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2019 Indiana Soccer Preview: The Defense

Indiana Soccer is known for being a strong defensive side and it shouldn’t be any different this fall

Jack Maher prepares to defend an attack coming from the right side of the pitch during IU’s first official practice of 2019. The sophomore will be a crucial member of IU’s defense this season.
Auston Matricardi

Over the past two seasons IU has had one of the best defenses in the nation. In 2017 there was the shutout streak, a clean sheet that lasted longer than a Fast and Furious marathon (minus Hobbs & Shaw), clocking in at 966 minutes and 28 seconds. The 2018 campaign didn’t have anything quite as remarkable as that, but finishing the season with a nation-leading 15 shutouts and the fourth-best goals allowed average in the nation (.529) is nothing to scoff at.

Now, however, many of the players who made those things happen have left Bloomington for the pros. Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman, Trey Muse, Rece Buckmaster and Timmy Mehl are all gone. Despite that, there’s still plenty of promise for the Hoosier backline this season.

“We’re known for our defense here,” redshirt junior Spencer Glass said. “If we get one goal or four goals it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the shutout.”

Players to Watch

Jack Maher, sophomore - Over the past few seasons the Hoosiers have had some defenders with the potential to be special come through the program. Recent examples include the aforementioned Lillard and Gutman, who finished their IU careers as a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist and a MAC Hermann Trophy winner respectively. Maher might just be in that category. He’s a center back mature beyond his years, so composed that he’s unfazed by philosophical questions like “What’s the difference between pressure and expectation?” in press conferences (he belted out a well thought out answer centered around a comparison between external and internal motivation). In light of his maturity as well as his status as the returner who got the most minutes last season (he’s technically the team’s only returning starter despite the important role some other returners played) he was named a team captain as a sophomore. That’s only what he’s been named in Bloomington. He’s received national attention as well, being named a preseason All-American as well as being included on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List, the only sophomore to do so. A typical second year on campus might include branching out and joining a new club or pigging out with friends at the cafeteria in Wright quad, but Maher’s no typical sophomore. He’s a skilled, promising young center back with U.S. Youth National Team experience who made his USL Championship and US Open Cup debuts as a high schooler nearly two years ago. Off the field he’s humble, of course, and speaks with a composure that’s earned him the nickname “Senator Maher” from some.

“Indiana has a history of having people like that and I’m just fortunate to be one of those guys that has taken on a role like that and it all comes back to the coaching staff,” Maher said. “I feel like Coach Yeagley should win Coach of the Year every year, he’s fantastic at what he does along with assistant coaches Danny O’Rourke and Kevin Robson.”

Maher will be the rock of IU’s defense this season if not the entire team. Expect him to bring home plenty of individual hardware at the end of the year and get some attention from professional scouts.

Spencer Glass, redshirt junior - One of IU’s top returners and another one of this season’s captains, expect big things from Glass this season. He wasn’t one of the typical starters last season, but that was more because of who was in the lineup ahead of him, namely Gutman at left back and Trevor Swartz on the left wing. With those two departed he should be getting a lot more minutes and considering how productive he was as a bench player last season, scoring five goals and assisting on eight others, there’s plenty of reason to be excited.

“He had points that could definitely put him up there with All-American status last year,” Maher said. “He played barely any minutes compared to what a lot of the All-Americans got, but he was so productive when he was on the field that you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I got Spencer back? That’s awesome.’”

Glass should man the left back position for the Hoosiers and be an ever-present threat to push up the wing in attack. He has a stellar left foot allowing him to put cross after cross into dangerous areas which should be important for IU. If the new pieces forming the attack falter early in the season don’t be surprised to see Glass leading the charge and attempting to get them jumpstarted.

Simon Waever, senior - One of the big transfer market pickups for this season, Waever has been with the Hoosiers since last semester. That means he had the entire spring season to integrate himself into the squad, get comfortable and get ready to go for this fall. He comes to IU from the University of Evansville, where he was a bit of a thorn in IU’s side when the two teams would play. With the Purple Aces he was a multi-time All-MVC selection and also made multiple All-Region teams. Last season he led the team with seven assists. Waever has a versatile skillset but should man the right back position in the IU lineup. Like Glass on the left, he’ll be a threat to push up the right flank and send dangerous crosses into the box.

A.J. Palazzolo, redshirt junior - Likely the most versatile player on the roster, Palazzolo is listed as a defender so we’re going to talk about him here. His abilities have kind of left the coaching staff in a situation where they aren’t sure where to play him. Rather than try my hand at a scouting report, here’s how IU head coach Todd Yeagley describes him:

“He’s a really good player, and he’s as versatile of a player as we have in the program. He has skill sets that translate to the back half of the field with his toughness, his tackling, his heading, he never gives up on a play, just the characteristic qualities. In the front half, he has composure, he’s a good finisher, he will get in the box to finish a play with his head or with his body, he understands tempo well, so to answer your question, I don’t where we’re gonna use A.J. yet. We have a few thoughts, but I think it might be where we go in with one thought and in a couple games with how the team is playing or form we go ‘OK A.J. we need you here,’ and I know A.J.’s not gonna go ‘Well, what the hell’s going on now,’ he’s gonna say ‘OK.’ I’m just happy A.J.’s a Hoosier and he’s gonna help our team. Where in the field, that’s kind of a big question. A.J.’s gonna be on the field somewhere helping us significantly, but where the other pieces of the new players kind of push him and all that.”

Palazzolo played mostly as either a center back or a striker last season, the two roles which fit his skillset the best. He could also possibly play as a box-to-box midfielder in an attempt to utilize his ability on both ends. Where does he end up? Who knows. Spin a wheel. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say he starts at center back alongside Maher on day one.

Jordan Kleyn, redshirt senior - Kleyn has sort of had an up-and-down career as a Hoosier. Coming out of high school he was named the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year and then played in seven matches as a freshman. In his second season on campus he redshirted, but in 2017 he came back to start at right back in IU’s first six games. Following those six starts in which he and the defense as a whole performed well, Kleyn got hurt. He missed just under a month’s worth of action and two things happened during his absence: Rece Buckmaster took over at right back and The Shutout Streak started. By the time Kleyn was healthy enough to return to the pitch the Hoosiers were already 600 minutes, 37 seconds into the streak (roughly six-and-a-half games for those of you keeping track at home) and Kleyn wouldn’t return to the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. Last season he remained behind Buckmaster on the depth chart, getting just two starts and appearing in just 14 of IU’s 24 matches total. In that limited playing time he did manage to tally two assists. Expect him to play a bigger role for the Hoosiers this season, potentially pushing Waever at right back, but likely serving as a key sub. He’s the oldest member of the Indiana defense and one of two players on the roster entering their fifth year in Bloomington alongside goalkeeper Sean Caulfield.

Daniel Munie, redshirt freshman - One of the more interesting players on the roster, Munie could be primed for a breakout season. He redshirted last year so he’s yet to actually take the pitch in a real game, but he got some playing time during the spring season and managed to grab the attention of the coaching staff.

“We left the Spring with Daniel Munie going ‘OK, he’s good, he’s a good one,’” Yeagley said. “If we had a really heavy returning group he may not have played as much as he did this Spring, but he’s ready to help. Whether that translates to a start I don’t know yet, but he’s ready.”

Munie played at Saint Louis FC alongside Maher and was rated as a two-star recruit coming into college, but he was seen as more of a late bloomer with potential to become an athletic, versatile player who could be important to the IU defense. That might just happen this year, but even if it doesn’t he should get opportunities as his IU career continues.

Battle to Watch

There are two fairly significant battles to watch here. The first is amongst the full backs. Glass and Waever both seem to be locked into the starting lineup, but if Kleyn can play well enough to get himself in there it could lead to Glass being moved up the field into a midfield/attacker role, which he did at times while playing next to Gutman last season. In that sense, the battle isn’t necessarily between Glass, Waever and Kleyn, but rather between Kleyn and whoever could be vying for time on the left wing.

The other thing to watch is whether or not Munie will play well enough to force Palazzolo up the pitch. If his preseason and exhibition performances are good enough to demand starts that could lead to Palazzolo being used as a striker, which is not at all unlikely, and as Yeagley said, Munie is ready to contribute. In a similar fashion to the situation with the full backs this isn’t Munie v. Palazzolo, it’s Munie in comparison with the options at the nine-position.