Monday, December 5, 2016

Indy Eleven's 2016/2017 Off-Season To Do List

Indy Eleven Off-season To Do List

Last year at this time, I put together a To Do List for the team to do in the off-season before the 2016 season and I figured I would do the same this year. When I sat down to write it, I realized that some of what I wrote in 2015 still applies today. Where appropriate, I've simply cut, pasted, and slightly edited (original text shown in italics) last year's text to show how far the team has come (Spring Champions and Final Runner-Up) and how much still remains.

I think enough time has passed from Indy Eleven's final game of the year that I'm able to sit down and objectively evaluate where the team goes in the off-season before the start of their third fourth season next year.  There are a lot of unknowns going into the off-season, some of which may be a concern and others that are just normal change of roster issues. Minnesota United is set to leave the league for MLS; the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury are leaving the league and joining the USL; Rayo OKC was not at the recent Board of Governors meeting and have been rumored to have released their players; Fort Lauderdale Strikers and New York Cosmos are having financial problems to the point the rumors are that the Cosmos may not continue in the league and were having issues paying players and have furloughed some staff; and San Francisco is set to join the league in 2017. Those are big issues for other teams (and the league), but let's look at what I see for the Indy Eleven assuming that the Indy Eleven and the NASL remain in operation for next year. Discussions below could be drastically different if the Indy Eleven switch leagues to the USL. I will likely touch on those as I go along.


There will be a push for a stadium again since this is the longer legislative budgetary session that happens every two years.  So Indianapolis is looking at closer to 2019 before a game would be played in a new stadium if it got gets passed in 2017. Though the team still feel that a stadium will help them (and a potential NWSL team) succeed in a way that isn't possible in the current situation with Carroll Stadium, I'm becoming more and more convinced that it doesn't happen until Mr. Ozdemir and maybe other investors lays down at least half of whatever is the final dollar amount and even that might not be enough and that includes the hotel backstops that were part of previous bill discussions.

The current argument is that it won't be paid by taxpayers, but I don't think it matters to most. At a minimum, it feels like a taxpayer subsidy for a rich owner and many people have issue with that even if it doesn't directly affect them. Given that there are groups of Indy Eleven fans that are hesitant about the process doesn't didn't bode well in a the short session and I don't think it will matter in this coming year's longer session. The Eleven kept Keeping the attendance strong this year as one of the league leaders, will help to a point, but the continued downward trend from last year could be used to point to a decreased interest in the team. The team is still well above the league average so that helps their case even if season ticket sales were down from season 1 2 to season 2 3. Governments have a long history of tax breaks for businesses, but for some reason, this entire process has been perceived not as one of those tax breaks, but as handout to a sports team owner in a "minor league" team. That perception will only get worse if a move to USL is required, regardless of whether USL is granted Division 2 status from their current Division 3 status. However, the USL has a requirement that all teams compete in a soccer specific stadium, so a push for a stadium becomes more involved if the team moves to USL. This could be a factor why the Eleven appear to be riding the NASL wagon until the wheels completely fall off.


No firings and no "interim" tags this year. Keep Hankinson and keep him until he wants to retire back to Jamaica. Tim Regan and Coach Hankinson seem to work well together so if he wants to be here, keep him too.


Wilt officially became a part of a competing (future) team towards the end of the Spring Season. Wilt's involvement with the Indy Eleven gave it immediate credibility, just as his name is giving credibility to the Chicago group. His absence creates a position that, to date, has not been filled. At least not filled with an announcement and title. Jeff Belskus took over the President duties when Wilt departed, but the GM duties have not received a dedicated hire. Will the Eleven hire a new GM? Do Tim & Tim get added responsibilities without the bump in pay? My guess is no new hire, particularly with the league in flux and with a roster full of guys that most want to see back, pretty much intact. Belksus should be able to handle the contract decisions, with Tim & Tim adding in a few more players. Which leads me to...


So with all of the on-field success finally matching the off-field success, what team do we see next year, right? With that in mind, I think that a good chunk of the team should stick around, but a break down of who I think leaves, should definitely stay, and who might go either way is below.  The team retained 13 11 players from last season (Stojkov was originally retained but released after the last preseason game and Woj was sent on a season long loan after playing 14 minutes in the 3rd game of the season - so 9 players) and I would expect that a similar larger number is retained this year. I'm hopeful that the team sees the core players as valuable enough to bring back given the flashes successes that we saw from this team. There is talent on this team and I think consistency would go a long way next year. I truly think the roster could depend on whether the team remains in the NASL. While rumors don't seem to have the Eleven as one of the teams making the move, and maybe being one of the teams fighting to keep the league alive, a failing league leads to a failing business venture. Regardless of how we all feel about this team, there is still, and will always be, an owner behind it who wants it to be profitable. If that means a change of leagues, and a corresponding reduction in salaries, then that is what will happen. For this discussion, nothing changes. Ozdemir keeps salary stagnant and the team remains in the NASL.

  1. Gordon - Omar is on loan from Montego Bay United, where he lead the Jamaican Red Stripe Premier League in goals. His production for the Eleven did not match his production there. Whether that was because of fatigue or not, he wasn't able to connect with others as well and often had a heavy touch towards the end of the season. If Braun and Zayed stay, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go.
  2. Youla - Similar to Gordon on his production and they both use an international spot. There are going to be some players available with the movement in the league and international spots are vital.
  3. Wojcik - I thought Woj was gone last year, but he returned only to see himself get loaned out for the year with the possibility of being recalled at any time. I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't happen again given that I think the forwards might be the area hit hardest.
  4. Reinoso - The historical trend has been guys with minimal minutes don't find themselves on next year's roster. I think Jair falls into this category. 
  5. Torrado - The Eleven gave up Larrea for Torrado mid season and he certainly has a calmness to his game that is indicative of his experience so I can see him being a part of next season's starting roster. However, he will turn 38 early in next year's season and had injuries through the Fall campaign. Personally, I think Torrado was signed to help sell tickets to a key demographic but at a much less salary than Kleberson. Torrado wants to be in the states and seems to like Indy. There might still be a role for him here, but he is also using one of the international spots. I could be easily wrong on this one since I'm starting to talk my way out of my own opinion... 
Priorities to re-sign:
  1. Busch - He came to Indy with the intent of playing one or two more season learn how to be a coach. I saw nothing from him this year to make me think that he can't play one more season. If he wants to play, he's the #1 going into the preseason.
  2. Falvey - There's a reason he's the captain and his vocal leadership took a player that most of us questioned a great deal last year (Janicki) and created a centerback pairing that was outstanding. Those are the kinds of guys that take good teams and make them great. Get him back.
  3. Janicki - I was critical of Janicki at times last year, but Coach Hankinson and Falvey have shown exactly the benefits of being a team. Coach Hankinson knew Janicki's abilities and put him in a position to succeed by putting guys around him that can cover his deficiencies. 
  4. Miller - The defense needs a physical presence and Miller provides that in spades. Did he ever miss a defensive header? Falvey and Janicki are physical players as well and are going to take knocks throughout the year. Miller has shown he can pair with either. Assuming his rehab goes well, he'll be a great asset to have on the team.
  5. Palmer - Speedy, strong, and showed he could play center back when necessary. I think I still prefer to have Franco on the right back at times, but Palmer's physical presence combines nicely with Falvey and Janicki.
  6. Vukovic - I love to hate Vuko and hate to love him. He was signed as a center back, but had to take the left side role when Stephen DeRoux injured himself before the season ever started. Coach Hankinson has indicated that DeRoux is still on his radar as one of the best left backs in the league so that could be an issue for Vuko with Falvey/Janicki/Miller (and Palmer in a pinch) in the center. And while his tendency to push forward (waaaay forward) causes him to be a defensive liability at times, it also creates a plethora of opportunities with overlapping runs with Mares who drifts towards the middle of the field. There could be a case for him to not be here next year, but I think he stays.
  7. Franco - Was 2015's leader in minutes and starts and was consistently solid in the backline. He lost his spot to Palmer for a good portion of the year, but fought his way back by the end. He doesn't have the same physicality as Palmer, but he does create more overlapping runs, particularly with Smart on that side. 
  8. Ubiparipovic - Ubi best shows his ability when the team tactically lines up in the 4-4-2 "diamond" formation. The biggest issue for me is that both he and Mares prefer the "playmaking" position and Mares is a little better defender. Hard to keep them both off the field and Ubi has better vision forcing Mares a little out of position. It was successful at the end of the season so I think he's back. 
  9. Paterson - Much like Ubi/Mares, it's hard to not want both Paterson and Ring on the field at the same time. Coach Hankinson tried having two #6s and the formation didn't have as much success going forward. His set piece ability alone is worth keeping him.
  10. Mares - For me, he was the best player in 2015 this season for the Eleven and his absence was critical. Dylan got better and despite not being in early season starter, Coach Hankinson found he's a hard guy to keep off the field. I see no reason to let him go now.
  11. Smart - His defense has continue to improved and his play at the end of the season was fantastic as he got more playing time. Smart's crosses are a thing of beauty and with guys like Braun and Zayed in the box looking to get on the ends of them, he became a valuable attacking threat this season. 
  12. Ring - Solid. He's exactly what you need from a guy whose job is the defensive midfielder. Seems to be a bit prone to injury at times, but completely sacrifices himself for the team. 
  13. Braun - Justin was my team MVP. When he was injured, they looked different without his workrate and holdup play in front of Zayed. If you're going to have a guy like Zayed, you need a guy like Braun. Zayed isn't going to create a lot of his own shots, but he finds ways to the ball and Braun does an excellent job of pulling defenders away from Zayed freeing him to find the space that Braun vacates with defenders in tow. My only concern about his and/or Zayed's return was in the team's end-of-year description: "Braun impressed on multiple occasions with his work rate and determination, and his partnership with Zayed can only increase in fluidity should the two find their way back to Indy in 2017." Should. Should the two find their way back. Seriously makes me wonder if one or both are headed elsewhere.
  14. Zayed - Furthering my concern from Braun's end-of-year description, Zayed's description didn't alleviate any of my concerns: "If Zayed returns to Indy Eleven in 2017, he wants to both build on the 2016 campaign and take home both the Golden Boot and The Championship and stated as much at the end of last year. We’ll see what the future holds for one of Indy’s most prolific forwards ever." If. If he returns... See what the future holds... They were a great partnership and play well off each other's strengths. I don't know if Zayed scores as many without Braun, but I also don't know that another player would have been able to score as many with Braun as Zayed was able to do. It's also hard to argue with a goal rate of 1 per 179.1 minutes. Like the Falvey/Janicki pairing, the sum may be better than the parts.
  15. Lacroix - His speed can change games. I'm not sure he's ready as a starter just yet, but he's just young a rookie and we saw how much he improved between season 1 and season 2. As I said on Reddit, "I still want him to take one more step and find open teammates more often when he attacks a defense, but his speed and his ability to take on defenders makes him a threat every time he touches the ball." 
  1. Cardona - I think this all comes down to his desire to be a backup again behind a veteran keeper in Busch. I firmly believe Busch is back and it will be his spot from the start. So unless he gets injured, Cardona's minutes will be like this year. Mid-week games behind guys who are not the normal starters and early U.S. Open Cup games. I still think he shows signs of being a good keeper, but at some point he's going to need minutes behind the starters to show it.
  2. Keller - Young, but did a solid effort. He has shown he is a soccer player and not just a midfielder. He filled admirably in a variety of positions and guys like that are nice to have on a roster.
  3. Shaffer - Dubbed "The Bulldog" by Busch, by all accounts he seems to be a good guy to have in the locker room despite not making very many game day rosters. #Minutes4Shaffer equaled 180 minutes over two games (also starts) late in the season, but like Keller, some guys are good to have on a roster even if they don't see a ton of minutes.
So I keep at least 15 players from a 23 man roster; 65% of the roster. Or to put it another way, 85% of the minutes played from this season. Coincidentally, that would be consistent with the way that I found the New York Cosmos retained their roster for the 2015 season. As I found then, teams that retain a bulk of their players/minutes tend to be more successful the next year. Last season, Ottawa found their way into the Championship game, but their success caused checkbooks to open for some of their players and they had a lot of turnover. This season, they finished 10th. A year after being in the final game, they finished ahead of only Jacksonville and Puerto Rico in the combined standings and only 7 points ahead of Puerto Rico who only played in the Fall Season. Roster retainage doesn't guarantee success, but it certainly takes away the issue of new players adjusting to each other.

Now we wait to see if any of this discussion even matters. I'm cautiously optimistic, but wouldn't be surprised if the Eleven end up looking like the band that continued playing as the Titanic sunk.


Jeff C. said...

Interesting and thorough analysis. I agree with most of your player assessments. But, as you recognize, the timing of this post is a bit odd, in that it assumes a stable and continuing NASL, something that, sadly, seems very unlikely at this point.

Drew said...

I hesitated writing it at all because of the rumors around the league, but figured I would proceed like the fan site that I am. I'll be here wherever the Eleven fall and it doesn't change my opinion of the players. So I might as write it all out.

Thanks for being a regular reader of my site. Another season has come and gone and we were never able to meet at a game. Maybe next year.

Jeff C. said...

And thank you for pouring so much thought and time into this blog, which has added greatly to my enjoyment of another season. I'm sorry we were unable to meet at the Mike this year--as it turned out, I was only able to attend a handful of games.

With the Cosmos now all but dead, it looks like it's USL or bust for Indy next year--which isn't my desired outcome, but it's better than extinction.

Don said...

I hope we get the chance to see how accurate your predictions are.

Great analysis.

Jeff C. said...

Janicki apparently has retired. I was highly critical of his play in 2015, but like you thought he improved dramatically once Hankinson changed his role and paired him with Falvey. He'll be missed, though Corey Miller is capable of filling the role.