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Bezerra, Warr cap off IU's dominant 3-0 win in season opener

If there was ever a way to return from a 450-day layoff without looking like a beaten-down, rusty car, IU men’s soccer did so Friday afternoon in dominant fashion. In fact, the Hoosiers looked far more like a rejuvenated convertible — newly washed and freshly painted with a few kinks still to iron out — than a station wagon struggling to rev its engine, which some feared might happen after the prolonged offseason.

In a 3-0 victory over Wisconsin to open the 2021 spring season, Indiana effectively squashed any doubts of a return to form and once again asserted itself as a mainstay atop the Big Ten hierarchy. 

Hoosier fans can thank sophomore forward Victor Bezerra and senior forward Thomas Warr for that.

“Victor, getting his slate going was key,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “If I had to say two guys that we could really get goals from today that would be really good for the group, it’s Tom (Warr) and Vic (Bezerra).”

Victor Bezerra. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Following a largely uneventful opening 35 minutes that saw the Hoosiers and Badgers play the slow game as they brushed off a year's worth of rust, Bezerra broke free. In the 38th minute, Bezerra corralled a deflected pass off a Badger defender and buried a shot top-right to net the Hoosiers their first goal of the match and season.

But IU’s leading scorer from a season ago wasn’t satisfied with just one. So less than five minutes later, BANG. A rocket shot fired from Bezerra’s cannon right foot in the 42nd minute sailed over the head of Badger goalkeeper Sven Kleinhans to put Indiana ahead 2-0 just before halftime.

With his brace against the Badgers, Bezerra now ranks first in career goals (10) among all active Hoosiers.

For the lucky few spectators who got to watch the game in-person at Grand Park in Westfield the original match was scheduled for Bloomington, but moved due to weather conditions Bezzera’s outburst should have come as little surprise. Or, if you’re Todd Yeagley and the IU coaching staff, it came as no surprise.

“Vic, although we couldn’t find him as well as we’d like in the first 25 minutes, that goal just kind of gave him a shot in the arm,” Yeagley said. “... His maturity and how he didn’t get frustrated or try to do too much when it wasn’t available, was a good sign.”

Though, for all the vital energy and momentum that Bezerra injected into IU with his two first-period goals, Warr wanted a chance to bask in some of the glory too. And bask he did, as Herbert Endeley and Brett Bebej threaded precision passes ahead to a streaking Warr inside the penalty kick box that netted a chip-shot goal for the Zionsville native.

The third and final tally of the match was one that stuck out to Yeagley.

“The lead up to the third goal was really nice,” Yeagley said, “the pass from Herb, Bebej’s touch and serve into a well-timed run from Tom (Warr).”

Indiana's Thomas Warr tallied six points as a junior in 2019. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

From then on, the overmatched Badgers showed little in the way of a response despite rattling off seven shots in the second period and forcing IU sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano to make three total saves. And for the Hoosiers, the sizable advantage allowed them to insert a flurry of young players into the action.

Freshman defender Joey Maher, who started on IU’s backline in his debut, played a full 90 minutes of mostly mistake-free soccer. Emerson Nieto, Lawson Redmon, Quinten Helmer and Emerson Nieto also made their debuts with the latter two playing more than 20 minutes.

Perhaps most surprising, though, was forward Ryan Wittenbrink’s growing confidence in 46 minutes of action. The redshirt sophomore tallied a game-high four shot attempts, and it seems as if he could be a key part of IU’s offensive production this season. 

“The fact that we got some young guys in the game, it was important to get some of their nerves out of the way,” Yeagley said. “Even some of our returners, I thought Joe Schmidt in the second half was much more relaxed. He was a little bit wound up in the first half, and you could see that in his performance.”

On a day when the Hoosiers were likely happy to just be playing a real match again, the dominant 3-0 win capped off an overwhelming sensation of normalcy. 

How things used to be 450 days ago.

With Indiana looking the part of a Big Ten and College Cup contender.

With the Big Ten back to playing soccer.

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