Thursday, December 10, 2015

Indy Eleven NPSL: A New Partnership With New Benefits

Indiana Fire NPSL - 2015 Midwest Champions
By: James Cormack

On November 17th 2015 the Indy Eleven organization announced that they would partner with the National Premier Soccer League's Indiana Fire and re brand the team to Indy Eleven NPSL for 2016.

For those of you unfamiliar with the NPSL the league is considered to be at the fourth tier of soccer in the USA beneath USL, NASL and MLS. The league is an affiliate of the USASA (United States Adult Soccer Association).

The league is a national league with teams from around 29 states competing in various conferences, successful teams ultimately progress to four regional championships - The Midwest, The West, The North and The South regions.

From there the four regional champions compete in national semi finals followed by a national final. This years final was contested by Chattanooga FC and New York Cosmos B in front of 18,000 fans at Finley Stadium, also home to the University of Chattanooga Mocs.

Teams from the NPSL that win their conference table or win their regional championship also achieve entry to the US Open Cup. Indiana Fire failed to top the table at the end of regular season in 2015 but went on to win the Midwest region championship final defeating AFC Cleveland and confirming their entry into the US Open Cup in 2016 as Indy Eleven NPSL.

Although there is no officially recognized partnership the NPSL is closely tied to the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the league in 2015 contained reserve or junior teams from New York Cosmos, Minnesota United, Carolina Railhawks, and Atlanta Silverbacks. Fort Lauderdale Strikers are a confirmed team for 2016 and rumors are Tampa Bay Rowdies are soon to be announced.

Nago Mbengue - Captain 2014-2015
(background Thomas Schmitt)
If you know the history.....

Our current NPSL side have now had four names, beginning play as Indiana Fire Juniors in 2014 before a slight change to Indiana Fire NPSL for the 2015 season and now Indy Eleven NPSL. When in the creation phase of 2013 the team was temporarily titled "Westfield Select" and was intended to be a partner club of Indy Eleven Playing at Grand Park in Westfield.

With the sheer workload involved in getting the Indy Eleven NASL club off the ground it was decided at the time that Indy would not however have involvement in the team for the upcoming 2014 season. Around this time Carmel United and Westfield youth soccer programs merged to form Indiana Fire Juniors as an affiliation of the Chicago Fire MLS club and play at Grand Park in Westfield.

With preparations for the opening of Grand Park falling behind schedule, the team actually began the 2014 NPSL season at Westfield High School. Indiana Fire made quite a splash in their inaugural season narrowly missing out on a playoff spot. Finishing behind Detroit City and Lansing the Indiana Fire won seven of their fourteen matches, drawing three and losing only four games in their inaugural NPSL season.

The team included players from all over Indiana's college scene including goalkeeper Eric Dick, then a redshirt for Butler along with Bulldogs team mate and striker Vincent Mitchell. Cristian Soto of IUPUI, Thomas Schmitt of Akron Zips and Crew Academy and unaffiliated players like captain Nago Mbengue formerly of USL's Dayton Dutch Lions and Charleston Battery. (click for full Indiana Fire 2014 NPSL Roster).

In 2015 the NPSL merged the Great Lakes East and West and the Central conferences to make on Midwest Conference. An unusual schedule meant Fire would not meet Detroit City FC in this season but they did come against some new and further flung opponents such as Madison 56ers and Minnesota United reserves. In an effort to move the team to a more commercial area of Indianapolis, Fire played their home games of 2015 at Park Tudor High School.

Indiana Fire lost a few good players including Thomas Schmitt and Erick Dick, but they retained most of the 2014 squad and added new strength with players like Cody Schweitzer of IPFW and Bennett Kim of Butler. The schedule saw Fire play most of their hardest games in the beginning half of the season, including Lansing United away in the first game. Fire came away with a 0-0 draw against a Lansing side that came close to knocking Louisville City FC out of the Open Cup.

It was a challenging season and Indiana Fire finished strong, two victories home and away against newcomers to the conference FC Indiana Lions helped secure the final playoff spot of 2015. Indiana Fire went to the regional finals in Madison as the number four seed.

The team continued their great end of season run with an outstanding playoff performance. Only a a few hours after stepping off the bus in Madison, Indiana Fire knocked the number one seed and host team Madison 56ers out of the finals with a 1-0 victory. With little time to rest Fire then played third seed AFC Cleveland in the final after they had knocked out second seed Detroit City FC.

The final was played in scorching heat on July 25th. Indiana Fire defeated AFC Cleveland with a final score of 3-1 to become Midwest Champions in only their second season. It was a great experience for these players and they won the right to meet Chattanooga FC in the national semi final. Despite losing in that game by 3-0 to a well seasoned Chattanooga outfit, our young team got the experience of playing in front of 9500 people. Chattanooga progressed but lost in the final to New York Cosmos B in front of 18,000 fans at Finley Stadium.

Vince Mitchell - Butler forward
11 goals for Butler in 2015

The best of both worlds - the benefits!

As someone who has followed the team since it's beginning one of the most difficult things has been encouraging more local supporters to come and watch this team. Once people come to a game and see the quality of play it's easy to get them to come back. Grass roots soccer is very important, and these players really appreciate any support they get, but they need more than 30 or 40 people at a game. It's like FIVE BUCKS a game folks!

Teams like Detroit City FC command a home following of around 3500 and Chattanooga have average home crowds almost double that number. Indiana Fire, now of course Indy Eleven NPSL have won a championship and came within one step of being National champions, think what they could do with a full support behind them.

The new partnership with Indy Eleven and the adoption of a recognized professional soccer brand within the city taps in to a supporter base of over 10,000 people. There will be more media presence and promotion amongst the local soccer community, no doubt there will be extra incentives of some kind for NASL season ticket holders and cannot rule out the possibility of double headers with games for each team on the same day. NPSL games are historically early evening on Friday's and early afternoon on Sunday's with occasional games on Wednesday and Saturday, the season of NPSL and NASL overlap but there should be no excuses to miss out on watching the NPSL lads!

The benefits from a playing and development perspective are great for either team though they may be different benefits. As we saw last season Indy made a very astute signing in Duke Lacroix who was playing his final year at U-Penn while being scouted. Duke also played with Ocean City Nor'easters in the PDL (Premier Development League) outside of regular college season.

As the bulk of an NPSL or a PDL roster is mainly replete with collegiate players, this allows an NASL team to attract players they are scouting or watching to the NPSL team outside of regular college season. NPSL and PDL schedules start after NCAA seasons are complete and for the most part finish up before college soccer begins again ( I say this because if an NPSL team make playoffs, there can be instances where players are recalled for collegiate practice during playoffs but NPSL and College can negotiate on timing of return if necessary).

This advantage will work in mutually beneficial ways. Indy can look at the Lacroix's of this world earlier and encourage them to play in NPSL where they can be watched and possibly train alongside first team NASL players. Indy Eleven NPSL can also attract a more sought after player from the collegiate realm which can give them that little bit extra that could see them push for and win a national title. It's a win/win situation for both teams.

Whilst players from Indiana Fire as recently as this fall have been asked to come and trial and train with members of the first team, I think it is unlikely that we will see NASL contracted players from Indy Eleven move in the opposite direction to play in the NPSL for game time. I am not 100% clear on the rulings but the NPSL side will be strictly an amateur team so I don't think professionally contracted players can play in the NPSL team unless they elect to choose the Pro route, which is an option in this division. Indy Eleven NPSL have chosen the amateur route.

There are many other advantages for the players in the NPSL team, they will no doubt have opportunities to train with the NASL team. Players from out of town may be able to buddy up with Indy Eleven players and even share housing. In terms of training and practice both teams have the added edge of being able to play bounce games against each other. If I was a college player and wanted to go somewhere out of season that already had an avenue to professional soccer, it would be something I would definitely explore.

Come out and support this team, if you would like to keep up with the team on social media you can follow them on twitter @IndyElevenNPSL and on Facebook through the teams Official Page. Forthcoming news and information on tryouts can be found at Indy Eleven's Official Website.
 For information on the teams 2015 roster visit their Team Page at the official NPSL Website.

1 comment: