WESTFIELD — It was just a matter of time.
Time until the nerves were settled, time until adrenaline wore off, time until Victor Bezerra made a play.
It took just over 38 minutes, to be exact, but Bezerra found the back of the net for the first goal of the season, then added another just over four minutes later to spark Indiana to a 3-0 men’s soccer victory over Wisconsin on Friday afternoon at Grand Park.
In a match originally slated for Armstrong Stadium, the Hoosiers found themselves nearly 90 minutes north playing indoors in the belated 2020-21 season opener.
And predictably it took some time to settle into the game.
“This is a new surface, difficult I think for both teams,” IU coach Todd Yeagley said. “The turf plays different. Some of the initial passes we were missing, I don’t see those at Mellencamp (Pavilion) or when we play at home, so obviously I’m pleased with the result, it’s an important three points and the fact that we got some young guys in the game was important to get some of their nerves out of the way, and even some of our returners.”
Indiana also had to adjust to how former Hoosier John Trask had prepared his Badgers, who looked to either neutralize or take advantage of standout IU left back Spencer Glass, who along with Bezerra and Daniel Munie, were named to the Big Ten’s players to watch list on Thursday.
“Their plan was to keep Spencer at home,” Yeagley said. “They put one of their most dangerous players, (Andrew) Akindele wide right, cheated him a little bit, and were inviting Spencer to go so they could counter us in that area. We told Spencer to stay home a little bit. This year we wanted to make sure we were more balanced and because Spencer has had success, he knows every game doesn’t need to have a plethora of great attacking moments. He’s like, ‘OK, I”ll defend a little more.’”
That meant Indiana played on the other side of the pitch more with Pitt transfer Nyk Sessock starting at right back, but he went out with an injury in the 23rd minute, replaced by sophomore Brett Bebej.
“We went down the right side, which was more available to us, and Nyk was a big part of that the first 20 minutes,” Yeagley said. “Then I was sad to see him go down with the slight strain, don’t think it’s a pull. Hopeful for Tuesday (at Ohio State).
“Talk about a guy we were confident could go in was Bebej. He’s played in three or four spots for us in scrimmages, throughout the fall and even last year, did a really nice job. You’re really never quite ready the first 10 minutes thinking you’re going in the game. You’re not expecting that, so I thought he was focused and did a nice job.”
Regardless of who was in the game, Indiana began to steadily mount pressure that finally paid off when a loose ball fell at Bezerra’s feet, and he laced it into the top corner for a 1-0 lead with Glass getting credit for the assist.
Shortly thereafter, an Indiana corner kick was temporarily cleared out, but Bezerra found himself on the ball and cracked a shot from distance to double his season tally and the lead.
“Vic, although we couldn’t find him as well as we would like the first 20 minutes, that goal kind of gave him a shot in the arm, and obviously goalscorers don’t have to play great or find them as much, as long as you take your moments well,” Yeagley said. “That’s a good sign from Victor. His maturity and how he didn’t get frustrated or try to do too much when it wasn’t available was a good sign. We’ll take that as a positive.”
Wisconsin was saved by the halftime whistle two and a half minutes later, but Thomas Warr opened his season account early in the second half on a more traditional buildup with Herbert Endeley finding Bebej down the right side, and his serve into the box was finished neatly by the IU senior forward.
“The leadup to the third goal was really nice — the weight of the pass from Herb, Bebej’s touch and serve into a well-timed run for Tom,” Yeagley said. “We’ve worked on some of those wide serves and finishes in what we call the sniffer zone, inside nine yards, and Tom did a nice job.
“It was great to get a goal where we weren’t sharp. Victor getting his slate going was key. If I could say two guys we could get goals from that would really be good for the group and for them, it would be Tom and Vic, two guys who are going to be in goal-scoring situations.”
With a three-goal lead in hand, the goal-scoring situations were less plentiful for the Hoosiers, who zoned in on completing the shutout behind three saves from sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano.
“We weren’t going to force the tempo,” Yeagley said. “The third goal was really the key. Once we had that, there would be no reason to necessarily extend ourselves or push numbers. I thought their most dangerous moments were in the counter, so we kind of held the group back. We didn’t let our backs go forward as much as we typically do. We felt like we could pick and choose some moments and still have some goal-scoring opportunities. That’s a good sign, we didn’t get impatient or make some movements that will leave us vulnerable.”
With both time and score on Indiana’s side, the Hoosiers — minted Thursday as Big Ten favorites — wrapped up a win in the opener that still left them plenty to work on.
“We could’ve played a lot better and won 1-0, and I might be feeling better, but that’s a 3-0 win,” Yeagley said. “That’s great, and scoring goals is hard in our sport. We’ve had some games where we were absolutely on top of our game and can’t find a goal and you’re shaking your head and wondering what happened.
“… Based on what I see in training, that’s not near our full-tilt, not even close. Not only individually, but collectively we can perform at a higher level, so there’s that balance of performance and results.”