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Indiana breezes past Lipscomb in home spring scrimmage

A new-look Indiana squad hit the pitch at Bill Armstrong Stadium for the first time in 2022 on Saturday afternoon, comfortably dispatching Lipscomb 3-1.

The win was Indiana’s first in regulation in the spring, after drawing 2-2 with Butler, drawing 2-2 with Saint Louis (winning 4-2 on penalties), and losing 2-0 to Kentucky in the prior three spring matches.

New formations, faces and roles defined the match, making it an interesting launching point for Todd Yeagley and company as Indiana gets closer to the fall. Here are the takeaways from Saturday’s encounter:

Two transfers seek to fill the boots of Victor Bezerra and Roman Celentano

Indiana’s offseason saw numerous departures to the professional level, with some going to the USL and MLS Next Pro, including experienced captains Spencer Glass and Joe Schmidt. Arguably Indiana’s two best players of 2021, Roman Celentano and Victor Bezerra have already made headway to the highest level of American soccer in the MLS.

Indiana’s two transfers who were featured in the match were direct replacements for Celentano and Bezerra. JT Harms, a Duke transfer, started the match in goal, while Xavier transfer Karsen Henderlong started the match on the bench, but donned Bezerra’s number ‘7’ on his back.

Harms was called into action to make numerous saves throughout the match, including an impressive double save in the first half when the match was still 0-0. His distribution with his hands was impressive, and he was error-free when passing it out with his feet. Filling in for the only goalkeeper in Big Ten history to win Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year twice will always prove difficult, but Harms proved dependable.

After the match, Yeagley praised Harms’ play, and emphasized the importance of the minutes he played for his confidence and rhythm. He also noted that Bryant Pratt, the starter of the previous spring matches, will be out with injury for the next six weeks after an injury sustained against Saint Louis. Where the No. 1 kit falls next season will be a battle all summer.

On the other end of the pitch, Henderlong had a solid performance, constantly using his 6-foot-2 frame to hold off defenders, and linked up well with his fellow forwards, notably Herbert Endeley in the first half.

Solid Lipscomb defending held him away from getting a solid chance at goal, and he had to make his own luck. In the final five minutes, a poor back pass by Lipscomb opened up an opportunity. Alex Brown, the goalkeeper for the Bison, was forced to stretch for his clearance, and couldn’t get the ball past Henderlong, who blocked the ball into the net.

He didn’t register a shot on target, but got his first goal at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Henderlong is still finding himself and his role in Indiana’s team, and his performance Saturday will help fast track that development.

New year, new formation

Before the match, one of my fellow beat reporters Ta Lao mentioned that he heard that IU was playing a 5-2-3 formation. Knowing Indiana and Yeagley’s trust in the 4-2-4 formation they played much of 2021, I was doubtful of my friend’s scoop.

I was proved wrong, however, as Indiana lined up with three center backs, two wing backs, two central midfielders, and three forwards spearheading the attack.

Call it a 3-4-3 or 5-2-3, but the general shape of Indiana was radically different than it was in the fall. Patrick McDonald (a midfielder) and Maouloune Goumballe (a forward/midfielder) lined up as the wing backs, giving them the freedom to move box to box in the wide channels. 

The formation offered great freedom to Tommy Mihalic and Endeley as wide forwards, able to receive and dribble with more space due to Indiana’s increased width with the wing backs. There was constant communication between the wide forward and the wing back on both sides to ensure that Indiana always had a player capable of receiving a switch of play.

The second goal for Indiana was an excellent example of this. Daniel Munie received the ball unpressed in the center of defense, and sprayed a pass out to the left for Ryan Wittenbrink. He then was isolated one on one with the defender due to the width of Indiana’s attack. He drove at the defender’s left, and lobbed a cross toward Nate Ward for a header.

Yeagley after the match was hesitant to commit to the formation long term, but positive signs were there to see.

Versatility is the new theme for Indiana

Building off the formation and its difference from the fall, Indiana showcased just how versatile it is in terms of personnel, roles they can play, as well as attributes available to utilize. Indiana’s center backs on the day included Munie, Joey Maher, Nyk Sessock, Lawson Redmon and Brett Bebej.

That group includes players who regularly operate as full backs (Sessock, Redmon, and Bebej) as well as Munie, an athletic and rangey center back, capable of driving the ball forward. 

At wing back, IU played Wittenbrink, Goumballe, McDonald and Lukas Hummel, all players with different styles and  strengths. In the midfield, Ben Yeagley held things down, increasing his stake as the potential starting central midfielder when fall comes back around.

The Hoosiers were capable of moving away from their comfortable formation because they have players who can play numerous positions, with different styles and points of emphasis. After the match, Yeagley mentioned that he played the formation and the players with the incoming freshmen (including a four star midfielder already signed to a MLS Next Pro side and Victor Bezerra’s younger brother Luka) and transfer defender Jansen Miller in mind.

The side IU played on Saturday will look very different in the fall, but the building blocks are in place for an interesting and competitive side down the road.

Final thoughts

Indiana getting a first win in regulation in the spring in front of home fans will be a boost, especially after the early season struggles at home back in the fall. Nothing unbelievable needed to happen Saturday, but it was effective, controlled, and a reason for optimism.

The focus of Indiana turns to next Friday’s scrimmage, the last of the spring, against Notre Dame. The focus of the stadium turns to the Little 500, with the 34th running of the women’s Little 500 and the 71st running of the men’s Little 500 in under a week.

Yeagley said that he likely won’t be able to attend either race however. He’ll be out recruiting.

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