [Maryland head coach] Sasho Cirovski has already said multiple times this year that Gutman is the best player in the country. That he has the potential to play for the U.S. National Team, but that’s something I think they’re going to key in on more Friday.
It will make things interesting and I think it will set up Indiana to try and balance the field, which I don’t know how comfortable they are with doing. They talk about it often, how they’re always prepared if teams focus on Gutman, to work on the other side of the field. That will mean a lot of reliance on Griffin Dorsey who plays on that right side, but it’s very far from a preference. They’ve got so many good left-footed players: Spencer Glass, Trevor Swartz and Andrew Gutman. So it’s not going to be their preference.
The other thing that Maryland can easily key in on is the fact that Indiana is amazing on set pieces. They work extremely hard on them, they have Trevor Swartz, who leads the nation in assists, taking corner kicks and free kicks. But, when you have a guy like Donovan Pines, it kind of neutralizes that. We saw Indiana, when they played Maryland earlier in the year, took a majority of their corners short because they didn’t even want to deal with Pines in the middle. Maryland will be able to recognize that, acknowledge that and utilize Pines to completely neutralize the biggest parts of Indiana’s game.
JM: And like you said, Andrew Gutman has been nothing short of incredible this year, 11 goals and 9 assists, he’s had Maryland’s number. Doing it from a left back position is not something you usually see in college soccer, so what makes Gutman so special there?
EC: He’s just the best player in college soccer. It’s just so obvious when you watch him. And I think the differentiator with him, that makes this sentiment work, is just the fact that he doesn’t seem to get tired and he’s still strong defensively. You’ll see him go all the way up the pitch, and rarely will he actually need anyone else to cover for him defensively if Indiana turns the ball over. He busts his butt all the way back down the field defensively. He’s got the speed to do that and he’s still effective on the defensive side of the ball.
Really, a lot of it comes down to his fitness, his stamina and his speed, and his defensive ability that allows him to be so strong offensively. The kid used to be a forward, he grew up a forward, until at the age of 14 the Chicago Fire told him they had one spot on their youth team at left back, go learn how to play left back. So, he wants to get up, he wants to score, but he just plays incredible defense and he’s able to cover for himself when he gets aggressive.
JM: What is the one part of Maryland’s game that makes them so difficult to go up against? Even looking at the last matchup with Indiana at the Big Ten Tournament, the match ended in a draw after double overtime, needing penalty kicks for the Hoosiers to win. What does Maryland do well that will pose a challenge for Indiana?
EC: They’re just smart. They’re just experienced, and smart and intelligent. And I just said smart and intelligent, that’s stupid. But yeah, they don’t make mistakes because they have the experience that they do. They have a coach that’s been there, that knows how this works and it’s very similar to the nature of Indiana.
I just think from a talent standpoint that Indiana has a little bit more of it for a majority of the pitch, but both teams don’t make mistakes and that’s what’s going to keep Maryland in games like this. They can be smart and potentially poach out a goal on a counterattack or something like that. Other teams, what happens against Indiana, they make one mistake and Indiana takes advantage, Maryland might not make any.
JM: Last question here. Finish the sentence for me, Indiana will win the semifinal if…
EC: I’m going to have to think about that. There’s so many ways Indiana can score. There’s so many things that can go wrong (for Indiana), but I would say Indiana will win if they play their game. And I know that’s just so simple to say, but [in the quarterfinals] against Notre Dame, it was the first time we saw all year that Indiana looked uncomfortable for a half. What they were doing is, they were sending in a lot of long balls, they were trying to do something special in front of the home crowd, they had over five thousand people there, and they realized at halftime, this is not how they play.
They connect short passes, they develop possession, this is not how they play and they needed to change things. They come out in the second half and they’re the same ol’ team. So if Indiana doesn’t get ahead of themselves, doesn’t overthink the moment and just plays Indiana soccer, they’re going to win. They’re more talented in almost every facet, they just need to play their game.