Before Indiana opens the season against Pittsburgh, get caught up with the rest of The Hoosier Network’s preview coverage:
The 2019 Indiana Men’s Soccer season is finally upon us. The Hoosiers kick off play in the Adidas/IU Credit Union Classic Friday night against Pittsburgh. IU went 2-1 in the preseason with victories over Bowling Green and DePaul, while suffering a defeat to Louisville. After graduating nearly the entire starting XI from a season ago, the team will obviously look a bit different this fall. But per usual, expectations are still high this season.
With the season opener Friday, some members of The Hoosier Network give their thoughts on what can be expected from Todd Yeagley’s group this fall.
General Expectations for 2019
Jared Rigdon: We’ve all talked about since the end of last season about IU has to replace 10 of its starters from last year’s College Cup roster. But there is plenty of talent coming back that wasn’t a true starter a year ago like redshirt juniors Spencer Glass and A.J. Palazzolo. This team is still meshing together as they introduce 14 freshmen and transfer players, but this is still going to be a very good team. Whether it’s a good enough team to reach a third consecutive College Cup or win the Big Ten title again is yet to be determined. IU is going to have a variety of goalscorers this season and will rely on a lot of young talent to carry Yeagley’s squad this year.
Connor Hines: Even with the drastic roster turnover we’re all familiar with by now, Indiana fans shouldn’t temper expectations too much this fall. Turnover is a very natural thing which all college programs deal with, and Yeagley’s continued and consistent success in spite of that is a testament to what he can do as a coach. The leaders aren’t the same, but I think IU fans will be pleasantly surprised with who steps up and assumes their role. Indiana returns some key pieces in Glass, Palazzolo, and Maher, while landing a couple huge transfers — Joris Ahlinvi is simply electric, and Simon Waever, who impressed in the spring, brings veteran experience to the backline. We’re all going to be surprised by how well this team gels together; the trip to Mexico this past spring was huge for this group to be able to bond and work together for the first time. I think we’ll see that play major dividends especially in the thick of the conference season. As they so often do, the pieces may land just where Todd Yeagley needs them to this year.
Austin Render: Yes, there is a lot of turnover. However, there are some veterans who are going to help Todd Yeagley steer the ship. Spencer Glass on the wing could have the best left foot in the country. Jack Maher will be that steady presence in the back line, guiding the young players as a sophomore captain. Thomas Warr has been with the team and been a role player in previous years. Now he will be a starter, and three goals in three exhibition games makes me think he’s ready for the spotlight. And after a good campaign a year ago, A.J. Palazzolo provides Yeagley a player that can play in so many different positions. Throw in some of those talented freshmen and transfers and this team is set for another special season.
Most Valuable Player
Rigdon: Everyone has spent the past nine months talking about sophomore defender Jack Maher and deservedly so. He is on the MAC Hermann watch list and is potentially the most talented player on the roster. But if this team is going to be successful, it’s going to come at the heel of Spencer Glass and the “best left-foot” in college soccer. He’s moved around a lot in his college career but has settled into the left-back role this year and has played extremely well in the preseason. He moves well down the left flank and is seemingly near the ball at all times. Glass was named one of three team captains and has shown how versatile and important he will be.
Hines: Jack Maher is the exact type of player the Yeagley family has recruited to Bloomington for decades, and he’s the kind of player who’s capable of bringing Indiana a ninth national championship. He’s quiet, composed, and simply one of the best defenders in the nation. He’s also always ready for the moment. In his freshman season, he surprised us all — maybe even Yeagley himself — with a confident and mature approach in his first College Cup. With the departure of so much talent, I think we see Maher “own” his team with some more poise this season, all while keeping up the stellar defense he brought to the pitch in his first year. Indiana shut out opponents 15 times last year, and much of that can be credited to the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year. Defense has been a primary strength of Indiana teams for so long, and with Maher, that only continues this fall.
Render: I’m with Jared on this one. Spencer Glass is easily the most “valuable” player on this team. He can set the tone, both on the back and front lines. He can run the pitch well and has that incredibly gifted left foot. I watched him swing in a beautiful cross that was headed home by Palazzolo in the most recent exhibition game and my jaw dropped. Palazzolo says that they have been wanting to connect for some time, and I don’t think this will be the last Glass to Palazzolo goal-scoring combo this year. I think his veteran leadership and of course his talent will lead to Glass to be the most valuable player on this team.
Rigdon: Thomas Warr has fallen out of favor in the last handful of seasons, but I believe he’s truly on the verge of having a breakout season. In the spring, Warr netted a hat-trick against Lipscomb and followed that up in the preseason with a goal in each of IU’s three exhibitions. There are a lot of options to fill the three frontline roles, but Warr is very dangerous as the striker. He was a talented prep soccer player but has yet to find his groove in Bloomington. If he can earn the trust of Yeagley and be productive in the early portion of the schedule, Warr may find himself in the scoresheet more often than not.
Hines: Gotta agree with Jared on this one. Warr is just so ready to make his name known in the Big Ten this year. It’s easy to see why he hasn’t had a real shot until now; with the likes of Dorsey, Rennicks, and Gutman readily available in years past, there just hasn’t always been a spot for him on the field. This will be his third full year with the program and he knows it well. To that end, he’ll be able to gel easily with just about anyone else beside him; particularly, I think the combination of Warr and Glass could be an incredibly dangerous one. As Jared mentioned, we’ve already seen what he’s capable of when he gets his shot. This year, he gets that chance to prove something to all of us. A couple honorable mentions for this one as well: Ian Black was also incredibly impressive in Mexico and could really be another dark horse who steps up and owns his moment. Plus, nothing gets done for Indiana this season without Sean Caulfield performing in between the sticks. He’s another guy who is just now getting a chance as a full-time starter, and he’s wearing the captain’s armband this fall.
Render: I’m going to throw you a curveball here. I think it’s Sean Caulfield. He’s a redshirt senior who has been looking for that starting spot for so long. It seemed to be his a few years ago before Trey Muse arrived on campus. He has had some opportunities, albeit very minimal, the past few years. But I think he learned a lot from playing behind Muse these past two years. He’s also the “old man” on the team and his leadership with that back line will be extremely valuable. Pair his skills with Maher and it will be difficult to score on this Hoosier team. But with many young, inexperienced players on the pitch, it will often come down to Caulfield needing to save the day, and I expect that he will fit into that role just fine.
Freshman to Watch
Rigdon: This is a tough one because there will be a handful of freshmen that feature in the Starting XI early in the season, But Aidan Morris is the freshman to watch for me. He’s the other player alongside Josh Penn in the four-star tandem of Yeagley’s 2019 recruiting class. In the preseason, Morris didn’t look like a freshman. He handled the ball with ease, made tremendous runs and had crisp passes to teammates in midfield. Yeagley has nothing but praise for Morris and talked about his time training with the Columbus Crew first team that has allowed him to mature so quickly. Morris should be a starter from day one and should have a great impact.
Hines: From early indications, I’m a big fan of what Josh Penn is capable of bringing to the table in every sense. If you could describe a soccer player as a five-tool guy, Penn would be one of the first Hoosiers to come to mind. When he came to an IU soccer camp at age 11, Yeagley told his parents that IU would one day recruit Josh — so he’s been doing something right for some time now. At the youth level, he was always ahead of the curve and I think he carries that same approach into his first collegiate season. Tabbed by Top Drawer as the No. 1 player in the Midwest, he has experience with the USMNT U-19 and U-20 squads. He had great success with Sockers FC, and came to the Indy Eleven via a partnership — so he’s even already got some experience in the Hoosier state. Penn has an incredible left foot, phenomenal speed, actively impacts the game in any way he can, and is a perennial threat to score at all times. Of course, it still remains to be seen how much each of the freshmen actually play this fall, but be assured that Penn will capitalize on a chance should he get it.
Render: Once again, I agree with Jared on this one. I was talking to some of the players the other day and they said to watch out for Aidan Morris because he has the makeup of an incredible talent as soon as this season. He came in as one of those four-star recruits in Yeagley’s 2019 class. He participated with the U18 USMNT last season and has also trained with the Columbus Crew first team. He’s one of those guys that if you tried to name the freshman on the pitch during the preseason, you wouldn’t pick him. He looks like a seasoned veteran, playing with poise and confidence. I’m excited to watch him play alongside some of the other newcomers.
Rigdon: Of any team in the Big Ten, Michigan State has played IU the toughest the past couple of years. The Hoosiers needed an overtime goal to defeat the Spartans last season and played that memorable NCAA quarterfinal match two years ago that ultimately sent IU to the College Cup. Michigan State is fresh off a trip to the College Cup and features two players on the preseason MAC Hermann trophy watch list. It’s the final game of the regular season and East Lansing isn’t an easy place to play. The Big Ten title may very well be on the line on November 3rd when the Hoosiers and Spartans end the regular season.
Hines: MARYLAND. When Andrew Gutman brought his team back from the dead to get a 2-1 win over the Terps last October, he helped initiate the newest and perhaps the fiercest rivalry in college soccer. Though IU pulled out another gutsy win in PK’s in last year’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal, it was of course the Terps who played the role of heartbreaker in the College Cup, ending Indiana’s run. Either way, each time it was insanely competitive, even, and played at the highest caliber from start to finish. It’s surely a different IU team in 2019, but we’ll know so much more about this group by the time October 18th comes around, when Indiana finally takes its trip out to College Park. Just a few weeks ago, Maryland lost top attacker Paul Bin for the season with an ACL tear, so the Terps will look a bit different too. Regardless, the intrigue and anticipation alone is worth the watch.
Render: Yeah, Maryland and Michigan State are huge matchups in the Big Ten. Kentucky and Michigan will also be difficult matches for the Hoosiers. But for me, it’s the Notre Dame game early in the season on September 17. Why? Because this is a young Hoosier team as we’ve talked about. So yeah those Big Ten games are big, but this early season test will show us just how good this Hoosier team is. The Irish enter the season ranked No. 9 in the country. Notre Dame and Indiana have produced great matchups in the past and with this one back in Bloomington, I would expect a great atmosphere for another classic. I’d also throw in the game against No. 18 Denver in South Bend a week earlier. Those two games will be good tests for this new batch of Hoosiers.
Can IU reach the College Cup?
Rigdon: The expectations are always high around this program. IU is ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches poll and No. 5 in the preseason Top Drawer Soccer poll. Ask any of the players and they’ll tell you they want to make a trip to Cary, NC for the College Cup. This team still has some vulnerability as talent meshes together and Yeagley is relying a lot of young players to have an instant impact. But this is Indiana. As long as Yeagley is coach, I will never count out the Hoosiers from making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Hines: You just can’t ever count ‘em out. Before last year’s College Cup in Santa Barbara, Jack Maher, a freshman at the time, said, “It’s our number one goal we set at the beginning of the year. This is why you come to Indiana — to win a national championship.” The high preseason ranking is largely a reflection of last year’s team, and, cliche as it is, only time will tell us what this 2019 group is capable of achieving. In one way or another, it’s going to be a different year for Indiana Soccer. Maybe that “a-ha” moment comes when they’re handed their first big loss (or when they pick up a huge upset win). Regardless of who it is on the pitch, you have to think that Todd Yeagley has his team equipped each and every year for a deep tournament run. Let’s ride.
Render: Like Connor said, this is why these guys come to Indiana. They want to win a national championship. Thomas Warr told us after the exhibition finale that he’s not surprised the freshman have looked good because that’s what they’re supposed to do here at Indiana. Think about the last two seasons alone. 2017 was Mason Toye on offense and the goalkeeping of Muse that were great freshman performances. Last season it was Maher on the back line, earning him a share of the captaincy as a sophomore. So yeah, there might be some young Hoosiers out there in the starting XI early, but I expect them to grow into the lineup, accompanied by some seasoned veterans. I think this team will contend for not only the Big Ten title but the College Cup as well.