Depth Chart Guesstimations

Preseason for the Boys in Blue is quickly approaching us on the calendar. Before we know it February will be here and in the middle of the month Indy Eleven players will gather in Indianapolis to begin preparations for their 2016 season. A trip to warm-weather Casa Grande in Arizona is on their agenda, as discussed by Coach Tim Hankinson on the most recent episode of 1070 AM’s Soccer Saturday. Hankinson also revealed on the show that exhibition matches against the professional clubs Orange County Blues, Ottawa Fury FC, St. Louis FC, Louisville City FC, and FC Cincinnati are likely to occur, as well as matches against a few yet-to-be named university sides.

In addition to sharing the basics of the Eleven’s preseason preparations, Hankinson added a few of his thoughts on the nearly-complete roster. Currently 19 signed players have been revealed to fans and according to Hankinson the team plans to have about 22 players rostered for the start of the season. An unidentified signing at left fullback was announced in the interview, which will bring the roster to 20 when revealed. The coach added that he feels they have a need for more attacking players on the wing and at forward. (According to an early January news item in the Jamaican Observer, Dino Williams is one of our new attacking players, however the club has been silent on this.) Hankinson also said a few trialists will join them during their preseason (Dino, maybe?) and presumably one or two from this group will join as the final pieces of the Spring roster.

At Brew Wallace we love unfounded speculation, and with the roster nearly complete let’s take a look at and make some guesstimates about the depth chart. A lot can and will change between now and the opening day kickoff but nothing is stopping us from making (il)logical guesses as to the current pecking order in certain positions.

(The depth chart I’ve built is based on the 4-5-1 formation that Coach Hankinson seems to be indicating the Eleven will play.)


Jon Busch and Keith Cardona will each play a significant role in goal this season. Entering his 20th year of professional soccer, Busch will be a great mentor to the young but capable Cardona and whomever fills the third goalkeeper spot on the roster.

Left Back
On Saturday Hankinson said that the soon-to-be-announced signing at left back would be of starter caliber. Nemanja Vuković will be game for the competition for the starting spot and will also be involved in the conversation at center back. Hankinson said that he was looking for left and right fullbacks who do well passing out of the back line and can also get forward to help with the attack.

Center Back
Along with Jon Busch, Colin Falvey has been labeled by Hankinson as the vocal leader and organizer of this defense, so we will ink his name at the top of the depth chart here. Between Greg Janicki, Cory Miller, Brian Shaffer and Vuković, competition for the other starting center back spot will be a battle. Hankinson has gone out of his way to Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 2.57.23 AMcompliment Janicki, it feels like he is the second preferred starter for now. This may be Indy’s strongest position.

Right Back
Lovel Palmer has been tabbed by Hankinson as a starter but I’m not so sure about that. Palmer was also mentioned by Hankinson as having enough versatility to play a lot of positions, specifically right back, left back and defensive midfield. Marco Franco is more than capable of holding down the right side so I’m forecasting Palmer to shift to defensive midfield when Indy is deployed with two in that role. Franco has become a very good fullback who put in some impressive shifts last season and should earn a lot of minutes this season. Shaffer will be in the picture too and doing his best to earn minutes anywhere on the pitch.

Defensive Midfield
Looking at the depth chart for this position, I’m not sure who slots in next to Brad Ring if we run out in a 4-5-1. Dragan Stojkov? Daniel Keller? Shaffer? Right now, placing Ring and Palmer here and Franco at right back seems to be the strongest lineup.

I think Stojkov or Shaffer are in line to be the second starter if Palmer stays at right back. I didn’t include him in the chart in the position but maybe Dylan Mares drops back and takes on more defensive responsibilities with a starting role here; really, I was surprised on Saturday that Hankinson didn’t say the Eleven were planning to sign another defensive midfielder. Stojkov is small for the role, Keller is still young and typically Palmer and Shaffer are fullbacks. Does Indy have enough defensive awareness and commitment on the left and right sides of the midfield? If no, is Indy’s defense strong enough to cover any letdowns in those areas? This looks like team’s weakest position right now.

Attacking Midfielders
(Hankinson said there is the likelihood of another signing in this position, which would impact the depth chart.)
After joining the team Tim Hankinson spoke about the necessity of a conductor for an offense. Sinisa Ubiparipović is the conductor that Hankinson and Peter Wilt have found for us and his name should be inked in at the top of the depth chart for central attacking midfield. I’ve penciled in Dylan Mares and Justin Braun as the left and right attacking midfielders because of their perceived ability to create and score goals. In addition to playing as a striker, Hankinson said Braun has the skills of an attacking winger, with cutting in toward the goal as a strength. We should all appreciate Mares’ value by now.

If Indy feels that speed and attacking are favored rather than possession and defense Don
Smart or Duke Lacroix could be inserted into the lineup. Stojkov provides technical traits that contribute to team defense and possession of the ball. Expect Indy’s 4-5-1 formation to shift into a 4-3-3 Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 2.56.56 AMwhen extra attackers are needed or they have opponents on their heels, maybe alternating between the two formations multiple times a game.

(Hankinson said there is the likelihood of another signing in this position, which would impact the depth chart.)
Any pro forward who has scored a hat-trick in 9 minutes at the end of a game against an arch-rival, in freaking IRAN, gets the starting nod from me. With a career strike rate of one goal in every two games, Eamon Zayed has been a top-class finisher in each league he’s played. His highlights on YouTube indicate we are getting a player who can score from headers, quick turns, back heels, through balls, volleys, long distance, and while running with defenders on his shoulder. Of all the new signings, I am looking forward to this one the most. Zayed’s backup will be determined by the game scenario – Braun or Wojcik can play as a target man or Lacroix as a speedster.

Hankinson and Peter Wilt clearly expect this team to win games from the start of the season to the end and compete for a championship. After building these charts I am inclined to believe that this team will be strong enough to earn a spot in the playoffs. The veteran experience of this team is well above that of previous teams. In the last two seasons, the Eleven frequently had multiple starting players in the lineup with 2 or fewer years of experience as a professional. This team will feature zero players with that little of experience. At this point, the five youngest players on the roster were culled from Indy’s prior two seasons. Nearly every position features a higher-caliber player than last season. Leadership and past team successes stand out on the resumes of the players they’ve brought in to the mix. These are not the type of players to new to competing and winning, as Hankinson said, this is not a developmental team. The competitive spirit of this pre-season should be the most intense this young club has experienced.


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