Men's soccer: Freshman goalkeeper Trey Muse, veteran defense propel No. 1 Indiana to undefeated start
What could you accomplish in 966 minutes and 28 seconds?
You could watch the entire extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then knock out the first two Harry Potter movies. You could fly from Atlanta to Shanghai. You could drive from Bloomington, Indiana. to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (more on this later), then continue your road trip to Syracuse, N.Y., just for kicks.
Or, if you’re Indiana true freshman goalkeeper Trey Muse, you spent those 16-plus hours between goal posts for the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers, preventing every shot he faced from crossing the goal line over the course of five and a half weeks.
Indiana had nine consecutive shutouts between Sept. 13, when Michigan’s Robbie Mertz snuck one past Muse in the 51st minute of a 1-1 draw, and Oct. 21, when Wisconsin forward Tom Barlow’s header found the back of the net.
"Certainly to say you’ve given up two goals, if you would’ve said (that) 15 games into the year, I’d be pretty ecstatic," Indiana coach Todd Yeagley said Friday, the day before the Hoosiers allowed their third goal of the season in a game against Wisconsin. "Here we are, so obviously I would take that if someone told me because typically most teams are in the teens or higher so we’re obviously very happy with that and it’s allowed us to be successful this year."
Indiana is just one of 11 teams in Division I history to record at least nine consecutive shutouts – the most the sport has seen in seven seasons.
This is a soccer blue blood – Indiana’s eight national championships are second only to Saint Louis and the Hoosiers have the highest all-time winning percentage in men's soccer – that has entered unchartered territory, even by its own lofty standards. The Hoosiers have shut out 13 of their 16 opponents, which calculates to an .8125 shutout percentage that ranks first nationally and second all-time, with a true freshman goalkeeper who leads the country in save percentage and goals against average.
Perhaps the most amazing part? The 18-year-old Muse began playing the position just five years ago.
"I never played goalkeeper until I was about 13 and that was just my dad knowing that he didn’t want me to start early," Muse said.
Trey's father, Dave, was a former Kentucky Gatorade Soccer Player of the Year who played goalkeeper at Kentucky.
"He felt that he didn’t really think it was necessary for me to move (to goalkeeper) at such a young age because there was so much more to it that wouldn’t be covered," Muse said, "so he wanted to wait for me to develop on the field, develop my feet, and stuff like that before I made the switch over, once the game became quicker.”
Having developed his foot skills and feel for the game as a position player, Muse developed quickly as a goalkeeper, playing for the Seattle Sounders FC 2 in the US Soccer Development Academy and later the U.S. U18 Men's National Team. When it came time to make a college commitment, Indiana provided the right environment for Muse academically and athletically.
Although he's in his first semester on campus, his coach and his teammates see someone mature beyond his years.
"He’s got a lot of confidence," Yeagley said. "He’s very mature. He reminds me of a junior, just in his maturity. I’ve felt that from day one, I think the team did."
If Muse is a junior in maturity, then he's amongst peers on Indiana's defense. The Hoosiers' starting back line includes a reigning second team All-American in senior Grant Lillard, redshirt junior Timmy Mehl, junior Rece Buckmaster and junior Andrew Gutman, a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2016.
"We’ve been playing together for a few years now, some of us," Lillard said, "and having Trey in there just kind of fit right in and it’s been a good transition for us.”
Yeagley said the experience and talent in front of Muse has prevented him from feeling like he's being bombarded by shots at the start of his college career.
"It’s like a young goal scorer," Yeagley said, "if you get a goal, in this case if you get a shutout and you get a good win and you clean sheet it, it just builds confidence. Obviously our team defending from front to back has allowed him to have limited saves here and there and when he’s had to make them, he’s been great for us. I think it’s set up really well this year because of our experience in the spine of the field and in front of him allows him to come in and have success early, which just built his confidence and now that he’s kept us in a couple games, I think now it’s brewing and obviously we feel like he can make a big save when we need him.”
Through 16 games, Indiana hasn’t suffered a loss. Among teams ranked in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, only No. 11 Florida International (10-0-3) can say the same. The Hoosiers' 0-0 draw at then-No. 2 Maryland is what vaulted them to the No. 1 spot in the rankings, a position they haven’t relinquished. Michigan, then ranked No. 18, managed to tie Indiana, but No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 17 Ohio State and No. 19 Kentucky weren’t as fortunate. Each left Bloomington with a shutout loss.
“Any time you play against a good schedule it allows you as you enter into the late stages of the season, lean on that and go ‘Ok, whether it’s a style or a high-end player or team that is super dynamic or disciplined, we’ve seen everything this year,'" Yeagley said. "So there’s no surprises, we feel like we’ve been tested in all areas, whether that’s our defensive unit or vice versa, a team that’s really good defensively, we’ve still been able to break down and create goals."
Against Wisconsin, an opponent that Yeagley called "one of the better attacking teams in the country," the Hoosiers limited the Badgers to one goal, below their top-10 average of 2.23 goals per game entering the match. When the game went to overtime, a territory Indiana has grown familiar with this season, freshman forward Mason Toye scored his team-best ninth goal of the season off a set piece to win the match in double overtime.
"Balance to us is always something that we strive for," Yeagley said, "and I think that’s what I’m most proud of this group is that there’s not a more balanced team in college soccer and that’s not a bias, that’s just statistically (accurate). The chances we’re creating in offensive categories and defensive, we’re basically in the top six or seven at every category on both sides of the ball."
Twelve players have scored a goal for Indiana this season and the Hoosiers have danergous scoring options throughout their formation, even on their back line in Lillard (13 career goals, nine assists) and Gutman (seven career goals, six assists).
Lillard said the team's balance is what could give it a higher ceiling than past Hoosier squads, which have been eliminated in the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament.
"In past years we’ve had a few offensive guys get shut down and this year we have more guys that can give us the goal that can win us the game than we’ve had in the past years," Lillard said, "so I think just being more balanced offensively and then having our back line keep shutting out teams, it’s been a good fix for us.”
Indiana's regular season finale could be among the toughest matches on its schedule all season: a road trip to East Lansing to face No. 8 Michigan State (11-2-2). Then it's on to the Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament, where the Hoosiers will try to advance to their first College Cup since winning the national championship in 2012.
This year's College Cup is being held at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia, which is an 11-hour drive from Indiana's campus, or in Muse terms, seven and a third shutout matches.
“In our eyes we want to win a national championship, so that’s what we’re pushing for," Muse said. "I don’t think we want anything less than that.”