Lock, Stock & Two Central Midfielders

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If one were to unknowingly pass a group of Indy Eleven’s international players on the street they couldn’t be blamed for suspecting Guy Ritchie was filming his latest European gangster flick in Indianapolis. They would be wrong, of course, but a cast of characters that could pass as players in a Ritchie film are settling into their lives in Central Indiana.

The players:

Falvey suggests that Pikers like you keep their mouths shut.

Irishman Colin Falvey leads the line as the stout, take-no-shit hard man.

The mercurial Eamon Zayed features as the mysterious traveler.

Scotsman Nicki Paterson plays the stylish brother-in-arms.

Nemanja Vuković takes a turn as the intimidating Eastern European enforcer.

Gorka Larrea adds flavor to the mix as the Spanish wild card.

The international players on this 2016 version of the Eleven are a stark contrast to those that previously populated the team’s roster. Across the 2014 and 2015 campaigns Indy filled 11 of their 14 international slots with Hispanic and Latino players originating primarily from Central America, Brazil and Jamaica.

While this roster does include four Jamaicans, the newly-arrived Dino Williams is the only one without a Green Card and taking an intern. Utility-player Dragon Stojkov, of Macedonia, returns in 2016 and fills the seventh and final international spot. (With a bit of creative thinking we could easily cast these two in our Ritchie knock-off film as well.)

Wondering if these signings indicated a new strategy for player acquisition I reached out to Indy’s head casting director Peter Wilt.

“Due to a combination of coincidence, global area of emphasis and clients of the agents we worked most closely with while building the team,” Wilt explained.

“In our first two seasons Juergen (Sommer) developed strong relationships in Central America and traveled to Honduras multiple times. Coach Hankinson’s close working relationship with agent Eddie Rock (Libero Sports) and our desire to build our roster around players proven in US based leagues led to our signing several of Eddie’s clients who happened not to be Latinos.”

Betancourt and Sommer.
Honduran legend Armando Betancourt (L) and Jurgen Sommer (R) meet up in Honduras, October 2013.

The team’s head coach at the time obviously played a key role in the process as well.

Although he was new to the coaching role, Sommer had strong connections in Central America, particularly Honduras, due to the network he established through his career with Indiana University and US Soccer in the CONCACAF region. Scouting Honduras was not a bad strategy for the Eleven, even if it did not work out as well as hoped. The country has produced some great players over time who have succeeded in the Americas and Europe. As a nation, Honduras has recently emerged as a regional power, qualifying for the World Cup finals in both 2010 and 2014.

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Hankinson spent 2009-2010 at Salgaocar FC in India’s I-League.

Hankinson though has a much broader experience and network to draw from, with professional coaching stints in Brazil, Guatemala, Iceland, India and Jamaica, in addition to time spent in the MLS, NASL and university tiers.

“Tim’s global experience has been beneficial in sourcing and getting references on potential players – particularly those that have played in India and Jamaica,” Wilt shared.

Dino Williams played under Hankinson at Montego Bay United FC and both Colin Falvey and Gorka Larrea spent time with Indian teams in recent seasons.

It’s worth noting that each of the international players is also fluent in the local language, which was not the case with previous rosters. A full team of players fluent in English should benefit the Eleven on and off the field simply through improved communication.

“The ability to assimilate into the team on and off the field is always an important attribute,” Wilt agreed, however, “Communication ability is part of that along with character, experience and personality. Not having English as a first language is not a problem at all. Not speaking English at all, however, is a serious concern when assessing a player for a team. Also, if you do take a chance on a player who doesn’t speak English and he doesn’t make an effort to learn the language, it can be a decisive factor in renewing or not renewing a player’s contract.”

After just a few weeks on the roster this attribute is already paying dividends for the Eleven; the newest Boys in Blue have likely surpassed the number of interviews given by Indy’s international-players-not-named-Kristian-Nicht over the previous two seasons. Kleberson and Erick Norales, two of Indy’s marquee players, never spoke English with the media or in marketing campaigns, which almost certainly impacted the team’s ability to connect with the Indianapolis market. For comparison, MLS all-stars David Villa, Giuseppe dos Santos and Kaka each learned to speak English or improved their language skills after joining the American league.

As I’ve said before on this blog, the most drastic difference between Indy Eleven teams of the past and this version as it enters 2016 is the number of veterans and leaders on the roster. Ultimately, a player’s nation of origin of language skills had very little to do with Wilt and and Hankinson selecting the men they felt were suitable for the the team’s roster.

“The far greater factor than fluent English is leadership qualities. While Kleberson and Erick Norales were veterans on the team and served as team captains, I believe it wasn’t their lack of fluency that limited their leadership as much as their time off the field due to injuries and their subdued nature. I think we lacked positive vocal leaders throughout the team, not just among the Latino players. I think this year’s roster has much more natural leadership as reflected in the fact that at least five of the new signings have served as their professional team’s captain in the past. The vocal leadership of guys like Jon Busch, Colin Falvey, Nicki Patterson, Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed among others will benefit the team beyond the obvious ability to communicate in the same language.”

Be sure to look for these upcoming columns from Brew Wallace, each based on a European Gangster film:

Sexy Beast – Tim Hankinson’s hair reveals all.
Layer Cake – An in-depth look at Indy Eleven’s quest to build a soccer specific stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
Face – Go behind the scenes with Cory Miller, from photoshoot to the back of the bus.
The Italian Job – An exhaustive examination of Indy Eleven’s jersey deal with Diadora.
Snatch – Love, Life and Goalkeeping with Jon Busch.



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