Short spring for IU soccer

Most people are creatures of habit, none more so than athletes.

In the past week, those habits have been upended for players and teams across the nation, including the Indiana University men’s soccer team.

The Hoosiers were at the midpoint in their spring schedule — three exhibitions down and three to go — when the coronavirus brought the offseason to a screeching halt.

“(They’re) used to routine and they want it, so if we do what we can to keep them on the right path, then when things come back online, we’ll handle it better,” IU coach Todd Yeagley said. “When they get off path with so much uncertainty in their routine and the future, that’s a lot to handle.”

Yeagley said he feels for the winter and spring sports athletes who saw their actual seasons either curtailed or flat out canceled, but even an out of season sport such as soccer is feeling the ramifications.

“So many moving parts,” Yeagley said. “The best thing we and the NCAA can do is look after the best interest of kids and let them re-acclimate to training and get back to their social peers. There’s so many elements of kids being on their own. A regular student at IU is facing something similar, but the athlete has multiple levels to that.

“I’m confident the NCAA is aggressive in its outside thinking and finding ways to make it best for the kids and allow them more access since we’re in uncharted territory. I don’t know what it looks like in another month, so it’s a constant moving target to figure out the best plan with how things are developing with the pandemic.”

In the meantime, the Hoosiers are experimenting with technology to keep everyone on the same page, testing software and experimenting with Zoom video conferencing and virtual meetings.

“I’ve never presented virtually, always in the film room, a small group or one-on-one,” Yeagley said. “We’re learning quickly how to present and make it worthwhile and getting as creative as the rest of the professors on campus. Certain things in our sport you need to be together and those aren’t going to happen, but we’ll get as creative as we can, get them in a routine and have some personal and team accountability. That will bring togetherness and as crazy as it is, a sense of normalcy.”

It was just over a week ago when everything really was normal. IU completed exhibition games with Loyola (Chicago), Indy Eleven and Butler.

“I think we saw some nice strides in that time,” Yeagley said. “We got three games in, had three left, so we were able to measure ourselves and see where we were against good competition. We’re going to miss a lot of spring, but we got a lot done.”

What the Hoosiers did get done was about player development, especially for the many underclassmen on the roster, some of whom saw limited to no game action last fall.

Among those, Yeagley cited freshman Alex McGill and redshirt freshman Ben Yeagley as flashing the potential to move into the rotation, while freshman Quinten Helmer showed some progress but losing the final three exhibition games was costly in his evaluation. The coach was also impressed with early enrollee Joey Maher, the younger brother of the MLS-departed Jack Maher.

“Joey Maher was a great early surprise with where he is in the process,” Yeagley said. “He’s ahead of where we thought with being a high schooler and will come in and push for time.”

Freshmen Brett Bebej and Maouloune Goumballe, who both saw minutes last year also emerged.

“Brett Bebej made big strides at center mid and right back,” Yeagley said. “There’s no doubt Maouloune Goumballe will be a big part, made tremendous strides. It’s really coming together and we expect him to have a huge role.”

There’s room for the eight returning starters to improve as well, while the Hoosiers figure out how to shift the pieces around to replace Maher, Aidan Morris, Simon Waever and Joris Ahlinvi. Adding 6-foot-4 transfer Callum Stretch of Denver University at center back was part of that process.

“The biggest thing is losing essentially four starters, two up the spine, one at right back and Joris when healthy was a starter in the attack, so the main focus is to develop who can step in,” Yeagley said. “Where can we get reps for guys who could move into other positions, play somewhere else, like Daniel Munie last spring.

“Herbert Endeley show more maturity and growth tactically, Victor (Bezerra) and Josh (Penn) made some nice strides in parts of their game, defending or how to connect better with teammates. Upperclassmen like A.J. (Palazzolo) and Thomas (Warr) and Spencer (Glass) were good. A.J. in particular was honed in and had one of his better springs to date.”

Through all of that, one of the big takeaways was that Indiana still needs to add a player to the roster.

“I think we do know where we need to make one more move,” Yeagley said. “We’re one player away, whether it’s a central midfielder or right back. Those two areas are ones to make sure we have depth if there’s an injury. I can see us making a roster addition before the end of the school year.”

That could mean mining the transfer portal for another player, picking up a high-end academy player late (like Morris last year) or finding an international player, although the latter is far more difficult given the health crisis and travel bans.

For that matter, the entire offseason is a complicated situation right now. Most players normally participate in development leagues over the summer to gain game experience.

“It’s challenging. We had most of them placed, a few we were working on for May and June but most of those leagues run mid-May to mid-July and are great spots for younger players who need games or a specific role,” Yeagley said. “Now all that’s up in the air and we can’t train our players except virtually, so I hope the NCAA looks at this and gives some leeway this summer to get kids back.”

That includes a proposal that had previously been submitted to allow teams to start training before the usual early August report date.

“No better year than this one,” Yeagley said. “It’s too much time to be away and then be thrown so quickly into camp and the season.”

In the meantime, Indiana will do whatever it can to come up with a routine. Yeagley says he hasn’t given much thought to the possibility of a season played without fans in the stands given constant changes over the past week.

“You know it seems so far off. We were 10 days to March Madness and talking about not seeing fans, so I’ve stopped speculating on what could be,” he said. “As a coach, a team and citizens, we’re trying to take the best steps, do everything we can to keep the team engaged. The staff is working hard with technology to be with them and challenge them with video and interaction to keep their minds sharp, keep workouts coming and keep consistency.”

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