Thursday, May 28, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Louisville FC - 2015 U.S. Open Cup

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 7,134 (paid attendance...)
- Final Score: 2-0 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Janicki, Norales, Hyland, Keller, Smart, Pineda, Melgares, Brown, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Rugg 58' (Smart), Mares 64' (Pineda), Lacroix 95' (Keller)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Miller, Dawson
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Janicki (Yellow 57'), Wojcik (Yellow 83')
- Adage goals: Two (115', 119')

Technically, I'm a credentialed member of the media this season, but I have yet to use it in any kind of official capacity.  I still feel like I'm just a fan writing a blog because I enjoy it.  I try to be hard on the team when they deserve it and give credit when they deserve that too.  I'm trying to be a good professional writer, even if I'm not getting paid to do it.

Which is why I'm glad that my wife convinced me to not write my opinions of the Louisville game immediately afterwards. I don't think it would have been pretty.

I did something that I don't think I have ever done in my entire life.  I left a game before it was finished. I'm a Purdue alum so I've sat through some stinker Bucket games and absolute beatings by the Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dames of the world so it's saying a lot that I left after regulation.  I could say that it was because my 9, 7, and 2 year old kids were out WAY past their bedtime on a school night due to the rain delay, but that would not be the truth.  The truth is much more painful as Eleven fan.  The truth was that I couldn't watch another minute of what I saw as the inevitable outcome for a team that I pour a lot of my time into supporting.  The truth is that I knew the game would end like it did.  With an Indy Eleven loss.

The stats tell me that it was a close game, indicative of a game that goes the full 90 + 30 minutes of extra time.  My "eyeball" test tells me that the better team won last night.  Louisville was quicker to balls, maintained possession better, and were rewarded with, not one, but two adage time goals in the second extra time period.  After the first half, I thought that the Eleven had the better of the chances, but that Louisville had the better play, which would better serve them during the rest of the game.  I was right.

A lot of rumblings about firing Coach Sommer have been surfacing and were magnified after last night's loss.  I'm not on that bandwagon yet.  I don't know what goes on in the day-to-day practices, but I can see that there are attempts to correct some of the issues.  People like to get hung up on Sommer's 4-4-2 lineup, but I don't think that's always how the team is operating.  There have been tactical changes between games to exploit real or perceived weaknesses of opponents.  I think there have been as many different starting lineups as there have been games this season.  The only area not changed much in all that time?  The back four. To me, it looks like they're having a hard time figuring out which pieces are working best with each other in the offensive portion of the field. People want to see him fiery and angry during post-game interviews after losses.  I don't think that is his personality and you're never going to see that out of him.  Coach Sommer also isn't the one on the field who isn't shooting the ball.

I don't know how this team wins another game the rest of the season.  "You can't score if you don't shoot." "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." "You have to score more than the other team to win." Whatever phrase you prefer, this team's offense is stagnant.  Heavy first touches continue.  Poor touches and decisions continue. Waiting for the shot continues.  Long balls continue...

Whenever a team loses to a supposedly "lower division" team, the frustration is magnified.  However, the NASL got hammered last night by USL teams.  In 7 games between the two leagues, the USL team were the victors 7 times.  0-7 for the NASL by a combined score of 11-3.  Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and Carolina are all in the top half of this league and all lost. Jacksonville was blanked 3-0.  I'm not sure if that's just a bad night for all the teams or if its an indication of the strength of the two leagues, but it's not like the Indy Eleven loss was an outlier.  It was the norm last night.

I don't know if I'll ever leave a game early again, but I'm not proud of myself for leaving last night. Maybe the team will feel the same way and want to take it out on Tampa Bay on Saturday.  Maybe.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Fury - 02.07

- Opponent: Ottawa Fury
- Location: Ottawa
- Attendance: 5,245
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Janicki, Norales, Hyland, Pena, Ring (c), Mares, Rugg, Pineda, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Brown 34' (Pena injury), Smart 84' (Mares), Keller 90' (Ring)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Miller, Melgares
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Mares (Yellow 45')
- Adage goals: One

This is the kind of game that happens when you put two teams on the field who are struggling for consistency.  As the Ottawa commentator stated, "I can see why these are two teams struggling to score points because they're struggling to score goals."  Ottawa and the Eleven are the two lowest scoring teams in the league and this game reflected that fact from start to finish.  There were moments from each team where they linked passes together and moved the ball well only to be let down by the final decision or pass.  I would say by their final shot, but given that there were only 10 shots on or off target, combined for both teams, that was clearly its own separate problem.

In the first 15 minutes, the Ottawa commentator stated that it wasn't "quite a snail's pace," but that there wasn't "a lot of speed to the game" and there were "a lot of long balls at the moment."  There were moments in the first half where I felt more like I was watching a tennis match than a soccer game.  Possession felt very minimal as it was booted or headed back and forth between the two teams.  The few instances that I remember the Eleven stringing passes together, nothing ever seemed to be produced from them because they didn't actually shoot on goal.  Hyland had two early crosses into the box that were middle of the six yard line and absolutely nobody was there attacking it.  Good crosses wasted.

There were two specific moments in the first half that concerned from a defensive standpoint.  In the 25th minute, Franco pinched over to help in the center of the field, but when he did so, he left his man completely unmarked and wide open with a clear shot on goal if the Ottawa player with the ball had managed to get the pass away before Franco toe-poked it away (and nearly being called for a foul).  However, I didn't think that he needed to provide help for Janicki at that moment.  It had all the tell tale signs of being one of the frequent defensive mistakes.

The other, and maybe even more concerning, was around the 37th minute.  Franco made a run forward, Rugg tracked back, and ended up with the ball. You can see Janicki telling him to make the pass back to Nicht.  Rugg looks at him and then tries to make a pass up field instead of backwards. The ball went out for an Eleven throw and then Rugg can be seen telling Janicki that he couldn't pass back.  Or wouldn't?  Either way, there were some communication issues.

The start of the second half was much livelier for both teams, but first touches and final decisions continued to be the nemesis to both teams.  So searching balls and wishful thinking seemed to creep back into both teams' game plan. An adage goal given up by the Eleven in the 88th minute and a game between two struggling teams came mercifully to an end.  "Sloppy and floppy" was the perfect assessment from the commentator, though I disagree with their statement of a "solidified defense" for Indy compared to last season.  The Eleven are tied for fourth worse on goals against and tied for second worse for goal differential.  Those aren't exactly "solidified" numbers.

Which got me thinking.  Through 7 games, the Eleven have scored only 6 goals and have found themselves plummeting down the standings.  It's hard to imagine that four games ago, the Indy Eleven were up 1-0 on Carolina with time winding down and 2nd place in the standings nearly in sight.  They then gave up an 85th minute adage goal and have only scored once in the next three games while giving up five (not counting the Carolina goal) and find themselves in last place.  Who scores the Eleven goals?

  • Pena - 2
  • Smart - 1 (via PK) while averaging just 25 min/game
  • Norales - 1
  • Brown - 1
  • Own Goal - 1

So who scored goals last season?

  • 35 goals in 27 games last season
  • Ambersley 6 (2 via PK) - RELEASED
  • Smart 3 (in 38 min per game)
  • Pineda 3
  • Jhulliam 3 - RELEASED
  • Smith 2 - RELEASED
  • Spencer 2 - RELEASED
  • Johnson 2 - RELEASED
  • Norales 2
  • Rugg 1
  • Frias 1
  • Ring 1
  • Own Goal 1
Of Indy's top 8 scorers from last season, only Smart and Pineda are still around.  That's not a good sign.  Indy took a 9 game unbeaten streak into Jacksonville and turned it into a 3 game defeated streak scoring only once during that time on a Pena set piece header.  You have to score goals and Indy continues to struggle converting the few chances they are giving themselves.  Pineda had a shot on goal in the 48th minute that went inches wide and may have completely changed the tenor of the game had it found its way into the side netting.  Yet, the only thing I kept thinking was that if he had just blasted his first or second touch from the six yard line towards the goal, a rebound might have been touched in by a teammate.  His version was pretty, but it didn't ultimately lead to anything more than a Pena shot from 45 yards that misses by a dozen feet.  When you're struggling to score, sometimes you have to score ugly goals.  If that means blasting every touch inside the 18 towards goal to set off a scramble, then so be it.  Ugly goals win games too.

That's what I would be telling the team right now.  Brown, Rugg, Woj, Mares, Ring, Pineda... Shoot, shoot, and then shoot some more. Don't wait for the clean shot or perfect angle. Put it on frame and everybody else attack the rebound(s).  With the exception of the Minnesota game, the defense has yet to keep a clean sheet, but have only given up one goal.  That means two goals will win you a lot of games and you're not going to do that averaging just over 2 shots on target over the last three games.

I think there will be some lineup changes for the U.S. Open Cup game on Wednesday versus Louisville FC so we'll see if that chemistry is any better and what that might mean moving forward.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Indy Eleven vs United - 02.06

- Opponent: Minnesota United
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,524
- Final Score: 3-1 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Norales, Miller, Hyland, Pena, Ring (c), Mares, Rugg, Brown, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Smart 67' (Brown), Pineda 76' (Ring)
- Unused: Nicht, Frias, Janicki, Keller, Melgares
- Goals: Pena 49'
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

This time of year means that I become more engaged with the NHL playoffs, but particularly when the Chicago Blackhawks continue playing.  When they stop playing, my interest wanes a bit since there's only so much that my wife can stand and I value my marriage more than the hockey playoffs.  Since she's from the Chicagoland, she's okay as long as they're still playing. I find that there are often a lot of soccer fans who are also hockey fans.  I don't know if it works both ways, but I think soccer fans can appreciate the similarities between the two sports and its, seemingly, second tier status in American sports like soccer.  That seems to be changing for both sports, but they are both always fighting that stereotype.

That's a lot of hockey talk for a post about the Indy Eleven, but I've noticed that while I'm watching one of them, I'm thinking of details from the other.  For example, the other night against the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks were having a stellar first period and completely controlling the speed and action and then gave up a goal on a counter.  The Eleven did this exact same thing against Minnesota. Not including the first 5 minutes of the game where both teams seemed to be getting accustomed to each other and the wet field, the Eleven seemed to hold most of the possession and control the tempo for the next 15 minutes.  Then they gave up a free kick, which Alhassan expertly put into the upper 90 after a slight deflection from Cardona.  "Against the run of play" changed the game after that.

The same thing happened in the second half.  The Eleven had good possession for the first 15 minutes and then gave up a goal in the 63rd minute after drawing even in the 49th minute.  So they were once again playing from behind. If the Eleven played 90 minutes like they played the first 15 minutes of each half, this would have been a different game.  Though, I have to expect that was part of Minnesota's plan given the Eleven's inability to score more than a single goal per game and their persistence in giving up defensive breakdown goals.  Defend, defend, defend, and then counter.

The other thing that I've noticed this season, and the Minnesota game might just be the most glaring (or maybe just most recent) example, is that the Eleven's attacking players are having a difficult time determining when to shoot.  In my notes to this game during my re-watch, I wrote "SHOOT THE ******* BALL!" in the 17th minute and it goes back to my hockey watching.  Sometimes you just have to kick the ball towards goal, as long as other guys are continuing to make their runs, and hope a deflection happens for an "easy" goal. Hockey players do this all the time. They shoot the puck towards the goal hoping to get a deflection off the keeper or another player for a second or third chance at a goal. Which is exactly what Minnesota did for their goal in the 63rd minute.  Put the ball on frame, hard, and be in a position to get a second attempt at it.  The Eleven didn't have a single shot on target in the first half and finished the game with only two.  TWO.  If you only put two shots on target in a game, you're not going to win many games.  It's not like the Eleven didn't have opportunities, they just didn't pull the trigger.  One touch too many or one a touch that gets away from them (Rugg in the 53rd minute that likely would have been a goal for example).  Either way, it gives the defense a chance to get back behind the ball.  I would like to see the attacking players have the same shoot mentality as Pena, but from somewhere closer than 35-45 yards out.  There has to be a middle ground.

The team needs to manufacturer scoring opportunities wherever they can and in the words of Alexi Lalas, "Set pieces."  If I counted it correctly on the replay, the Eleven had a free kick in the 39th minute.  Brown acts like he's going to take it and then Mares put it just over the bar.  While I don't object to the attempt from Mares (though free kicks from that range is where this team misses the brilliance of Kleberson's attempts), there were only three other Indy Eleven attackers inside the 18.  With the height that this team possesses, put them in the area even if it's just to keep the other team honest in their defending.  Even if you're going to take the direct shot anyway.  Minnesota had 6 guys in the wall.  Ten United players behind the ball make it difficult to score even if there was a potential deflection.

I don't even want to talk about Minnesota's last goal in the 83rd minute.  That should never happen and yet goals like it persist with this team.

If you continually give up defensive breakdown goals, you have to score more than the other team. To score more than the other team, you have to shoot the ball on target more than twice.  Both are issues that need fixed immediately, but I'm not sure how they get fixed.  I think the Miller/Norales duo is the proper one as they seem to have a good connection, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Janicki right back in for Miller if his calf injury is healed.  Which attacking player shoots instead of looking for the perfect shot every time? With the obvious exception of Sergio "I'm on the field so that's close enough" Pena...

This tweet by @ali_lindgren perfectly sums up the game and this post for me:
"You know a soccer game didn't go well when there are pictures of the damn rainbow at the game everywhere"

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Soccer Life - Nipun Chopra

This edition of The Soccer Life is from someone who came onto my radar (and many of yours maybe) with the well written post "In support of the proposed Indy Eleven stadium" in late January in response to the Ericka Smith opinion piece in the Indy Star.  I've since found out that in addition to being a fellow Indy Eleven season ticket holder (guessing by the photo in the post that he was in the East End stands), he's one of my fellow DePauw University grads, and a Manchester United fan who does a regular podcast.  Oh, and when he's not fully engrossed into soccer, he is also working on his PhD in neuroscience.  What are you doing with your time?  So with that introduction, here's Nipun telling you about his Soccer Life.

1. Name:
Nipun Chopra

2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
- Player, coach, general spectator, other (podcaster, blogger, writer)

3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
- None
Editor's note: I'm thinking that Doctor might be a good one at some point...

4. Age started playing:
- 5

5. First recollection of the game:
- I was playing with my older brother and his friends; and found myself playing in goal. I wasn't very good.

6. Highest level of play achieved:
- JV in college (DePauw University)

7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play
- March 5th, 2015 – indoor recreation league at Sportszone
Editor's note: I believe this date has changed to be more recent and shows how long it can take me to get things posted...

8. Position:
- Midfielder (These days, I play defense b/c I’m old)

9. Jersey number:
- 7

10. Most memorable moment(s):
- Playing – Scoring a hat trick in high school
- Podcasting – Interview Phil Schoen

11. Least memorable moment(s):
- Getting sent off for punching the referee (Yeah, I’m that guy).
Editor's note: I tried to get more information on that incident, but Nipun would only divulge "He and I had a history of not getting along..."

12. Favorite team:
- Manchester United

13. Favorite player:
- Historical: Socrates

- Current: Darren Fletcher

14. Indoor vs Outdoor:
- Depends on the weather!

15. Grass vs Turf:
- Grass

16. Coaching experience:
- High school soccer, college track and field.

17. Refereeing experience:
- None

18. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
- Diego Forlan’s redemption by winning the golden ball, Zidane’s head butt.

19. Honors/Awards:
- I don’t deserve any

20. Other sports played (and to what level):
- Track and Field (college)
Editor's note: 4-year letter winner and Top 10 School Times for 100m, 200m, and 4x100m Relay (Outdoor) and Top 10 School Times for 200m and 4x200m Relay (Indoor)

21. Other Comments:
- You can follow me on twitter at @NipunChopra7 and find my podcast at @ULFPpodcast. Thanks, Drew!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Armada FC - 02.05

- Opponent: Jacksonville Armada FC
- Location: Jacksonville, Florida
- Attendance: 8,318
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Frias, Pena, Ring, Melgares, Pineda, Brown, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Mares 45' (Melgares), Rugg 59' (Wojcik), Smart 67' (Pineda)
- Unused: Dawson, Miller, Hyland, Stojkov
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Pena 25' (Yellow), Janicki 74' (Yellow), Franco 82'
- Adage goals: 1 - 50th minute

With the ESPN3 feed and its replay ability, this season I normally like to watch the game twice before I sit down and do a recap of the game.  The first time through it's just as a fan cheering on the Eleven. The second time through is more for specific tactics and the good/bad that I remember seeing from the first viewing. I've also been big this year on the "eyeball test" and my "eyeball" asked if I really had to watch this game again. The things that stuck out for me from my first viewing were things that I didn't want to relive.  Things like:

  • The nearly adage goal 10 seconds into the second half
  • The adage goal four minutes into the second half
  • The 2 v 1 in the 62nd minute that was so poorly played that there wasn't even a shot, much less a shot on goal
  • Pineda playing the man and not the ball that could have resulted in a goal after an Armada defensive mistake a few feet from the goal line
  • The 18 minutes where the team had a man advantage and continued to play in a defensive shell
  • The 18 minutes where the team had a man advantage and continued to play in a defensive shell!
Last year, this team was known for its defensive breakdowns that routinely turned wins into ties and ties into loses and it become a point of emphasis for the fall season.  Things seemed to get fixed at the end of the season and the Eleven managed a 397 minute shut-out streak (thanks to Edmonton's first half goal today against the Cosmos, that record remains with the Eleven/Nicht and not the Cosmos/Mauer who had a good run going this season).  Much of the off season seemed devoted to maintaining that defensive consistency and strengthening it.  So the team signed a solid, Championship winning, defender in Janicki and kept the rest of the defensive pieces.  Most of the time, Janicki is a solid defender, but those same defensive lapses that sent defenders like Okiomah, Stone, and Estridge onto other pastures seem to be plaguing him as well.  If he takes one more step and lets the ball hit him in the middle of the stomach instead of "ole-ing" in an attempt to clear it, Jacksonville's goal by Hoyos doesn't happen.  I didn't remember it during the first-time viewing, but during his late game attempt on goal, he misplayed a ball to his chest, giving him an impossible left footed attempt on goal.  If he chests that ball properly, it's likely a game-tying goal.  Personally, I like a lot that Janicki brings, but it might be time to give Miller another shot.

I'll admit that Frias has fixed a lot of the defensive issues that I gave him grief for during most of last season.  I think he still loses his man too often, but his recovery has been much better.  However, my eyeball test says that Frias has the majority of the long ball boots on this team.  I don't mind the periodic long ball to keep the other team's back line honest or a well-timed change of field if the right back has pinched in too much and Frias definitely has the leg for it, but it feels like that's Frias' first option.  That has to stop. I can't recall too many of them succeeding in doing anything but losing possession.  Wojcik managed a shot on goal on one of them, but that's been a rarity.

I understand a lineup change to try and counteract Jacksonville's 4-3-3 lineup, which is also one of the more prolific scoring teams in the league, but when you are playing 11 v 10, you have to revise your tactics.  Especially when the player out is one of their scorers, in essence, changing their lineup to a 4-3-2.  Part of that non-tactical change is on the coaches, but these are also professionals who should be able to understand the change themselves.  I've been watching a lot of the NHL playoffs and the man advantage felt like a power player where a team doesn't get a shot.  In an 18-minute power play, the team should get more shots than the two I think they were able to muster.  The New York Red Bulls played a good portion of their game today a man down and they scored two goals and the Indy Eleven played a man up and managed two shots.  Not good.

For anybody thinking of starting a Kleberson Watch, he hasn't played in the last 8 games dating back to last season and hasn't started in the last 11 games.  That hasn't stopped the team from marketing the Cosmos game as Kleberson v Raul in that timeframe, but he continues to sit.  Oh, and another reminder, he scored 8 goals last year, but 5 of those were from the PK spot and I don't have him credited with a single assist.  So I don't think he's going to be the magic bullet that finally pulls together the offense, especially if the ball keeps flying over his head from the defense to the forwards.

I do think Cardona played a decent game for his first start.  He might have been out of position and might have been a little quick to get the ball back into play a couple times, but I think he had a good start.  I don't think the goal was really his fault, but I was really concerned he was going to get chipped by Keita in the 59th minute because it seemed like he was indecisive on what to do.

For the record, I didn't watch this game a second time.  I hope the team does though so that they can see what sitting in a defensive shell does for them.  I think it was during the Toronto/Houston game today that Taylor Twellman commented that he isn't sure why Toronto didn't start the game with the same intensity as they had at the end when they were trying to equalize.  I've often wondered the same thing about the Eleven.  If they played with the same intensity in the beginning against Jacksonville that they showed in the final 10 minutes of the game, this might have turned out differently.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rethinking the Stadium for Indiana

With the news last week of Kristian's move and subsequent start in the CONCACAF Champions League final for the Montreal Impact, somewhat lost in the Indy Eleven news cycle was that HB 1273 was put to bed without ever making it to a full vote.  The bill cleared the House committee, cleared the House, cleared the Senate committee, cleared the Senate, but just couldn't make it through the joint committee charged with finding the common ground between two very distinct versions of the bill.  Without getting into the details of both of them, in essence, the House bill was for an $85M new soccer specific stadium and the Senate bill allocated $20M for the rehabilitation of Carroll Stadium.  While the team continued to praise the effort from the legislature, the difference between the two bills was a steep uphill climb and kind of felt like the way to kill a bill without having to explicitly say no.  Trying to find the compromise between the two before time ran out on the legislative session just couldn't happen.

So where do things go from here?  I previously weighed in on locations that I thought might be possible candidates for the team.  Some were far fetched and undesired (Military Park) and others made more sense and were more realistic (southwest of Lucas Oil and the 16th and Fall Creek Parkway sites).  I've provided my thoughts on the stadium before about the location and direction (herehere, here, here, and here) and on the Indy Eleven subreddit, but I want to do at least one more since we've got some time after the team's bye week and I'm not working on writing my thoughts of their last game.

Politically, I'm a registered Republican (and there goes some of the readers...).  Realistically, and based on my recent voting record, I'm Libertarian. I've stolen borrowed a quote several times over the years to describe myself "as someone who describes his personal politics as fiscally conservative and socially libertarian..."  I tell you that because the fiscally conservative Libertarian side of me says that this shouldn't have even been a bill.  The Eleven are a private business and they should get financing like any other private business and the government shouldn't be involved in things like a soccer specific stadium.  The part of me that really wants the stadium says, "but that's what everybody else is doing, especially locally."  So my fan side is rationalizing it by saying that the team is financing it like a private business.  It just wants to use the Bank of Indiana instead of the Indiana Members Credit Union (one of the team's partners) because they can get better rates through the Bank of Indiana.  That's probably an oversimplification, but it's hard being a fan who REALLY wants a new stadium and a Libertarian.

Looking long-term though, I can't see that the legislature will ever agree to act like the bank for the Indy Eleven.  As a soccer fan, that's absolutely upsetting given what Lucas Oil costs, with much fewer opportunities to be used than one sized as a soccer-specific stadium.  It also has a very "aren't those soccer fans cute for wanting a stadium" feel to it.  Oh, let's be honest, that pisses me off.  The team was asking for a funding mechanism that was similar to other stadiums in the city at nearly 10% of the cost of Lucas Oil with a privately funded backstop and I never had the feeling that it would receive final approval.  Moving forward, I think that the team has to figure out a way to come up with at least half of the funds privately for it to have any chance to get help from the State and/or City.

Another year lost could also mean that some of the locations I discussed could also be gone the next time the process starts again unless the team/Ersal preemptively purchase the land.  There was an implication shortly after the announcement that the team would evaluate other options, including locations outside of downtown, perhaps in the suburbs.  I can't remember who to attribute that thought, but if it came from the team, I think it's purely political grandstanding.  I don't personally know Ersal Ozdemir, nor do I personally know Peter Wilt, but I've listened to enough interviews to know that Peter learned his lesson with the location of Toyota Park for the Chicago Fire.  Granted, the distance to the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview is drastically different than to the Indianapolis suburb of, say, Westfield or Avon, but downtown Indy is the right location for the stadium.  Peter catches enough grief for Toyota Park (which was a really good deal for the team) that I don't think he does the same thing here.

For the moment, I'll forget about all of my concerns of constructability and where the team will play in the interim if the new stadium is located where the existing Carroll Stadium is located, with a change in orientation to fix the setting sun problem.  I'll assume that for a year (maybe two depending on the construction duration and weather), Ben Davis High School's football stadium could be used as a second temporary home for the team.  I use Ben Davis because, well, I'm an alum and I know that it can seat 9,000 people (5,500 on home side + 3,500 on visitor).  So it might actually be fairly easy to get it to the same capacity as Carroll, with potentially better concession and restroom facilities than what Carroll is providing.  Even if not expanded further, this is large enough to cover the season-ticket base with fewer single game tickets.  A number that might be reduced anyway because of the location.  I'll assume a reduced number is also acceptable for a year.

The existing Carroll Stadium site has seemingly developed a good working relationship for the City, IUPUI, and Indy Eleven and one that could continue to provide benefit in the future.  The stadium grandstand was shown to be demolished in the most recent IUPUI Campus Master Plan with only the track and the soccer field remaining.  The Eleven saved it from the wrecking ball because they needed a place to start playing and they needed it quickly.  The school wanted to keep it as green space, but everybody seems to want to be able to better link downtown with the surrounding neighborhoods.  In this case, there is a disconnect between downtown and the IUPUI campus due to West Street (a pedestrian bridge has been discussed in the past) and between the IUPUI campus and the neighborhood of Haughville to the west due to the White River.  Part of the plan is to convert both Washington and New York Streets into two-way roads from their current one-way directions.

What if the Indy Eleven became the linchpin between those goals; reuse the existing Carroll Stadium site and serve as an economic driver between downtown, IUPUI, and Haughville?

To start, the existing site has to be gutted and rebuilt to meet everybody's needs.  I stated before and it may be semantics, but a renovation of Carroll Stadium that includes the track is a "track facility that hosts soccer games" even if the predominant use is soccer. That's just my opinion, no matter what other changes they make.  So redo the site to provide the amenities that the team want, like actual locker rooms with running water for the teams, adequate restrooms and concession stands, grass field, and the other amenities expected in modern sports facilities.  After that, work into the design that the stadium be a mixed-use building like so many of the new apartment complexes going in around the city.   Depending on the new orientation of the stadium, both the revised New York Street and the University Boulevard sides of the stadium could have street-front shops like the example below, which is close to campus.

Instead of apartments above, you have a stadium.  Hell, have apartments too where rent includes a season ticket, if it helps get the stadium built.  Fill the shops with businesses that cater to both soccer fans, as well as college students.  A soccer-specific bar (that should be easy), small restaurants, maybe even a grocery store since there aren't too many in that area.  Using the same funding mechanism that was included in the House bill, that means that every dollar that goes through the stadium and all of those businesses can be used to pay back the loan.  This could make the funding much more palatable to the legislature.  However, with these kinds of businesses built directly into the stadium, this creates even more potential for investment from private financiers.

I hear you. A grocery store in the stadium?  Yes.  Sometimes you have to think way the hell out of the box and that may be where we've reached to make the stadium a reality.  While a grocery store may not be the norm, placing restaurants within stadiums has been done.  Levi Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers includes a restaurant (a high-end one I believe), as does the new Yankee Stadium, which houses a Hard Rock Cafe.

This type of arrangement would raise the question of whether IU continues to own it and lease it to the Eleven or whether the Eleven buy the land from the school and develop it as they see fit.  I also don't know how much this would raise the cost of the stadium to add these kinds of details to the stadium.  However, I still think the team needs to continue to focus on a downtown location, figure out a way to get private investors on board, even if that means designing mix-use features into the stadium, and the location of Carroll Stadium is growing on me provided the logistics during the construction phase can be determined.

Maybe one day I'll be able to write about the actual stadium and my experience in it instead of potential locations and grocery stores.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nicht and being #IndyForever

This past week, Kristian Nicht found himself packing his bags so that he could join the Major League Soccer's Montreal Impact as they found themselves in a precarious position of not having a goalkeeper on roster that they felt comfortable starting for their second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.  Some of that was because of CONCACAF rules, while some of that was because their normal starter received a yellow in the waning minutes of the first leg of the final while already sitting on a yellow and was therefore unable to play.  Kristian's time with the team during the Eleven's preseason (for bench support for the Impact during their CONCACAF run) made him a logical alternative for the Impact as they headed into the final leg.  He might not have been their first choice, but he was a good choice.  His familiarity with the team and his recent form in the nets for the Eleven made it a well deserved call-up for Kristian.  The Eleven have indicated that they want to be a player-friendly organization and will work with the players when opportunities like this present themselves.  To their credit, they made good on that claim.  Though I'm sure that the transfer of Nicht to the Impact had its advantages to the Eleven or it would have never happened.  To his credit, Nicht performed better than the 4 goals against would imply.  

The opportunity is well deserved for Nicht and the announcement was met by Eleven fans with a mixture of happiness, pride, and concern for our own goalkeeping options.  Given that we have never seen Dawson or Cardona (or Sprenkel last season) play a single minute in an Eleven uniform in a match that counted, there's the unknown of how they'll perform.  Nicht is the only player in the entirety of the NASL that played every minute of every game in the 2014 season.  I think we're allowed a little concern when the very first player we ever knew as an Eleven, who was so vital to the team's play and marketing, is rewarded for his efforts and leaves us.

As I watched the love for Nicht from Eleven fans leading up his start for an MLS team in the CONCACAF final, it made me wonder about the other players on the Eleven who have come and gone through Carroll stadium for our favorite local team.  While Nicht is the first Eleven signing and Cardona is the most recent signing, there have been 35 other signings in between.The current roster includes 20 players so that means there have been 17 players who we've supported and have moved onto other endeavors.  Some of those players saw minutes, some saw starts, and some never saw a single minute of action in the red and blue.  To me, that doesn't make them any less #IndyForever.  I've been able to keep track of some of them after they've left Indy, but there are others who haven't found other teams or who have gone onto non-playing days.  While I know it doesn't happen very often with other professional teams, I would like to see the Eleven maintain a place on their website devoted to the players that have been part of the team.  At a minimum, it would just be maintaining their team bio in a different location in their website folder structure.  The team latched onto the Brickyard Battalion's tifo from last season and I think if Nicht is #IndyForever, then Baba Omosegbon can be as well.  Though maybe I'm just feeling a bit nostalgic during a bye week. 

So while we're all celebrating Nicht's reward for his hard work, I thought I would give some of the other players some #IndyForever love (in order of signing).
  1. Kristian Nicht - Montreal Impact
  2. Baba Omosegbon - I can't determine current status
  3. Nathan Sprenkel - Still listed as DePauw assistant coach, but can't tell beyond that
  4. Pedro Mendes - Played for Minnesota United after the trade, but can't tell where he is at this year.  Doesn't look like he is in the NASL.
  5. Chris Wey - I can't determine status
  6. Mike Ambersley - Playing for St. Louis FC in the USL
  7. Walter Ramirez - Playing for Fort Lauderdale Strikers
  8. Chris Estridge - Playing for Charlotte Independence in the USL
  9. Andrew Stone - I can't determine status
  10. Corby Moore - Playing for Forest Green in England
  11. Ben Spencer - On loan to Toronto FC II
  12. A.J. Corrado - Taking advantage of IU's degree guarantee program
  13. Fejiero Okiomah - Playing for Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USL
  14. Blake Smith - Hanging out with Kristin with the Montreal Impact
  15. Kevin Rozo - I can't determine status
  16. Jermaine Johnson - I can't determine status
  17. Jhulliam - Playing for Resende in Brazil
Good luck guys wherever you go.  At least to me, you'll always be part of #IndyForever.