Exploring the Crew-IU Connection

Twelve Hoosiers have joined the Crew over the years

The Indiana University men’s soccer program is arguably the most successful program in the history of collegiate soccer. Since its inception in 1973, it has won seven NCAA titles, made 17 Men’s College Cup appearances, boasts 76 NCAA tournament wins in 33 appearances and has produced 10 MLS Cup champions.

Twelve of their student-athletes have gone on to proudly wear Black & Gold at some point in their career including 2008 MLS Cup champions Danny O’Rourke, Jed Zayner and Pat Noonan as well as 2011 rookies Rich Balchan and Andy Adlard. Add into the equation three key original Crew members, Mike Clark, Todd Yeagley (IU’s current head coach) and Brian Maisonneuve (Yeagley’s assistant at Indiana), and the fact that Jerry Yeagley Field is only 228 miles from Crew Stadium, it seems like a no-brainer that the Crew would establish a Hoosier pipeline.

Crew technical director Brian Bliss agrees that geography is an important factor.

“Proximity is a key ingredient,” he said. “I think Indiana has been the premier program in our region in the last 10-15 years, and because they are one of the premier programs they have premier players. We get a chance more often to see them, because they are close by, keep tabs on them and know what they can do. The players fit the Midwest mentality and their work ethic is historically unparalleled. If you combine all these aspects, coupled with what we have been building here at the Crew since its inception, it makes sense for us to take players from that program and that’s how it’s come about.”

Crew midfielder Danny O’Rourke and defender Rich Balchan agree, but believe the teams’ cultures align well too.

“I think it’s definitely the proximity,” O’Rourke said. “Especially when you’re able to drive three hours to watch a player, or given the fact that Indiana comes to Ohio State every year. It is also a similar mentality. If the Crew is America’s Hardest Working Team of professional soccer, then Indiana is the same in the college ranks.”

“It’s a lot of things,” Balchan said. “Proximity is obviously one of the reasons, because it can be tough for professional coaches to come out and scout you. Most importantly though, the Crew is a very hard working team and Indiana is probably the hardest working school so the mentality translates easily.”

While collegiate soccer programs have grown consistently throughout the years, none have had the impact that the Hoosiers have had on the soccer landscape in the United States. Thirty-four Indiana products have gone on to have successful professional careers in Major League Soccer.

Maisonneuve, who played for the Crew from 1996 until 2004, says it’s about the system that legendary coach Jerry Yeagley, Todd’s father, built when he took over the program in 1973.

“Coach Yeagley created a winning attitude in everything we did,” Maisonneuve said. “Whether on the field, in the classroom or in the community, we were taught to do things the right way. This translated not only to the players but also to the coaching and support staff. Our wins and losses and our success are a by-product of the system he taught us.

“Today we try to carry on that tradition. Todd and his father are very similar, but we teach our players the same values, to put in the hard work every day on the field and in the community.”

Danny O’Rourke played for Coach Yeagley his first three years (2001-03) and for Mike Freitag his senior year (2004), winning two national championships, one with each coach in 2003 and 2004, and he agrees with Maisonneuve’s assessment.

“I think Coach [Jerry] Yeagley started something that wasn’t just a good soccer program, but more of a way of life and a foundation,” O’Rourke said. “He didn’t just teach us how to play soccer well, but he also taught us how to be men, how to not cut corners and how to work hard every day and I think that in aspect of life those values translate into success.

“It just so happened that [success] was on the soccer field. The most important thing is that you now get this pipeline of successful Indiana players. When I watch Rich [Balchan] play, I can see that nothing has changed. It’s the same mentality and it’s fun to see.”

Balchan, who was the first selection by the Crew in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, says the success of the program is what’s alluring to the talent they recruit.

“It’s the tradition of recruiting some of the best soccer players in Indiana and nationwide. They all buy into the system and work hard. From Jerry Yeagley, going through Mike Freitag and now Todd Yeagley and Brian Maisonneuve, they get the best out of every player and they give everyone an opportunity to go pro and that is one of the big pulls for Indiana.”

So how did the Crew – Indiana connection start?

“In the first year, Jamey Rootes was the GM of the Crew and he had some IU ties (he earned an MBA from Indiana in 1992 and was a graduate assistant),” said Maisonneuve. “Once the first wave came through, they knew the environment they were coming from and going into. It is a similar mentality, doing things the right way.

“We put in the hard work and sacrifice to have the best tradition in college soccer and the Crew does the same to build a successful franchise. It doesn’t happen by luck. You have to put in the hard work and sacrifice. We want our athletes to represent one of the most successful teams in MLS like the Crew and they know what to expect from our players.”

The relationships amongst the technical staffs doesn’t hurt either. Bliss and Crew coaches Robert Warzycha, Mike Lapper and Ricardo Iribarren were all teammates of Yeagley’s and Maisonneuve’s in the Crew’s early years.

“Having played together, it’s only natural that we keep in touch and trust each other’s opinion on players,” Bliss said. “They have run a good and clean program over the years and being close friends you subconsciously root for them and want them to do well. They come up and recruit our academy players and we go down and scout their college players for the professional ranks so it’s a good relationship.”

Indiana has produced a good crop of versatile players for the Crew throughout the years.

“When O’Rourke came into the league, he came in as a central midfielder, more of a defensive guy, hardnosed who wins the ball and dishes it,” said Bliss. “He has shown throughout his career that he can play several positions in the back line and in midfield effectively. Balchan has done the same thing. Their common element is their overall athleticism and their technical ability. When we fill the roster we need to add what we call “role players” and these two players know their role well allowing other players to do what they need to do and they are only going to get better.”

Maisonneuve elaborated on the Hoosiers’ philosophy.

“We teach soccer on principles,” he said.  “You defend the same way and you attack the same way. Regardless of what position you play, you know the forwards will need to come back and defend the same way the defenders will need to go forward. Even though they may play in different thirds of the field, the principles of soccer are the same. Guys like Rich [Balchan] will say they are more comfortable in a certain position, but with the principles we teach them they can play anywhere on the defensive side  and the same goes for Andy [Adlard], who can play anywhere on the offensive side.

While Indiana may hold a slew of records that won’t be surpassed soon, all Big Ten programs are growing and more players are entering the professional ranks and the Crew is not leaving any stone unturned.

“All the Big Ten programs are getting better,” said Bliss. “When the league started it was pretty much only Indiana and then you could throw in a team in any given year, whether it was OSU, Northwestern, Penn State, or one of the Michigan teams. Now you have three or four Big Ten teams that are consistently competing in the NCAA Tournament and sending more players to the pro ranks.”

And the hard-working mentality of the Midwest comes into play anytime the Crew is considering players.

“Again it’s the Midwest culture of winning and driving yourself to be better and having a mental toughness like Mike Clark and Danny O’Rourke or any of the other guys who came through the program,” according to Bliss. “Those types of players are invaluable. Naturally you need to have some other intangibles and go out to other conferences and get different types and styles of players. But there are certainly some cornerstones in the Big Ten, and definitely at Indiana, you can build from and that is what has drawn us there in the past.”