By Michael Hughes
email@example.com | @MichaelHughes94
IU men’s soccer Coach Todd Yeagley couldn’t help but smile. In many ways, his job will be harder this season than any other in recent memory.
After the first practice of the season Wednesday, he knew he had a problem, one he can’t solve.
He simply had too many good players on his roster and not enough places to play them.
“Things are very close,” Yeagley said. “To call a first team versus a second team, it’s a hard deal right now. There’s a few standouts that have proven that, but the balance of the team from front to back is as competitive as we’ve seen in years.”
IU lost three senior starters from last season’s team. But other than the experience of Patrick Doody, Dylan Lax and Jamie Vollmer, Yeagley said he sees no problem in replacing the former Hoosiers from a purely tactical standpoint.
He said there are at least two players at each vacant position who can start, players Yeagley can be comfortable with starting.
“You always get excited because of what the potential of the group can be,” Yeagley said. “But the what ifs, the tactical adjustments we can make in a game are much greater this year heading in based on what we’ve seen.”
These tactical adjustments and what ifs can be as simple as going with a player with more pace down the wing, or a player more skilled on the ball. But the competition also provides depth, so if a player goes down with an injury, there is a more than capable replacement ready to take his place.
The competition also improves the players every day, as they get used to competing with each other for playing time, Yeagley said.
IU junior midfielder Tanner Thompson said the competition across the field is helping the team. One spot in particular, the left wing, has as many as five guys competing for a spot, Thompson said.
“Coach is going to have to make a tough decision on that one, it’s not going to be easy for him,” Thompson said. “That’s what we like; we like those tough decisions because that means we’re deep and it’s a competitive atmosphere at practice.”
Another spot on the field that will see change this season is the team’s lone striker, but not because of graduation. Last year’s starter, Andrew Oliver, is not with the team this season after leaving IU last spring. He would have been a senior this season.
To fill the role, Yeagley said he is looking at two players in particular. The first is senior Femi Hollinger-Janzen, last year’s leading scorer as a midfielder. The other is Ben Maurey, a graduate transfer from Brown who stands at 6-foot-5, surpassing sophomore defender Grant Lillard as the tallest Hoosier on the team.
Both Hollinger-Janzen and Maurey are different players from Oliver, the 5-foot-10 forward who scored four goals last season in 22 games. The new options are more physical, allowing IU to stretch the field more than last season, Yeagley said.
While Maurey is still adapting to the Hoosier style, he possesses one trait which sets him above most other forwards, Thompson said.
“He’s got a huge frame and can hold the ball up,” he said. “You can’t even see the ball when you’re behind him trying to defend it.”
As for the rest of the team, Yeagley said he sees no reason why a freshman can’t get regular playing time this season. The winner of the 2-mile race was midfielder Austin Panchot, a freshman who enrolled in January and said he wants to start at some point this season.
The rest of the freshman class also has chances to contribute, including defender Andrew Gutman, who Yeagley said was one of the best freshman in the country. The collective group of freshman led Yeagley to one of his biggest takeaways from the season’s first practice— this freshman class is really good.
“A really good start for our freshman,” he said. “They’re ready to come in and push.”