Thursday, February 22, 2018

Indy Eleven 2018: When Time Is Short Experience Is Critical

Justin Braun and Ben Speas (pictured) return with Brad Ring for Indy Eleven in 2018

By: James Cormack

A lot of things have happened and many things have changed since the end of Indy Eleven's 2017 season. Most of the news surrounding the team will not be new to you so rather than give a long-winded explanation of all recent events I will summarize as briefly as possible before looking at what we should expect during the course of 2018.

- Indy Eleven have departed from the NASL (North American Soccer League) after four seasons and one Spring Championship win in 2016. The team will now compete in the United Soccer League (USL) in 2018. Indy will play in the Eastern Conference of the USL and will face 15 other opponents home and away as they attempt to reach post-season playoffs and a possible USL championship game.

- Tim Hankinson has departed as head coach and been replaced by Scottish coach Martin Rennie. Martin Rennie has many years of experience in US Soccer including a period in the MLS where he was appointed manager of Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011. Rennie was also the head coach of Carolina Railhawks (now North Carolina FC) both in USL1 and NASL.

- Phillip Dos Santos, brother of Marc Dos Santos was announced as the assistant coach to Martin Rennie. Phillip has worked with his brother Marc for numerous years, most recently at 2017 NASL Champions the San Francisco Deltas. Phillip brings a wealth of coaching experience and player contacts to Indianapolis.

- Indy Eleven announced they will play their home games at Lucas Oil Stadium (LOS) in 2018 marking the end of four years at Michael A. Carroll Stadium. LOS provides a venue with modern facilities and an all-weather playing arena. The team hopes to attract 16,000 supporters to home games. Seating will be arranged on three sides of the playing area with the Brickyard Battalion supporters group being situated in the north end zone.

- Indy Eleven will play their first game in USL away to Richmond Kickers on March 24th followed by our home opener on March 31st against FC Cincinnati. For a full 2018 schedule click here and for details on Indy Eleven season tickets and single-game tickets click here. The first pre-season match will be against FC Cincinnati at Grand Park on February 22nd with kick off set for 2.00pm. This is a non ticketed match and Grand Park is a public venue for those who would like to attend.

Why Experience Is Critical for Indy Eleven in 2018

Forward Jack McInerney joins Indy Eleven after 7 years in MLS (photo: The Oregonian

For reasons mostly outwith their own control, Indy Eleven's switch from NASL to USL and the need to secure a home venue for 2018 matches has left them very little time to recruit coaches and players and arrange suitable playing challenges before the first regular season game.

The decision to play in the USL was announced on January 10th and Martin Rennie was appointed as the new head coach on the 16th along with Phillip Dos Santos as his assistant on the 22nd of the same month. From the announcement of Rennie as head coach, Indy Eleven found themselves with a mere 67 days to prepare for their first competitive match of 2018. Two months and some loose change!

Despite being so close to the beginning of the season and most players already entered into contracts, Rennie has so far put together a very solid roster so far, the bulk of which are highly experienced not only at NASL or USL level but also MLS. With this weeks announcement of Jack McInerney from LA Galaxy and Soony Saad from Sporting KC the addition of quality players does not appear to be slowing down.

This will be important for the team as the level of quality being added can help counter the lack of time available to develop chemistry not only between players but between the playing staff and the coaches. As we saw in 2016 the arrival of Tim Hankinson triggered a squad overhaul and a rather short, timid pre-season schedule. Hankinson also added quality and experience which made Indy a hard team to beat and as it turned out they remained undefeated throughout the Spring Championship and lifted the trophy.

I think in 2018 we will see something quite similar. The squad will learn more about each other through competitive matches once the season begins, for now, it's all about gaining fitness and time on the field. Pre-season matches are never a good indicator of a team's potential and the results are not important, but the playing time itself is valuable for the squad to build on-field relationships between each other.

It's easy to pass judgment based off "things on paper" but I will say looking at this roster that I doubt any team in the Eastern Conference are going to find Indy Eleven an easy team to play against. We may have to endure some draws and possibly a narrow defeat or two before this new team finds itself, or maybe not? All the right ingredients are there, it's up to the coach and players to produce the magic.

We Are Excited And You Should Be Too...

If you are not already hyped to a frenzy for Indy Eleven in 2018 please fix that and catch up.

Indy Eleven's roster to date is starting to resemble something like an NASL All-Star team combined with new and exciting players and some MLS ringers. It's pretty stacked at the moment, let's be honest.

Justin Braun, Brad Ring, and Ben Speas return from Indy Eleven's 2017 NASL side along with a return of Zach Steinberger from Jacksonville Armada. Add to that Ayoze, Juan Guerra, and Starikov from NASL's three-time champions the New York Cosmos. Karl Ouimette and Reiner Ferreira two regular defensive players from last year's NASL champions the San Francisco Deltas and Brad Rusin from Miami FC join them.

Kevin Venegas played with Minnesota in NASL and MLS, Matt Watson with North Carolina FC, Vancouver, and Chicago Fire, Seth Moses arrives from Puerto Rico FC. Thirteen players who could easily grace an NASL team of the week sheet.

Indy Eleven have also dipped into young MLS talent bringing Jack McInerney from LA Galaxy, Hassan "Soony" Saad Ali from Sporting Kansas, and Tyler Pasher also from Swope Park and SKC.

Rennie has added two Trinidad Internationals. Defender Carlyle Mitchell played under our new coach at Vancouver and Seoul with a spell in NASL at Edmonton in between. Midfielder Nathan Lewis was part of the Trinidad national team that played against the USA in World Cup qualification. Welsh goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams arrives from Inverness where he was playing in the Scottish Championship.

Surprisingly not many young players have been added but we may see more before the season begins. 22 year old Ghanaian midfielder Amass Amankona arrives with previous experience at Real Monarchs, and goalkeeper Jordan Farr with 44 shutouts in NAIA gets his first taste of professional soccer.

This is not even a complete roster, when I read through that again I have to pinch myself and read it again. This is, as it stands, a very strong squad. Up until a short time ago survival of the club was my only concern, and I feared with all the changes we may go conservative on signings so this is an unexpected surprise.

Indy will face Louisville City FC as league opposition for the first time in 2018

For four years in the NASL our closest opponent may have been Atlanta or North Carolina and for the more adventurous perhaps a trip to Minnesota. Not only will we now play 15 other teams in one conference but 11 of those teams can be driven in around 10 hours or under.

We also have two very close rival teams in Louisville City FC and Cincinnati FC which gives supporters even more opportunity to see their team play. Nashville also joins the league this year and is around a 4 hour drive from Indy. Even Pittsburgh Riverhounds at around 6 hours driving could be considered a day trip.

Indy Eleven will renew its rivalry with Tampa Bay Rowdies our furthest away opponent and also Ottawa Fury FC. North Carolina FC have made the switch to USL putting four former NASL teams in the USL Eastern Conference.

Click here for approximate drive times to each of our Eastern Conference opponents.

Home games will now be played at Lucas Oil Stadium allowing Indy Eleven to up its possible attendance which is believed to be around 16,000. The Brickyard Battalion supporters section capacity has been expanded from around 1500 to 3000 giving us the opportunity to be twice as loud as we were before.

Lucas Oil Stadium also offers protection from the elements meaning the prospect of a delayed or postponed game highly unlikely. I know this will disappoint some who like to get drunk in parking garages and listen to the Red Card Regiment but it also means we may not lose 80% of the attendance when a weather delayed game begins.

If ALL of this has not made you more excited than ever before as an Indy Eleven supporter then you must be a very hard person to please. Tell your friends, bring new supporters to games, buy extra tickets and show Indianapolis that professional soccer is here to stay. The future of our club and the possibilities of eventually securing our own stadium rely on continued interest and a growing support. We have sold out many games before at Carroll Stadium, we can do it again at Lucas Oil. Help us make March 31st 2018 a landmark day in Indy Eleven's history.


Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and our website The Bloody Shambles Soccer Show podcast will returning during the course of the season and is available on iTunes or directly from Soundcloud. If you are interested in being involved in supporter media with Bloody Shambles Soccer, possibly you have an idea for a supporter related article about your experiences or the team or you have an idea for a podcast please email or contact us through Twitter. Indy Eleven needs more supporter driven content and we are more than happy to give fans a platform to express their opinion on the team or just relate their experiences from match days, road trips, community events etc.

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