Thursday, March 2, 2017

Halfway Marker: Preseason and Beyond

Bald Spot Vantage Point?
Forget about the 1-1 scoreline. Where first and second teams swap the field at the half, it hardly matters whether Indy Eleven wins or loses these preseason matches. What does matter is that these contests show us something of the team’s chemistry and the individual development among players. Two matches into the preseason, here’s what I see:

The Early Attack

Drawing with USL’s Swope Park Rangers inside the gorgeous facility at the Grand Park sports complex in Westfield, Indiana, our Indy Eleven starters showcased a downright sparkling attack. Neat work from the center midfield sprung Eamon Zayed for a one-on-one with Swope’s keeper and a 5’ goal.

The cohesion and pressure displayed in the first twenty minutes of this game built upon the the fast start we saw against Butler last week and hints at an intentional trend. A year ago, this club made a habit of struggling to press and score early in games. They couldn’t shake that attitude for weeks into the 2016 Spring season, but habitual lackluster starts are off the table for this year. Hankinson seems to have made sure of that.

Netminder Club
In contrast to last week’s game against Butler University, Jon Busch started on goal for the Eleven this afternoon. He looked sharp in his first action and readily assumed verbal command over the field in Colin Falvey’s absence.

Time is not at this point a friend to Busch’s career, though he will be fully appreciated on the field as long as he can remain there. Both he and the Indy coaching staff seem eager to bring Keith Cardona into a more critical role for the club and Cardona is making good strides toward that.

Under Jon Busch’s tutelage the young keeper displays far better on-field communication than we glimpsed last year, staying much more involved in directing his team’s shape and spotting trouble. Buschy seems to think he can do better and he consistently—and quite loudly—lets him know. That kind of persistent push may be just what Cardona needs to develop into a starter. It seems to be paying off.

Seeing this dynamic play out between the two netminders both on-field and on the bench will be one of the key friendly matchups to watch this season. Hankinson and the Eleven seem committed to Keith’s future with the club and Jon Busch is exactly the kind of person to help him get there.
Grand Park Indoor Action against Swipe Left Rangers

Missing Mares

Now that Dylan Mares is sipping Pina Coladas and gettin’ caught in the Miami rains (we’re not bitter, really)... the Eleven have some important shoes to fill.

Enter: Ben Speas.

Having toured with Minnesota United last year, Speas looks to play a vital role for the Eleven at left midfield. And for my money, it’s been a shaky start. This afternoon he looked a bit more settled than he did at Butler, but I'm not sure he has the confidence of his teammates yet—especially on that left side.

When Vukovich was on the ball, for instance, he almost always opted to pass for a cutting and partially covered Justin Braun rather than send the ball ahead to Ben. While Speas has shown some good determination to create plays, he seems weak on the ball when confronted with physical contact.

Perhaps getting more time with his teammates and deeper into the preseason will reveal some promising traits that are obscured at this point.

Defenders, Assemble!

Beginning the season with a backline short of Colin Falvey’s tenacious presence may be overcomeable after all. Consisting of Marco Franco, Palmer, Watson-Siriboe, and Vukovic, it looks like our first team defense will hold up just fine.

 Kwame Watson-Siriboe, a newcomer to the Eleven, is fitting in immediately. Intelligent and passionate, he is an imposingly strong defender of classic center back stock, taking and receiving punishment with impressive willpower in aerial battles.

 For the time that Captain Falvey is sidelined Lovel Palmer looks to fill in at center back alongside Kwame and he really couldn’t be looking more confident in the role. Building on the several times he subbed in at the position near the end of last season, all of Palmer’s strengths are finally on display and the back four are humming to a nasty, badass tune.

So yes, the land on the other side of the 2017 NASL kickoff looks promising and plentiful. See you in a few weeks!

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