Welcome back to The Q49 Journal! After a brief summer hiatus, it feels good to get the fingers typing again and the brain whizzing with Indiana men's soccer thoughts and musings.
Now that the dust has settled on IU's loss to Marshall in the College Cup finals (more on that shortly), and the fall season less than 50 days away, it's a great time to reconvene and take stock of the Hoosiers' current outlook.
Spoiler alert: The outlook seems extremely bright in Bloomington due to some major returns and additions (also more on that below).
With all the formalities out of the way, let's dive into this mid-summer edition of The Q49 Journal.
Close, but no cigar: College Cup takeaways
If you polled every collegiate men's soccer program in the country and asked if they'd be satisfied with three College Cup appearances in four seasons, I'd bet every single coach and player would respond "yes" and not think twice.
Well... everyone except maybe Indiana.
It's no secret that expectations, when it comes to men's soccer in Bloomington, are astronomically high. We're talking Alabama-football, national-title-or-bust kind of high every season. So when a program like the Hoosiers advance to their third College Cup in four seasons and again fall a golden-goal short of hoisting a ninth national championship, it can feel like a bit of a letdown.
Here's some words of wisdom: It was anything but a letdown.
From a macro perspective, the fact that Indiana was able to accomplish what it did while enduring arguably the most arduous season in college history, is nothing short of incredible and shouldn't be taken lightly. The same can be said for any program last season -- NCAA Tournament or not -- that was able to complete a full season given the many challenges brought about by COVID.
I get it, though. Moral victories and participation trophies aren't much of an accepted thing among IU men's soccer fans, and if the sting of last season's College Cup finals defeat has yet to fade, that's also understandable. Trophy displays are waiting to be stocked back in Bloomington and anything short of that might be a tough pill to swallow.
The road for Indiana to get to the national title match also deserves mentioning.
Despite a season-ending injury to captain and All-American left back Spencer Glass late in the regular season, the Hoosiers still found a way to remain cool and level-headed. Glass's absence called for a Starting XI shakeup, one that head coach Todd Yeagley and the coaching staff seemed to press all the right buttons with. Brett Bebej, the so-called "swiss army knife", was a fine replacement for Glass, and the junior is sure to have another crucial role this fall, likely in the midfield.
The group of veterans that stepped up throughout the NCAA Tournament can't be glossed over, either. Whether it was Thomas Warr's game-winning goal against Seton Hall to send IU to the College Cup, or A.J. Palazzolo and Joe Schmidt's rock-steadiness in the midfield, the upperclassmen stepped up in a major way.
Lastly, the smattering of contributions from a handful of Hoosiers throughout the tournament was certainly encouraging, both as it pertained to the College Cup run and the upcoming fall season.
Roman Celentano's wizardry inside the goal box all tournament (and really all season); Ryan Wittenbrink's coming-out party late in the regular season and into the postseason; Maouloune Goumballe's playmaking ability; the list goes on and on.
And who could forget Herbert Endeley's game-winner in the 79th minute against Pittsburgh? The run he made to even get inside the 18-yard box was highlight-reel worthy, but then the strike and finish to bury the Panthers was stuff of IU legends. Endeley's junior season is one I'm going to keep a close eye on this fall.
In short, the 2021 College Cup run re-invigorated a fanbase and a university that desperately needed a jolt after a whirlwind academics and athletics year. Todd Yeagley's legacy grows.
Bezerra, Glass, Celentano, oh my!
It's not every season you get not one, not two, but three All-American's and probable MAC Hermann Trophy candidates returning. This isn't every season...
Welcome back to Bloomington, Victor Bezerra, Spencer Glass and Roman Celentano.
— Spencer Glass (@Spencer_Glass21) June 3, 2021
Indiana men's soccer news:
MAC Hermann runner-up Victor Bezerra and All-American goalkeeper Roman Celentano will return to #iums this fall for their junior seasons, sources confirm.
Celentano led the nation in save % last season; Bezerra's 12 goals were 4th-most in the country.
— Jared Kelly (@Jared_Kelly7) June 30, 2021
The trio's return and what it means for Indiana, the Big Ten, and the entire NCAA is simply unquantifiable. There is a legitimate case to be made that the Hoosiers enter this fall with the preseason Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and Defender of the Year -- Celentano and Bezerra are the reigning recipients of the latter two awards.
When you look at the fall roster on paper, you'd have to do some serious nitpicking to find any glaring holes. Though the departures of Warr, Palazzolo and Ian Black are notable, the Hoosiers return 10 of 11 starters from last season along with a full intact supporting cast, sans Warr and Black.
But the one area that should excite IU fans the most and set the Hoosiers up as a potential preseason No. 1 team is
the full return of a veteran backline. With Nyk Sessock, Daniel Munie, Joey Maher, Glass and Celentano all in tow, we might be looking at one of the stingiest defenses in Indiana history. Don't forget, this same group last season ranked top-3 nationally in shutouts (10), goal differential (+25), and goals-against average (.361).
Bezerra, the MAC Hermann runner-up as a sophomore, also figures to be among the nation's most lethal strikers in the fall. His 28 points and 12 goals last spring ranked fourth-best in the nation. With another summers-worth of development -- he posted pictures on social media of him training with MLS side Chicago Fire -- Bezerra could be in line for a record-breaking season.
Of course, all of this is just talk if it doesn't result in wins.
But then again, how often does a men's soccer program return not one, not two, but three All-Americans? It's okay to dream a little bit, folks.
Gannon and Sarver: The next great IU freshmen phenoms?
Oh, and if bringing back Bezerra, Glass and Celentano wasn't enough, how about adding a pair of top-40 recruits in forward Samuel Sarver (ranked No. 32) and midfielder Coleman Gannon (ranked No. 36).
After hearing from Yeagley and recruiting coordinator Kevin Robson, it's clear that Sarver and Gannon's prep ratings match the talent level. But with it also comes increased expectations.
Let's start with Sarver. Two traits immediately stand out when watching him: speed and finishing ability. Though he may not yet be as precise or quick-triggered as Bezerra (very hard to ask that of an incoming freshman), the talent level is that of a future high-production Big Ten striker.
It also helps that Sarver has trained and developed with the Columbus Crew Academy Team, which has been a major pipeline for the Hoosiers. for several years.
Given some more time and hands-on coaching this summer, Sarver's playmaking could pay major dividends for Indiana as soon as the fall season.
GAME WINNER AT THE DEATH! ?
Sam Sarver puts it away in the 90+3' to give @CrewSCAcademy the win! pic.twitter.com/Btuzeob22k
— Development Academy (@ussoccer_da) June 19, 2018
In Gannon, the Hoosiers are getting an extremely crafty, high-energy midfielder that can do a little bit of everything. Gannon's rabid activity off the ball and touch on the ball reminds me a lot of former Hoosier standout Aidan Morris, who is now with MLS side Columbus Crew.
There's also a lot to like with Gannon's intangibles. Just based off the highlights and tape that I was able to dig up, his IQ is very advanced for someone his age, and he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
That he's only 18-years-old and playing significant minutes for USL side Atlanta United 2 -- and producing meaningful points -- also says a lot about his accelerated development.
Just watch this goal from Gannon; the touch, the run, the finish, it's all so tantalizing.
The fifth goal was a beauty ? pic.twitter.com/MQwiO82Mht
— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) May 20, 2021
As things stand, the duo's fit within the initial starting XI and rotation is unclear, but based on how the coaching staff has operated in the past with players of this caliber, don't be surprised if Sarver and Gannon become fixtures by season's end.