This weekend the IU men’s soccer team will hit the road for its first away action of the season. The Hoosiers will compete in the Mike Berticelli Tournament hosted by Notre Dame. Though they won’t be facing the Fighting Irish, that perennial high-stakes matchup will come later in the year, they will face some tough competition anyway. This is the first time that many of the young Hoosiers will take to the road for a collegiate matchup, but according to head coach Todd Yeagley and a few of the players themselves they’re strictly focusing on what goes on between the lines to help them get through it.
On Friday IU will open up the weekend against the No. 14 Denver Pioneers. Last season Denver had one of the better teams in the country, at one point climbing near the top of the national rankings before tumbling a little bit down the stretch.
Their surge was in large part due to the play of forward Andre Shinyashiki. He led the nation with 28 goals scored last season before moving on to join Colorado Rapids of the MLS. Not having to worry about a player that talented heading up the Pioneer attack this weekend is definitely a plus for the Hoosiers.
“Andre was a difference-maker and it’s certainly nice to not have to see him on Friday,” Yeagley said. “I like seeing him play in the pros.”
Without Shinyashiki in tow, the Pioneers should look quite different this fall.
“They’re a very hard working team. They’re well organized. They’re well-coached. They still have a couple of difference players, but when you lose Andre,” Yeagley said, “they’re going to miss those key moments in games just like any of us who lose a gamechanger.”
Right now Denver sits at 0-1-1 (to clarify: we’ll be listing records as W-L-T because that’s the American style) on the season following a loss to Washington and a draw against Seattle to start the season. If that’s not bothersome enough for Pioneer fans they have quite the schedule coming up. This weekend they play IU, of course, but they also play Notre Dame. Following that they head back out to the West coast for matchups with perennial powerhouse Stanford as well as California. Unlike last season where they were criticized a bit for strength of schedule, we’ll know exactly how good Denver is thanks to this onslaught of early tests mixed with their conference schedule.
Stefan DeLeone will be a player to watch for Denver. He’s the team’s top returning goalscorer from last season. He scored a trio of goals and added on three assists as a freshman. Josh Drack is the only Pioneer that has scored this season so keep an eye on him as well. Goalkeeper Will Palmquist returns for his redshirt junior season after being named Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year last season. He’ll be the leader of the Pioneer defense.
The Redhawks are coming off of a season in which they went 13-6-1, finishing third in the WAC. They were ousted in the first round of the conference tournament and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
So far this season they’re off to a good start. They sit at 1-0-1 thanks to a huge 5-0 win over San Francisco and a draw against Denver. Noe Meza was the team’s leading goalscorer last season and he’s back for more this year. He’s already got a pair of goals, quickly chasing down the total of seven that he posted in 2018. Burke Fahling joined the Redhawks as a transfer from Memphis over the offseason. He’s already made an impact with a goal as well as a pair of assists.
Like the Hoosiers, the Redhawks have a new goalkeeper, though theirs is less experienced than IU’s Sean Caulfield. Redshirt sophomore Akili Kasim is the man between the posts for Seattle and he didn’t play at all last season. He is formerly a member of the Sounders Academy. He also played a year of junior college ball with Highline College.
This might not be the premier matchup of the weekend for the Hoosiers, but a win would be good for the ol’ RPI since Seattle plays some decent competition and well, they probably don’t want to lose to Seattle which is another option.
What to Watch
1. Where to Set Up
IU has been trying to figure out where it wants to set its line of confrontation throughout the preseason as well as during last weekend’s matches. At times the Hoosiers played high, pressing their opponents as they’ve done in years past and just making life difficult for the opposition. At times they dropped back, absorbing some offensive pressure from the opponent and waiting for an opportunity to counterattack. For a period they sat in-between those two and that’s when they got in trouble, particularly on UCLA’s goal. Look for IU to make a decision with regards to how they want to play. Perhaps it doesn’t happen this weekend, but maybe it’ll get a little closer.
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit
As previously mentioned, this IU squad is awfully young. That’s the way it works when you lose 10 of 11 starters and also bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Watch for the teenagers out there playing big minutes for the Hoosiers — guys like Joshua Penn, Aidan Morris, Victor Bezerra and Herbert Endeley — to make a difference one way or another in these matches. Particularly against Denver when these young guys will be playing the first road match of their careers as well as their first match against a nationally-ranked opponent. They definitely have the goods to help the Hoosiers win, we saw it in the opening weekend, but they’ll get a chance to prove it once again.
3. First Half Attack
The Hoosiers had a bit of an issue going on the offensive and scoring in the first half last weekend. They simply didn’t do it. In each match IU fell behind early before hitting the jets offensively in the second half, leading to a pair of wins.
Forward Ian Black said during the week that he’s expecting the Hoosiers to kick that habit moving forward, saying that it’s the attack’s job to take the pressure off the defense by scoring goals early and that they’d be working on it heading into the weekend.
If the Hoosiers can come out early in each match and bag the opening goal it wouldn’t be a surprise if it led to a second goal and a third goal as the matches dwindled down. If IU can make that happen we probably won’t see the same kind of dramatics that took place in Bloomington during the opening weekend.