It’s easily arguable that the midfield is the most important segment of a soccer team. After all, the midfield impacts the game in both attack and defense while also controlling a significant portion of the possession battle. Teams can win matches simply by dominating the middle of the park. This year’s midfield might not be able to dominate matches in that manner, but between the group’s star senior and a mix of atypical freshmen they could be a lot of fun to watch.
Players to Watch
Joris Ahlinvi, senior - A late addition to this season’s roster, Ahlinvi joins IU through the transfer portal from FIU. The Frenchman is a huge pickup for the Hoosiers in a year in which they lost all three of their starting midfield players including Francesco Moore, Jeremiah Gutjahr and Austin Panchot. While at FIU he was a two-time First-team All-Conference USA selection as well as a two-time All-Southeast Regional honoree. Last season he was a member of the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. Last season he played on the left wing for the Golden Panthers, but what he brings to Bloomington as well as the personnel around him seems to make him a better fit in the center of the park. He should serve as the main catalyst of the IU attack, utilizing his skill, flair and vision to create scoring opportunities for others as well as himself while just being an overall nuisance to opposing defenses. With that in mind he has taken the No. 10 shirt for his lone season at IU, which is fitting as he seems to fit the archetype for that position. In three seasons in South Florida he played in 47 matches, earning 43 starts. He totaled 16 goals and nine assists. Wanna see some examples of how Ahlinvi can make opposing defenders look silly while cutting through the middle of the field before sending either a shot or a pass into a dangerous area to create a chance? ELECTRONIC MUSIC HIGHLIGHT REEL ACTIVATE:
Joe Schmidt, redshirt sophomore - Schmidt got his first taste of action as a Hoosier last season. He looked pretty good in the preseason and during exhibitions, which earned him 15 appearances off the bench for IU throughout the season. He managed to tally an assist in IU’s match against VCU early in the season, but that was the lone time his name appeared on the scoresheet in his debut campaign in Bloomington. He could’ve been expected to take a huge leap forward in terms of production as well as his role had Ahlinvi not transferred in, as he provides some of the same qualities as the senior though perhaps not in the same amounts. Nevertheless, Schmidt should be a valuable sub for the Hoosiers this season, especially when they need a boost in attack or Ahlinvi goes to the bench for whatever reason.
Aidan Morris, freshman - One of the headliners of this year’s incoming freshman class, Morris is no typical freshman. The four-star recruit brings in U.S. Youth National Team experience as well as MLS training experience. He’s the kind of player who makes a smooth transition to the college game because he’s been training at or above this level previously. At the onset of the preseason IU head coach Todd Yeagley compared Morris to standout Jack Maher, who came in and played right away last season as a freshman.
“He’s been training with the first team with the Crew for the lion’s share of this year and you see him play for the Crew U18 team, he’s a high-end player and that would be no surprise if he impacted our team immediately in a position where we need some maturity,” Yeagley said. “He’s a young player, but yet his maturity is gonna be years ahead of what we call tradition freshmen. He’s coming in and he doesn’t look like a freshman.”
Morris could be able to play in a couple of different spots, but the Hoosiers will probably want him to help lock down the defensive part of the field as a defensive midfielder. That position was previously held by the aforementioned Moore and is a crucial one in the Hoosier lineup. Moore was touted for his maturity, leadership, toughness and ability to push the ball forward and link up with attackers. IU will need Morris to embody some of those traits and he should be more than capable of doing so in his first season as a Hoosier.
Quinten Helmer, freshman - Another freshman who has training experience with a professional club, Helmer was also a late addition to this recruiting class. Helmer comes to Bloomington from the Netherlands and previously played for AZ Alkmaar, a European club known for developing young talent. He trained with the first team while helping the youth teams win regional and international tournaments. His older brother currently plays for the AZ Alkmaar first team. Helmer is a versatile player who can help the Hoosiers either on the inside or out wide in the midfield. He has a strong left foot and after he signed Yeagley touted him as a high IQ player. Expect to see plenty of Helmer this fall, possibly alongside Ahlinvi in the attacking midfield.
Brennan Conger, freshman - You might notice a theme here. Conger is a freshman, but one who’s had the experience of training with a professional club’s first team. Before arriving in Bloomington, Conger had a successful run with DC United’s development academy as he was the captain of the club’s U-19 team. He also played over 125 matches with the U.S. Development Academy, managing to score 25 goals. Aside from training with DC’s first team, he’s also trained with the first teams at Reading, a second-tier British club, and Ajax, one of the top four teams in the UEFA Champions League last season. That’s pretty impressive. On top of that he’s a player with bloodlines as his father Craig was a three-time All-ACC honoree while at Wake Forest. Conger fits the IU recruit mold of being a versatile player with high intangibles and plenty of promise, so even if he doesn’t make an impact this season, though he very well could, expect him to be an important player at some point down the road.
Ben Yeagley, redshirt freshman - The third generation of the Yeagley family to be a part of the IU men’s soccer program, Ben has a lot to live up to. His grandfather Jerry is the godfather of the program who led the Hoosiers to national title after national title and his father is obviously current head coach Todd Yeagley, who also played for the Hoosiers and was a MAC Player of the Year winner back in the nineties (there used to be two men’s awards given out each year by the Missouri Athletic Club, now there’s just the Hermann Trophy). With that in mind, the younger Yeagley was about as successful as an individual player could be at Bloomington High School South. He broke multiple school records, made all of the “All-whatever” lists, was named the Bloomington Herald-Times Player of the Year in 2017, the list goes on. After redshirting last season he should be prepared to make an impact for IU as a versatile midfield substitute before moving into a bigger role down the road.
Battle to Watch
Ahlinvi and Morris seem like they’re locked into the lineup here, both deservingly so. The third midfield spot, assuming IU runs the same 4-3-3 they used last season, is a bit more questionable. It could be any of the above players. It wouldn’t be surprising to see freshman forward Victor Bezerra, Spencer Glass or the versatile A.J. Palazzolo move into the midfield and occupy the third spot either. A lot of it will depend on the combinations that coaches see and like during preseason and exhibition play as well as which players in other parts of the team potentially force their way into the lineup with strong play (possible examples are Daniel Munie at center back, Jordan Kleyn at full back and Ian Black at striker).