|Photo: Lucas Carter|
By: Aaron Gunyon
The team doesn't look great, but its tough to expect greatness this early on. There are more than a few rusty players and not everyone is on the same page yet. The average age on this team is up and there are quite a few experienced guys out there so I assume transitions ought to come more easily.
However, Injuries are mounting and this team is already dealing with unexpected obstacles and roster questions. Projected starting LB Steven Deroux has not made it to Indianapolis. He has had surgery for injuries sustained in training while in Wisconsin with the Milwaukee Wave. It will be months before he takes the field wearing checkers if he ever takes the field at all.
Dino Williams is another player that we will probably not be seeing anytime soon. The 25 year old striker was coming off of a great season in the Red Stripe Premier League but he has yet to suit up for the team. He was wearing jeans and sneakers for last Saturday's 1-1 clash with FC Cincinnati and he was not to be found on the bench yesterday as the team took on Louisville City FC. Coach Hankinson revealed in a post-game interview that Williams also had surgery to injuries that prevent him from playing in the near term.
Williams was the worst kept secret in Indy Eleven history when a Jamaican Observer article linked him to the team a solid 2 months before the official announcement. The news of his injuries becomes more troubling when you consider Williams has worked very recently with Hankinson at Montego Bay United and he was hand picked for this squad. Williams also currently occupies one of the seven coveted international slots that each NASL team is awarded.
There is another signing on the way. A Colombian. It's an attacking player and that will raise questions about how to play with 8 international spots meaning somethings gotta give.
Other minor knocks for players are common in preseason as most fans will be aware and most of them aren't too concerning for the long term, but nagging injuries do prevent training at 100%. Indy Eleven are dealing with that now. There were players like Nicki Patterson and Sinisa Ubiparipovic who were held out last week and held to limited preventative minutes against Louisville. I do see their fitness lagging as you would expect so other players will have to step up and play a more solid game. Gorka Larrea was out and he is another player Indy would like to have available as soon as possible.
This most recent game continues a long trend of the Indy Eleven under performing and underwhelming in the preseason. Indy dropped Saturday's match to visiting Lou City 0-1 and are now winless in their last four attempts. This marks the second time Indy has been blanked by a USL side since March began. Indy conceded first in both of last weeks 1-1 draws and failed to generate much of an attack through long spells during the most recent contest.
Indy is now 0-3 lifetime in what I am calling the Ohio River Derby. Its a lopsided rivalry with our neighbors to the south as they were the team to bounce the boys out of the Open Cup last summer.
So why do we care so much?
Coach Hankinson cares... and so does the Indy Eleven front office. Peter Wilt, Jeff Belskus and team owner Ersal Ozedemir were all at the game yesterday. You play like you practice and preseason is practice for the regular season.
It was quiet after the game and it was the first time that I have seen Hankinson address the team behind closed locker room doors. A team huddle was all that was required in the center of the pitch a few days ago, but Hankinson had more to say in private on Saturday. There was a sense that tensions were high and that expectations were not being met. Peter Wilt had poked his head into the locker room for a short time, but appeared to let Hankinson run the show and he waited to talk to and catch up with players from just outside the doors.
It's obvious the team isn't winning and this team is yet again struggling to put balls in the back of the net, but Coach Hankinson identified some other troubling issues and he discussed those in his post game Q & A with myself and a few others. These issues seem to nag at him a bit more than the scoreline.
"The inability to close down opponents on the ball and around the ball faster is a big issue. We basically allow them to play."
Hankinson elaborated and then expressed concerns over another issue. Players are taking too many touches.
"We have a few guys that just enjoy watching themselves play and that means they are not playing for the team. So I am very angry about that. And that will change because I will squeeze it out of them."
Always that calm and measured demeanor that I have come to expect from this coach but you don't have to listen long to hear the disappointment in his voice.
"Obviously this was a more reserve oriented squad and it wasn't up to the task and there will be some roster changes. I let these players know that if they are crying looking for playing time...this is about the guys that can get it done and leave the rest to rot on the bench."
As I soak all that honesty up and glance at my phone to make sure I got it all. I realize that the coach just spoke continuously for two plus minutes about his frustrations with the team and he hadn't been asked a single question. Hankinson is not a man who is afraid to speak his mind.
It does not really take a lot to knock me off my interview game but Hankinson did it early when he spoke so bluntly and without provocation. Uncharacteristically, I started to have a bit of sympathy for these professional athletes so my first question to Hankinson had him describe who had impressed him.
The beginnings of his reply didn't shock me when he named players like Duke Lacroix who has stood out in almost every game this preseason. But when he steered the answer back to disappointing play, and away from the safety of my softball question, I got a much better sense of how much work is let to do before April 2nd and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
"There were a lot of inefficient players as well that couldn't understand how to close guys down. Couldn't cover passing angles that we have talked about tactically. Not making the next pass...Those are the guys we have to asses more shrewdly and make some hard decisions at this point."
This is not just preseason. For some of these players, it might be the only season they get. They have to perform week in and week out. They have to attack together and defend together. Hankinson said that was not happening and that "Defensively we weren't good enough."
There are still some weeks left before the season kicks off but the clock is definitely ticking. I have a feeling that its going to run out on this team and a few players before we see what Indy 3.0 can do. I was given an indication that we would see a more first team selection for the game against Butler University on Wednesday and that we will see starters get closer to 90 minutes. Some players will still have their time monitored closely to prevent further injury, but we should get a better sense as to where everyone shakes out.
Where are the goals going to come from? He thought about it and then replied.
"Not from that."
Is this team ready to face Tampa Bay on the 2nd? The answer was the shortest of the afternoon.