We’ve already waited this long for IU men’s soccer to return, so what’s a few more months spent away from Bill Armstrong Stadium… right? Well, the Hoosiers, along with the rest of Big Ten soccer, have finally received some good news.
The NCAA announced Tuesday that games can begin on Feb. 3, with the NCAA Tournament bracket reveal scheduled for April 18. Citing improved COVID-19 testing methods, including the availability of rapid antigen testing, the conference has moved forward with its return to play initiative for fall sports.
This comes a week after Big Ten presidents and chancellors reversed their decision to postpone football this fall, announcing last Wednesday that the season would begin the weekend of Oct. 23. While we haven't yet received an official announcement from the Big Ten, important figures across the conference, including Maryland Head Coach Sasho Cirovski, have heard that a spring Big Ten soccer season is indeed happening:
According to @SashoCirovski earlier today, the @B1GSoccer Championship will take place on Saturday, April 17.
“This year, more than ever, winning the Big Ten Championship will be critical. And certainly, [teams] probably have to finish in the top two in order to get an invite.” https://t.co/BJGIYOunAL
— Brendan Hartlove (@bhartlove) September 22, 2020
All summer, IU head coach Todd Yeagley made it abundantly clear that the Hoosiers were doing everything necessary to stay ready for a season. After months without clarity and direction, it’s time to see if Yeagley’s words will translate onto the field.
For veterans such as redshirt seniors Spencer Glass, A.J. Palazzolo and Ian Black, the delayed season likely won’t have much effect on their game fitness or preparedness. The same can probably be said for senior Thomas Warr and junior Joe Schmidt — both key pieces in IU’s attacking scheme.
But with a roster consisting of 23 underclassmen, consistency will be tough to come by initially as the Hoosiers’ coaching staff evaluates its rotation.
After losing star freshmen Aidan Morris and Josh Penn, IU is hoping it can fill that production with sophomore forwards Victor Bezzera and Herbert Endeley and some combination of Black, Warr, Schmidt and others.
How will the postponed season impact the development of Bezzera or Endeley, though? And what happens if Black, Warr or Schmidt is sidelined by injury? These are just some of the questions Yeagley and co. will have to account for in the coming weeks.
Next, what do you do with all the newcomers? With the lack of hands-on instruction and time spent away from facilities, there’s real concern that the 2020 class will take longer to acclimate to Big Ten soccer, especially if the non-conference schedule is dissolved.
This season, the Hoosiers’ recruiting class, No. 1 in the nation according to Top Drawer Soccer, is anchored by a pair of highly-touted transfers in junior center back Callum Stretch and junior right back Nyk Sessock. Both will likely start from day one as both have significant match experience and skill.
However, reliance on the freshmen class — as IU has been accustomed to — for impact minutes could be problematic. Four-star recruits Emerson Nieto and Kyle Folds look the part as plug-and-play options, but again, the unpredictability of training camp could hinder their readiness.
On the defensive side, freshman Joey Maher — younger brother of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jack Maher — has a chance to earn minutes along the way. But with an experienced backline of Stretch, Sessock, Glass and sophomore Daniel Munie, Maher will likely have to perform from day one of the abbreviated training camp.
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, its goalkeeper situation is as solid as any in the Big Ten. Sophomore Roman Celentano replaced redshirt senior Sean Caulfield in net midway through last season and never relinquished the starting gig. The 6-foot-3 keeper showed immense promise in his freshman campaign, recording seven shutouts and tallying a save percentage of 78.9%. There likely won’t be much of a learning curve for Celentano as he’ll enter training camp as IU’s clear-cut top goalkeeper.
There’s still lots to figure out for Yeagley and his staff, but time is on their side. While the upcoming season will be unlike any other in Big Ten history, if any program has the capabilities of making the transition seamless, it’s the Hoosiers.
At some point, Jerry Yeagley Field will once again enjoy the sounds of hard tackles and balls clanking off goal posts, of die-hard Hoosier fans heckling match officials, of the student section banging the sideline boards.
But until then, we’ll just have to wait a little bit longer. After all, what’s a few more months spent away from Bill Armstrong Stadium… right?