Countdown to Kickoff: Indy Eleven

This originally appeared on the Reddit subform /r/NASLsoccer, March 31, 2015, as part of a supporter written NASL season preview.

Team: Indy Eleven
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Stadium: Michael A. Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium (cap. 10,465)
Supporter Groups: The Brickyard Battalion was in existence before the club and is credited with laying the groundwork for Indy Eleven’s existence. Affiliate chapters, such as Slaughterhouse-19 or B-Town Brickers offer additional opportunities for engagement and/or watch parties in different locations across the city, state and even internationally.
SubReddit: /r/IndyEleven
Newcomer’s Guide: New to Indy Eleven?
Gameday Guide:  Attend a game like a boss
Head Coach: Juergen Sommer
Captain(s): Kristian Nicht / Kleberson
Predicted Opening Night Starting XI: 4-1-3-2
——————Nicht——————
-Franco—Janicki—Norales—Frias-
—————–Peña—————-
—–Mares—Kleberson—Pineda—–
———–Rugg——-Brown———–

Last Season: (Spring: 10th, 4 pts; Fall: 7th, 23 pts; Combined: 9th, 27 pts) Success in the stands did not equate to success on the pitch during Indy Eleven’s inaugural season. Fielding a side befitting the “expansion team” moniker, Indy Eleven did not win it’s first game until week 10 and the Circle City faithful were not able to celebrate a home victory until week 24. GM Peter Wilt and Coach Sommer took their time building the roster, seemingly preferring to gage the talent level of the league before splashing cash on players. If not for significant transfer window signings, results last season would have been much more dire. Two of these additions, Cory Miller and Marco Franco helped plug holes in a porous defense. New faces on the attacking side, including Charlie Rugg, jump-started an offense that had been too reliant on free kicks to create chances and goals. This new blood propelled the Eleven to an unbeaten 3-0-2 record over the last five games of the Fall Season. Rather surprisingly, based upon the team’s performance up to then, goalkeeper Nicht and the Eleven set a NASL Modern Era record by posting 397 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal, primarily across these five games. The franchise’s first home victory came in that stretch of games as well and the pitch invasion that followed the win over league leaders Minnesota United FC will go down in club lore. The strong finish transformed what was looking like a long, dark offseason into one illuminated with hope.

Notable Ins:
Charlie Rugg, FW (Loan from LA Galaxy; MLS) Forward tormented top NASL defenses Minnesota and San Antonio during a five-game loan with Indy last season.

Brian ‘Rambo’ Brown, FW (Loan from Harbor View; Jamaican Premier League ) Jamaican attacker impressed in short stint with MLS’ Philadelphia Union last season. Prolific scorer can play forward or midfield.

Osman Melgares, MF (Loan from C.D. Real Sociedad; Honduras Liga Nacional ) Honduran wide-midfielder has been a key playmaker on repeat league-winning teams in his homeland.

Greg Janicki, DF (Free-agent signing from San Antonio; NASL) A mainstay in the backline of the defending NASL champion’s defense, Janicki will be expected to help raise Indy’s defense to championship caliber.

Notable Outs:
Mike Ambersly, FW (Signed with Saint Louis FC; USL) Will be looking to score the first goal in team history for another expansion squad.

Ben Spencer, FW (Returned to Molde FK; Norway Tippeligaen) Look for him in the stars and stripes at this summer’s U20 World Cup.

Jhuliam, FW (Signed with Resende; Brasil Serie D) Speedy poacher scored 3 times in 8 games to help spark Indy’s offense in the Fall season.

Blake Smith, MF (Returned to Montreal Impact; MLS) Left winger is the most notable of players not returning to Indy in 2015. The Brickyard Battalion hopes for his return, while Smith hopes he stays in MLS.

Jermaine Johnson, MF/FW (Location unknown) Goals, red cards, injuries. Retirement?
AJ Corrado, MF/DF (Returned to Indiana University) Ok, he’s not playing at IU again but Corrado is going to dental school and is the first athlete to take advantage of an IU athletics program that honors scholarships after a player leaves school to turn pro.
Fejiro Okiomah, D (Signed with Pittsburgh Riverhounds; USL) Slightly out of his league in NASL, he should do well in USL.

Grow Your Own: One of two of Indiana’s “homegrown” players on this roster, Dylan Mares was a prolific playmaker in his youth and college years. After earning more playing time as last season progressed the midfielder has found the back of the net four times in five preseason games this preseason. Coach Sommer has confidence in his young midfielder and Mares will battle for run in any central or attacking midfield positions. If any of the the players above him on the depth chart provide the opportunity, Mares may show that he can be a playmaker at the pro level as well.

Prognosis for the 2015 season: There will assuredly be more roster additions as the season progresses but this is what I (think I) know right now.

The signing of Greg Janicki shows that the Indy brain trust seeks to go from good to great in the defensive third of the field. Janicki will be expected to provide leadership and pair with Erick Norales to set the tone for a championship quality defense. He, Norales and Cory Miller could be one of the leagues most effective center back trios.

In the midfield, when he’s not nursing an injury Kleberson has proven to be one of the most exciting players in the league. The Brazilian will pepper the goal with long distance shots and look to put attackers through to goal. Other midfield options are capable but not necessarily spectacular; however, if the team is to achieve their goals, some combination of Melgares, Mares and Victor Pineda (or incoming transfers) will also need to impact games as playmakers. Melgares may have the most potential to fill this role but the transition from Honduras to the US may take a bit of time.

Up top, expect Indy to rotate between one and two forwards, dependent on the matchup. Due to having a bit more professional experience, Rugg and Brown are expected to lead the line. Given the opportunity, Wojciech Wojcik could be into a much more effective target man than Spencer was last season. The three attackers each offer unique skill sets that will allow Sommer to select the appropriate tool for the job. If they can combine for more than goals then the Eleven should be in the playoff hunt.

The season begins with a match against the listing Atlanta Silverbacks and offers a great opportunity to start the season with a win. After that the team is thrust into the thick of things with matches against New York and San Antonio. At the end of Week 3 we should have a good idea of how the Eleven will fare in the Spring Season.

I asked /r/IndyEleven for their thoughts on Key Players and Best and Worst Case Scenarios:

Key players:
“I think that Erick Norales will be the most important player for the Eleven this year. He anchored the defense well enough to earn a Honduras call up last year, and he should pair next to Cory Miller or Greg Janicki this season as a central defender.”

“I agree… that Norales is the most important player. Our defense was absolutely superb at the end of last year. If we can have a run of clean sheets like that again this season, the sky’s the limit.”

“We are going to live and die by this tandem (Norales and Miller). The disconnect between the CB’s and the outside backs as well as the holding mid’s was evident almost every game. These two need to be the leaders of our team and light the fire that keeps everybody accountable in defense. I want to see them get as pissed as Kristian gets when we concede the silly goals.”

“I think (Norales and Miller) will be our Great Wall Of Indy. If they can keep the rapport they grew together at the end of last season and use the swag they displayed in the pre-season, this should be quite a formidable pair in the center. There’s an outside chance we see Norales and newcomer Greg Janicki in the center, but my money is on the proven pair.”

This author believes it will be Norales and Janicki manning center of the defense but fully agrees that success in this part of the field will vital. Miller will be called upon frequently and is good cover if Norales spends July with Honduras in the Gold Cup. (Speaking of which, why is the NASL summer break not during the Gold Cup?

Best Case Scenario:
“I want to say a US Open Cup victory, but that might be a little out of our reach just yet haha. Realistically – and I’m not being hyperbolic in any way – is a Soccer Bowl victory. I’m not sure if we’ll have the consistency to win either the Spring or Fall seasons (if we do grab a championship, my money is on the Spring season), but if the end of last season is to be believed we’re absolutely good enough to grab the 3rd or 4th spot if we can stay healthy. In a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen — and we’ve proven that we can beat the best.”

“We make the playoffs. I’m honestly not looking for the SoccerBowl Title (even though it’d be AWESOME), but a playoff run would go a LONG way (in the stands and hopefully in the state house).”

“We win the championship. We lead the league in clean sheets and goals scored. Who doesn’t love pure domination?”

I’d certainly love “pure domination.”

Worst Case Scenario:
“Can’t get much worse than spring of 2014 can we?”

“We start slow and have another terrible season and the fans stop packing the house.”

“The absolute worst-case scenario would be our attendance taking a dive, whether due to on-field performance or any other reason. We NEED to continue to sell out games to prove to the country (and our own politicians apparently) that Indianapolis and the Eleven are for real, and this city needs a SSS. Another season of 100% attendance would go a long way in our march toward our quest for D1 quality and status.”

Let’s stop talking about these scenarios and just focus on pure domination.

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