IU men’s soccer is no stranger to roster attrition and unexpected departures. For a program overflowing with talent, and a coaching staff capable of churning out future professional players like it’s second-nature, the Hoosiers are well-versed in adaptation and lineup shuffling.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has muddled much of what IU — or any other program — has come to know throughout the college soccer landscape. And for coronavirus’ latest trick, it’s caused dozens of players to choose the professional route and forgo their remaining college eligibility.
If you hoped IU would come out unscathed, your optimism was squandered last week when Indy Eleven announced it signed sophomore forward Josh Penn to a professional contract. It marked the club’s first ever professional signing of a former Academy player.
“I planned on playing at IU this fall and hopefully going professional from there, but with the college season being suspended it felt like now was the right time to make the move,” Penn said in a press release. “I’m really glad it happened this way because Indy Eleven provides a great opportunity for me, so it was a no-brainer and a way to make some good out of a tough situation.”
Last season, Penn tallied the second-most goals (six) and points (14) for the Hoosiers en route to a spot on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
It’s also important to remember that IU’s attack loses superstar freshman midfielder Aidan Morris, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, to Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew.
The departures of Penn and Morris total eight goals and 26 points that now need replacing.
So, what now? Where do the Hoosiers — and their offensive attack — go from here?
The answer lies in the wealth of forwards and midfielders that shuffled in and out of head coach Todd Yeagley’s rotation from a season ago.
Sophomore forward Victor Bezerra, IU’s leading goal (eight) and points (19) scorer, returns as the Hoosiers’ top offensive weapon. Named to Top Drawer Soccer’s Second Team Freshman Best XI, Bezerra’s ability to rifle shots from almost anywhere should allow him to make noticeable strides in his second season.
And he’ll need to carry a bigger load if the Hoosiers want to repeat as Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament champions.
Spencer Glass and A.J. Palazzolo
Elsewhere, a pair of redshirt seniors in do-it-all defender Spencer Glass and tough-as-nails midfielder A.J. Palazzolo will be looked upon for leadership and play-making. With Morris gone, it’s likely Glass and Palazzolo will see increased roles as ball distributors in order to create chances inside the box.
The duo combined for 20 points last season and will, again, be counted on as major fixtures on the Hoosiers’ front line.
Herbert Endeley and Maouloune Goumballe
Sophomores Herbert Endeley and Maouloune Goumballe have the potential to be IU’s biggest X-factors this season. The two were less-than-heralded recruits entering their freshman campaigns, but quickly became key components of Todd Yeagley’s rotation.
Endeley’s lightning-quick speed allows him to make runs up the sidelines that most opponents can’t match. IU fans found that out almost immediately as Endeley scored a golden goal in his debut collegiate match against the University of Pittsburgh. The Minnesota native soon carved out a role in the starting XI and never relinquished it, with 16 starts to end the season.
Goumballe, though he didn’t start a single match, made 21 appearances for the Hoosiers and was often deployed as Yeagley’s go-to spark plug option off the bench. Glimpses of Goumballe’s potential shined in IU’s 3-1 win over Northwestern, where he tallied a goal and two assists.
Don’t be surprised if one or both players make big developmental strides in their second season.
The best of the rest
Several Hoosiers come to mind when predicting breakout seasons, but the ones with the most experience — senior forwards Ian Black and Thomas Warr — are the likeliest of the bunch.
When healthy, Black showed a knack for creating opportunities near the goal. Sidelined by injuries for much of the season, Black appeared in only 10 games — with five starts — but made the most of his time, tallying three goals including a game-winner against Denver in double overtime.
Similarly, Warr’s production last season elevated him into one of Yeagley’s top bench options. Warr’s six points in 2019 was second-most of any Hoosier with four starts or fewer.
Some names that also can’t be counted out are junior midfielder Joe Schmidt, freshmen midfielders Emerson Nieto and Kyle Folds and sophomore forward Ryan Wittenbrink.