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Spring trip to Mexico provides boost for IU

Article Written by Travis Clark
Published: April 1, 2019

There’s little doubt that the 2019 Indiana men’s soccer team will look drastically different when the season returns this fall.

After making back-to-back College Cups, including an appearance in the 2017 title game, the Hoosiers lost a significant amount of talent from last year’s team. Center back Jack Maher is the lone starter from the 2018 team slated to return, with nine players having signed pro contracts since the 2018 College Cup loss to Maryland.

Three of those departures – Justin Rennicks (New England), Trey Muse (Seattle) and Griffin Dorsey (Toronto FC) – came early for MLS opportunities, although that’s not a huge shock for a program like IU. Six other seniors signed contracts with clubs in MLS, USL or Europe: Andrew Gutman (Celtic FC), Timmy Mehl (North Carolina FC), Trevor Swartz (Toronto FC II), Rece Buckmaster (New York Red Bulls II), Jeremiah Gutjahr (Chicago Fire) and Austin Panchot (North Carolina FC).

That’s opened up the door for both opportunity and re-tooling during the current spring campaign, which has been highlighted so far by a weeklong trip to Mexico during spring break. That allowed IU to get in two extra games against different opposition in more hostile conditions.

“With these extra games we’ve been able to get some additional games in some tough environment to test these guys, so that’s been fantastic,” head coach Todd Yeagley told topdrawersoccer.com. “Not only do we have guys in new roles or new responsibilities, we’ve had some interesting competitions that we wouldn’t have every spring. Right now it’s trying to put our players into positions where we see it translate into next fall.”

The trip came together thanks to Indiana’s partnership with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where the IU Mexico Gateway is located. With the established relationship between the schools, IU’s president Michael McRobbie floated the suggestion for the men’s soccer team to pay a visit and compete against UNAM’s men’s soccer team.

That allowed IU to set up a game against the UNAM University team at the Estadio Olimpico Universitario, where Pumas plays its game in Liga MX. Along with that, Yeagley arranged a game against Cruz Azul Under-20s. Despite losing the aforementioned talent, Indiana was able to win both games during its trip.

“The two soccer matches were great, what our group needed,” Yeagley said. “The results with a young group, trying to get some confidence with this new group is important and yet there were still some goals in mind what we wanted to do tactically and positional experiments and still get two results.”

For some of the players making the trip, it offered the first chance to get competitive minutes of any kind while wearing the Indiana jersey. And the experience in Mexico was more than just the soccer element. While the team was able to visit the legendary Estadio Azteca for a Liga MX game (Club America against Puebla, they saw the sights of Mexico City, and at the end of the trip, visited the Teotihuacan pyramids an hour outside the city.

After returning to Bloomington, the focus continues on preparing for the fall. While acknowledging the talent loss, Yeagly is bullish on what some of the returners might bright when tasked with more.

“We lost a lot of starters, but we’ve had some players that are very capable and maybe had a role that was different,” he said. “Spencer Glass, for example, he was one of our better attackers at times last year in different games. He played very well in our semifinal game against Maryland and anyone that’s watched our team knows he’s a next level player, but he’s been a high-end support player. Now it’s pushing him to be a leader, to be able to do other besides supporting.

“He’s an All-American type player that has not had to have that responsibility on him. That’s a whole different shift. We have to do that kind of gradually and what we expect, but we’ll be harder on him than we ever have been with some of the details and how he handles things on the field and off the field with our team. I can already see the difference – we’re doing video review once a week on each game last year and the amount of detail he’s putting into his craft is fantastic.”

The aforementioned Jack Maher is another, and he’ll anchor the team’s back line. Rising redshirt senior Sean Caulfield is expected to take over the starting role in goal. Evansville transfer Simon Waever should step into a significant role, potentially as an outside back. A.J. Palazzolo played mostly from the bench as a forward, and Yeagley said part of the spring is experimenting with him in a defensive midfield role.

Still, the team will need to find a replacement for 38 of the 47 goals scored last year. That’s without mentioning the contribution of TopDrawerSoccer.com Player of the Year Andrew Gutman, who chipped in nine assists to go with 11 tallies.

That will put onus on a very talented incoming class of 12 announced in January – ranked No. 5 in the latest Recruiting Rankings update – to shoulder some of that load. And there are plenty of candidates to come in and score goals. Josh Penn could see minutes from the start as an inverted winger, and he’ll bring goal-scoring punch no matter where he lines up on the field. Victor Bezerra joins from the Chicago Fire Academy, where he scores goals at a regular clip. Herbert Endeley comes from outside the Development Academy, but is athletically gifted and could feature in a variety of attacking roles. Maouloune Goumballe has come on strong of late with the Crew SC Academy, while D.C. United Academy midfielder Brennan Conger is getting exposure to the first team.

In central midfield, Yeagley gushed about Aidan Morris, who joins from the Crew SC Academy.

“He’s exactly what we need with losing so much experience in the middle of the field,” Yeagley said. “He’s going to play like an older player because he’s been playing with the first team, he’s been around men, he’s going to fill in great in kind of the 6/8 role for us. I think he’ll be on the ball a lot and have a huge role, which is going to be great for his development.”

Of course, freshmen have to prove it when they step on campus, and whoever from that group emerges is going to have a big say in what 2019 looks like for the Hoosiers.

But for those that won’t be returning and have begun a professional career, Yeagley is proud of what the program has been able to help them accomplish.

“It’s great because you see these guys living their dream,” he said. “They came in here to be part of something special and fight for championships and that’s exactly what they did. They had a fantastic time off the field, all worked towards that degree which is going to help them later in life, whether they left a little early, we’ll still be pushing them to get that…the ones you get super excited [about] and this is where your environment pushes [them], is Andrew Gutman, a fairly unrecruited player, is the top player in the country and signs in Europe in four years. Timmy Mehl, an under-the-radar center back out of California, just got better every year and is now playing USL and I still think can continue to grow and get better. A lot of guys just got better.”

Three more games are left on IU's spring schedule, with Lipscomb, Notre Dame and Louisville all in April. It's three more chances to get better, and open the door for players to make their case for this fall.

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