Friday, December 4, 2015

Setting the foundations, squad building begins for Indy Eleven!

Duke Lacroix - Futures are important!
By: James Cormack

Swift in the wake of our new coach announcement, Indy Eleven wasted no time in clarifying their position on the retention or non retention from our Class of 2015. I am sure for many there are a few surprises, several disappointments and without doubt a few tears.

Trust me you are not alone in your grief, if there is one thing I have learned following the NASL for the last three years and having spent some study on the years previous, get used to it. Every club in the NASL with a couple of exceptions each year has to go through the same thing.

Before I talk about players individually and the merits of retaining them I'll break it down for those who have not read the announcement.

Players that are for sure retained for 2016:

Greg Janicki, Don Smart, Marco Franco, Dylan Mares, Wojciech Wojcik, Duke Lacroix, Dragan Stojkov and Cory Miller.

Players who have been declined for 2016:

Erick Norales, Victor Pineda, Kristian Nicht, Jon Dawson, Judson McKinney, Marvin Ceballos, Daniel Cuevas and Kleberson.

Loan expired players returned after 2015: 

Sergio Peña, Jaime Frias, Dane Richards, Brian Brown, Zach Steinberger and Charlie Rugg

Missing from the players mentioned above are Brad Ring, Kyle Hyland, Daniel Keller and Keith Cardona. Indy Eleven are still in contractual talks with these player so there is still a chance that these players may return to the squad for 2016. It is not clear however whether Hyland and Keller are being considered, they are just listed as contract expired, but also are not listed under declined players, so their fate is unclear at this moment.

Thoughts on the players retained so far........

Having talked to Hankinson's for a little while and listened to him, I can get understand somewhat what he looks for in a player and what he is going to expect from them. Some of the players already returned may surprise you as it did me, but I do now see a different perspective after hearing new coach's words.

Greg Janicki: I'll be the first to hold my hand up I was not overly impressed with his performance for Indy so far. I do know he has been a great player for years at San Anotonio and very highly rated, so how do you suddenly become bad.

Hankinson explained he likes combinations of players, pairings, players who play better when they are on the field together, that compliment each other. The feeling is Greg had years of that previous to Indy Eleven and then we he arrived here he lost it.

Janicki likes to be the back to step forward and make that first tackle in the box, there is no guarantee any player retained will be a starter but if he does his performance will improve if he is combined with the correct player. I think you'll see a different Greg Janicki in 2016.

Don Smart: Don upped his game in 2015 in the last half of the year in my opinion. We kind of got used to knowing he would either play for two thirds of the game or enter in the last third. After the game in Minnesota in early September Don proved he can be a 90 minute player for this team and continued to prove it for the remainder of fall.

Indy need to exploit the corners more and get passes in behind the defense and Don provides that. I'd like to see Don have a crack at goal more often, sometimes he holds back when he gets into good position around the box, put the boot behind it Don and have a crack at goal!

Marco Franco: Marco was a great pick up for the Eleven, he had a reasonably solid year and did everything that was expected of him. I felt however under our initial coaching structure and for the remainder of the year he didn't develop more, through no fault of his own.

Marco has a lot to offer and I don't think we have seen all of it yet. I think our new coaching setup will help develop him into a much more dangerous player. Marco can be a much better box to box defender, would like to see more forward penetration from him on the overlap and more assist play in the final third. Marco is a 'future' another good young player that can only continue to improve at this level.

Dylan Mares: My most improved player in 2015 by far, although I think he was always good, he showed an aggressiveness and determination this year to keep his starting place in the team. Dylan led by example and showed professionalism, after meniscus operation he did not get back in as soon as he would of liked, but when he did it was straight back to business as usual.

That attitude will be important because as the squad building continues, Dylan may find himself fighting for a starting place again. Regardless I think whether he starts a game or comes on as a sub, he will remain professional and give everything he has to be a game changer.

Wojciech Wojcik: Somewhat of a surprise but also not really. Tim Hankinson has said he expects all of his players to be able to defend, and he is also looking for 'warriors'. Woj fits into this category perfectly. Outside of scoring goals as you would want a striker to do, Woj gives something more, a good forward can keep his place in a team without scoring many goals at all because of the other work that they bring to the field.

Early on in 2015 I saw from Wojcik that he is more than willing to drop back as deep as our own 18 yard box to help the team defend an attack and try to turn that into our possession. He also has great strength and as an example of a large forward his knockdown for Sergio Pena's goal in San Antonio is a perfect example of the 'other' things Woj can bring to the field. Coach H talks about combinations of players, Woj will excel as a player if the right compliment can be found for him on the field.

Woj scored back to back goals in games against Cosmos and Carolina at the beginning of fall season before being subbed out for Greg Janicki in a difficult 4-2 defeat to Ottawa. He never really regained a starting spot and I feel this ruined him at a point where he was peaking, bad decision making. Woj can hit that peak again I am sure of it.

Duke Lacroix: As it states on the photo, Duke is a 'future', a young player already showing an abundance of talent who can only continue to improve, but still needs mentors who can develop him from college player to professional. Duke was probably one of our smartest pickups in 2015, he came into the play looking like he had been playing pro for a few seasons.

Lacroix did not once looked overawed or lacking in confidence at all in his first season as a pro player. He took his opportunity by the scruff of the neck and always looked exciting on the field. I honestly think we are fortunate enough to witness the beginning of a future star player that may ended up shining on a higher stage than NASL if he continues with the same confidence. Very important pickup for Indy, can't stress that enough. If we lose players like this, other teams would benefit in the long run.

Dragan Stojkov: Dragan impressed me a lot in 2015, again I don't think we utilized him as well as we could have and I hope moving forward our coaches will see the potential in him in several different positions. Dragan is a good utility player, he can be played on the wing, at center defensive midfield, attacking midfield and as he proved left or right back in defense.

The value of such a player who can adapt quickly to circumstances and cover different positions can't be under stated. Dragan also provides pace and aggressiveness, he never gives up on any ball and this also helps draw fouls from the opposition, he is very difficult to play against.

Another player who I think we could see much more from in a more organized coaching structure. I also believe visa issues are now fixed so this is good for both himself and the team. Dragan takes up the first international spot.

Cory Miller:  Cory was a surprise to me in 2014, I did not know much about him and thought at a time when we really need defensive cover why are we bringing players from USL. Cory proved right away to be an aggressive back who was also confident on the ball. After dropping from the starting lineup at the beginning of 2015 he showed the same consistency when he got back in the team.

Cory like others, may not be guaranteed a starting spot. Whether he starts or not he gives us great depth, one of the things we have lacked in the past is a strong bench and although we have had a large number of players we have not had strength in our 'depth'. Cory makes me feel less nervy just knowing we have him in the squad, we need four good center backs in our team. Cory has earned his place in this squad.

Thoughts on the rest of the announcement......

Obviously there is going to be some disappointment, as there will be at all clubs in the division. When I asked people on reddit recently if you could only pick eleven players to return who would they be, from my own list so far we have restored six.

I have lost three in Erick Norales, Marvin Ceballos and Victor Pineda and it's tough, but I am speaking as a supporter with my heart on my sleeve as well as an armchair coach who thinks he knows what's best. Tim and Tim will have their own plans and I trust them so I am not going to try and second guess their vision. I hope all three of these players land in a good spot and continue playing in the NASL or in any team suitable to their level of skill.

Erick Norales is a warrior, and we are looking for warriors. I have even heard him being described as a warrior by none other than Kristian Nicht. It's a huge loss both from a football perspective and from a 'family' point of view. Erick poured his heart and soul out on the field and I have no doubt everyone in Indianapolis will be eternally grateful for his efforts in this team. We can move on from this, but never forget!

From the "don't knows" I think the two most important for me are Brad Ring and Kyle Hyland which would bring back eight of my choices. Judging from the announcement it is hard to gauge if Kyle Hyland will be back or not, it is vague and not very clear but I hope there is some contact and I hope that works out.

Brad Ring is clearly one of our stand out players, his presence on the field is a pivotal part of the midfield, he brings strength, skill and experience and I am pretty sure he could fit into the starting lineup of any team in this league. If Brad does return he should be suitably rewarded with an increased deal, that's something both sides can thrash out. I hope those negotiations are successful because if Brad moves to another side in the NASL then we will just be giving them an advantage that we need.

I left Cardona out of my eleven, not because I don't rate him but because I chose only outfield players I felt were important to move on with. I would definitely bring Cardona back, he has proved his ability and would be an excellent return to this side. If Keith believes his future lies in Indianapolis I will for sure not complain at all.

Daniel Keller? I have honestly not seen enough playing time from him to warrant an overall opinion, from what I have seen so far I am not sure he is NASL level yet, that does not mean good coaching could not bring more out of him, but I didn't see any immediate impact when he joined. Daniel is still young and could be a valuable squad member but he will need to fight hard for game time.

As far as loan players are concerned, I think it's okay to start fresh and not really worry about it, in the long run I would rather have signed players committed to the club than loans. I actually only would entertain bring Zach Steinberger back if it was a loan and also Dane Richards. Dane's contract is up at Red Bulls but I think he would remain an MLS entity, not sure on that, but we would have to sign him and pay him. I am not sure we would be able to afford him and we may see him draft to another MLS club.

To sum up, I am quite happy with the news. There is quite a ways to go but I feel what he have retained is a good foundation to build around, whether they are starters or not, because we know with these player they can give us something even if they are coming off the bench.

Apparently money has been freed up and Hankinson is looking at tough, quality players to come in and make this team a formidable side. I expect to see seasoned players coming in not just from the NASL but also possibly from MLS. It's silly season and there will be a lot of rumors, from the chatter I have heard so far I think supporters of this team are going to be pleasantly surprised when it is all said and done!

Indy Eleven will also hold combined tryouts for both the first team and for Indy Eleven NPSL. The 2013 tryouts for Indy Eleven did not provide a lot of players for the inaugural squad, but they did discover Don Smart, hopefully our coaches can unearth another gem on December the 19th and 20th.



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