Nov. 27, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -
Major League Soccer is set to crown its champion on Saturday, Dec. 1, and the matchup between the Houston Dynamo and defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy will have a Hoosier flavor to it as both teams have former Indiana players in their lineups.
Will Bruin (2008-10) and Tommy Meyer (2008-11) will face off on Saturday with Bruin the featured striker for Houston, and Meyer a starting center back for Los Angeles. The two spent three seasons as teammates wearing the Cream and Crimson, winning a Big Ten title in 2010.
But the relationship between Bruin and Meyer goes back even further than their days at Indiana. Both are products of the St. Louis-area soccer scene, with Bruin playing high school soccer at DeSmet and Meyer at rival St. Louis University High.
"Thinking back on it, thinking how much we have played with each other and against each other, it is pretty funny to think we are going up against each other for the MLS Cup on Saturday," Bruin said.
"We've played so much against each other over the years, but it is kind of unbelievable that we are playing against each other in an MLS Cup final," Meyer said. "It is going to be different being on the opposite side from him."
Bruin is in his second year with the Dynamo and has gone from a role player as a rookie, to the centerpiece of the Houston attack in his second season. He had a solid first year with five goals and one assist, but has more than tripled those numbers with 16 goals and five assists in 2012.
His 12 regular season goals is the most ever by a second-year player in MLS, and he has become "Mr. Playoffs" for the Dynamo this season with four goals and one assist in five playoff matches.
Confidence, and support from the people around him have been the big difference between last year and this year.
"Probably just confidence and knowing the guys on the team, coaching staff and everyone feel confident in me to score," Bruin said. "One thing I have l learned from this year and last year is you can't get too high on the highs when things are going well, and you can't get too down on yourself if you are in a slump. You just have to stay level-headed."
The 2012 MLS Cup is a rematch of last year's final where the Galaxy posted a 1-0 victory over the Dynamo. But for Bruin, it is a whole different ball game with his expanded role for the club.
"Personally, I have a bigger role this year," Bruin said. "Last year I didn't get into the game so this year is definitely different for me. But it is just another game and we have to go out and keep playing like we have been. But it will be fun to go up against Tommy."
This is the third season in a row Bruin has found himself part of a championship team. In 2010 he led Indiana to a Big Ten regular season title and has been part of the Dynamo's MLS Eastern Conference championship teams in 2011 and 2012.
"Last year I remember that feeling in the locker room after the final and we don't want to feel that it again. It is going to be fun to get out there and play."
For Meyer making his first MLS Cup appearance, it is a new feeling.
"I don't have any butterflies yet, but as the game gets closer I am sure I'll have a few," Meyer said.
This year Meyer found himself in the rookie role occupied by Bruin last season. The Galaxy were without the services of center back Omar Gonzalez at the start of the 2012 season, and Meyer found himself thrust into a starting role.
"I kind of got thrown in to start the season and it was a little rough," Meyer said. "I had to figure out how the league worked and figure out the physicality. I learned throughout the season that everything needed to be a little bit quicker and faster than the college game."
Once the Galaxy lineup became more settled, Meyer did not see as much time on the field with most of his action coming in reserve matches. However, injury once again thrust him into a starting role, and it was the veterans that helped him deal with the ups and downs of the season.
"The older guys took the rookies under their wings and helped us get better at the things we needed to work on," Meyer said. "They said you just have to get better and work on the things the coaches tell you to. The coaches are real honest with you in terms of what you need to work on and get better at. It was nice to have the older guys have your back and keep pushing you."
To those familiar with the Galaxy squad, you know the "older" guys Meyer refers to includes international soccer stars Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
"Those guys are neat people and they all have really different personalities," Meyer said. "They've been around the game a long time so it is cool to get to experience what they've been through and to learn from them on and off the field."
In a matchup between two old friends, teammates and rivals, you would think the trash talking would start early. That has not been the case.
"None yet," Bruin laughed. "Once we get out to Los Angeles I am sure we will meet up. We'll see how it goes. If he wants to talk trash, he can. I am waiting for his text."
"We'll see," Meyer added. "It could be before the game or after the game."
While Bruin, Meyer and Pat Noonan are the Hoosiers on the two teams in this year's MLS Cup they are just three of 15 former Indiana players who competed in the league this season. And despite the players all coming from different eras, there is a brotherhood of IU Soccer in MLS.
"There is definitely a connection between all the IU players," Bruin said. "When we play Kansas City (Jacob Peterson) or Columbus (Danny O'Rourke, Rich Balchan), you always talk to them on the field and catch up with them after the game. That brotherhood of IU, whether you played with each other or at different times, it is still something we all have in common."
"You can tell the older guys keep track of the program," Meyer said. "When you go into a place like Columbus, Colorado or Salt Lake, those guys know who you are and they come up to you before and after the game. I have been able to meet most of them. It is nice to have guys you can talk to that have that IU connection. There is definitely a bond between us players."
When asked how IU prepared them for the professional game, both Bruin and Meyer emphasized the role the coaching staff played in their development.
"I think it is the training and the games. I remember at IU with both (Mike) Freitag and (Todd) Yeagley they always preached practices should be harder than the games. That is something IU really takes pride in and I have seen that same thing here in Houston. Trainings get really intense and if you can do that, the games should be any different."
"Todd and Brian (Maisonneuve) both pushed me my last two years to get me to the level I needed to be at heading into MLS," Meyer said. "With those two having experience in MLS they know what it takes to get there. They definitely had a big influence on where I am now."
With their college days still fresh in their minds, both Bruin and Meyer have things they miss about campus life.
"Going to the basketball games," Bruin said. "Now that they are No. 1 I am always watching them on TV. It is fun to watch the games down here with some fellow IU alums I have found. There is actually a guy who lives in my apartment complex who grew up in Bloomington and we'll watch some games together."
Just a year removed, Meyer had fond memories of the time spent with teammates.
"Those are the guys you went to school with for four years and you definitely miss them when you leave," Meyer said. "You miss playing in those games, especially when you get closer to the (NCAA) tournament. Those are always special times when you are in college.
Although they have their own championship to focus on, both Bruin and Meyer are aware this is a big week for their former school. Some are calling it "Beat The Heels Week" as the No. 1-ranked men's basketball team faces UNC Tuesday night, while the soccer squad travels to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals Friday evening.
Bruin is having some locker room fun with teammates Corey Ashe and Alex Dixon, both UNC alums. While there had already been wagers made in regards to the basketball game, the addition of a soccer matchup this week adds even more fuel to the fire.
When asked his prediction for both the basketball and soccer matchups, Bruin summed it up in three words.
"Hoosiers win both," he said.
It only took Meyer two words.
And on Saturday night, at least one Hoosier will be crowned MLS Champion.