Published: March 20, 2012
Pinpointing gaps, improving teams technically, changing tactics – the list is lengthy when it comes to deciding what exactly to address during the spring soccer season.
For the men’s teams in the Big Ten, this spring has all those elements to it, as the likes of Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern go through the rigors of preparing for the fall schedule.
“The spring is a very serious time for us, we feel like we get a lot of work done,” Indiana coach Todd Yeagley told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “Not only that but [we work on] our speed and agility, work in the weight room, it’s time to get better, individually and as a team you get stronger, quicker, faster.”
Northwestern, which captured the regular season and postseason tournament titles in the Big Ten last fall face have a big hole to fill. They must replace leading scorer Oliver Kupe, whose eight goals last year led the team. As of right now, the burden shifts to the returning Reed Losee to help replace Kupe’s goals.
However, the lack of a deep freeze in Illinois during the early stages of spring has proven to be beneficial to Northwestern’s preparations.
“I think having a mild winter this year has really helped, not necessarily being outside, there’s a different approach when it’s 50 degrees.” Northwestern head coach Tim Lenahan told TopDrawerSoccer.com.
According to Lenahan, Northwestern is raising the bar in the spring, hoping to erase the slow starts that seem to plague them in the fall. With that in mind, the team already has its first game of the season under its belt, taking a long bus ride to North Carolina where they drew 0-0 against Wake Forest.
“First 20 minutes or so we were a little bit sluggish as to be expected,” Lenahan said. “Our keeper made a couple of good saves to keep us in the game and then we settled in and I would say it was roughly even from there.”
Perhaps no other team in the conference lost the level of talent that Indiana did, as Tommy Meyer, Alec Purdie and Chris Estridge were all drafted by MLS clubs. However, aside from losing that trio, there’s plenty coming back, including Eriq Zavaleta, who scored 10 goals as a freshman.
Then of course, there’s the addition of yet another talented incoming freshman class.
“I like our class coming in next year and so really the spring is this year more than probably any other year we have more pieces returning, eight returning players that started significantly last season,” Yeagley said.
Zavaleta, who came to school as a defender, could end up playing either as a forward or defender this fall – a repeat of the Andrew Wenger situation at Duke, as Zavaleta could drop back to help the team accommodate the loss of Meyer.
Up at Michigan State, the Spartans were another team to start its spring slate, losing 5-1 against the Columbus Crew on March 17. Adam Montague returns after a solid freshman year, but will have to find a new goalkeeper with the graduation of Jeremy Clark.
Another team that could contend is the growing program at Ohio State. Despite losing its goalkeeper Matt Lampson to the Columbus Crew, the Buckeyes get last season’s leading scorer Chris Hegngi back.
There’s a long way to go as the best of the Big Ten complete spring preparations, but there’s one place they all would want to be when players leave for summer break.
“You just want to be playing well. You want to be playing good soccer, defending well,” Lenahan said. “By the time we leave at the end of the spring I just want to have a good feeling about ourselves moving forward.”Big Ten Players to WatchEriq Zavaleta, Indiana:
Center back or forward? That’s the question that will dog Zavaleta throughout the year. But from all appearances, he’ll be ready for either task, whether it’s putting balls in the back of the net or keeping them out of his own.Chris Hegngi, Ohio State:
An athletic forward who played for D.C. United’s Academy, Hegngi raised his game in 2011 with a personal record for goals scored (9) to lead the team. If he takes it up to another level in 2012, the Buckeyes shouldn’t have a problem returning to the NCAA tournament.Reed Losee, Northwestern
: One of the many reasons for Northwestern’s success in 2011 was the play of lone striker Oliver Kupe. With him no longer eligible, Losee is the heir apparent to that spot, and while he doesn’t quite have the speed of Kupe, Losee brings plenty to the table.
Image courtesy: Indiana University Travis Clark is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Follow him on or send him an email.