Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Soccer Life - John Koluder

Indy Eleven's Public Relations Director John Koluder takes part in this edition of the Soccer Life, which I hope with his help becomes a more frequent occurrence this year with other Indy Eleven staff and players.  By the nature of this questionnaire, this provides a relatively surface level introduction to John and his way into the Soccer Life, but if you have an hour and a half, I would highly recommend listening to the Bloody Shambles boys' podcast interview with John from a few weeks ago. Good stuff.

Oh, and if anybody can locate a 2006 episode of What's Wrong With...Soccer? that includes an appearance by John, please point us all to the link.  Yes, our favorite PR flack has an IMDB listing.

1. Name:
John Koluder

2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
- Indy Eleven PR Director

3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
- Never been given one, but if I did it would probably be “Gimpy” as I tend to injure myself more than I should when I attempt to play!

4. Age started playing:
- 9 years old … and retired by 11

5. First recollection of the game:
- Running around the fields of Marion playing for the PAL league’s team sponsored by “Keep it Simple Photography”

6. Highest level of play achieved:
- Said Police Athletic League team in Marion, which is to say not very high

7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play
- If you don’t count the IUPUI Rec League a couple of summers ago, the D.C. United Media Game in 2002 (winning goalkeeper in a 7-6 battle on the RFK Stadium pitch).

8. Position:
- Usually play fullback, although I fancy myself a true #6 in my dreams

9. Jersey number:
- #15 (when possible)

10. Most memorable moment(s):
- During my youth soccer days, I got hit in the face with a free kick by Tricia Streeter (the best player in our league) right before halftime. At the start of the second half, I immediately went and kicked/tripped her off the kickoff and got a yellow card. Well worth it!

11. Least memorable moment(s):
- Two-footing myself and doing a ligament in my foot during a pick-up game in Salt Lake City (don’t ask how one can two-foot himself … it’s possible, believe me).

12. Favorite team:
- Indy Eleven obviously, but back-up would be Real Salt Lake

13. Favorite player:
- Historical: Chris Armas

- Current: Michael Bradley

14. Indoor vs Outdoor:
- Outdoor, always

15. Grass vs Turf:
- Grass, always

16. Coaching experience:
- Was assistant coach for a U-10 team in Chicago for about 4 months … that was enough for me!

17. Refereeing experience:
- None, although I always thought I had the temperament for it

18. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
- Tie - Landon Donovan goal vs. Algeria in 2010 and watching the USA-Belgium 2014 game with thousands of folks on Mass Ave

19. Honors/Awards:
- Won the 2010 MLS PR Department of the Year award when at Real Salt Lake … and the local weekly arts rag out there gave me a “Best of Utah” award in 2011. I hold both in equal regard. Also lucky enough to have been on staff for RSL’s MLS Cup run in 2009 and for the Chicago Fire’s 2003 & 2006 U.S. Open Cup titles … didn’t help them win, but I got rings and medals anyways!

20. Other sports played (and to what level):
- Let’s see … played baseball (2-time little league all-star 2nd baseman!), basketball, and football on organized teams … none past elementary school!

21. Other Comments:
- Weeks before I started my internship at D.C. United in 2002, MLS had contracted both Florida teams and there were severe doubts as to whether professional soccer in the USA would go the way of the dinosaur. I’m glad to see those fears were horribly wrong and to have played a very, very minuscule part in helping the sport grow, especially here in my home state with Indy Eleven the last three years.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Indy Eleven hire a new President; Wilt leaving

Less than three months after hearing word that Peter Wilt may be taking a consultant role to get a NASL team for Chicago, today Indy Eleven fans found out that Peter Wilt's consultant role is now already with the Indy Eleven. The Indy Eleven announced that they have hired former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and CEO Jeff Belskus as the new President for the team, while "founding Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt will continue his general managerial duties with the club on a consultant basis into the 2016 NASL Spring Season."  From the Twitter discussion following the announcement, it is currently unknown (at least to the fans) how far the "into the...Spring Season" implies. Will Peter be around through the entirety of the Spring Season or will his replacement be hired soon, thereby allowing Peter to depart for Chicago? Will Peter be around long enough for the fans to give him a proper send-off? Only time will tell, but given that the team has begun each of their previous seasons with around 20 players and that the team currently has 14 players signed with another 4 or 5 potentially announced this week, the team might be nearly to the point where it is expected to be for the start of the season. How much more work is necessary from Wilt to get the team started for the new season may factor into his departure date. That may mean that roster building for the off-season may be nearing an end. Especially since Peter indicated that:
At least three of the five have served as pro team captains, four of the five have MLS experience (3 with 6 or more years) and all are starter caliber players with NASL Best XI potential.
On the other side of this coin, there's no mistaking Belskus' credentials when looking at his resume on the Eleven website:
An experienced businessman and sports and entertainment executive, Belskus comes to Indy Eleven with a variety of industry experience including banking, insurance, real estate, broadcasting and food, but most of his focus has been in motorsports and professional auto racing in the United States.

He joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1987 as the corporate controller. Rising through the ranks, he was named President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation in 2009. On October 1, 2013, Belskus was appointed to serve as president and chief financial officer of Hulman & Company, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation’s parent organization.

During his long career with the Hulman organization Belskus served in a variety of executive roles, including CEO of the IndyCar Series, CEO of Hulman & Company and CFO of all of the Hulman affiliated organizations. After a successful career in the auto sports industry, Belskus retired from the Hulman organization in early 2015.
That's a lot of business experience. Business experience that has dealt with the highest levels of politics in the City of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana. Given the success of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I think he's more than qualified to take over the business aspects of the Indy Eleven. The new President for the Indy Eleven is a businessman. What he is lacking, however, is any real knowledge of the American soccer scene. Which is why I fully expect that the President/GM role that Wilt has been filling by himself will soon be filled by two people and we'll hear that the team has hired a new General Manager. It's impossible for me to know who that person might be, but despite Belskus' business acumen, the team is going to need somebody who knows the soccer scene too. Given that the team would not make such a move of hiring a President with no soccer experience with Peter leaving relatively soon, I would think that they already have candidates narrowed down. It's just a matter of time before it gets finalized.

While it may be a moot point, this exchange came to my mind today about the potential names for the Indy Eleven before they became the Indy Eleven.

I wondered on Twitter today, both to the team and the BYB, whether Belskus was in charge during this time and the irony of that now that he is in charge of the Eleven. My question was met with silence. So either I hit an old wound that nobody wants to reopen or Belskus wasn't part of the IMS group dissuading the Eleven from using the "intellectual property."  I guess it doesn't matter either way, but it still made me wonder.

So a lot has happened since the end of the second season. The roster was reduced down to 11 players from last season, 3 more have been added, an interim coach became an assistant coach, a new coach was hired, a new President was hired, likely a new GM will be hired, and current President/GM Peter Wilt is moving on to start another NASL team. Despite the rumors about Wilt's potential departure, I had still hoped that they were wrong and that Peter would be around longer. He's a rare force and asset to teams that can't be duplicated. That's why it's going to take two people to replace him.

This whole off-season has been one example after another on why I hate the business of soccer. Watching players go has been hard enough, but watching it become official that Peter Wilt will shortly be leaving Indy just seems unfair. I have faith that Belskus will do a good job moving forward, but that doesn't take the sting out of losing Peter any less (pun intended).

However, as I worked to write this, it was announced that the NASL has suspended the operation of the the Atlanta Silverbacks. Combine that with the San Antonio Scorpions move to USL, the departure of the Minnesota United to the MLS in 2017, and brand new teams in Miami, Puerto Rico, and Oklahoma (that latter two of which that haven't shown a lot of movement ahead of their inaugural seasons), maybe the departure of Peter to Chicago is exactly what this league needs right now to help keep it moving forward.

Or maybe that's just rationalizing the departure of a good man. I don't have any say in the matters, but if the team ever has desires for a "Ring of Honor", I nominate Peter as one of the first recipients. Anybody want to second?