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JT Harms takes the field during IU's win over Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game on Nov. 12, 2023. (HN photo/Danielle Stockwell)
JT Harms takes the field during IU's win over Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game on Nov. 12, 2023. (HN photo/Danielle Stockwell)

Indiana men's soccer offseason outlook: Defense finding identity as newcomers enter the fold

The spring schedule may not tell the full story, but there are definitely some points to be addressed for the Hoosiers

It has been a little over three months since the Indiana soccer team fell to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight and the Hoosiers have certainly not kept quiet with their offseason plans.

Shortly after the MLS SuperDraft, midfielder and current junior Patrick McDonald officially announced on Jan. 2 that he would be returning to Indiana for his senior season. This began a (relatively) newsworthy two-month stretch for Hoosier soccer.

New faces

On consecutive days to close out January, Indiana announced that two players would be transferring in for the 2024 fall season. The first is outside back Quinton Elliot who spent his first two years at Louisville.

Elliot started all 21 games for the Cardinals tallying 10 points (two goals, six assists) as a surprise ACC Tournament run propelled Louisville into the NCAA Tournament.

The ACC sent an NCAA-best eight teams to the tournament, so Elliot will have no shortage of experience at the top level when he reps the Creme and Crimson this season.

Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley walks to the sideline during IU's win over Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game on Nov. 12, 2023. (HN photo/Kallan Graybill)

Justin Weiss of Northwestern is the second of the transfers as IU head coach Todd Yeagley appears to have found his guy at striker.

Weiss led the Wildcats in both goals (seven) and assists (seven) for 21 total points en route to being named to the All-Big Ten First Team. In a season that Indiana had struggled to find the back of the net for quite some time, Weiss looks to bolster an offense with so much potential.

Weiss has not been with the team in the spring season.

Nine incoming freshmen round out the list of newcomers, highlighted by Josh Maher, brother of former IU standouts Jack and Joey. Seven of the nine were ranked in the Top 25 of their specific region with Maher being ranked the No. 35 recruit in the nation.

“There are some personalities with this group that I think you guys will like,” Yeagley said.

Myself and fellow soccer reporter Austin Platt had the pleasure of sitting down with Yeagley in mid-February to talk about the current state of Indiana soccer.

Spring schedule and observations so far

Indiana announced in late January that there would be five Spring matches highlighted by a trip to Lexington to take on Kentucky, and a rematch of the season finale against Notre Dame on April 19.

“I don’t really pay attention to the score,” Yeagley said when asked about what he was looking for in the five-game slate.

The Hoosiers beat Evansville 1-0 at home and took a trip up to Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana to face Saint Louis where they fell 1-0. The latter was more prominent for storytelling due to Joey Maher’s decision to transfer to Saint Louis for a fifth season.

Yeagley is correct in the sense that the score does not matter, however, there have been some noteworthy things in the gameplay through the first two matches.

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Patrick McDonald scores during Indiana's loss to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight on Dec. 2, 2023. (HN photo/Kallan Graybill)

From what I have noticed, McDonald is the engine of this team through his voice, leadership and overall play. After being named to the All-Big Ten First Team this past year, I would not be surprised if McDonald runs it back and moves his draft stock up even further in the 2024 season.

In the match against Saint Louis, McDonald was taken out midway through the second half to get some rest as well as to get some experience from sophomore Seth Stewart. Stewart did not play in the 2023 fall season but has appeared in both spring games so far.

There was an immediate shift in the match as Saint Louis would go on to score shortly after the substitution and control the overall tempo in the midfield.

Another play in this match was an attack the Hoosiers had set up where left back Elliot had made a run up to the attacking third as a lost possession had Indiana out of position. SLU responded with a counter attack in the gap where the person to halt the counter and get back was none other than McDonald.

Defense has been an interesting eye test through only two spring matches as Elliot has really impressed me with his IQ, quickness and ability to provide some offense.

There were multiple times where Elliot made a great physical tackle, set up a counter attack and even got himself in position as the one to play a cross in.

The biggest thing to note defensively is the gap at center back along with Jansen Miller. With Joey Maher gone, there is a positional void that needs to be filled and Indiana will have to dig to find it.

Breckin Minzey has started both spring matches at center back with Miller where the talent has been there, the eye test is difficult with only two matches being played.

“There is going to be some competition for that spot,” Yeagley said as incoming freshman Josh Maher is among one of the competitors along with Minzey for the starting center back role.

Last of the spring season notables is JT Harms.

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JT Harms celebrates after IU's 2-1 win over Lipscomb in the first round the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 16, 2023. (HN photo/Kallan Graybill)

Harms has been tremendous in the two matches as, especially in the match against SLU, there have been multiple shots rifled at him to only allow one goal through two.

This defense will figure out its identity, however it is going to take time. Harms has stepped up in many ways throughout his Indiana career especially when the lights shine the brightest. Harms will have to be an anchor at his goalkeeper spot especially through this offseason.

I do believe the defense will fall into form as the talent is there, however the experience and especially experience together is not much.

Miller and Alex Barger have played a little over half a season as starters together as Barger was also a freshman this past season. Elliot is in his first year for Indiana and then the voided position will likely be a player who has not played a fall game for the Hoosiers before.

Final thoughts

The season opener is about five months away which may feel like an eternity, but the progress being made by this team will be made through the offseason.

With spring break, three more spring matches and an entire summer of offseason training, there will certainly be a lot of buzz for Indiana soccer as the Quest for Nine goes beyond the fall season.

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