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The Hoosier Network’s Indiana Soccer Roundtable

The 2018 Indiana men’s soccer season is upon us.

The 2017 season was very successful for the Hoosiers finishing as the national runner-up. Now in 2018, the Hoosiers are set up for success.

How will they fare this season? Some members of The Hoosier Network gave their opinions on some hot topics headed into this season.

General Expectations for 2018

Josh Eastern: Expectations should be sky high for the Hoosiers in 2018. Coming off a National runner-up in 2017, the Hoosiers return all but two starters. Those two starters, center back Grant Lillard and striker Mason Toye, will be greatly missed, but IU coach Todd Yeagley has the pieces to replace them. The entire midfield returns and 3/4ths of the backline is also still in place. There will no doubt be some new faces that need to step up to fill the vacancies left by Lillard and Toye, but the chips are in place to make another deep run at a College Cup title.

Eddie Cotton: During the spring season, I happened to sit next to Jerry Yeagley in the press box. Simply put, never waste an opportunity to talk to Jerry Yeagley. With that in mind, I asked him about how a team goes about replacing major contributors. For his answer, he pointed to his last season at the head of the program. In 2003, Yeagley managed a team that struggled from the very onset until one moment where everything seemed to click. Everything clicked so well that the team went on to win 16 straight games and win a national championship after starting 2-3-4. The theme of this season will be how Indiana replaces Mason Toye and Grant Lillard. That means, if Indiana wants to find success, the path may have to be the same as 2003. With early challenges, Indiana will take time to gel. It’s important to know that early on, because this team certainly has the talent to repeat what it did last year.

Austin Panchot looks for a pass during IU’s match vs. the Mexico U20 team.

Zain Pyarali: This IU men’s soccer team in 2018 won’t be as good as the 2017 team. If you’re an Indiana fan, you have to face the facts. This team will still be one of the top teams in the entire nation. But what they did in 2017 with the extensive shutout streak, undefeated record and national championship runner up finish will be extremely tough to repeat. Replacing MAC trophy finalist, center back Grant Lillard, in the middle of the IU backline will be the biggest key. The second biggest key will be finding a replacement at striker for Mason Toye who left for the MLS after his freshman year. Everyone else on this team will be the same with one more year of experience, but those two positions on the pitch are arguably the two most important spots for any soccer team. If Indiana has an elite striker and center back both come into form, then we could see another magical season.

Michael Ramirez: IU only lost two starters from last year’s College Cup squad and has one of the deepest rosters in the country. It’s obvious that there are high expectations for this upcoming season, but I think one of the most interesting things to keep an eye on is how Todd Yeagley will rotate his players and how many of them will come off the bench regularly. We saw Spencer Glass and Austin Panchot deliver an impact off the bench multiple times last year when they didn’t start, and it seems like IU has even more options to go with this year. A.J. Palazzolo, Jack Maher and Ian Black are just some of the names who could break through into the first team, but it will be tough for Yeagley to select the right players with so much talent for certain games.

Teddy Bailey: If you thought 2017 was an entertaining season for Indiana men’s soccer, buckle up for 2018. This year’s schedule will likely be significantly tougher for the Hoosiers, from start to finish. Starting on the road at Wake Forest and North Carolina is no joke, and it doesn’t get easier with the annual Adidas/IU Credit Union Classic and road tests at Notre Dame and Kentucky. And of course, there’s the grueling, top-heavy Big Ten schedule to boot. But with what Todd Yeagley and the Hoosiers return, you’ve got to feel confident if you’re an IU fan. There’s many proven answers, and few lingering questions as Indiana begins another quest for nine.

Austin Render: There will be lofty expectations around the national runner-up, and rightly so. While they lost forward Mason Toye and CB Grant Lillard to MLS, everyone else returns. Add a talented freshman class into the mix and you have a team that will once again be a national title favorite. For the No. 2 team in the preseason polls, the questions will be who can fill the spots left open by Toye and Lillard? Coach Todd Yeagley has a plethora of options and plenty of players that I think are ready to take the next step in their developments and fill the voids.

Player of the Year

Eastern: It’s sometimes hard for a left back to make a huge impact, but Andrew Gutman is no ordinary left back and that’s why he’s my player of the year. Top Drawer Soccer recently ranked Gutman the No. 2 player in the country. And coming off a seven-goal season a year ago, he looks poised to cause more havoc on the left flank. He fits IU’s system perfectly as he joins the attack throughout the 90 minutes while also being a solid defender.

Cotton: Andrew Gutman was named the second best player in the nation according to Top Drawer Soccer. You can’t get much better than that. With MLS aspirations, this is a big year for Gutman to show that he can develop as a leader and facilitate the tempo of Indiana’s attack at the left back position.  Last year he improved his goal scoring ability a great deal and I don’t see that changing.

Andrew Gutman takes a shot for IU during its match vs. the Mexico U20 team. (Mark Timko/HN)

Pyarali: Andrew Gutman was named a preseason first team All-American by Top Drawer Soccer and that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The lone College Cup goal scorer for Indiana is an incredible defender for the Hoosiers and his breakout offensive junior season came as an added bonus. In his first two seasons at IU, Gutman combined for two goals and four assists while starting every game. Last season, he tied for second on the team with seven goals and added four assists. Gutman evolving into an offensive threat for Indiana last season was key in their run to the national championship. His ability to defend, move the ball up the flanks, create quality opportunities on offense and be a target on set pieces will be key for this team again. Look to Gutman to match or possibly exceed his offensive numbers during his senior year.

Ramirez: Francesco Moore was arguably the most important piece to IU’s puzzle last season that stayed under the radar because he doesn’t score a lot of goals. A team captain, the anchor of IU’s midfield and one of the most experienced players on the team, Moore will be massive in order for the Hoosiers to replicate their success in 2018. A box-to-box midfielder, Moore’s passing, defense and presence in the middle of the pitch is underrated. Although players like Trey Muse and Andrew Gutman will be the ones to watch this season, Moore’s importance to the team will be unmatched because of his leadership and role within the team.

Bailey: It has to be Trey Muse, no? Muse is the obvious choice, but also a top reason why the Hoosiers reached the National Championship in his freshman campaign. Getting Muse back for a second year was massive, and the 6-foot-4 goalkeeper will only build from his first. Muse’s 18 shutouts in 2017 matched NCAA and IU records, so it’d be historic if he improved on that. But regardless of accolades, there’s a serious argument for Muse as the nation’s best keeper. I’d imagine he closes that argument in 2018.

Render: The Hoosiers have two Preseason All-Americans on the roster this year, but I think goalie Trey Muse, come the end of the season, will be looked at as the player of the year for this squad. Muse started all 25 games last season, leading the NCAA in shutouts, 18, goals-against average, .260, and save percentage, .903. The penalty shootout in the Elite Eight matchup with Michigan State was arguably his biggest moment, coming up with big saves and helping the Hoosiers advance to the National Semifinals. Muse was ranked as the third best goalkeeper in the country coming into this season, and I would expect some more monster performances from the sophomore.

Freshman to Watch

Eastern: With the second center back position up for grabs, it could be a freshman in Jack Maher to fill the void. Maher comes to IU from the St. Louis area and could be an impact player from the get-go. He’s come up through the Saint Louis FC academy and has seen some first team action. It could be a few different players to get time at center back alongside Timmy Mehl, but don’t be surprised if Maher is that player to standout among the rest.

Cotton: Ryan Wittenbrink was named the National High School Player of the Year by Top Drawer Soccer. Is there much else I have to say. I’m obviously looking out for the PLAYER OF THE YEAR. With Mason Toye departing, Indiana needs goal scoring, and that seems to perfectly suit Wittenbrink. Most importantly, thanks to my extensive twitter research, I have learned that his nickname is “Ginger Harry Kane.” Nothing else matters.

Pyarali: Jack Maher has the ability to be Indiana’s next great center back. Will he be thrown into the fire from day one? We shall see. But the loss of Grant Lillard opens up a spot on the back line that Maher could seize if he takes advantage of the opportunity. He already has a great frame at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds with room to add weight. Lillard, was 6-foot-4, 195 pounds his senior year. Maher comes in as No. 25 ranked player overall in the class of 2018 according to Top Drawer Soccer and the No. 4 overall defender. Although Maher is young, he’s had great experience already by playing with the U.S. U-18 National Team and with USL team, St. Louis FC in 2017.

Ramirez: Ryan Wittenbrink finds himself in an opportunistic situation. Mason Toye is gone, and the starting striker position is up for grabs. Wittenbrink, Thomas Warr, Ian Black and Justin Rennicks are Yeagley’s options to start up top, and I think we’re going to see all of them get opportunities to step up and take the helm. Last season, Warr and Toye took turns starting at striker to begin the year, and Toye ended up winning the spot outright. I think it will be the same case this season. It’s all about who steps up, and Wittenbrink should have some solid opportunities to prove his worth.

Bailey: I’ll go with freshman defender Jack Maher, who is primed to help replace current Chicago Fire defender Grant Lillard in front of Muse. Maher’s 6-foot-3, an inch shy of Lillard and a player with high accolades before Indiana: 4-star recruit, fourth-best defender in the country, and has played with both the U.S. Men’s National Team and the USL’s St. Louis FC. Freshmen are tough to project, especially in soccer, but look for Maher to make an immediate impact and patch Lillard’s hole for Indiana’s backline.

Render: The Hoosiers have two spots to fill in their starting lineup after the departures of CB Grant Lillard and striker Mason Toye. Freshman Jack Maher could help patch up the back line for the Hoosiers. Maher is a four-star recruit according to Top Drawer Soccer and was ranked as the No. 4 defender in the nation. He’s already been a part of multiple U.S. National Teams and I would expect Maher to make an instant impact on this Hoosier program. 

Who Takes the Biggest Step Forward

Eastern: The forward position could be the most wide-open spot on the field for IU. There could be a handful of different players, but Ian Black could be someone who provides solid minutes for Yeagley off the bench. Black, a redshirt sophomore out of Dublin, Ohio saw limited action in his freshman season and redshirted in 2017. 2018 could be his year to make a name for himself on the roster, as it is likely he gets some time to make an impact.

Cotton: Last season Spencer Glass developed into an ideal “super-sub” to come into games late and provide key balls into the box. Now with another year under his belt, the step up from Spencer Glass will come from his increased role. Expect Glass to play more and potentially lead the Hoosiers in assists.

Pyarali: Justin Rennicks has the ability to fill the void that Mason Toye left at striker for Indiana in 2018. Big things were expected from Rennicks during his freshman year, but his season was limited due to injury appearing in just nine matches and tallying one assist. A healthy Rennicks would be a massive help for IU this year. He’s proven his abilities during his youth in the New England Revolution Academy and on the U.S. U18 Men’s National Team, so now it’s time for him to prove his skills in the Big Ten at Indiana.

Ramirez: I could’ve put Justin Rennicks or Timmy Mehl here, but I think this is the season where Griffin Dorsey could make himself irreplaceable. He had his ups and downs, and throughout the season was sometimes cut off from his right wing position due to opposing teams’ defensive strategies. With a year under his belt, Dorsey has the opportunity to bag more goals and assists this season, and it helps to already have a lot of chemistry with the midfield, Rennicks and Cory Thomas on the other wing.

Bailey: Easy, Justin Rennicks. And it’s not just because he’ll likely be replacing Minnesota United’s Mason Toye up front as the Hoosiers’ primary attacker, but his freshman season was seriously derailed by injury. Rennicks only played nine games off the bench in 2017, but Yeagley used him in critical moments down the stretch and during Indiana’s postseason run to the College Cup. There’s really nowhere to go but up for Rennicks, who tallied a lone point with an assist against Ohio State. But Yeagley and his staff are very high on the 5-foot-11 Massachusetts native, and he looked the part at the end of last season.

Render: Griffin Dorsey missed a few games last season after being called up to the U.S. National team. He started all 23 games that he played in, scoring three goals and assisting on 6 goals. With the loss of Mason Toye, Griffin Dorsey could step up and fill that spot in the lineup, at least from the goal scoring aspect. Dorsey has the speed to get past back lines and he’s obviously a very talented player, and I would expect a breakout season for Dorsey.

Game Looking Forward to the Most

Eastern: The great thing about IU’s schedule is there are so many juicy matchups on the slate as Yeagley likes to challenge his team. This year is no different. With so many great matchups it makes it hard to choose, but the Butler match on October 16 is always a fun one. It may be one of the premier home matches of the season and the in-state rivalry always makes it a fun one. The last time it was at home, the Hoosiers scored two unanswered goals to win in extra time. This year it has the chance to pit two top-ten teams up against each other.

Cotton: Michigan State. This question is too easy. Last year the Hoosier played in one of the most memorable games of their recent history against the Spartans. Now, the two will face off once again in Bloomington to end the regular season and potentially determine the Big Ten Champion. What more can I ask for?

Pyarali: We all remember what happened last time Indiana played Michigan State at home. Last season, the Hoosiers and Spartans had two great matches against each other; the first was a 1-1 draw in East Lansing during the regular season with game two being the epic penalty kick win for IU to send the Hoosiers to the College Cup. Indiana starts the season at No. 2 in the nation and the Spartans are No. 7. There’s plenty of great games and competition on the Hoosier schedule including the first weekend in North Carolina against No. 3 Wake Forest and No. 5 UNC, but this game will mean way more. It will be senior day for Indiana, and we could potentially have the Big Ten regular season title on the line if both teams perform up to their abilities this season.

Ramirez: This is going to be a rematch of last season’s semifinals matchup, and there isn’t much else to say to prove my point. North Carolina will be itching to get revenge on the Hoosiers, and the Tar Heels will have IU at home. Both teams will likely still be working out its kinks because it’s so early in the season, so there should be a lot more action going on. Both teams have lost key players, and we could possibly see who will step up for both teams in this one.

Bailey: At No. 12 Wisconsin, on September 16th. It’s tempting to pick the National Semifinal rematch with North Carolina, or in-state rival matches against Butler and Notre Dame. But it was Wisconsin that was the biggest thorn in the Hoosiers’ 2017 campaign. The Badgers claimed the 2017 Big Ten Tournament title on penalties and it was evident how much Indiana wanted that game. Think about this: Indiana went technically undefeated in 2017, reached the National Championship, and went home without a single trophy. Yeagley spoke volumes last year at the importance of hardware, and the Badgers were an excruciating obstacle in that regard. It’s in Madison, and Wisconsin should be solid yet again.

Render: We all know how the last Michigan State game ended. With both goalies back and two top-10 teams again, this will be another incredible showdown. So much so that ESPNU picked it up on that Sunday afternoon. Jimmy Hague is ranked as the number one goalkeeper in the nation, with Muse right behind him at No. 3. I would expect another defensive showdown between these two teams again October 28, and expect the home field effect of Bill Armstrong Stadium to play a pivotal role once agin.

I am a senior from Seattle, Washington majoring in Media. I am formerly of the Indiana Daily Student where I covered Indiana men’s soccer team and women’s basketball. You still can find me broadcasting for WIUX Student Radio and on BTN Student U outside of The Hoosier Network. Former intern at 710 ESPN Seattle and broadcaster for the Falmouth Commodores. Email: Follow me on Twitter: @JoshEastern.

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