Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Challenging Braun and Zayed key for Indy Eleven in 2017

Braun lived up to his last name by providing support for Zayed

By Brian Cook
It goes without saying 2016 was an unbelievable year for Indy Eleven fans. No one truly foresaw Tim Hankinson's first season as head coach for Indy Eleven to be as success as it was. The club's first silverware and first championship game brought fans out from everywhere and the quality of the on-field action was at an all time high thanks to the strike partnership of Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun.

The successful pairing of Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun came from the shift in formations from the first three games. Zayed struggled to connect with the three attacking midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 that the club was playing and as a result Braun moved in next to Zayed and acted as a connecter for the midfield and attacking side.

As a result of the pairing Indy saw it's best season from forwards since their inception. Zayed finished with a club record 15 goals for Indy Eleven as well as 6 assists and Braun finished with 8 goals and 5 assists. Combining for one and two on the goal sheet these two led the change for Indy Eleven in 2016.

And while all of that in a nutshell feels good and looks even better when you look back on 2016 the later parts of the season saw Zayed and Braun look tired and straining for chances. With 2017 the goal for the forwards should be simple:

Consistency and being challenged

While both Braun and Zayed brought considerable power and the obvious goals to the table in 2016 we saw towards the middle to late parts of the season and even in the playoffs that frustration and tired legs set in. Both were things that are unavoidable from a player but from the building of a team can be addressed.

Even if it weren't the case, when both were healthy Braun and Zayed were the strongest forwards the club had in 2016. It never felt like you'd see Duke Lacroix or Souleymane Youla or anyone else get slotted in there because even on their bad days Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun were your strongest strike force. Which was both good and bad when it came to Braun's injury.

Zayed provided a new level of attack in 2016

Both are the only two returning forwards from 2016, and while they filled in with every line of production inside the penalty area, it felt as the season went on Zayed more than Braun got tired, frustrated, and forced a lot of his moves. Both players felt like they struggled the later things went on and often times were the reason for goals going wide.

Obviously to require constant goal scoring is unrealistic and unmanageable by any player. Even the Messi's of the world don't score everyday. That being said, the reason was the lack of tangible depth and rotation in that position. Zayed started all but one game and Braun, who was out for a short time with injury, would have probably done the same. And while Omar Gordon brought speed and Youla brought experience, it just felt like when Braun and Zayed weren't together it was a weaker attacking threat.

Hankinson seems to thrive on position contests. He wants players to know their spot isn't secure week-to-week and if people show up one week and aren't there mentally the next they won't make that starting lineup. Zayed and Braun were the best pair last season for the Eleven but it felt like their run later in the season was forced because they didn't really have much in the way of options outside of those two.

No crystal ball would be able to tell you who could do that. I'm sure Gordon, Lacroix, and Youla were brought in to fill that void but the goal for the rest of this roster building process and preseason for 2017 should be to find one person or even two who can challenge Braun and Zayed to both better their play as the season goes on and also to fill in if those periods of struggle set in. 

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