They're not pretty to watch," grumbled a St. Louis University fan after No. 1-ranked Indiana had beaten the third-ranked Billikens 2-0 two weeks ago. "They're awkward, they play too fast and you think they can't win. But they do. What's their secret?"
It's no secret that Indiana, which has a 13-0-0 record, is the best college soccer team in the nation, having defeated nine of this season's top 20 teams, including last year's NCAA champ, Hartwick, by a 4-0 score and runner-up San Francisco University 2-1. With the Billikens also now behind them and only the downhill part of their schedule left, the Hoosiers are a cinch to make the NCAA Division I playoffs and are a prohibitive favorite to win the title.
Indiana's "secret" is actually a two-parter. First, there is a bunch of modestly talented defenders and midfielders who play the game at a galloping pace and with such raw, charging flair that the Hoosiers often make more sophisticated opponents look as if they had been mugged on the fly. Contrary to the practice of most coaches at top-ranked schools, Coach Jerry Yeagley sends in wave after wave of fresh troops.
The second part of Indiana's secret is an amazingly gifted goal scorer (10 so far this season), Angelo DiBernardo, 22, a darkly handsome, elegantly turned-out, shy young man who has road-burning speed, an uncanny knack of being in the right spot and is a deadly shot with either foot (SI, Nov. 15, 1976). If DiBernardo decides to turn pro (although a senior academically, he has a year's eligibility left), he will probably be the No. 1 pick in the North American Soccer League's college draft in January.
In the game with St. Louis, the Hoosiers were at their double-barreled best. For years, the Billikens have been the team against which opponents measure their ability, St. Louis having won five NCAA championships in the last 11 seasons. Just before the start of play in Indiana's Memorial Stadium. Billiken Coach Harry Keough was in an ambivalent mood. "Every time I see this field I get a bad taste in my mouth," he said. "In '76 Indiana beat us 5-1, and that DiBernardo kid scored all five. He was a freshman then. It was our worst defeat in 20 years. Last year they got us 1-0. But no team has beaten us three times in a row in season play, and they're not going to now. I rarely predict games, but we're so up for this. The players are going to explode. We'll win by two goals."
The night before the game Keough's opponent, the smooth and cool Yeagley, nursed a stinger and admitted he was nervous. "We've beaten the cream of college soccer this year," he said, "but to beat St. Louis for a third year in a row would be almost as good as winning the NCAA title. It would mean that we're not a fluke, not a joke. We'd be the new superteam."
Even DiBernardo, who scored the game-winning goal against San Francisco, was feeling the pressure. "I'm a little nervous, but so things go," he said. DiBernardo, whose parents are Sicilian, grew up in Argentina where he played playground soccer. When he reached high school age, the DiBernardos moved to Stickney, a suburb of Chicago, and Angelo played his first organized soccer for Sparta, a Czechoslovakian club team. DiBernardo, who has been a U.S. citizen for a year, complains about the number of "foreigners" that show up on teams like Clemson and San Francisco.
"Angelo has a nose for the goal," says Yeagley. "He can smell a score, and that's a rare quality even in the pros. He has one fault: he's too generous. Sometimes he passes when he should keep the ball and shoot. But that's because he's usually double-covered. It's great for us because he can pull two or three defenders out of the play, but he doesn't have that prima donna quality of top pro strikers." As a freshman, DiBernardo scored 20 goals, last year only 15, opponents having begun to mark him more heavily. "All in all," says Yeagley, "he's the best forward I've ever seen in college."
Walt Chyzowych, the coach of the U.S. national and Olympic team, was in Bloomington to watch the Indiana-St. Louis game. He had seen DiBernardo before and was lavish in his praise. "Angelo is amazing," he said. "If he gets the ball at midfield, forget it. He's gone. And the way he can position himself off the ball, always getting to the right place, is remarkable."
Contrary to Keough's prediction, St. Louis looked woefully dull in the first half against the Hoosiers. The coach's son, Ty Keough, 21, a three-time All-America midfielder and the team's field general, was harried by Indiana's first-to-the-ball galloping style. The Billikens couldn't put together an attack because the Hoosiers broke up their slow-paced, square-passing game.
Four minutes into the half came a "patented DiBernardo special," as it's known around Bloomington. DiBernardo runs with a stiff-legged gait—like an agitated penguin—which disguises his ability to break into a sprint. When he went into the special, he was lurking just behind the other Indiana forwards as they worked the ball downfield. A St. Louis defender knocked the ball loose and instantly DiBernardo was on it, accelerating past a hopelessly outpowered Billiken back whose job was to mark him. Controlling the ball in masterly fashion, DiBernardo darted from the 40-yard line to the penalty area, where he faked right, went left and had a St. Louis back sitting on the AstroTurf. Fully clear of all defenders, DiBernardo pushed the ball to Forward Steve Westbrook, who was charging in from the left side. Westbrook struck the ball on the first touch and sent it booming past the goalie, who had set himself for a shot by DiBernardo. But Westbrook had been a fraction ahead of the ball when it was passed and the goal was nullified by the offsides. DiBernardo merely looked heavenward for a moment.
The half ended in a scoreless tie, and after intermission St. Louis looked readier to give Indiana a game. Sorely pressed by an all-out attack, Hoosier Goalie John Putna had to stop 12 shots. The Indiana defense, arranged in a three-fullback-and-sweeperback setup consisting of Tim Walsh, Mike Freitag, Joe Andert and Jeff Sendobry—all of them, ironically, from St. Louis—had their hands full, even though they were helped out on occassion by DiBernardo, who would race back to break up a Billiken attack when he wasn't busy elsewhere.
Ten minutes into the second half, Indiana's Bob Meschbach, who is called the "future Angelo," took the ball in on a breakaway and scored the first goal unassisted. Then, with less than five minutes left, DiBernardo, mysteriously and perfectly positioned as usual, gathered in a rebound off the St. Louis goalie's chest from a shot by Tim Walters and chipped in a little arcing shot to ice the game. It was the sixth Indiana shutout of the season.
Bob Guelker, the coach of sixth-ranked Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville), was at the game, scouting both St. Louis, whom the Cougars play next month, and Indiana, whom they could meet in the NCAA postseason tournament. Afterward he seemed just as puzzled about what he had seen as the dejected St. Louis fan had been. "How do they do that?" he asked. "They are just unexplainable."
DiBernardo could be NASL's No. 1 draft pick.