Friday, December 4, 2015

Indy Eleven begin the changes for 2016

I'm not a journalist and I write here because I love the Eleven (as evidenced by my stress-relieving creation of an Indy Eleven bandanna because that seemed like a natural and enjoyable way to spend a bit of time in the off season...see the end of this article for said bandanna concept).  Since I'm not a journalist, I'm not obligated to meet any strict deadline nor rush to get something out the door and into the interwebs. As a result, I decided to wait to write down my thoughts on the coach and player changes until two things happened despite all of the rumors swirling around for both: 1) the official announcement from the team about the coach and 2) the official announcement from the team about which players were staying or leaving.  Luckily, those two things happened in back-to-back days.

I wanted to wait because I felt that those two pieces together would provide a much more coherent picture on where the Front Office (FO) and ownership want to go with this team in 2016 than each piece individually.  Now that the team has officially announced Tim Hankinson as the new Head Coach and released the list of the returning players, a vision for the future is starting to gel in my mind of where I think the team is going.  First, let me reiterate some of those details first.

Here's the list of player movements (including Games Played, Games Started, and Minutes for a discussion below):

  • Franco (27, 26, 2377)
  • Janicki (20, 16, 1495)
  • Miller (20, 19, 1746)
  • Mares (21, 17, 1548)
  • Smart (25, 11, 1219)
  • Stojkov (21, 18, 1393)
  • Lacroix (18, 7, 846)
  • Wojcik (21, 12, 1148)
On-going Contract Discussions
  • Ring (21, 16, 1379)
  • Cardona (10, 10, 900)
Contract Expired
  • Hyland (18, 17, 1550)
  • Keller (15, 11, 946)
Options Not Picked Up
  • Dawson (0, 0, 0)
  • Nicht (20, 20, 1800)
  • McKinney (2, 1, 103)
  • Norales (25, 25, 2135)
  • Ceballos (12, 6, 583)
  • Cuevas (1, 1, 56)
  • Kleberson (1, 0, 7)
  • Pineda (20, 17, 1467)
Loan Agreements Expired
  • Frías (12, 12, 1040)
  • Pena (12, 10, 844)
  • Richards (15, 13, 1033)
  • Steinberger (12, 11, 965)
  • Brown (24, 15, 1410)
  • Rugg (19, 13, 1271)
New Coach Hankinson is certainly well traveled.  He's coached in the amateur system in the United States at universities, MLS, NASL, Brazil, India, Iceland, Guatamala, and most recently in Jamaica with Montego Bay FC.  I'm not sure I got them all correct so I apologize to Tim, but here is his team's records at each location (chronologically, oldest to newest):
  • 1979 Oglethorpe
  • 1980 - 1981 Alabama A&M 37W-4D-5L
  • 1982 - 1983 DePaul 0W-1D-15L
  • 1985 - 1990 Syracuse 69W-18D-40L
  • 1990 - 1991 UMF Tindastoll
  • 1992 - 1994 Charleston Battery 22W-12L
  • 1994 - 1995 Raleigh Flyers  14W-6L
  • 1998 - 2000 Tampa Bay Mutiny 42W-50L-4D
  • 2001 - 2004 Colorado Rapids 39W-30D-45L
  • 2007 - 2008 Fort Lewis College 33W-4D-8L
  • 2009 - 2010 Salgaocar SC 8W-9D-9L
  • 2012 - 2013 San Antonio Scorpions 20W-11D-18L
  • 2015 Montego Bay FC 7W-4D-2L
"Whoopty do. What does it all mean Basil?"

First off, Hankinson does bounce around, but while he's at a team, he tends to get good results. That's a good sign for a team that has struggled to get consistent good results the past two years. When the initial rumor came out about Hankinson being the next Eleven manager, the word that I remember being used to describe the hiring was "underwhelming." After research and conversations with the man by others, there seems to be a growing opinion among many of the supporters that maybe this could be a successful hire. I think that Tim Regan being retained as an assistant on Coach Hankinson's staff could be an ideal move to both shake-up the team while also maintaining some consistency.

Consistency.  The Eleven's biggest problem this past season.

So what about the roster moves?  Hankinson has repeatedly said in the interviews that I have heard the last two days that the team needs experience and game changers and "warriors." He also wants players that build the attack from the back and defend from the front. In other words, the defense needs to help get the attack going, but the forwards are going to be expected to be the first line of defense.  So keeping Mares, Miller, Stojkov, Smart, and Janicki fit one or all of those characteristics. I had all the guys that were re-signed as priorities or as legit possibilities in my 11/11 post describing the Eleven's off-season To Do List. So it's good to see that my thinking was correct.

It's not much of a surprise to see Kleberson not retained given the significant portion of the budget that he was using and only managed 7 minutes of playing time this year. The Eleven put a lot of their eggs in that basket and it came back to bite them so there wasn't much chance they were going to continue that trend once his 2-year contract expired. The other players released means that they didn't think those guys fit into those characteristics or, I suspect in a couple cases, were also because of money and loans expiring.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the roster moves to me was all of the international players that were shown as not returning; Nicht, Norales, Pena, Brown, Ceballos. Only Stojkov remains. It makes me wonder if we see any Jamaicans from Hankinson's recent stint in Montego Bay that he liked and think would be a good fit here in Indy.

The one player that I had as one that I would like to see back and wasn't included in the re-signing or continuing contract discussions was Kyle Hyland. I hope that he finds his way back into the roster, because I think he falls under that "warrior" label that Hankinson wants in this team. I personally think Jon Dawson might also find his way back into the squad. He was released after the first season as well and as long as he wants to come back (which I think he does from this interview), he's looking to get better and work his way into a starter role, but could return as a back-up who is familiar with the re-signed players and assistant coach.

Back when Sommer was relieved of his duties, I evaluated the success of teams in conjunction with the amount of the team that was retained from the previous year. What I found was that there was some connection. It wasn't a hard rule, but the team's that retained the players who played the most minutes, that had the most consistency from year-to-year, started the next season with more success. If you look at the breakdown of the players, there is a definite pattern to who is returning and who aren't returning. The ones who played in the most games are likely the ones who were re-signed. The ones with fewer games, aren't returning. While the team is still early in the player signing process, right now, they are only retaining 34% of last year's roster. If Ring and Cardona do get signed that moves up to 41%. Including Hyland would push it to just under 47%. Returning almost half of the team's minutes from this season to next would be consistent, but on the lower end, with the teams that were successful to start the 2015 Spring Season.

Given the multitude of factors that go into the selection of a team, I do not envy the task that these three men did and are doing. There are so many external factors that can completely derail a season and turn a great season into a good season and turn a good season into a mediocre one. What would have happened with a healthy Kleberson orchestrating the offense? Or even a healthy Mares for the entire season? We all want the team to be successful, from the supporters to the players to the front office and owner and even the sponsors, but it takes a lot to achieve the team goals. It was said on Twitter that the above black and white photo made it look very somber. I replied that these three men hold the livelihood of a couple dozen men in their hands. It is somber.

Today it is somber because we have to watch a lot of really good guys try to find new jobs. Guys that we have grown to like over the past few months or past two years. Guys that just didn't gel on the field the way that we had all hoped. So today the business of soccer takes precedence and we get to celebrate the ones that we will get to cheer for next year and wish the best of luck to the ones that, hopefully, find new teams to continue that dream of playing professional soccer.

Today, we get to see a glimpse of what a new coach envisions for the Eleven and imagine what puzzle pieces will be added in the upcoming months. Today, we started down the path to next year. And next year, the Eleven are going to win it all.


Bandanna concept: Simple, but I think attractive.