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IU's improved form, Starting XI set to make impact with impending rematch against Maryland

Indiana’s first match with Maryland seems like an eternity ago.

It was that night that Maryland ended Indiana’s regular season conference unbeaten streak and left IU struggling to comprehend what had just unfolded in front of 4,800 people at Ludwig Field in College Park. 

IU quickly moved on from that night, but the memory still lingers behind. Since that game, IU has won five straight matches, outscoring opponents 16-2. In that stretch, IU won four conference games, including two against Ohio State, and took down Michigan State to claim the Big Ten regular-season title

Now IU heads back to College Park after a physical, yet resounding 2-0 win over a 10-man Ohio State side in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Maryland defeated Northwestern 1-0 in the corresponding quarterfinal to set up a highly anticipated rematch with IU on Friday again at Ludwig.

This matchup has been so eagerly awaited that it was bumped to the night slot so that Maryland could add additional time for fans and students to arrive. It won’t have nearly the same feel as a month ago, but the noise surrounding this matchup is building. 

However, the question remains: What is different this time around?

It’s only been a month since the two sides met, leaving little time for adjustments. IU struggled with the strong attacking players from Maryland, including forward Eric Matzelevich. On the opposite side of the field, IU couldn’t crack the combination of the Di Rosa twins on defense and were never able to play fair chances into the box. 

Since then, IU head coach Todd Yeagley has settled into a rotation that he’s comfortable with and one that has produced quality chances and results each time out. Given that defender Simon Waever returns to the Starting XI after a hamstring held him out against Ohio State, it will be a more attacking-style lineup.

Waever, Jack Maher, Daniel Munie, Spencer Glass and Roman Celentano combine to make the five-man defensive team. This combination has started every game together since Oct. 1 outside of the Ohio State fixture in the Big Ten Tournament. It’s been solid all season but struggled with Maryland’s athletic forwards.

This defensive backline is more suited to play on attack. Waever and Glass create a fair amount of chances down the flanks and work seamlessly with midfielders like Aidan Morris and Joe Schmidt. IU must do a better job at tracking Maryland’s forwards and holding their position to make sure no one sneaks past the defense. 

The first two goals against Maryland the last time were because of breakdowns in defense. David Kovacic and Matzelevich both broke behind the IU defense, setting one-on-one matchups with Celentano that the Terrapins easily won. 

IU put Celentano in a terrible position during his first real road test in college. The students hounded him from behind the goal all game and IU’s defenders let him down to the tune of three goals. 

But since then, the defense has been sound and so has Celentano. The lone goal from Evansville came from a penalty kick while the goal against Ohio State was a scramble inside the 18-yard box. 

This is IU’s most veteran-laden aspect of its team and against Maryland it’s got to be better. When it is, IU is so much better offensively and gets onto the attack, the strongest aspect of its team.

On the attack, Yeagley has settled into a front six that suits the defensive and offensive aspects of his team equally. Morris is one of the best box-to-box midfielders in college soccer while Joe Schmidt handles the midfield with complete composure. A.J. Palazzolo plays a key position in Yeagley’s 4-3-3. 

The midfield has turned into nearly a diamond formation with Palazzolo playing at the top, giving him the ability to get back on defense while also leading the offensive attack. He’s one of the most versatile players on the squad. 

But against Maryland, he’s got to utilize his athleticism to IU’s advantage. He’s at one of the most crucial positions on the pitch and gives IU an added bonus when he’s in form.

The frontline of Josh Penn, Victor Bezerra and Herbert Endeley is comprised of entirely true freshmen but has combined for 13 goals on the season. These three were nearly invisible against Maryland a month ago, but usually make this team go.

These three freshmen along with Palazzolo make up an offensive unit that has been clicking on all cylinders as of late. But against Maryland, it couldn’t muster anything against the speedy and physical wing-backs of the Terrapins.

IU needs to find a way to better play balls into the middle of the field on the counter. Too many times, the IU attack gets bogged down on the flanks when the defense closes in on the wings. 

Getting Bezerra and Palazzolo involved early, especially through the air, opens up the IU offense even more. IU needs to set the tone early on offense and put Maryland on its back foot defensively. 

Maryland is likely to counter with the same lineup it used in the 3-0 victory over IU in mid-October. Although it lost its final two conference matchups in the regular season, Maryland bounced back with a win over Northwestern in the quarterfinals. 

There’s no saying how Friday night will go. This derby produces anything but the norm. 

But with an improved Starting XI and a team that’s finding its best form late, IU is sure to make it interesting.

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