Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Indy Eleven NPSL Season Approaches - Why Should You Be There?

Indy (in white) prepares to kick off in the National Semi Final against Chattanooga FC in 2015

By: James Cormack

It seems somehow the stars align with dates when it comes to supporting our Boys in Blue. Indy Eleven NPSL will kick off 2016 with a US Open Cup match against Cincinnati Dutch Lions (they're not really Dutch) on the ELEVENTH of May!

If you are late to the show and asking yourself what is the NPSL and who are Indy Eleven NPSL? You can find out everything you need to know about the team by reading our introduction from earlier this year here. You can also find out more information at Indy Eleven's club overview page.

Supporters are in for a treat this year as the first two games of the season are big ones. Indy Eleven NPSL (formerly Indiana Fire) will play in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup by virtue of winning the Midwest Regional Championship last year. The match will take place on May 11th and only a few days later on May 14th the boys will face off against AFC Cleveland who they defeated in last years regional final.

The US Open Cup is a big deal for these players. It is the longest running national soccer tournament in the United States and the third longest running open soccer tournament in the world. Indy Eleven NPSL will participate in the 103rd competition.

If their opponents the Cincinnati Dutch Lions sound familiar, they are part of the same organization as the Dayton Dutch Lions who played against Indy Eleven in the US Open Cup in 2014. Cinci Dutch Lions play in the USL PDL which is a league at the same level as NPSL in the US Soccer pyramid.


NPSL Midwest Championship Trophy
This will be Indy's third season in the NPSL, the team has been highly successful in a short period of time under head coach John Simmonds. Coach Simmonds played at Center Grove High School before moving on to Purdue University where he helped win the NCCSA Championship in 1991 and also making First Team NCCSA All America and appearing in the 1991 College World Cup in Juarez, Mexico.

He has been a director of coaching since the nineties beginning with Indy Inferno. After Inferno merged with Carmel United, John became a board member and Boy's Director at Carmel for 10 years. After taking the position of Boy's director at Westfield Select in 2012, Westfield and Carmel United then merged to form Indiana Fire Juniors where he became Director of both Boys and Girls U13-U19 as well as head coach of Indiana Fire NPSL.

Coach John Simmonds [JS] took time this week to answer some of our questions about the team and the upcoming season...

The team has made great strides in only two seasons, Midwest Champs in 2015 and National Semi finalists. Will we see a continued progression in 2016 and is the National title a realistic aim for us?

 - [JS] We have all intentions to repeat as NPSL Midwest Regional Champions. It is very difficult to win a regional championship and even harder to repeat it. We will not be surprising anyone this year and our path will be more difficult. We have addressed a few things positionally with our roster to help us beyond the regionals, if we are that fortunate.

In 2015 the team played in front of over 9000 fans in Chattanooga, what would it take for Indy Eleven NPSL to host a national game, is this something you aim for to get that home advantage?

 - [JS] The national semi final in Chattanooga was an unbelievable environment that would be tough to replicate. Yes, we would love to put our name out there to host possibly the Midwest Regional finals or National semis for obvious reasons.

However, we need to get the local soccer community behind the team and bolster our home game attendance to even be considered. We have an excellent home venue now in Grand Park and would love for people to see the high level that Indy Eleven NPSL soccer is.

Several supporters have asked us why an NPSL roster is so large, at the moment we have 39 listed players, what is the reason for that?

 - [JS] Our roster is primarily college players, many of whom are from out of state and also some non college players. We feel we need the large roster to get through the whole summer. We have some players that go home for a week or two to visit family, we also have to account attrition (injuries) as the season progresses.

We also have back to back play dates and will sometimes use entirely different rosters for each game to keep players from being worn down. We also add some local players purely as a developmental piece for them. Throughout the season all rostered players will see time on the field in either league or friendly games.

Lukman Ahmed Shaibu, Lamine Balde, Jeffrey McClure and Travis Wannemuehler Class of 2016

Of the Class of 2016, the new players coming in this year, who should we be watching, which names are going to make heads turn and other teams cry?

 - [JS] Lukman Ahmed Shaibu - 2012 Junior College American at Prairie State College with 27 goals. Transferred to Holy Cross in South Bend, led Holy Cross in 2014 with 7 goals. Lukman will add another much needed goal scoring threat in attack.

Lamine Balde - 2014 Fort Pitt Regiment NPSL leading scorer. A seasoned veteran that adds depth to an already reloaded attack.

Jeffrey McClure Jr - Brebeuf HS and Uni of Southern Indiana grad. Has played last few years in PDL with Cincinnati Dutch Lions and Muskegon Risers. Jeffrey will add leadership experience to the back line. He appeared in preseason with Indy Eleven and played 90 minutes against University of Louisville.

Travis Wannemuehler - Travis will be a senior this fall at NC State. He is a very versatile player who can play many positions. Travis was also a representative on the US Mens U18 team.

Having seen some big crowds on your travels, what does it mean to you and the team to have more people come out and support?

 - [JS] The staff and players are looking forward to improved home attendance this year. The roster is full of well accomplished players including some former pros. The product the fans will is of an enjoyable high standard. 

We want to see more fans in the seats this year, it can be disheartening to players to not see a similar crowd size at home as we do on the road. These players deserve the support of the local soccer community as many of them grew up here.


Indy GK - Cody Schweitzer
Last season was the first for goalkeeper Cody Schweitzer [CS] who had an outstanding year and also was chosen to represent the Midwest NPSL Combine team in Florida (coached by Tim Regan in the absence of coach Simmonds) which they won for the second year running. We asked Cody for his thoughts on a great first year.

Last year was your first in the NPSL Team, what were your expectations, were they exceeded and what did playing in the league give you as far as development and experience?

 - [CS] My expectations was to be playing against mostly college players looking to get extra work in on the field, but they were exceeded a little when I realized there are more than just college players, also some of the teams had a lot of fans like Lansing United and Chattanooga FC.

The NPSL gives you experience at amateur level, development is also good depending on what team you play for. I was lucky enough to get a chance to train with Indy Eleven's first team last summer so it certainly does help. It also gave me a better understanding of the path to becoming a pro and what exactly I need to improve upon in order to reach that goal. The league is growing every year and I am glad to be a part of it.

If you could relive one of these moments from last year, would it be lifting the Midwest Champions trophy or playing in front of over 9000 people in Chattanooga at the National Semi Final?

 - [CS] I would absolutely love to relive the National semi final, playing in front of 9000 people was an amazing feeling. There is no feeling like that and they were so enthusiatic. I think we were the better team for 70 minutes and it was as if the whole team was feeding off the energy of the crowd, I know I was.

I felt cool, calm and collected during my warm up... and even when we were 3-0 down. The loss was heartbreaking but it's just one of those losses you have to feel out in order to learn from it. The whole team was honed in on the game the whole time and honestly none of us were distracted. It was an amazing experience for the team, players and coaches.


Team Captain - Nago Mbengue
Team captain Nago Mbengue [NM] has been in the team since the first kick and also has played with Indy Eleven this year against University of Louisville along with Jeffrey McClure and Thomas Schmitt. Nago has played professionally for Dayton Dutch Lions in the ULS and in the US Open Cup.

You have captained the side for two years and in that time the team has had great success and won a championship. How important is it for you as a player and captain to go even further with this team?

 - [NM] To see what our team has been able to accomplish these first two years has given us the confidence to believe in not only reaching the National finals but to win the final as well. Being in the finals will not only increase player confidence it also gives us more local and national exposure, promoting a larger fan base as well as attracting more talented players. As a captain and a player my pride in being a part of this program's success is driving me to continue to train and develop to meet the challenges of the coming season.

The first game for the team this year will be in the US Open Cup, have you played in it before and how important is this game to you and the team?

 - [NM] This will be my second time competing in the Open Cup, I played with Dayton Dutch Lions three years ago and we made it to the third round that year before losing to MLS side Columbus Crew. I feel it is my job to get the guys motivated, excited and ready to play. This is a big opportunity for us to get more national exposure as we have a chance to play against established pro teams. We're all very confident that we can get a couple of wins and make some noise in this tournament.


Please come out and support the team as they represent Indy Eleven in the NPSL. Tickets for the USOC game on May 11th are not part of the regular season ticket package but are only $5 each. Season tickets are available in two packages and cover all league and friendly matches. Regular season ticket package is only $25, if you wish to get season tickets plus commemorative 2015 Midwest Champions scarf you do so for only $40! Click here for ticket information and purchasing! SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CLUB!

Everybody needs more scarves!

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