Friday, March 11, 2016

Indy Eleven back home from Casa Grande

The Eleven are nearly half-way through their preseason games with three more games within a week of each other starting Saturday so I thought I would take a minute to give some thoughts despite the fact that preseason games can be a mixed bag. As professional athletes who generally all have a competitive nature, winning results are the desired outcomes, but a win, loss, or draw doesn't necessarily mean that there were positives, negatives, or apathy, respectively. Preseason games, from the team's perspective, are a multi-faceted undertaking designed to accomplish many things; fitness, camaraderie, lineups, experience, and if all goes well, results.

All of those came into play in the Eleven's first four preseason games. The first game was a 9v9 game against Indiana University, while the other three games took place as part of a 10-day stay in Arizona against NASL and USL competition. Coach Hankinson has said that some guys came into preaseason ready to go from day one with their fitness level, while others were less focused with their off-season preparation. As players start to work themselves back into shape, some minor injuries have happened so it's not a surprise that players aren't getting a full game's worth of minutes yet. In fact, most of the players have only been in for half of the game in the first four games. So the team is working on getting everybody's fitness level up but easing them into it. If the team's fitness is improving, then this piece is a positive.

Camaraderie. The roster stands at 23 (plus at least one trialist who we found out was with the team during their trip to Arizona) with 11 returning players and 12 new players. While I've talked about how smart it is that the team has brought in multiple players from various teams (3 from Ottawa, 2 from Sacramento, 2 from Chicago), that's still a lot of guys that need to get used to each other before the first game. The trip to Arizona was intended to help with that piece. The guys were with each other basically 24 hrs a day for 10 days. The traveled together, ate together, walked to the field together, and maybe as importantly, played together (on and off the field). If the ten days in the desert got the team better in sync with each other professionally and personally, then this piece is a positive.

Given that the players aren't seeing much more than a half's worth of playing time each game, it's difficult to know exactly how the starting lineup will look come April, but it is assumed that some combination of the starters from the preseason will be utilized. To this point in the preseason, Busch, Palmer, Vukovic, Falvey, and Ubiparipovic are the only ones who have started all four games. I would guess that Zayed's absence from the starting lineup in the final game of the trip was to reward Wojcik for this hat trick in the previous game. So it seems like Coach is closing in on who might be the starters next month. The one player who looks like he's making a strong argument to be in the opening day starting lineup is Duke Lacroix. I expected Lacroix to get some minutes due to his speed, but thought it might be as a super fast super sub. Yet, he is getting minutes this preseason and a lot of them. He played the second half of the Indiana University game and then started in the three games in Arizona, playing 71', 70, & 67' minutes respectively. So while many of the starters were coming off at halftime and making way for the "2nd team," Lacroix is getting minutes with both groups. He wasn't one of the players that I thought would get starter minutes, but he's clearly making an impression on Coach Hankinson at this point.

I'm going to skip the "experience" piece because every single player on this roster has professional experience. Some just have more than others, but every single day they play their experience grows, individually and collectively.

I want to talk about the results.

As fans, we may know and understand all of the above, but we want to see positive results when the final whistle blows whether the game is preseason, season, friendly, or post-season. Right now, the team's record is 1W-1D-2L against a NASL team, a University, and two USL teams. As someone who has watched two seasons full of good efforts curtailed by poor results and have been told that the season three roster was built with guys with experience, leadership, and winning ways, the early preseason results are a little disheartening. The Eleven have also had an issue with scoring the past two seasons and have now gone scoreless in 6 of the first 8 halves of the preseason, against what looks like "lesser" competition on paper. This is also a little disheartening. There are so many factors that affect the results during a season and the preseason only amplifies those factors, but this roster has so much promise and seems to be fixing the issues that Eleven 1.0 and Eleven 2.0 had that it was hard for me to not expect better results that what the team has achieved to date this preseason.

Are the misses and miscues a function of fitness, experience, and camaraderie that will resolve themselves with training and time or are the Eleven fans in for another year of good, but not great, play coupled with inconsistent results? Only time will answer that question, but the team still has five more preseason games for us to get a better evaluation of how this team might do when the games actually matter.