**Counting down the days to Indiana’s 2019 season opener against Pittsburgh, The Hoosier Network will be releasing position previews on a weekly basis leading up to August 30th.**
Indiana’s defense has been one of the main catalysts in its back-to-back College Cup runs.
In 2017, IU allowed just seven goals in it’s run to the national title game. Last season, the Hoosiers allowed just 13 goals as it returned to the College Cup. While both seasons ended in disappointing fashion, the backline’s ability to limit opponent possession inside the box has allowed more chances for counters and IU possession in the midfield.
Although Todd Yeagley’s teams have had unprecedented success on the backline the past two seasons, it will undoubtedly be a tougher task to emulate this fall.
All four starting defenders from the 2017 National Championship game are gone. The only starting defender returning from last season’s semifinal against Maryland is sophomore Jack Maher. Add in goalkeeper Trey Muse’s exit to MLS, and Indiana is facing plenty of questions heading into the fall.
IU returns its lone starter and one of its best players at the center back position. The return of Maher once again means that IU will have one of the best players in the nation. Back in March, he was named to the U.S. Men’s National Team U-23 roster alongside the likes of Josh Sargent and Tim Weah for a pair of friendlies. He was the only college player featured in those matches.
Maher was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year a year ago and recently became the only sophomore in the county named to the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. Despite not recording a single point, Maher featured in all of Indiana’s 24 matches, sending five shots on goal. He has a very mature style of play and will be a major component to Indiana’s success this season.
One year ago, Jack Maher was the new guy on the block. Now, he’s the biggest star in the IU starting lineup.
At the other center back position, IU will have to replace Second-Team All Big Ten defender Timmy Mehl. Mehl appeared in all 49 matches the last two seasons and was one of the biggest voices on IU’s backline.
There are a handful of ways that Yeagley could go about replacing him.
Redshirt senior Jordan Kleyn has been around longer than any other defender but redshirt freshman Daniel Munie is a young, talented defender. Redshirt junior A.J. Palazzolo is one of the most versatile players on the IU roster and could slide into the second center back position, but is more likely to feature as a defensive midfielder, giving him the ability to stretch the field.
With Kleyn, Yeagley has a guy that has the most experience of any returning defender on Indiana’s roster and has been around the program for four seasons now. He had a strong chance to start a season ago before Maher became a breakout star and secured the starting position alongside Mehl. Kleyn played in 14 matches a season ago and recorded two assists. In the spring, he started at both center back and right back, playing efficiently on the back line.
If Kleyn can become a consistent producer at the center back position, it could allow Munie to play outside at right back or have Palazzolo be a versatile defender in the midfield.
Munie redshirted last season but made an immediate impact in the spring season. Like Kleyn, Munie played at both center back and right back, and helped lead back-to-back shutouts during Indiana’s spring break matches in Mexico. While he didn’t see any action last season, Munie has experience playing alongside Maher during their time with Saint Louis F.C. Their time together could be a factor in Yeagley’s decision.
While a duo of Munie and Maher would feature a sophomore and redshirt freshman, the two play well beyond their age and could form a formidable force on the IU backline.
Palazzolo seems more likely to feature as a central defensive midfielder as opposed to a center back. Last season, Yeagley experimented with him in every aspect of the lineup. He slotted as a defender and midfielder, and even got the chance to play as a striker for periods of time.
With his versatility, Palazzolo is better suited to play a midfield role where he can play on the attack while also helping the last line of defense.
The issue is his ability to stay on the field. He’s dealt with injuries in the past couple years and has yet to remain in constant form for a long stretch of time.
When he is on the field, Palazzolo is one of Indiana’s most dynamic players. He scored the lone goal in a win over North Carolina last season and knocked in a header against Notre Dame to come level on the road.
His ability to play in the midfield provides a unique trait that separates himself from the rest of the defense. Playing outside will give him the chance to shine and potentially get on the scoring sheet for IU.
If he can stay healthy, Palazzolo could be a versatile threat for IU out of the midfield and in the center of the defense.
Replacing Andrew Gutman, the 2018 MAC Hermann trophy winner, will be no easy task.
Gutman doubled as both a defender and as an attacking force on the left flank and led the Hoosiers in goals. One candidate to replace Gutman at left back is redshirt junior Spencer Glass. Glass is coming off a breakout year which saw him net five goals and add eight assists. He appeared in all 24 games and is well known for having one of the best left foots in all of collegiate soccer.
Glass is listed as both a midfielder and a defender and his ability to play both positions makes him a desirable candidate to try and replace Gutman. Playing on the flank is a trait that has been often used out of Yeagley’s left backs in recent years. Gutman had immense success with the freedom to roam the midfield and play on the attack, while balancing his role as a defender.
With Glass in the left back role, IU’s offense will be able to rotate through different levels of the attack.
In terms of productivity, Glass is one of Indiana’s best returning players and will be called upon to be both a good defender and a figure in the attacking core of IU’s offense.
The final spot on the Indiana backline could come down to a face that Indiana fans may be familiar with..
Evansville grad transfer and Danish defender Simon Waever played against IU the past three seasons and could help make a quick impact out of the right back position where he will have to replace Rece Buckmaster.
Waever entered the transfer portal at the completion of last season after three years at Evansville. He recorded seven assists while starting in all 19 matches for Evansville last season. He enrolled last semester and competed in Mexico on IU’s spring break trip.
Yeagley has talked about the ability for Waever to play out wide, which has been a common trait of his full backs in past years. Waever is still getting adjusted to Indiana’s system and has yet to play a true match with the Hoosiers, but could make an immediate impact.
Waever played in 55 matches the past three years at Evansville and brings a veteran presence to the IU backline. While he’s not a true goal scoring threat, Waever could be the piece Yeagley needed to solidify the defense.
There is a multitude of ways that Yeagley could go about lining up his defense this fall. Each move will likely have an effect on the next, depending where he slots them in.
Waever, Palazzolo, Glass, Munie and Kleyn could all start for IU and there’s a chance that a rotation of those five players could all factor into four positions alongside Maher at some point in the early season. However he chooses to line up his defense, Yeagley will have five players that are both versatile and talented enough to make an immediate impact.