Indy Eleven 2016 Season Preview & NASL Predictions

Owner: Ersal Ozdemir
General Manager: Peter Wilt, soon departing
Head Coach: Tim Hankinson, newly arriving
Captain: CB Colin Falvey
Stadium: Michael A. Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium (Cap. 12,111)
Predicted Starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
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Notable Ins:
GK Jon Busch – The 39-year old shot stopper with years of MLS experience has impressed in preseason play. He will cede time to young GK Keith Cardona, but will be a leader when on the field or not.

CB Colin Falvey – The stout Irishman was brought in to organize and solidify Indy’s back line. Results from preseason indicate this plan is progressing well.

DF/MF Nemanja Vuković – A top defender in the USL, Vuko has transitioned well to the Eleven and projects to play as a CB, LB or DM; he has also been taking a few free kicks in preseason matches. The skilled defender could serve a key role as a defensive-utility player with offensive talents.

RB/DM Lovel Palmer – Beloved by Chicago Fire fans for his personality, Palmer has put in quiet but solid shifts this preseason. While he was outclassed at times in MLS at right back he should be up for the challenge in the NASL.

MF Nicki Paterson – Coming off of a major knee injury, Paterson has taken his first preseason with Indy Eleven slowly. In his most recent matches he has impressed with an accurate long pass. Expect him to start attacks by switching the point of attack and serving balls for Indy’s wing players to run onto.

CM Gorka Larrea – The well-traveled DM Larrea comes off a year’s hiatus. Time will tell how the break affected the 31-year old’s game; he could be NASL Best XI or simply past his prime.

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Could Larrea be as good as pizza, pasta or wings? Highly doubtful, but he may be good enough.

CAM Siniśa Ubiparipović – “The Maestro” was brought in to unlock defenses, a player type that Indy did not have in either of their first two seasons. He did help lead the Ottawa Fury to the 2015 Fall title and NASL championship game, making “Ubi” a proven conductor.

FW Jair Reinoso – A late addition to the team, the 30-year old Colombian Forward brings an attacking flair having scored 79 goals in 185 games for clubs in South America and Asia.

FW Eamon Zayed – The well-spoken Irish/Libyan Zayed will be expected to score and score often. He has already declared his intent to win the league’s Golden Boot, given to the league’s highest scorer, in 2016.

Notable Outs:
GK Kristian Nicht – Indy’s first ever player has moved on to league rival Minnesota United where he will save as the primary backup. This is a good landing spot for our German friend.

kristian-nicht
Auf Wiedersehen, das Boot.

CB Erik Norales – Norales will spend 2016 anchoring the defensive line for another NASL expansion side, Rayo OKC in Oklahoma City.

DF Kyle Hyland – Hyland will be playing in Oklahoma City as well, although he’ll be wearing the green and white of OKC Energy, a Division 3 USL side.

CM Kleberson – The Word Cup Winner Kleberson took his talent to Fort Lauderdale to join the Strikers Brazilian owners, Brazilian sponsors and the brazilion Brazilian’s on their roster.

CM Sergio Peña – Returned to his native Honduras to play for Real Sociedad, the club that loaned him to the Eleven in 2014.

MF Victor Pineda – Taking his talents to South Beach, Pineda will now be dressing for the expansion franchise Miami FC this season.

MF Dragan Stojkov – Cut less than a week before the season’s first match, Stojkov will be missed for his endurance, utility and grit. Expected to be replaced by an international player who competes for a starting spot at either left back or as a wide attacker.

FW Dane Richards – Joins Pineda at South Florida’s newest club. Miami has built a strong squad and the speedy Richards could have a big season.

Last Season: (Spring: 5th, 13 pts; Fall: 9th, 20 pts; Combined: 9th, 33 pts)
Looking back at Indy’s record and performances over the previous two seasons there are few positives. Although there were occasional stretches of impressive play, both offense and defense were among the league’s poorest performers. The Eleven attempted an in-season reboot of the team with the promotion of Tim Regan from assistant to head coach and the addition of MLS veteran Dane Richards and a few attacking midfielders, but that never had much of a chance to improve their fortune. In the offseason Indy fully entered the rebuilding phase.

Outlook:
First, the team signed veteran head coach Tim Hankinson who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from time spent coaching on four continents, as well as a preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation. Next, the team have released or not re-signed 16 of the 26 players on the 2015 roster. Finally, Hankinson and GM Peter Wilt brought in players loaded with experience and leadership to pair with the mostly young players held over from the 2015 roster. (The average age of the 11 players newly signed is over 30. The average age of the players retained is less than 26.) They focused on building the spine of the team with vocal and accomplished players from back to front and surrounded them with fast and versatile players on the wings.

And how has that worked out for the club thus far?

Well, Coach Hankinson has lamented preseason injuries and complained to players and press about the team’s lack of possession and productivity. He does appear confident with what he has seen in the short spells that his preferred first team has been on the pitch together.

The defense is looking solid and up to the task of a long NASL season. The first-team defense did not allow more than one goal from their opponents in any pre-season match. (All goals in a 3-0 loss versus Ottawa were inflicted upon Indy’s “B” team.) While the defense seems on track to be improved and more consistent than previous seasons, Indy has struggled to coalesce on the other side of the pitch.

Offensively, the team is still learning to master the movement and passing needed within their new system to generate goal scoring opportunities. In only one preseason match was Indy able to find the net more than once. While it is reassuring that Eamon Zayed, the newly-signed striker that Indy will rely on to lead the attack, did put away three goals in his seven preseason matches there have been too many missed chances and a general lack of output from most anyone else.

Young holdovers in the offense, Wojciech Wojcik and Duke Lacroix have each had their shining moments in preseason, but both still must prove that they can sustain a high level of play over the course of 90 minutes and thirty-something matches.

Forward Justin Braun, signed to be a winger in the 4-2-3-1 has been disappointing thus far; however expecting the recent third division striker to seamlessly transition to a wider role in a higher league may be asking too much.

Dino Williams never even made a preseason match, the attacker was felled by a lingering injury that was suffered during a previous Jamaican-league season.

Indy has begun the expensive task of addressing the situation rather than letting, it linger as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Jair Reinoso and rumors that there are additional planned signings of attacking players in the queue (likely to arrive nearer to the league’s Summer break).

Newcomer To Watch:
With 11 newcomers there are plenty of shiny new objects for Indy faithful to get excited about. Each line of defense and attack features a player or two that offer intrigue. Jon Busch and Colin Falvey will organize a defense that could be the league’s best. Gorka Larrea and Nicki Paterson possess the skill and ability to challenge BYB-favorite Brad Ringo for time in central midfield. Eamon Zayed has ambitious plans of leading yet another league in goals scored. Tieing all of this together is attacking midfielder Siniša Ubiparipovič.

NASL: Ottawa Fury FC at Indy Eleven
Ubiparipovič attempts to bypass Erick Norales in a 2015 match.

Tabbed by Hankinson as his on-field “maestro” Ubiparipovič will be relied on to generate goals through creative play. Indy Eleven teams of the past have been able to create goals through fast, direct and counter-attacking play and this team seems to have that capability as well. But, if Indy wants to start living near the top of the table they are going to have to be able to generate goals at a methodical tempo as well. Indy’s new playmaker helped lead Ottawa Fury to the 2015 championship game with a strong Fall season; can he combine with Zayed and Indy’s other attackers to deliver a similar production for the Boys In Blue?

Pressure Is On:
If Indy is going to make a serious push for the playoffs, the Irish-born Eamon Zayed will have to be near his stated objective of winning the league’s Golden Boot. Reliable goalscoring has been the primary problem for Indy and the striker was brought to Indy because of a very impressive one-goal-in-every-two-games strike rate across his career. Zayed has been able to turn his chances into goals this preseason, but will the combination of artificial surfaces, the North American climate and physically-imposing NASL defenses take a toll on the 32-year old?

Best Case Scenario:
A 2016 NASL Championship is the best case scenario for this team. Owner Ersal Ozdemir has opened his wallet wider for this season than ever before. General Manager Peter Wilt is halfway out the door to Chicago but desperately wants to leave Indy as a winner. Anything less than a playoff appearance will be considered a disappointment for a front office and fan base that are foaming at the mouth for success.

Worst Case Scenario:
The injury-bug struck the Eleven hard during the preseason as two new acquisitions were injured and then dropped from the team without ever playing a match in a checkered jersey. With an average age of nearly 31-years old, will Indy’s newest players start to show any wear and tear? A few more injuries at a few key positions could cause problems in the standings and at the box office. The Eleven are hoping to use a strong season on the pitch and with their supporters as a launchpad for another push at winning government approval for a stadium to call their own. A third disappointing season could place the team in another two-year holding pattern with the state legislature.

Predictions:
Spring Winners: New York Cosmos
Fall Winners: Minnesota United

Playoffs:
1. New York Cosmos
2. Minnesota United
3. Miami FC
4. Indy Eleven

Champions: Minnesota United

Golden Boot: Dario Cvitanich, Miami FC
Most Valuable Player: Lance Laing, Minnesota United

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