Exactly two weeks after Indiana’s 1-0 spring exhibition defeat to St. Louis University, the Hoosiers faced off on Saturday against the Cougars of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, who are brand-new members of the recently added men’s soccer league within the Ohio Valley Conference. For the first and the only time this spring, Indiana played host for a spring exhibition game at Bill Armstrong Stadium, as the rest of the spring schedule has had IU on the road or at a neutral site.
Indiana defeated SIUE 4-3 in a seven-goal thriller, with five goals coming in the second half — including a Luka Bezerra hat trick. But as with any match with no real significance this spring, the scoreline, and the performance as a whole, is always important for any team to monitor.
Here are a few key takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Inexperience was evident
A major purpose of these spring exhibition games is for coaches to assess their squad depth as well as any incoming players. Underclassmen including Luka Bezerra, Seth Stewart, Breckin Minzey and Noah Joseph all saw plenty of game time Saturday.
Even with Bezerra’s hattrick, Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley claimed that “the young guys still have ways to go,” while adding that these games are a “good evaluation” for these players.
Indiana also had redshirt sophomore Austin Himebaugh and freshman Cooper Johnsen each play a half in goal against SIUE.
“We played two keepers that have never really played for us yet,” Yeagley said.
Examining the progression of these players is crucial in Yeagley’s eyes, as he also added postgame that “you have to be willing to sacrifice the end result in the spring to see where everyone is.”
While these players all showed flashes of their talents throughout Saturday’s exhibition, mistakes were made as well and each player displayed aspects of their game that can continue to be developed.
The Trio: Sarver, Henderlong and McDonald
With attacking threats such as Ryan Wittenbrink and Herbert Endeley no longer on the roster, Indiana has been using this spring period to adapt with the attacking talent it currently possesses.
Karsen Henderlong got the Hoosiers off and running in the 15th minute with a clean near-post finish off a Minzey cross into the box. Henderlong made his presence felt in the final third all game, having multiple opportunities off of crosses played by Stewart to give himself a brace, but was unlucky to not score again.
Along with Henderlong, Yeagley referred to Sam Sarver as being the attacking “wildcard” because of his versatility. In the first half, Sarver was playing in a more central role that Yeagley claimed had prevented him from being at his best, which led to a switch in the second half where Sarver played as a winger. After that switch, Sarver had a huge impact on the game, helping the Hoosiers create chances throughout the second half.
In a more dropped back and possessive role, sophomore Patrick McDonald was confident and a force in the middle of the pitch. Yeagley mentioned postgame how McDonald was able to “take the game over at times” and how Indiana would be a “much better team” if he can sustain that level of play.
The sloppiest aspect of Saturday’s exhibition was Indiana’s defensive performance. At times, the backline played at a rushed and uncomfortable pace which led to mistakes.
The first SIUE goal came off a tricky tackle from Indiana, where the ball ended up right at the feet of a SIUE attacker who slotted it home to even things at one apiece. The second SIUE goal came from a turnover and then a case of ball watching from the IU backline, while the third SIUE goal was made possible after goalie Cooper Johnsen left his line in attempt to win a 50-50 ball, but was beaten to the ball by the SIUE forward who scored with a composed finish. It was an overall iffy day for the Hoosiers backline, who are still missing captain Joey Maher, who is dealing with an injury.
While the Hoosiers endured some struggles, it’s games like this that need to happen at this time of the year for Indiana to determine its strengths and weaknesses as a team. Heading into the fall when everything counts, looking back at these spring exhibitions will have Yeagley aware of what he and his staff need to do to get the best out of this Hoosier team.
Next up for the Hoosiers is an in-state affair and their spring exhibition finale, Friday night at 7:30 p.m., as they will travel to Westfield, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Grand Park Sports Complex.