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2019 Indiana Soccer Preview: The Forwards

IU lost nearly all of their offensive production from last season, which means a bunch of fresh faces will lead the charge in attack this fall

Auston Matricardi

A big question for IU in recent years, and a question many soccer teams face with regularity, is who will score their goals. After all, you might have the best defense in the country, but if you can’t find a goal the best you can do is finish with a 0-0 draw. Two years ago it was Mason Toye who led the way for the Hoosiers in attack, finishing as the Big Ten’s leader in goals. Last season it was MAC Hermann Trophy winner Andrew Gutman working his way up the pitch from his spot in the defense to score. This season the Hoosiers are faced with replacing not only Gutman and his 11 goals, but 27 other goals as well. Of IU’s 47 goals scored in 2018, only nine were scored by returning players. None of those goals were scored by players designated as forwards on this year’s roster, as A.J. Palazzolo was responsible for four of them and Spencer Glass scored five. As with the other segments of this team there’s quite a bit of inexperience at the college level, but there’s plenty of promise heading into the fall.

Players to Watch

Ian Black, redshirt junior - So far Black’s IU career has been slowly moving uphill. He made three appearances as a true freshman, then redshirted in 2017 before returning to make 11 appearances off the bench last season. He’s managed to get on the scoresheet once in that time, tallying an assist against Penn State last september. This Spring, however, he took a leap. He got playing time in spades for the Hoosiers and the returns were strong. He led the team in goals and solidified himself as one of the top returning forwards on this season’s team. With that Spring performance in tow he’s seemingly the leader in the clubhouse to start at striker. The Hoosiers will need his nose for goal at the nine-spot, though he could possibly play in some other positions if need be.

Joshua Penn, freshman - One of the biggest names in this year’s heralded recruiting class, Penn is a player to be excited about. He was ranked as the top recruit in the Midwest region by Top Drawer Soccer and the 12th-best recruit nationally, receiving a four-star rating. He brings U.S. Youth National Team experience with him to Bloomington, he’s spent time with both the U-19 and U-20 teams. He previously played with Sockers FC. During his time with the club he scored 57 goals and had 40 assists in 63 matches. More recently, he signed a USL Academy contract with Indy Eleven back in February. In his time with the Boys in Blue he made five appearances in USL Championship play as well as another in the US Open Cup, but did not manage to get on the scoresheet.

He’s a player capable of being utilized across the frontline, but will likely serve as a winger for the Hoosiers. He mostly played on the left wing for Indy Eleven. He’s a creative player who’s unafraid to take on opponents in the open field and is more than capable of creating chances for either himself or his teammates. Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie called the teenager “a fast, dynamic player,” and that description should hold true this fall.

Victor Bezerra, freshman - Another talented freshman, Bezerra was a four-star recruit out of high school. Top Drawer Soccer ranked the Chicago native as the third-best recruit in the midwest and the 47th best recruit in the country. He’s trained at multiple U.S. National Team training centers and the other teams he’s trained with reads like a laundry list of some of the most noteworthy in the world. He’s worked with the first teams of both the Argentinian and Mexican national teams and on the club level he’s worked out with AC Milan, Chelsea, FC Barcelona and Fluminese on top of the Chicago Fire first team, with which he has trained regularly. Bezerra is a player with soft feet. He also appears to be comfortable using both feet which should allow him to play on either wing. During the 2018/2019 season he scored 21 goals in 22 games and has 58 total goals on his U.S. Soccer Development Academy register as well as eight Generation Adidas goals. He previously spent a lot of time as either a target forward or a attacking midfielder and he could possibly serve in either of those roles as a Hoosier, but based on the personnel around him expect to see him on either the left or right wing opposite Penn.

Ryan Wittenbrink, redshirt freshman - Before redshirting in his first season on campus, Wittenbrink was a goal-scoring machine in high school. In 65 career matches the Chicago-area native knocked in 68 goals and tallied 42 assists. With stats like that it’s natural that he won just about any kind of award he could—High School All-American honors, Illinois Player of the Year honors from both the Chicago Tribune and the News-Sun and state championships are just some of the highlights of his career before coming to Bloomington. On top of all of that, he was named the MVP of the 2017 High School All-American game after scoring a brace in the match. On a lot of other teams he would’ve played a role, possibly a significant one, last season. Because of the depth in attack for the Hoosiers he could spend the entire season focused on training as a redshirt. Expect him to be a key sub for head coach Todd Yeagley this season as he should be able to play across the front line as well as in the attacking midfield and could very easily pick up a few goals in the process.

Maouloune Goumballe, freshman - Goumballe is one of the several incoming freshmen who have experience playing in MLS academies. He was one of the top scorers in the Columbus Crew academy and helped the club finish third in the 2017-18 U-19 Development Academy Championships. He gives IU yet another versatile attacker, as he can also play a number of roles for the Hoosiers. The three-star recruit could get onto the field at some point this season though it may not be as much as some of his classmates. Also of note, he was teammates with fellow IU freshman Aidan Morris in the Crew academy.

Thomas Warr, junior - Warr is a player who has been a bit buried on the depth chart in recent years. He was in the same recruiting class at Mason Toye, Justin Rennicks and Griffin Dorsey among others and has yet to receive the same opportunity that those players got before moving on to the professional ranks. The Zionsville native should get increased chances this season as the depth chart ahead of him has been thinned out. As a freshman he played in 17 matches, getting four starts and took advantage of that time on the field. He scored a pair of goals and bagged a trio of assists in his debut campaign. Last season he played in 10 matches but didn’t make a start and didn’t get on the scoresheet. He only took one shot as a sophomore. There’s plenty of reason to believe that Warr can be a contributor to this season’s team. First and foremost is the fact that he contributed to a team that made a College Cup run as a freshman. Beyond that, he was ranked pretty well coming out of high school—Top Drawer Soccer had him as the 58th-best player in the nation as well as the fifth-best player in the Great Lakes region and the 17th-best forward in the country. After a disappointing sophomore season, Warr is a big question mark for this team. With Black outplaying him in the spring season it seems like he’ll open the year on the bench.

Battle to Watch

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this year’s roster is loaded with players who can move around the pitch and play a multitude of roles. That means, of course, that there could be a complete reshuffle of players in a moment’s notice based on what a certain combination of players lacks. The question of where A.J. Palazzolo will play still looms large, as he could possibly be the best striker on the team. There’s also the question of how the expected starters will actually line up when they take the pitch. Will Penn play on the left or right? Will Bezerra play inside or outside?

If you want more of a straight-up, head-to-head battle to watch, keep an eye on Black and Warr. Those are the two guys who should be expected to mainly play at striker. Wittenbrink could factor into that battle as well. Another potential thing to watch is how much Goumballe and/or Wittenbrink as well as possibly Quinten Helmer can push Bezerra and Penn on the wings.