Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Geographic Rivals

The first official domino of the season has fallen and so fans of the Indy Eleven now know that the team will be playing in the USL. This has been conveyed to me several times that the league decision preempted all of the other decisions for the team. With the announcement last week of which league the team would be playing, the remaining dominoes should start falling soon.

Fans know that discussions are being had regarding the use of Lucas Oil Stadium as the team’s new home as a potential replacement for Carroll Stadium, which I’ve discussed here. Despite some people’s optimism for using LOS, I’m still hesitant of the advantages. The team has started taking reservations for season tickets, and have indicated in interviews that, as of right now, Carroll Stadium is the team’s home. As such, ticket prices for the 2018 season have been stated to remain the same as those from the 2017 season. A move to LOS would adjust the price, but those number are not being made public. I suspect from conversations that the team has an idea how the prices will change, but like most of the items that took place in this off-season, they aren’t going to play their hand just yet.

The team website, for a bit, indicated three players on the roster; Brad Ring, David Goldsmith, and Ben Speas. While the team’s site no longer shows the roster, the USL website still lists those three players under their “Transfers” page. As I’ve written before, the team has indicated “several” players options were picked up and “several” players options were not picked up. I assume we won’t get any official player announcements until a decision is made on who will be the next head coach. A report from Soc Takes are that Trevor James, Jimmy Nielsen, Martin Rennie, and Mark Lowry are the leading candidates. Until I hear an official announcement, it’s all hearsay to me. Two years ago, people had guesses and rumors, but none of them included Tim Hankinson and he brought the team to penalty kicks away from beating the Cosmos in the Championship game.

While we wait for all of those dominoes fall, let’s talk about rivalries. Geographic rivalries at least. The Eleven have some past history with some of the teams in the USL Eastern Conference due to the exodus of NASL teams over the past couple years to the USL. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Ottawa Fury, and North Carolina FC (formerly Carolina Railhawks) all have past experience playing the Eleven. NCFC being the most recent since both teams were in the NASL last year. However, I want to discuss the two teams that are expected, at least on paper, to provide for supporters group road trips; FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC.

Indy Eleven have a history with both teams, to varying levels. The Eleven played FC Cincinnati during the 2016 preseason, ending in a 1-1 draw. The Eleven have a much more extensive relationship with  Louisville City FC, having played them at least once in each of the past three season. The teams played a preseason game in 2015, won by LCFC 2:1 in a “chippy affair” before meeting again in the U.S. Open Cup, with LCFC again winning by a 2-nil score with the goals coming late in the second overtime. The two teams met in the 2016 preseason with the Eleven again falling to the southern rivals in a 1-nil match. When the U.S. Open Cup draw came out, the two teams found themselves pitted against each other once more. The Eleven finally broke through and defeated LCFC behind goals from Omar Gordon and Eamon Zayed.
This past year, the two teams met in Evansville for the Eleven’s final preseason game. Thanks to a stoppage time goal by Vukovic, the teams walked away with a 1-1 draw. The Eleven have managed a 1W-2D-3L record against their two new league mates in U.S. Open Cup and preseason matches.

@phat7deuce post
Everyone expects that these two teams, more than any of the others, will be able to bring a significant number of their own supporters to Indy and that Indy will reciprocate and take significant numbers to Cincinnati and Louisville due to the approximately 2-hour drives between the cities. With the help of former Indy Eleven public relations staff member Scott Stewart (now serving as Director of Public Relations & Media Relations for LCFC) and lower league attendance extraordinaire Mike Pendleton (who you might know as @phat7deuce on Twitter), I was able to get some data about how LCFC and FCC traveled to each other. On the season, FCC lead all of Division 2 soccer averaging 21,199 people per regular season game, with LCFC coming in third with 8,613 people per game, and Indy Eleven finished in fourth with 8,395 people per game. However, if you subtract the regular season games against each other, FCC averaged 21,250 people per game and LCFC averaged 8,026 people per game.

As Mike pointed out to me, “Cincy is a whole other animal, so hard to tell for them. Their biggest games came down the stretch” and LCFC went to FCC in late April so it's hard to tell, just from the data, on what affect Louisville had on FCC's attendance. However, it’s clear from the data that FCC playing IN Louisville had a major affect on LCFC’s attendance. Average attendance in Louisville for the two matches against FCC was 12,722 people, with a high value of 13,812 people. LCFC averaged nearly 4,700 more people in the two games against FCC than they did the rest of the year. Mike also pointed out that FCC traveled well to Louisville, but “it was also Louisville crawling out of every hole to make sure they didn't give Cincy a warm welcome.”

LCFC brought a decent crowd to Indy for the U.S. Open Cup games, but those were mid-week games in the early rounds of the USOC. I fully expect them to bring more to Indy for league matches taking place on the weekend. FCC looks to have traveled well to Louisville so I would expect a similar trend when they play Indy. I can’t find the numbers on how many Indy fans made the trip to the USOC game versus the Fire, but that was, again, a mid-week again and I suspect weekend games against FCC and LCFC are going to get at least a few hundred supporters making the trips. In all cases, I think Mike’s comment of the home crowd “crawling out of every hole” will likely hold for Indy as well. If the team’s home opener against FCC takes place in LOS, I’m going to guess that there will be a lot of the Indy Eleven fair-weather fans show up along with the FCC supporters. The LOS lower bowl seats 16,000 people and I’ll guess that announced attendance will hover around 14,000 for that game.

NASL Team Banner - current as of 01/16/2018
It’s painful that the Eleven’s departure from the NASL has left a league grasping for survival (have you seen their banner lately?), but the ability to have geographical rivals has been a major selling point for the USL for me. I just hope that the Eleven start to turn around that win-loss record against these two teams and start getting more wins than losses. It's only a rivalry if both teams actually have some wins. Otherwise, it's just one team constantly beating another one that just happens to be geographically near them.


Don said...

I would be willing to make a couple of road trips myself.

Marie said...

Great read, thanks