Nearing the 75th minute, sophomore midfielder AJ Palazzolo bent over and tried to catch his breath.
He had played nearly every minute of the match up to that point, and when IU assistant coach Danny O’Rourke asked if he was still able to play, Palazzolo stood tall and gave a thumbs up. In the days leading up to Indiana’s match against the Cruz Azul U-20s, Palazzolo, along with some of his teammates, weren’t feeling great due to the altitude change in Mexico City and fatigue.
There were days of training where multiple players were absent due to either sickness or injury. Even though the team wasn’t at 100 percent Tuesday afternoon, the Hoosiers still came away with a 1-0 victory over “La Maquina”.
Indiana showed its ability to find different ways to win in an environment it wasn’t used to.
“We have a lot of elements right now,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “We have the heat, the altitude, and we have guys that are not feeling well. AJ had all three, and we had guys who didn’t train or leave the hotel yesterday. To find a result, and the grittiness that showed, that’s a great team-building moment.”
Late into the second half, Simon Waever made a run into the box and was taken down by a Cruz Azul defender, earning a penalty kick in what was one of few chances for either side. Sophomore attacker Ian Black stepped up to the spot, and delivered a low shot into the right-hand corner of the goal, beating the keeper. Black’s goal would be the difference, and the Hoosiers left the Cruz Azul victory with a sick and banged up squad.
Freshman midfielder Joe Schmidt is one of the more experienced players on this year’s team. Playing in the central attacking midfield position throughout the match, Schmidt was one of many vocal leaders in the middle of the pitch. He, along with Palazzolo, were the ones that the game was flowing through.
“I feel like AJ dominated the midfield,” Schmidt said. “His communication with me was great — just being able to have him behind me is a huge confidence booste because he’s going to clean a lot of stuff up.”
With a young squad, experienced players are relied on even more than usual. Captain and senior goalkeeper Sean Caulfield helped keep the Hoosiers’ shape from the back, and he made a few crucial saves to help keep his clean sheet.
Freshman and senior center back Jack Maher and Jordan Kleyn manned the center of the back line for the entirety of the match, and Caulfield said their partnership is only going to grow stronger as time passes.
“We played a fantastic team, and it wasn’t so my organization as it was Jack and Kleyn,” Caulfield said. “Jack’s got senior minutes under his belt, and Kleyn did a fantastic job — a guy who can give us a solid 90 minutes. I think it was mainly those guys who made everyone better.”
— Juan Diego Alvarado (@jdac96) March 12, 2019
One of IU’s strengths over the past few years have been its full backs. Andrew Gutman and Rece Buckmaster were staples in the starting 11 playing out wide from the back. Both are now gone, so freshman Daniel Munie and senior transfer Simon Waever had to fill those shoes against Cruz Azul.
Munie didn’t play like a freshman, not giving up many chances throughout the day. Waever looked like he had played at Indiana for the past three years with how comfortable he looked with the rest of the team. Because of the way the two played, the Hoosiers were able to keep the Cruz Azul attack at bay, and there weren’t many chances created from the outside in.
“I think [Munie] is a kid that keeps surprising us,” Cualfield said. “We expect the best form him, but switching from the right side to the left side like that, he didn’t skip a beat. It’s great to see from a freshman, he’s got a very bright future.”
In a match against a talented side like the Cruz Azul U-20s, finding a way to win will give the Hoosiers a huge momentum boost heading into the second and final match during their trip in Mexico City.
Looking ahead to the future, it also shows how the Hoosiers can find ways to win without their key players from last season. Young guys showed that they are ready to step up, and the team as a whole held their ground in a physical game.
“We’re gritty, and we have the fight,” Schmidt said. “We have the fight to go into a different country, in the mountains, in 80-degree weather… We can go anywhere and scrap out wins.”