Thursday, December 11, 2014

Indy Eleven Stadium

I've been working on the background of this post for far longer than I care to admit.  Hopefully, I'm able to translate the work that I've done into a coherent post.

The Indy Eleven want a soccer-specific stadium. Carroll Stadium has been serviceable this season, and will continue to need to be serviceable for the foreseeable future, but it's not an ideal solution for a professional team in today's modern sports world.  For all the effort that the team has done to get the stadium to accommodate 10,000+ people game after game, it's not where they or the fans want it to be.  While a temporary necessity, a string of Port-o-Potties on both ends of the stadium, concessions run out of converted cargo containers, and a series of hastily constructed suites on one side of the stadium are not what viewers have come to expect from modern stadiums.  DePauw University's Reavis Stadium and Butler's Butler Bowl are two great soccer facilities (though I still object to the artificial turf in both...), but obviously on a much smaller scale than is required by the Indy Eleven.

Let me make something clear.  I think the Indy Eleven have a much better chance of succeeding where past iterations of professional soccer in Indianapolis has failed.  The conditions have finally found the right mix of demand and product.  However, talk of moving up a division to MLS is premature at this point.  10,000+ people per game in the inaugural season is one thing, but to sustain and build upon that will be telling.  I have yet to hear numbers for season ticket renewals/purchases for Season 2.  My hope is that demand remains high, but I want the team to take a weighted approach to a new stadium.  I agree with them that a stadium is necessary and a soccer-specific stadium would be ideal, but I think it should be done the way that San Antonio has gone about building Toyota Field in phases.  Start reasonable and as demand increases, increase the size of the stadium. Which I'll discuss again later.

The Indy Eleven want a soccer-specific stadium.  That's not been a secret.  Ersal Ozdemir, Peter Wilt, and the team asked people to write the state legislature about getting the ball rolling on a stadium before the team had ever had the ball rolling in an actual game that mattered.  While that effort ultimately failed for this past year, the plan is to continue that discussion for a multi-purpose stadium.  During Peter's Reddit recent AMA, he was asked about a soccer-specific stadium and this was the exchange:
[–]nickp91 8 points  
Soccer specific stadium in Indianapolis by 2020
[–]Indy ElevenIndyEleven 10 points  
Sure....sounds good to the moment i'm cautiously optimistic to have it built by 2017/18.
[–]GenWRX 3 points  
What do you see as the major factor in preventing the stadium from moving forward?
[–]Indy ElevenIndyEleven 9 points  
Educating General Assembly and public.
[–]Indy ElevenTheChosenJuan99 3 points  
Is there a design already in place for the SSS? If so, what existing stadium across the world would it be best compared to?
[–]Indy ElevenIndyEleven 5 points  
So that means Peter's expecting at least 3 full seasons in Carroll Stadium and possibly a fourth, but realizes that it could be more.  Nick isn't optimistic it would happen until 2020.  Assuming that the team hasn't already hired an architect to start preliminary ideas for a stadium (which could be a wrong assumption), that could take a year to design after the idea gets approved.  Another 1.5 - 2 years to build and I would say Peter's cautiously optimistic dates are probably best case.  Peter also references the Estadio Municipal Braga in that exchange.  I'll get to that in a bit.

There are a myriad of questions that go into a soccer-specific stadium.  Where do you put it, how big do you make it, expandable, parking, amenities, additional practice fields, etc.  From everything that I have heard, the team wants it in downtown Indianapolis.  I have a feeling that a stadium could be built in Grand Park in Westfield, but that isn't the ideal location from what has been said to date.  Ersal made a bid for the old GM Stamping Plant on the southwest corner of downtown and you can see why.
Conservatively, that's 100 acres of open space for a stadium, parking, and multi-use "extras."  Close access to I-70, Washington Street, and downtown (that's Victory Field in the upper right hand corner of the photo).  Which is probably why "The long-defunct 1930s-era General Motors Stamping plant will spring to life next year. Dave Lucas, Indianapolis' old-school rock concert promoter (Deer Creek was his baby), plans to break ground in the first half of 2015 on a $40 million concert venue he will call The Stamp. Shows could begin as early as 2016." (source, 2nd article)

The Stamp drastically affects the Indy Eleven's sale of a multi-purpose facility and it's a shame the two investors can't or won't see the symbiotic relationship that could be had between their two plans.  The Eleven had indicated that a soccer-specific stadium could be used to host more than just the Eleven's 16 - 20 games per year, but could include high school, college, and international games (wouldn't you want to see the USMNT/USWNT play here - assuming a field of grass and not turf), as well as concerts.  So the question becomes, will the public buy into the team's tax breaks to build an $85M soccer-specific stadium that will have difficulty competing with several other venues for concerts (Klipsh in Noblesville, the Paladium in Carmel, The Stamp, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, The Murat...).  Can the area support a soccer stadium that will have difficulty competing against the other venues that are better suited for music?

So what are some other options downtown?  Using Google Earth and my knowledge of the city, I scoured the area for locations that were downtown or near downtown that had substantial amount of land.  I looked at three midwestern MLS stadiums as my basis for what may be required for a future soccer-specific stadium in Indianapolis: Crew Stadium for the Columbus, Sporting Park for Sporting Kansas City, and Toyota Park for the Chicago Fire (all with grass fields).  While the expanded area around the stadiums varied, the immediate area around each one ranged from about 10 - 15 acres and the stadiums themselves are relatively consistent at about 7.5 acres.
Crew Stadium - Columbus Crew

Toyota Park - Chicago Fire

Sporting Park - Sporting Kansas City
While the stadiums are all about the same size, given Peter Wilt's past association with the Chicago Fire, I chose to use it as my basis for my analysis of sites around Indianapolis.  After my evaluation, I found 10 sites that I thought held promise and evaluated further.  Of those 10, I narrowed it down to 5 that I felt held more promise than the others.
The Top Ten:

  1. Carroll Stadium
  2. Kuntz Stadium
  3. GM Stamp Plant
  4. Military Park
  5. Sand Street
  6. Lilly Recreation Park
  7. Maryland and Alabama
  8. National Starch
  9. 16th and Fall Creek Parkway East
  10. An industrial site that I know is changing ownership, but I ruled out for reasons I don't want to discuss
I immediately ruled out #1, #3, #6, #9, and #10.  I eliminated Carroll Stadium as an option mostly because the team needs a place to play while the new one is being built, the site doesn't lend itself to fixing the current east-west orientation of the field.  Plus I'm assuming new stadium and not rehabilitated stadium.  #6 has massive issues with water, though a partnership with Lilly would be valuable moving forward.  #9 has some issues with orientation and water.  The GM Stamp Plant isn't an option because of the above issues.  Though a stadium looks good on that site:
So much available space...

  • It's a location familiar to most local soccer fans, 
  • Professional soccer in Indiana has a history there, and 
  • It's just outside of what I would consider "downtown."  
  • Technically, the stadium fits on the site, but it is snug.
  • Absolutely no available parking, nor locations to build garage or lot without taking over properties.
  • A school was just constructed on the northwest corner of the site.


  • Massive amounts of space.
  • Relatively close to downtown (southwest corner near the Lilly Facilities - Lilly Rec Park is on the bottom edge of the photo)
  • May not be available for use.
FINAL ASSESSMENT - Doubtful.  While there is one con listed, it's a fairly big one.


  • The location is currently being used for parking.  
  • The structure on the southwest side of the proposed location is the parking garage that is just to the east of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  Creates a "sports zone" in the city.
  • Heliport to the east.
  • Hotels and other entertainment within walking distance.
  • Located in downtown.
  • Heliport to the east.
  • Would require modifications to Maryland Street since the stadium is larger than the main parking site.
  • An existing smaller building is located in the slice between Maryland and New Jersey.
  • Debatable whether a stadium can even fit on the site.


  • Fits on the site nicely.
  • Maintain relationship with IUPUI for parking.
  • Close to NCAA Hall of Champions.
  • Close to Canal.
  • Located in downtown.
  • Hotels and entertainment within walking distance.
  • With the historical connotations of the Indy Eleven, name the stadium Military Park.
  • Military Park is one of the largest open spaces in the downtown area and is used extensively for events throughout the year.  Getting a structure built on the site would be a huge political undertaking.
FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential, but not without effort
(EDIT: Based on comments, I want to add here that I'm not suggesting this as a preferred location. I was simply pointing out places within Indianapolis that have enough space with which to locate a stadium and included the space for completeness. I wouldn't want a stadium there either...)


  • Currently used as a periodic parking lot.
  • Close proximity to Lucas Oil Stadium, again creating a "sports zone."
  • Part of the site is for sale.
  • Hotels and entertainment nearby
  • Across the river from the GM Stamp Plant where the team was considering
  • Availability to purchase all of the necessary site?
  • Considered the "fringe" of downtown.
  • One of Indianapolis' major combined sewers run through the edge of the site...though it runs under Lucas Oil as well so it's not a deal breaker.
FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential, but also not without effort.

What's my final assessment?  I would love to see the Indy Eleven playing at Military Park, because it "checks all the boxes" except for the difficulty with using the site by eliminating one of the major open air locations in the city.  Though I think the Sand Street site makes the most sense from a logistical perspective.  It's downtown, near Lucas Oil Stadium, with land that could be readily available.

So what would this stadium look like?  Remember, Peter Wilt joked about it being based off of Estadio Municipal de Braga in Spain?

The laughable part is that the stadium was built into a hill, which is definitely not a problem here in Indianapolis.  Let me explain why I don't think the design should be considered a joke from Peter.

Estadio Axa seats +30,000 spectators without a single seat located on the ends.  One end is the hill and the other end overlooks the town.  So figure roughly 15,000 people per side, 7,500 per level and every single person has a view of the field from endline to endline.  Take out 10,000 of those seats to reduce the size to a more appropriate level for the Eleven, throw in a bunch of requisite suites on both sides, a press box, a grass field, and you have an Indy Eleven Military Park inspired by Estadio Municipal de Braga.  If there is ever a need or desire, one or both of the ends can be enclosed and more seats added.

You know what else is interesting?  The dollar amount that the Indy Eleven put forth for the estimated cost of the stadium was $85M.  The cost of el Estadio en Braga in 2003?  $83M.  Hmm.  Remove the cost associated with building in a hill and then add back in the cost associated with 10 years of inflation and you're probably back up around $80-$85M.

So was Peter Wilt joking or not?  Will it be Municipal de Indy?  Military Park or Sand Street Stadium?  Only time will tell.

Unless Peter Wilt or Tom Dunmore want to chime in and give us some bigger hints...

UPDATE: As part of the dialogue on the Indy Eleven Reddit about this post, I'm providing three more aerial views of options.


  • All the benefits of the existing location except with a stadium, better suited to soccer.
    • CONS:

    • The team has to find another temporary location while this one is being constructed.  I don't see them wanting to use the existing stadium as the "base" and building off of it.  Demo and replace.
      • What happens to IUPUI's track?
      FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential, if you eliminate the stadium completely and find another temporary location to play.


      • All the benefits of the existing location except with a stadium, better suited to soccer.


      • The team has to find another temporary location while this one is being constructed.  I don't see them wanting to use the existing stadium as the "base" and building off of it.  Demo and replace.
      • What happens to IUPUI's track?

      FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential, if you eliminate the stadium completely and find another temporary location to play.  The issue of having goalkeepers looking into the sunset may be reduced with the stadium design.

      YORK STREET (Proposed by NSmith22 on Reddit/r/IndyEleven)
      • Relatively close to downtown.
      • Appropriately sized for a soccer-specific stadium.
      • On the "fringe" of downtown, but close.
      • Can the land be purchased or does the existing owner already have a plan in place?
      • Parking?
      FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential, but also not without effort.

      UPDATE #2
      MASS AVE (Proposed by madman1101 on Reddit/r/IndyEleven)


      • Close to downtown.
      • Located in an area that embraces soccer.
      • Located next to the North Split with I-70 and I-65.
      • Entire property appears to be owned by City of Indianapolis (at least peripherally through the schools).


      • Parking?
      • Embracing soccer and embracing the traffic through their neighborhood might be two different things (whether that is car or foot traffic).  This location is much closer to residences than any of the other alternatives and their input would need to be included and addressed.
      FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential.

      16TH AND FALL CREEK (I originally rejected it, but it was proposed by madman1101 so I'm reconsidering my stance)

      • Nice open area, currently being used as a city park, so it's already owned by the City.
      • Could incorporate park-like features in design so that park isn't completely lost.
      • Across the street from UPS, so could be a future business partner.  UPS Park?  UPS Stadium?
      • Large open field across Fall Creek on Milburn (owned by Indiana University) that might be able to be used for parking.  Provide a pedestrian bridge over the creek for access and incorporate into the surroundings.
      • The City would like this area to be better utilized.
      • Not far from  Kuntz Stadium, which I already mentioned as having some historical significance.
      • Floodplain.  While they can be overcome, as an engineer, I hate the idea of building in a floodplain.  It wouldn't be the first time that the City has taken a natural receiving stream and put it underground in tunnels (Pogue's Run), but that would definitely require additional engineering and governmental approvals beyond just the City and State.
      FINAL ASSESSMENT - Potential.

      Tuesday, December 9, 2014

      The Soccer Life - Chris Estridge

      Chris is the first professional soccer player to do this survey for me (the only one that is famous enough to have a Wikipedia page) and the guy is a class act.  Despite me taking advantage of having direct messages with him after winning his jersey in his #ChrisIndyContest on Twitter in October, and then subsequently after having his email address after requesting he do this questionnaire, he's been nothing but nice to me.  He's answered questions even after the announcement about the Indy Eleven not picking up his option for next season.  He was already my favorite player before, but this past month has solidified it.  Thanks again Chris for taking the time to do this for me!

      1. Name:
      - Chris Estridge

      2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
      - Player, Coach
      (Editor's note: Chris indicates he did some refereeing a little bit later, and I know he's a spectator...  We'll chalk it up to a few too many defensive headers...)

      3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
      - None

      4. Age started playing:
      - 4

      5. First recollection of the game:
      - My first recollection of playing would be while I was playing in the “pups” league in Brownsburg when I was around 5 or 6.  I just remember running around and chasing the ball in large mobs with all the other players!

      6. Highest level of play achieved:
      - Professional Level: Major League Soccer (MLS), North American Soccer League (NASL), United Soccer League (USL).

      7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play:
      - Professional level: my last match this season was at Minnesota United on August 16th before I got injured.

      8. Position:
      - Defender, typically outside defender but occasionally a center back.

      9. Jersey number:
      - 6

      10. Most memorable moment(s):
      - My most memorable moments would be the day I was drafted into Major League Soccer and playing in the Inaugural home match for the Indy Eleven.  Playing in the inaugural match for a professional team in my hometown was an incredible day.

      11. Least memorable moment(s):
      - Certainly my least favorite moment would be when I played for Indiana University and we played North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.  We lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina in overtime.
      (Editor's note: IU recap of game)

      12. Favorite team:
      - I am a massive Arsenal FC fan.

      13. Favorite player:
      - It's hard to decide who my favorite player would be because there are so many great players out there who are great at different things.  Watching Lionel Messi play can be truly mesmerizing but Cristiano Ronaldo has a flare that is enjoyable to watch.  I HAD been a big Cesc Fabregas fan until he did the unspeakable and signed for Chelsea.

      14. Indoor vs Outdoor:
      - Outdoor without a doubt, but indoor can be extremely fun when playing with all your buddies.

      15. Grass vs Turf:
      - 100% grass any day, there is nothing better for the game of soccer than playing on a nice field of Bermuda grass.

      16. Coaching experience:
      - I have very little coaching experience but I have done quite a good amount of training youth players in developing their technical abilities.  I did coach at the local club Dynamo FC two years ago for one season while in my offseason.

      17. Refereeing experience:
      - When I was about 15 my Father, my brother and I all got our refereeing licenses.  I refereed for a few years but eventually refused to be the center official in any more games after one game when I was center official in a u-10 game and the parents were rather rude to me during the game!

      18. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
      - I would have to say my favorite World Cup moment would be during the US men’s game against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. I won’t ever forget the moment Landon scored his goal in the dying minutes of the game, we all celebrated that goal for a long time.

      19. Honors/Awards:
      - 2011 NSCAA All-American First team,

      - Drafted 21st overall to Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012 MLS Superdraft,

      - 2012 Rochester Rhinos Rookie of the Year,

      - IHSAA All State First Team 2007,

      - IndyStar Player of the Year 2007.

      20. Other sports played (and to what level):
      - I played football and basketball during my 5th and 6th grade years.  I was actually a pretty good football player during these years because everyone was roughly the same height and weight at that age.  I was an absolutely horrendous basketball player but loved to play it with all my friends.  Eventually, I dropped both of those sports when I needed to start concentrating on just one sport.

      21. Other Comments:

      Thursday, November 13, 2014

      The Soccer Life - Kevin

      1. Name:
      Kevin Thompson

      2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
      - player, referee (youth league, very limited), spectator

      3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
      Two nicknames.
      - Catfish: This is the nickname that dad (my coach for many years) gave me because a catfish is all mouth and no brains. I would get a lot of yellow cards for talking back to officials. The name just caught on and my teammates would call me Catfish too.

      - Twig: this was my high school nickname. Drew’s nickname was Stump (which makes no sense really) so they called me Twig because we’re related and thin like twigs. We should have been called Twig and Twig Jr.

      4. Age started playing:
      - 4

      5. First recollection of the game:
      - scoring a lot of goals and looking in the paper where they would show how many each kid had. I liked having a lot and usually had more than any of the other kids

      6. Highest level of play achieved:
      - high school, intramurals in college

      7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play:
      - fall of 1995, loss in sectionals (high school)

      8. Position:
      - primarily midfield and forward. Played some goalie whenever we had big leads…I usually gave up a goal to the other team. I played sweeper too as a youth, but preferred midfield because I could play both offense and defense. I wanted as many chances as possible to touch the ball and help control the game.

      9. Jersey number:
      - 17, 21, 10, 7, 14

      10. Most memorable moment(s):
      - winning a tournament when I was around 14 that we had no business winning. I believe the game went into overtime.
      - Also I recall an undefeated season on a youth league.
      - Indoor games at Indy Indoor are also very memorable.
      - Bus trips in high school were fun.

      11. Least memorable moment(s):
      - missing several games of my senior year due to being on crutches after a surgery to remove a gland in my leg.
      - Getting kicked in the face by Coach Scanlon in a “don’t flinch” free kick contest. It hurt even worse because I was wearing braces on my teeth. I’ll never forgive that jerk. 
      - Getting a very bloody nose (broken?) from Coach McNabb during a scrimmage. He was 40+ years old but was ripped and in as good a shape as any of us. It bleed instantly and lightly blackened both my eyes. Nose was sore for weeks.

      12. Favorite team:
      - Indy XI,
      - Everton (because they’re known as “Everton Blues”, which I like),
      - Argentina (because I like Lionel Messi),
      - USA of course

      13. Favorite player:
      - Pele,
      - Valderrama (the hair!!),
      - Alexi Lalas,
      - Tony Meola

      - Lionel Messi

      14. Indoor vs Outdoor:
      - I loved the speed of indoor. Outdoor was fun too because I enjoyed being outside and the length of the game. Being able to run long distances is better than indoor too.

      15. Grass vs Turf:
      - definitely grass. Getting grass raspberries was much better than turf. Turf hurts in every way. We played on some crappy grass fields full on rocks and ruts but still better than turf.

      16. Coaching experience:
      - very little. Worked with some kids during high school at summer camps

      17. Refereeing experience:
      - youth league. I was around 13-14 years old. Also worked as a sideline official.

      18. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
      - mostly revolve around the women’s team since they’ve had more success. Watching the men’s team improve and consistently make the World Cup has been cool too. Seeing the USA host in 1994 (still the highest attendance in history of WC).

      19. Honors/Awards:
      - letter winner in high school.
      - Academic all state in high school.
      - Some team MVP awards on youth teams (can’t remember specifics)

      20. Other sports played (and to what level):
      - basketball (rec leagues)

      21. Other Comments:

      Thursday, November 6, 2014

      Indy Eleven vs Rowdies - 01.27

      - Opponent: Tampa Bay Rowdies
      - Location: Tampa Bay, Florida
      - Attendance: 6,377
      - Final Score: 2-2 T
      - Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales (Captain), Miller, Franco, Smart, Smith, Mares, Pineda, Ambersley, Rugg
      - Substitutions: Jhulliam 70' (Smith), Okiomah 77' (Norales), Moore 90' (Mares)
      - Goals: Smart 47' (unassisted), Jhulliam 88' (assist Pineda)
      - Bookings: Miller 12' (Yellow)

      All good things come to an end and the inaugural season for the Indy Eleven finished the way it started about seven months ago, with a solid effort, a brief lead, and a tie.   In a season filled with as many ups and downs as this season has seemed to hold, maybe it's fitting that the end brought it back around to the beginning.  While the result of the game was the same, the team, both on field and off, have made tremendous strides.  For a team that finished the Spring Season in last place at 0-5-4 and last on the table, they finished the Fall Season in 7th place, and very nearly finished in 5th place if not for the late goal scored by the Rowdies.  The draw against the Rowdies also kept the Eleven in 9th place in the Combined standings instead of 7th place overall.  It just goes to show how the little things and the late collapses along the way can affect the overall standings.  If the team could have turned a few of those late draws into wins or those late losses into draws, and this goes from a rough Spring Season but improved Fall Season to a successful inaugural season.  Hopefully that's the lesson that Coach Sommer is able to get across to the young guys on this team.

      Fall Season Table

      Combined Season Table

      The off-field product also was vastly improved between game 1 and game 27 was so different that it's important to remember how difficult that first game went from a concession, parking, logistics standpoint.  There was only the one point during the last home game with the concession issue that I ever noticed anything wrong with the way those same things were done.  Parking was fine, concession stands operated more smoothly, and the halftime entertainment was always enjoyable.

      I'm off topic since I'm supposed to be recapping the game versus the Rowdies, but I think it's important to keep in mind the entire season when looking at this game.  The Tampa Bay game is the fourth game in a row where the back five have consisted of the same players and if you consider how early in the New York game Hyland was forced to leave due to his injury, they were all together for five games.  Their record in that stretch?  3-0-2.  The Eleven front office continued to search for players to help the team succeed as the injuries continued to mount even as it became apparent that the team was going to have a very difficult time making The Championship.  The players never stopped fighting and their successes at the end of the season are a testament to their desire to finish strong.  I saw some lapses (Frias got caught ball watching again on Tampa Bay's first goal and Miller didn't get good position on the free kick at the end of the game), but the team continues to fight.  I hope that trend continues next season.

      I saw today that FC Edmonton released 6 players and I have to wonder which players from the Eleven's current roster will be around at the start of next season.  Spencer, Frias, Smith, Pineda, Pena, Franco, and Rugg are all on loan.  That's a lot of guys who have become regular contributors at the end of the season.  I count 8 players who were injured at the end of the season, but I would think they should all be healthy come training camp next year.  Do they players add depth on the bench that has been missing this year or do some of them or the ones on loan find new homes?  I saw some good things out of them so I hope they all form the core to a very strong and confident team.

      Congratulations Don Smart for being voted for the Goal of the Week!

      Congratulations Jaime Frias for being named to this week's Team of the Week!


      Monday, October 27, 2014

      Indy Eleven vs Fury - 01.26

      - Opponent: Ottawa Fury
      - Location: Ottawa, Canada
      - Attendance: 4,172
      - Final Score: 2-1 W
      - Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales (Captain), Miller, Franco, Smith, Pena, Mares, Pineda, Jhulliam, Rugg
      - Substitutions: Ambersley 53' (Jhulliam), Smart 62' (Smith), Moore 90' (Mares)
      - Goals: Jhulliam 29' (unassisted), Pineda 89' (assist Smart)
      - Bookings: Pineda 90' (Yellow), Pena 90' (Red)

      Confidence breeds confidence.  That was my takeaway from last week's game against San Antonio and that continues to be my takeaway after this week's game against Ottawa.  The official stats for the game show a 52/48 possession advantage for the Eleven, but nearly every tweet I saw related to the game yesterday seemed like that stat should have been much higher.  There were a number of times this season where the team seemed like things were coming together only to see it slip away, usually with a defensive lapse or giving up the dreaded adage goals (which they did again for the first time in awhile).  Yet, there is something different about this team recently and their confidence level seems to be much higher and they are playing that way.  They feel like they can compete and win with every single team now and they are getting the results of their effort and confidence.

      At various points this season, the idea of a shutout streak longer than a game seemed out of reach and maybe an impossibility.  Yet prior to the late adage goal scored by Ottawa, Nicht went 397 minutes without conceding a goal.  A month's worth of games, starting with the loss against Carolina on September 27th, and the team didn't allow a single goal.  Three of the five games during that period were against the top teams in the league in Minnesota, San Antonio, and New York.  That's a run of defensive and goalkeeping not seen in the modern era of the NASL.  Three hundred ninety-seven is the official number by the team and the league, but I wanted to see the full magnitude of the shut out streak so I went back and found how much stoppage time was included at the end of each half of those games (remember that 7 minutes of stoppage time delaying the pitch invasion against Minnesota?) .  There was an additional 29 minutes of stoppage time where the team kept the ball out of the net.  For a team that has struggled through much of the season to keep a clean sheet, the run is all the more impressive when you know that they did it for an additional third of a game beyond what they were given credit.  Congrats boys!

      Last week saw Rugg score a goal thanks to the effort from Ambersley to stick with the ball and found a wide open Rugg.  This week, Jhulliam's goal was pure hustle and effort and reminded me of many of the lazy defensive passes that plagued the Eleven early in the season.  He made the run back to intercept the pass from Richter to Peiser, made a perfect one touch to get himself around the keeper, and put the ball smoothly into the goal from a tough angle.  Hustle and heart.  Even though they were eliminated from The Championship a few weeks ago, this team has had those traits this season and the last two games have shown that they're going to fight until the end.

      Don't look now, but if the Eleven can continue this win streak to four by beating Tampa Bay and get some help from Minnesota and San Antonio, they will finish the Fall Season alone in 5th place.  Not exactly last to first, but that's a significant step in the right direction between Spring and Fall.  A win would also mean that the team would finish the Fall Season at 7-7-4 after going 0-5-4 in the Spring.  A lot of credit goes to this team for continuing to improve and the front office for continuing to work to find players who could help provide additional help as injuries continued to happen.

      The team will be without Pena who picked up a "where was your head" red card in the closing minutes of the game.  I love that he was defending his teammate, but he went too far in doing so and deservedly received the red card.  That's going to leave a big gap in the midfield against Tampa Bay, especially if Kleberson is still unable to play.  If Kleberson is not able to contribute, I count 16 healthy players available for Coach Sommer and two of those are keepers.  So 14 available field players and Coach has used 14 for nearly every game.  We might see some additional playing time by Corrado and Moore in this one.

      I still have a good feeling about Saturday's game.

      I suppose a 4-game unbeaten streak will do that to a fan base.

      UPDATE: Congratulations Jhulliam and Miller for being named to this week's Team of the Week.  Well deserved!


      Tuesday, October 21, 2014

      Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 01.25

      - Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
      - Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
      - Attendance: 10,982
      - Final Score: 1-0 W
      - Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales (Captain), Miller, Franco, Smart, Pena, Mares, Pineda, Ambersley, Rugg
      - Substitutions: Jhulliam 69' (Smart), Moore 85' (Mares), Smith 90' (Ambersley)
      - Goals: Rugg 56' (assist Ambersley)
      - Bookings: Moore 90' (Yellow)

      Confidence is a fickle thing. For individuals, confidence can come and go at a whim.  For an entire team of players, you never know when it’s going to be there, how long it will stay, or what will bring it crashing to the ground.  In soccer, sometimes that confidence stems from the offense.  When the team knows that defensive lapses can often be overcome by the offensive prowess of the team, the team plays with an emotion where they feel they can’t lose.  That they are always in games, even if they give up a goal and are playing from behind.  While they have a spectacular defense and goalie behind them, I think of the United States Women’s National Team in this way.  They have trust in their midfields and forwards to continue to give them chances to win a game as long as there is time on the referee’s watch.

      Sometimes, and I think the Indy Eleven are falling into this category lately, the confidence comes from the defense.  They aren’t really scoring any more goals lately than they were in previous games, but they seem to have found four healthy guys who have meshed well together on the backline and a goalkeeper behind them that is simply playing out of his mind right now.  Due to a number of factors, the team has been forced to shuffle around the defensive four for a great deal of the season.  Stone, Estridge, Ring, Okiomah, Norales, etc… They all played well when healthy, but it never seemed like they were all healthy or together for extended stretches.  Recently though, the team has a string of 4 games where the back line has consisted of Franco-Norales-Miller-Frias.  The foursome seem to have found a rhythm that is working and are correctly covering for each other when mistakes are made.  Add in Nicht’s spectacular goalkeeping and some timely defense by the woodwork, and the team seems to have figured out that if they can keep themselves in games defensively, they are going to get some good chances on the offensive side in which the midfield and forwards are more than capable of capitalizing.

      Confidence gets you a first home win against a formidable opponent.  Confidence gets you a second home win against a second formidable opponent. Confidence gets you a two-game win streak.  Confidence gets you a three-game unbeaten streak.  Confidence gets you a 307-minute shutout streak. 

      Confidence breeds confidence.

      Like last week’s game against Minnesota, Saturday’s game against San Antonio had a similar “chippy” feel to it, especially in the second half even though there were much fewer cards.  Like I said last week, that happens when a team comes in thinking they are going to get an easy win against a cellar dweller and find themselves losing.  It also helps that the cellar dweller is a team that never gives up and continues to fight until the end.  There aren’t a lot of times that I feel like Cory Miller or Erick Norales are going to get muscled off a ball, but when San Antonio brought in HagridHassli, I had serious concerns.  He looked like he towered over Miller, who is not a small guy.  It turned out I had unfounded concerns, but not without some serious effort by Norales and Miller.  I was never a big guy so I learned from an early age that a well-timed and hidden jersey pull could give me the slightest of edge to balance things.  Miller had a moment on Saturday that even made me think it was a bit much.  Either the ref (and assistant ref) didn’t see what I saw, or they too thought that Miller needed a little help against Hagrid, I mean Hassli.

      Some thoughts on the game:
      • While it was great to see Ambersley back in the lineup, I thought his touch was a little heavy for most of the game.  His hustle never diminished, but his first touch seemed to fail him on more than one occasion.  His hustle is what created Rugg's goal, which is one of the NASL Plays of the Week.
      • Nicht’s goal against average does not do justice for what he has meant to this team this season, but particularly in the most recent run of games.
      • Pena still strikes a ball from further out than I would like (minus his well struck ball in the 38th minute), but I have no problems with his connectivity between the defense and the forwards.
      • I said it last week that Frias has not been my favorite player this season, but he continued to play well again on Saturday.  I still think that the Norales-Miller central backs has helped his play, but he is definitely more improved lately.
      • Smart does good things and makes great runs.  He deserves to be one of the two players to have played in every game, and maybe even deserved some additional time in those games.
      • The Indy Eleven once again on the losing side of a fairly drastic 60/40 possession battle, but it didn't feel that way during the run of play.

      The Indy Eleven’s home schedule is finished with only away games against Ottawa and Tampa Bay remaining.  Games that could be winnable, especially given the Eleven’s current form and confidence.  So with the last of the home games in the books, I thought I would take a minute this week and look back at how the off-the-field team did between game #1 and game #15.  After the first game, when everything seemed to go poorly, from concessions, to traffic, to parking, the team did a very smart thing and stated that they did not get things accomplished as well as they should have and sought input from the fans on what they could do better.  Since I spent a very large amount of time standing in a concession line and missed the first goal ever scored by the team (yeah, I’m still a little bitter), I gave my input into the first night’s issues. From the second game forward, I have not had an issue with any aspect of the off-field effort by the Indy Eleven.  Even during the long-delayed rain game against Ottawa, the team did an excellent job of safety and keeping people informed of the changes through their social media outlets.  At Saturday’s game, the team decided to have a “fan appreciation” combo meal made available at the concession stand.  I was at the game earlier than normal and decided to partake and had an issue with the concession staff, who it turns out had some miscommunication between their staff.  However, I went to the Guest Services booth for a clarification, was quickly helped by Mike Henn, who then recruited help from Tom Dunmore, who got it resolved with the concession’s manager.  In fact, by the time I was able to get my combos, the issue was getting resolved internally with the concession staff.  I appreciated the fact that Tom asked the concession stand to comp my combos while I waited for them to figure out the miscommunication, but more than the free food, my belief was confirmed that the Indy Eleven staff will do whatever they can, as quickly as they can, to resolve any issue to be able to make the gameday experience as enjoyable as possible for the fans.

      While the team did not enjoy the on-field home success we, and they, wanted this season, I think it was a successful step towards things in the future.  We started seeing positive results on the field and the off-field activities were enjoyable throughout the year.  I’m ready for next season and this one isn't even officially finished.

      Update: Norales and Pena made this week's Team of the Week and Rugg's goal was Goal of the Week!  Congrats fellas!

      Friday, October 17, 2014

      USWNT World Cup Qualifier vs Trinidad and Tobago

      Anybody see the lineup for the U.S. Women's World Cup Qualifier versus Trinidad and Tobago from Wednesday night?

      They called this a 4-3-3, but with Wambach shown in that midfield, that looks a lot like a 4-2-4 to me.  Granted, it's not exactly how I thought Coach Ellis should do it, especially with Rapinoe in the forward line, but Wambach is a forward.  That is a 4-2-4, disguised as a 4-3-3.

      Thursday, October 16, 2014

      Indy Eleven vs United - 01.24

      - Opponent: Minnesota United
      - Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
      - Attendance: 10,285
      - Final Score: 2-0 W
      - Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales (Captain), Miller, Franco, Smart, Johnson, Pena, Mares, Pineda, Rugg
      - Substitutions: Jhulliam 46' (Johnson), Kleberson 75' (Mares), Moore 90' (Pineda)
      - Goals: Pineda 8' (assist Rugg), Jhulliam 46' (Smart)
      - Bookings: Rugg 35' (Yellow), Frias 54' (Yellow), Pena 63' (Yellow)

      There’s so much to talk about with this game.  I had written down 11 topics to discuss (ok, it was actually 13, but I liked to see the 11 written there) before I had even sat down to rewatch the match.

      Where to start though?

      Oh yeah!  The Eleven finally won a league home game!  It took a lot more tries than anybody thought it would take and it came against one of the most improbable opponents in the league leading Minnesota United, but the team finally had the pieces come together to get them that first home “W.” Nearly the rest of the discussion pales in comparison to the King Kong sized monkey that was extracted from the backs of the players on Saturday, but let’s dive into the details a little.

      For the first time all season, Mike Ambersley didn’t make an appearance in a game.  Presumably, his late exit from the Cosmos game was determined to be a concussion and either he was not cleared to play by the medical staff or Coach Sommer decided that given the late stage of the season with the team eliminated from the Championship contention, he would try yet another lineup and let Ambersley have another week to rest since he wasn’t even listed as an available substitute.  That just leaves Nicht and Smart who have played in every single Indy Eleven game.

      The former continued his run of playing every single minute despite an injury that got Jon Dawson off the bench and warming up only to find himself sitting on the bench again as Nicht continued. Whether the injury bothered him much is hard to say because he played like a man possessed, stopping all eight of Minnesota’s shots.  We did notice that there seemed to be fewer drop kicks from Kristian after the injury though and more outlet passes or long throws to get the ball started.  The rare instances where he kicked after the injury brought a noticeable limp for a few steps.  I haven’t heard if that will affect him moving forward.

      Don’t look now, but Kristian is working on a 2+ game shutout streak.  Since he gave up the goal against Carolina in the 53rd minute, the fiery keeper hasn’t let a ball get past him; I think it’s officially 217 minutes, but there was about ten minutes of stoppage time added just to the Minnesota game so the number if unofficially higher.  He was finally rewarded for his recent stellar play by being named to the NASL Team of the Week.  Way to go Kristian!

      Smart not only continued his streak of playing, but also added a start to his stats and played the full ninety minutes.  His assist in the opening minute of the second half was a perfectly placed ball into the front of the Minnesota goal.  Smart does good things when he is in.  I’m never going to figure out why he doesn’t get more minutes.

      16 seconds.  16 seconds is what it took for the Indy Eleven to double their lead coming out of halftime.  We’ve become accustomed to being on the wrong side of these adage goals, so it was nice to see the team be able to have a bit of a cushion as they played the rest of the game.  I'm not sure of the halftime possession stat, but the final stats indicated a nearly 60/40 split in favor of the Loons.  That second goal allowed the Eleven to sit into a more defensive stance as a team without the absolute necessity of trying to get another goal.

      What happens when you have the league leading team losing to one of the last place teams desperately trying to get their first home win?  Things get physical.  There were 5 yellow cards shown (3 for Indy, 2 for Minnesota), but there was a least one instance where a red card could/should have been issued (see the take down of Johnson late in the first half).  A casualty of one of those yellow cards is that Frias was issued his fifth card of the season, meaning that he will be unavailable to play against San Antonio this weekend.  I’ve been hard on Frias all season, but the guy played one of his best games all season.  I think having Norales and Miller playing center back and letting Frias play his more natural left back really helped him this week.

      Sidenote: What kind of find has Miller been this season? I love the Norales and Miller combination in the center back spots.

      He didn’t get a lot of minutes, basically just during stoppage time in the second half, but there was an actual Corby Moore sighting.  The guy I wondered if we would ever see again managed to find his way onto the field just in time to be caught up in the pitch invasion as time expired. He took his time leaving the pitch too, just like a lot of the fans who milled around for a while after the invasion wound down.

      Insert required pitch invasion videos…

      This one requires you to follow the link, but this is from one of the Indy Eleven front office staff who realize that this win was for everybody, players, fans, office staff, everyone associated with the Indy Eleven.

      Oh, and if you are wondering, these are your Indy Eleven fans.  The game was a sellout as indicated by the 10,285 attendance figure, but there were some noticeable empty seats throughout the stadium and we saw a lot of people headed out of the stadium in the closing minutes of the game when it became apparent that the team was going to win.  Those are not the people that appreciated the magnitude of the win.  But I digress...

      Even the Minnesota fans that made the trip were good sports about the pitch invasion and uploaded some videos for your viewing pleasure. Pay attention to Kristian in the lower right hand corner right after the whistle blows.

      I was glad to see that the security personnel took a measured approach to letting the fans rush the field and didn’t try to contain it, only keep it civilized.  I’ve seen at least one remark indicating that it was unnecessary and that the Eleven are still in last place.  I’ve often said that the trend of rushing the court or field has become a little too prevalent, not done at truly appropriate times, and can be attributed to overzealous college kids.  However, this is one of those times where the invasion was necessary and deserved, for both team and fans alike.  This pitch invasion was a release of all the heartbreaks that have plagued this team this year.  Worst team (record wise) beats the best team and does it as the season’s clock winds down on their chances to get the first win?  That’s basically my definition of a valid pitch invasion.  Now I don’t want to see one for a very long time.  Unless, of course, it is because the team goes from worst to first next season and wins The Championship next year.  Then, maybe.

      I’m still disappointed in The Stars’ Sunday edition “coverage” of the game.  I get they have deadlines to be able to get it to press, but there’s still a lot more that could have been said of this game than what they did.  Disappointing.

      Big picture. Not a lot of written details.

      The chances of getting home win #2 isn’t going to be easy with the 2nd ranked team in the league, San Antonio, coming to Carroll Stadium.  Pineda joined Nicht in the NASL Team of the Week for his efforts against Minnesota, but even as the Eleven put two players on the team, San Antonio put three players on the Best XI.  They’re not near the top of the standings by chance.  This is a good team, yet one we all know needed a 93rd minute goal the last time they were here to escape with a win.  So anything is possible.

      Though that game seems like a long time ago at this point, with a completely different team.  The Eleven have added 7 new players since that home game in late May, all 7 of which were on the field this past Saturday against Minnesota.  Only Nicht, Norales, Smart, and Moore played in the May game and played this past Saturday.  I have to wonder what the roster will truly look like next year since so many of the “new” guys are on loan from somewhere else.  But I digress again…

      To get that second win, the team’s going to need to do what it did against Minnesota.  Don’t have a major defensive lapses, have Nicht play out of his mind again, and attack at key points.  Though that sounds like a recipe for how you go about getting most wins.

      What a week!

      Team of the Week - Pineda and Nicht included.