Hoosiers Program Benefits from Roster Featuring Extensive Academy Pedigree
NCAA championships are nothing new to the Indiana University men’s soccer program. The Hoosiers’ now-eight titles rank second only to Saint Louis University’s 10-championship run over its first 15 years.
One element that was particularly impressive in the 2012 NCAA College Cup was the fact that Indiana’s championship team consisted of a whopping seven players in the starting 11 who have ties to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
Sure enough, junior midfielder Nikita Kotlov, one of three former Indiana United players among that starting group, was Sunday’s lone goal scorer as Indiana blanked Georgetown 1-0 to win the championship. The tally was set up by Eriq Zavaleta (formerly of Real Salt Lake AZ) and Patrick Doody (Chicago Fire Academy).
“I was just following the play up,” Kotlov said of his 64th-minute goal. “Doody had the ball on the left side and played a great serve in. Eriq saw me coming in late and made it easy for me to get the goal. It felt really good. But at the time there was still 25 minutes left, so we knew that we had to keep playing our game.”
Indiana limited the Hoyas to only two shots on goal for the match and maintained the clean sheet as senior goalkeeper Luis Soffner, a St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri product, earned College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player and was recently named one of 54 college seniors to the 2013 Major League Soccer Combine from Jan. 11-15 in Florida.
“This season has been awesome. It’s been a dream come true,” Kotlov said. “It’s the best thing I’ve had so far in my career, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Kotlov’s postseason also featured a memorable hat trick performance against Xavier to reach the Sweet 16.
“Coach [Todd Yeagley] told me earlier in the year that once one gets in, it will keep coming,” Kotlov said. “It felt really good to help the team out, scoring goals as of late, and that game kind of broke the ice.”
Looking upon his three seasons with the Hoosiers, Kotlov says the caliber of Academy training and game experience played an important role in transitioning to the college game and advancing his high-level career.
“The Academy was awesome because you were playing at the highest level you could play,” Kotlov said. “As far as transitioning to college, it’s more fast-paced and physical and it took a while to get used to, but I think the Academy helped me because playing at the highest level is how you get better. I do feel like I had an edge from that experience. It definitely helped.”
Among the performances of players such as Soffner and Kotlov, it goes without saying that the underclassmen impact of Academy players substantially grows.
“It’s huge because if you look at the past year, Eriq and Doody have been two key players in our quest,” Kotlov said. “The younger players stepped up in the championship game, as well as the Creighton game [to reach the final].”
Kotlov was a late bloomer for the game, gaining exposure to soccer several years later than many of his teammates.
“I actually didn’t start until I was around 8 years old,” Kotlov said. “I don’t really know why I started late, but one day my mom signed me up to play and I fell in love with the game. I kind of had a knack for finding the net and kept playing ever since.”
Indiana soccer has been part of Kotlov’s fabric throughout his youth, Academy and now college days, and he has had the privilege of sharing the experiences with Hoosiers junior teammates A.J. Corrado and Harrison Petts, who all hail from the Carmel/Indiana United club.
“It’s great to have teammates that you’ve developed through the game before college and what not,” Kotlov said. “I think it has also played to our advantage because we’re familiar with each other’s playing styles and it has made it a lot easier.
“We had a bit of a slump at the end of the regular season, but we believed in each other’s abilities and in the playoffs everything showed,” Kotlov said. “We had some amazing wins that we’ll always remember. It’s been unbelievable.”