Let’s preface this by acknowledging that two matches is barely enough of a sample size to glean any concrete lessons. But then again, IU’s spring season is condensed into just 10 regular-season matches, which means the margin for error is extremely slim.
With the Hoosiers’ 3-0 trouncing of Ohio State on Tuesday afternoon at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana, the team improved to 2-0 overall and earned its second-straight 3-0 victory on the young season. Sophomore forward Victor Bezerra tallied his second-straight brace of the season, bringing his season goals total to four, while sophomore defender Daniel Munie notched his first points of the season with a goal in the 47th minute.
Here are some early takeaways with Indiana’s regular season already 20 percent complete.
Buy stock in Victor Bezerra’s right foot, right now
Four goals in two matches? Without any exhibitions or tune-ups before the season? Who does that?
Victor Bezerra does that.
After recording two goals in IU’s season-opener last Saturday against Wisconsin, the sophomore matched that performance against Ohio State with a penalty-kick goal in the 61st minute and a strike from just outside the 18-yard box in the 82nd minute to cap off the Hoosiers’ win.
Bezerra’s brace echoes much of what head coach Todd Yeagley has said all offseason leading into this spring: that the sophomore is due for a huge campaign, shortened schedule be damned.
“He’s one of the best clinical finishers I’ve coached, first and foremost,” Yeagley said after the Ohio State match. “That’s because of the work he’s put in.”
If you’ve ever seen Bezerra play in person, you’ll know how jarring the noise is when his right foot strikes a soccer ball that’s intended for the net. It sounds like a cannon just went off, but instead of ammunition, it’s a soccer ball that’s been discharged. In some ways, that’s also the trajectory Bezerra’s career could be headed for if he keeps this level of play up.
Very easily could Bezerra have followed in the footsteps of fellow classmates Josh Penn and Aidan Morris, both of
whom chose to forgo their sophomore seasons and make the jump to professional soccer. But nope, he stayed in Bloomington instead, knowing that he’d have the opportunity to return as IU’s lead striker and hopefully parlay a successful season into even better professional options in the future.
Well, the decision to stay seems to be paying off, and it’s not going unnoticed either.
“We need to continue to find him in key spots and setting him up for success,” Yeagley said. “… With Victor’s performance and the way he’s striking the ball, we always feel there’s a goal in there, and it gives the team a lot of confidence.”
Though it’s still extremely early in the season, Bezerra’s performance thus far likely slots him on the shortlist of potential Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year candidates.
And while he almost certainly won’t score two goals every match this season, it’s not hard to see the confidence he’s playing with. Bezerra’s swagger and unabashed striking could be IU’s ticket to another highly successful season.
IU’s first half against Ohio State: “it was bad” says Todd Yeagley
Defense has always been an area that IU teams of old have been able to hang their hat on, and Yeagley has reiterated this numerous times over the years. But against the Buckeyes in the first half, the Hoosiers left much to be desired with their play, especially defensively.
The first 45 minutes included a level of physicality that likely brought out the worst in the Hoosiers. Rather than the usual disciplined, unfazed approach that has become a calling card for IU, Ohio State was able to pester IU into several early mistakes. Bezerra drew a yellow card in the 11th minute, though the Buckeyes couldn’t capitalize on it, while the Hoosiers were all-around sloppy with their ball movement, ball security and positioning angles in the early going.
Yeagley was not pleased, to say the least.
“I wish I could explain (the first half),” Yeagley said. “It was bad. I’ll take the responsibility.”
Indiana, fortunate to still be in a scoreless tie entering halftime, eventually regained its composure in the second half, though it took a “kick in the ass,” as Yeagley said, for the Hoosiers to snap out of their first-half lull. And it’s no surprise that once they got back to dictating the pace and flow of the match, offensive chances seemed to come much easier for the Hoosiers.
At the root of IU’s first-half problems was its general lack of toughness. Getting outworked for 50/50 balls or outmuscled while on the ball was a constant source of frustration, especially for Yeagley.
“It just wasn’t the IU toughness that we’re very proud of for one, and one that’s a requirement,” Yeagley said. “They’ve learned from it and we hope that those periods are very far and few between.”
New faces, no problem
Thanks to another comfortable scoring margin for Indiana, it allowed the coaching staff to again showcase a number of young players who hadn’t seen much action in prior seasons.
Sophomore forward Ryan Wittenbrink made the first start of his IU career on Tuesday, totaling 31 minutes played and one shot on goal. In the season-opener last Saturday, Wittenbrink was stretched out for 46 minutes and attempted a team-high four shots.
Sophomore defender Brett Bebej also made his third career appearance in the Starting IX, filling in at right back for an injured Nyk Sessock, and freshman Joey Maher joined him on the backline for his second-straight start.
Off the bench, forward Maouloune Goumballe, midfielders Ben Yeagley and Quentin Helmer, and defender Lawson Redmond also saw extended action for the second time this season. Goumballe logged 65 minutes while Yeagley logged 56 minutes, and Helmer and Redmond each hovered around 15 minutes without any of the four attempting a shot.
“I thought Maouloune (Goumballe) came in and did a fantastic job for us,” Yeagley said. “I thought Ben (Yeagley) came in and did a really nice job, helping us with second balls and being busy.”
With IU already suffering a pair of key injuries that sidelined Nyk Sessock and Ian Black against Ohio State, Yeagley and his coaching staff are going to have to figure out quickly which unproven players they can count on this season.
Based on how the playing time has shaken out through two matches, it appears Goumballe, Wittenbrink and Ben Yeagley will, at the very least, be key parts of IU’s bench moving forward, though injuries could thrust them into even more significant roles. Redmond, a freshman, has also seen notable action in both matches, which could mean he’s shown enough already to carve out a role in IU’s rotation.
As the season progresses we’ll get a clearer picture of what to expect from IU’s bench, but all signs point toward an injection of youth this season, one that could be extremely beneficial in the long run.
“There’s a lot of positives to build from,” Yeagley said. “We got some guys in the game that haven’t played big minutes, and to get them big roles was important.”