Respect, admiration shared at College Cup
The men’s College Cup kicks off on Friday from Cary, North Carolina. There are two new faces to the event in Pittsburgh and Marshall, but the two men leading those teams are not debutants on this stage.
The history and respect between all four coaches was a highlight of the press conference on Tuesday, but each made it clear that friendships are put on pause when the whistle blows on Friday.
The Indiana Hoosiers are always in the College Cup. This is the 21st trip for the storied program, and head coach Todd Yeagley has been there for every one of them. Following in his father’s footsteps, Jerry Yeagley, the Godfather of College Soccer, the younger Yeagley has earned his own place in the Idniana record books both as a player and as one of the top coaches in the modern game.
His squad faces off against Pittsburgh on Friday in one of the games from the men’s College Cup.
“It’s strange because usually you are heading off to a College Cup and there is usually so much involved with logistics and travel,” Yeagley said. “It’s really nice to wake up and already be where you are and we are just going to be changing fields. It still feels like a College Cup but not having to move this morning was quite nice. Being in a few of these over the years, every one is special. This is No. 21 for us, and we’re very proud of that but it’s No. 1 for this group. And that is what we are focused on, letting this team leave the ultimate mark.”
The ultimate mark for any Indiana team is that NCAA National Championship. This year’s team is built in a similar vein of the previously successful teams.
“We have an outstanding goalkeeper, a strong spine, and a goalscorer,” Yeagley said. “Those ingredients proved very important to us in many of our title runs. The roles are very defined at this point, and I think that is very important. The guys know where they are and that if their 15 minutes come, they are loving it and they go out and do it. The guys who are coming in to spell know what they do and they aren’t trying to do more than they need to and there is a great grit about this group. It’s developed over the course of the season, and that is what it has cool about it. It wasn’t there on day one, they’ve built into it. We’ve won in so many ways. I think that is a really important thing for a team at this point. If you have been dominant all season and you come up with a bad run of play, it could potentially rattle you. We’ve had a bad run, we’ve also been dominant in big games against good teams.”
While Pittsburgh is new to the College Cup, they are not a new opponent for Indiana. The two teams played in 2019.
“It does help,” Yeagley said when asked about that recent meeting. “We definitely know their style of play that they like to play. We play against a few teams that have a similar style. I think Michigan this year has a very similar style to what we will face on Friday with their movement and some of their interchanges. They have a very much of an Akron look as well. We’ve played against them in the tournament and had success. I have a lot of respect for (Pittsburgh head coach) Jay Vidovich. Many of you may not know but he was at Indiana for a short time as a player. He’s got some IU love in there somewhere. He has great respect for our program and my father, in particular.”
Vidovich spent one season playing for Indiana during his college career before he decided to transfer out. Even though his time playing for Jerry Yeagley was short, he speaks highly of the life lessons he learned while in Bloomington.
“I learned a tremendous amount from coach Yeagley: how to run a program, how to treat people, his drive for success, the way he did things,” Vidovich said. “Even though I was a young man, it was a terrific experience. He left a big mark on me. I can’t say enough good things about the man there.”
Todd Yeagley said that he was not sure if Jerry Yeagley would be making the trip to Cary for the College Cup.
“I’m not sure about my father yet,” Todd Yeagley said. “He likes to watch in his comfort area. I’m talking about it with my family. They told me to get to the College Cup and they will come over so talk about some pressure, I guess.”
Perhaps the Yeagley family could extend the motivation and try to get another victory out of the Hoosiers on Friday when they face off against Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Panthers are not that far removed from Jay Vidovich’s first season in charge of the program. Vidovich, a legend of the college game thanks to his time building the Wake Forest program, took over at Pittsburgh prior to the 2016 season. The team won two games that season.
“It is a pretty humbling job,” Vidovich said on Tuesday during the zoom press conference prior to the 2020 men’s College Cup. “I still feel, in my body, those only two wins in a season.”
Plenty has changed since that season, in fact there are no players left on the roster from that team.
“We had a vision in mind when we went forward,” Vidovich said. “It wasn’t getting to the Final Four, the destination wasn’t the Final Four or National Championship, per se. It was can we conduct our business in a National Championship fashion. Can we go about training, developing our players, can we demand of them the highest level of a student-athlete in how they go about their business on and off the field. That’s been the push since we got here. To see where we started and see where it is now, that’s exciting. It’s about doing things the way we want to do them.”
Even though this is Pittsburgh’s first trip to the College Cup and Indiana has been to this stage of the tournament a record 21 times, there is no darling debutant narrative for the Panthers.
“They’ve won the Big Ten regular season, the Big Ten Tournament, and now they are in the Final Four,” Vidovich said when asked about facing Indiana in Pittsburgh’s first trip to the College Cup. “They are a quality team. And in all due respect, the ACC is the best. We’ve been climbing that ladder, we’ve fought that way. For the first time in our history, we’ve chased a championship. That’s new to us. [Indiana] is a quality team that has history. This team that they have has never been to a Final Four, and neither has ours. It’s our first 11 versus their first 11.”
Indiana came out on top when these teams last met in 2019, but Vidovich did not put much credit into this being a rematch or looking for revenge.
“I’m one of those guys who wants to win all the time,” Vidovich said. “It’s not really about the last game. I always try to win all of the games. The bottom line is that it was a whole different team on our side and a whole different team on their side. We’re very good. We’ve formed a new chemistry or identity since then. In my career, I’ve had a chance to play them a number of times and it’s always been a good match. That is the story line for Indiana: they find ways to win - winning is in their DNA.”
Pittsburgh will need to crack that code to keep this run alive in the NCAA Tournament when the two teams meet on Friday in the men’s College Cup at 8:30 pm (ET).
Marshall head coach Chris Grassie just wants a hotel room key.
“I told the guys that when you get here and check into the hotel they give you these room keys with the College Cup logo,” Grassie said during the press conference on Tuesday. “With all of the medals and everything, I’ve saved those hotel key cards and I cherish those the most. I just want the key for the last night. I want the key for the room after the championship so I can come back to my room fully celebrated and enjoy it. I tell the guys what is delayed is not denied. We can definitely step up and do it this time. It’s going to take a bit of luck. All four of these teams are very good. It’s a bit who puts it together on the day.”
Grassie has been at this stage before. He was an assistant coach with Michigan when they made the College Cup in 2010. He was the head coach at the University of Charleston and led that team to the NCAA Division II Final Four in his final three seasons before taking over the job at Marshall. But he has never won the Championship.
“We went three times (with Charleston) and I thought we had the best team every time,” Grassie said. “It’s a little bit of luck. I think what those things do for me personally is they drive me. I wake up in the morning thinking about those things. They drive to make sure I don’t leave anything unturned. I look under every rock to find the best players, to scout the opponent. It drives me to make sure we do every little thing because once you get here you do need a little bit of luck. You don’t want to feel any regret at all. That has been really driving me since the first trip with Michigan in 2010.”
The first obstacle for Grassie and his side is North Carolina on Friday. The local side upset Stanford and Wake Forest to earn a spot at the College Cup. Grassie has seen some film on the Tar Heels prior to the press conference.
“They’re sort of a high pressure team,” Grassie said. “Their midfield is motivational with a yeller keeping the guys going. They are very solid in the back. They have a couple of electric wingers that we have to deal with. We’re pretty confident going into it. It’s not dissimilar from some of the teams that we’ve faced in the past. As much as they have strengths, we’ve proven to ourselves that we can come over it. It’s going to be a close game. I think all of these games are going to be pretty close. We’re always looking for just a slight edge and we have a few ways that we can get it tactically.”
North Carolina is the local side for this event with their campus only 20 miles away from the stadium. Despite the close proximity, most anticipate Marshall to have more fans in the stands on Friday night.
“The support from the Herd Nation is fantastic. They’ve shown that for us since 2019,” Grassie said. “We know it’s a hot ticket item. We’ve outnumbered the opposition every time. We’ve been louder than the opposition. We’ve been funnier than the opposition. We really appreciate the support we’ve been getting from Herd Nation.”
The Marshall Athletic Department has been getting some requests from famous alumni as well. Former American football quarterback Chad Pennington is going to give a pregame speech on Friday, Grassie told reporters on Tuesday.
“A little birdie told me that Matthew McConaughey might be popping in if we make it to the final,” Grassie said.
Only North Carolina stands in the way of Marshall’s date with a movie star, alright, alright, alright.
Carlos Somoano has coached a number of great teams during his time with North Carolina, but he seems to speak with the most pride about this year’s team. And he gives credit to this unusual season for helping get the team to buy in and get to this point.
“The main characteristic of this team is the willingness to grow,” Somoano said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Look at ourselves, evaluate, be better on a day-to-day basis. That is a tough thing for young kids to do. Insecurity is a very dangerous characteristic for an athlete or a team. Sometimes you are afraid to say we got to get better, but this team embraced that. I think that was a big shift in our mindset. We took advantage of the time we had off last spring (due to the pandemic). We looked at ourselves in the mirror and weren’t afraid to look at ourselves in the mirror and see there were things to grow and get better. I don’t know if we would have been able to do that without that time. That set the wheels in motion for us once we overcame that insecurity. We said here is where we are, here is where we want to go, and here is the gap that we want to close. There are tons of things that we wish we did better still, but none of them supersede our ambition to try to go out everyday and get better. You can’t pay for that as a coach.”
The task ahead for North Carolina is knocking off the Cinderella of the tournament in Marshall. Marshall beat the No. 1 seed Clemson and then defeated the defending National Champions, Georgetown, to claim the spot at the College Cup. Somoano said that he did not have time yet to look at much film for the opponent.
“At this point of the year, we are who we are and they are who they are,” Somoano said. “We will play our game and focus on what we do best. Stay compact, be opportunistic. We’re a gritty tough team. We are going to show up and give all we got. We aren’t getting out of the way of anybody.”
Somoano’s side is not the only North Carolina team in the College Cup, Anson Dorrance has North Carolina in the women’s College Cup as well. Somoano spoke glowingly of the success of the North Carolina Athletic Department recently.
“When you are around championship minds, what a culture of excellence,” Somoano said. “You can’t help but grow and appreciate what they do. Just watching how they manage their teams and players. I do think that is contagious. I think that contributes to a culture of success. I think we are better because of it, 100 percent.”
North Carolina will be counting on that recent success of Tar Heel athletics to contribute some luck on Friday night when they face off against Marshall.
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