By Andrew Melnykovcih
When University of Louisville soccer hosts Indiana Wednesday at 7 p.m., it will renew what is becoming one of the best regional rivalries in the sport, one on a par with Maryland-Virginia or UCLA-UC Santa Barbara. If those rivalries don’t ring a bell, just trust me.
It was not always this way.
Not so long ago, Louisvillians in search of top-notch soccer often made the two-and-a-half hour trek to Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, particularly for the season-opening IU tournament or NCAA games. I was one of those pilgrims, and I saw many a familiar face up there in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the always-large, always-boisterous crowds.
At the time, IU was on a tremendous run of success under their legendary coach, Jerry Yeagley. He won the last of his six NCAA titles in 2003 and retired that year. His successor, long-time assistant Mike Freitag, took the Hoosiers to the title the following year, but never got them past the quarterfinals again before being let go after the 2009 season. Jerry’s Yeagley’s son Todd took over in 2010. His two teams both have had the misfortune of meeting the eventual NCAA champions in the third round.
While IU was in its heyday, Louisville was generally consigned to the middle echelons of relatively weak soccer conferences such as the Metro and CUSA. They had never even made it to the NCAA tournament. And they had never beaten Indiana.