The 2016 recruiting class announced Wednesday might not contribute at all next season, but that’s not affecting IU Coach Todd Yeagley’s excitement.
The class includes six players from five states, highlighted by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s High School Player of the Year AJ Palazzolo.
He’s a defender. Half this class is made up of defenders set to join an IU team returning the entirety of its starting defense for next year.
The other two defenders are Will Eslinger, the captain of the Colorado Rush, and Spencer Glass, who was named one of the top 150 players in the country by topdrawersoccer.com and who plays for the Indiana Fire.
“It’s going to be tough to crack this group,” Yeagley said. “That’s certainly a fact. But this was partly to push the group, and to also be prepared for the next group.”
But Palazzolo’s honor doesn’t mean a lot for Yeagley.
Palazzolo had already committed to IU by the time he won the award, and Yeagley said he already knew how good Palazzolo was.
Yeagley said he was excited for Palazzolo to come to Bloomington before the award.
“We’ve been liking AJ for over two years,” Yeagley said. “It just happens that he received a cool award at the end of the rainbow. He’s just someone who has a lot of qualities we look for in a defender.”
But he likely won’t play this year. Not with the group of defenders who are ahead of him.
This group includes two seniors in right-back Billy McConnell and center-back Derek Creviston.
There’s also the two Chicago Fire Academy members, junior Grant Lillard and sophomore Andrew Gutman.
But Yeagley isn’t concerned with Palazzolo sitting on the bench, or any of the incoming recruits.
This explains why there aren’t any midfielders in this class.
The last two years IU has recruited the midfield heavily, and those players are getting ready to step in now.
In a year or two, the same could be said of the defenders of this class.
The same could also be said for Drew Nuelle, a 6-foot-5 goalkeeper who Yeagley said could be the best goalkeeper in the class. But he most likely won’t play because of senior Collin Webb, who has started the past two seasons.
But once that happens, Yeagley said he can’t help but think how good Nuelle can be.
His 6-foot-5 frame is only the start.
There’s also his agility and movement around the box, combined with his intelligence as a goalkeeper.
One area where IU might need immediate production is at forward, where the University brought in two recruits.
Ian Black and Isaac Fiendt might have to contribute immediately since IU’s forward from last year won’t be back.
Femi Hollinger-Janzen and Ben Maurey both graduated, with Hollinger-Janzen being drafted by the New England Revolution.
IU has struggled to find consistent goal scorers in recent seasons.
The last double-digit scorer was Eriq Zavaleta who scored 18 goals in 2012, the year IU last won its eighth national championship.
“Goal scorers are tough to figure out,” Yeagley said. “Eriq Zavaeta was a center back on the youth national team. We saw him as a guy that can score goals so we scored him there.”
Black was named an All-American by the NSCAA, but he still has yet to play soccer year-round.
So there’s no guarantee Black could step in and play regularly during his freshman year.
The same goes for Fiendt, that’s just the nature of the position.
In a perfect world, no player would be forced to play immediately, which is why Yeagley said he recruits years in advance.
It forces the upperclassmen to play better and lets the incoming freshman improve.
“I like having that little bit of insurance with that young player who doesn’t have to play from day one,” Yeagley said. “It’s not easy to start from day one.”