Friday, November 16, 2018

Indy Eleven 2018 Recap & 2019 Off-Season Outlook

With the exception of last year when it looked like the Eleven may have played their last game and I was tired of writing, I have provided a recap of the preceding season and an outlook of what I expect in the off-season leading to next year. Now that the USL Championship season is complete (congrats Louisville City FC on their 1-nil victory against Didier Drogba and the Phoenix Rising) and I've had a bit of time off to collect my thoughts, I thought it was a good time to sit down and see what comes from my brain to my fingertips to the screen. Let's start with a look back at 2018.


If you were looking for something different with the team, 2018 was the year for you. After waiting and waiting during the off-season, the idea of not watching the Eleven play this year was looking to be a more realistic prospect. Given the option of potentially having to lose a season of play, which could have meant the death of the team, owner Ersal Ozdemir made the decision to move the team from the NASL (who are currently still stuck in legal proceedings) to the USL. Once that decision was made, a rapid succession of announcements were made regarding the future of the team and its 2018 composition. The team announced the decision on January 10th. Within a week, the team announced the hiring of Martin Rennie as the head coach. Within a week of that, Justin Braun was announced as the first player to make up the 2018 roster, with near daily announcements of additional players. Less than two weeks after announcing Coach Rennie, the team announced that they would be playing their home games in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Eleven played 5 preseason games before starting the season on the road against the Richmond Kickers. As much as I tired of the use of the excuse towards the middle and end of the season, and as much as I believe some of it was self-inflicted, that really is a lot of activity in a short amount of time by the team.

With all of the changes and limited preparation time, the Eleven won 4 of their first 7 games. Unfortunately, the team lost 4 of their last 7 games to conclude the season on a disheartening note. The Eleven finished the season with a 13W-11L-10D record, but struggled to get positive results against the top teams in the conference, achieving just a 2W-6L-4D record against the teams that finished in the top 4 spots of the Eastern Conference. I've said it before on this site, but the team was good but not great this year. They generally beat the teams that they should have beaten, but struggled to get results against the elite teams in the league, including an 0-3 record against FC Cincinnati.

The Eleven finished the season ranked 7th in the table. The Eleven finished the season ranked 8th in goals scored. The Eleven finished the season ranked 8th in goals allowed. Of the 8 playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, Indy was the only team that finished the season with a single digit Goal Differential. The successful teams in the conference scored more goals than their opponents (yes, I know that sounds obvious, but Ottawa toyed with being a playoff team until late in the season and they ended up with a negative double digit goal differential so it can, somehow, be done the other way). Coach Rennie is a defensive minded tactician, but has said that they needed to find ways to create more chances in the offensive third and be more successful in the chances that they did get in that portion of the field. Given some of the offensive talent on the roster, it makes me wonder what Rennie will do with the roster next year to remain as defensive-minded as he seems to be, while also providing better finishing. It's not like McInerney, Saad, and Starikov aren't capable of scoring goals.

So what do I see for the team in the offseason?

Looking to 2019


2019 will, once again, be a longer legislative budgetary session that happens every two years. As a result, the team will likely make another push to get some public financing help in funding a new stadium for the team. As I've repeatedly stated for some time now, I believe this effort will not return any fruit unless Mr. Ozdemir (and maybe other investors) lays down at least half of whatever is the final dollar amount for the stadium. From my conversations with team personnel, the Eleven will again play at Lucas Oil Stadium "for the foreseeable future." I believe this was part of a two-year agreement, but that may have been revised. It is hoped that the schedule will be more favorable, with significantly fewer Wednesday night games. However, for its advantages over Carroll Stadium, I don't believe that Lucas Oil Stadium is a viable long-term solution for the team and some kind of soccer specific stadium is going to need to be determined. Particularly if the team is going to continue to have the roof open during a heat wave, creating sweltering player and viewer experiences.

St. Mirren Stadium in Scotland. The USWNT recently played here.
Could a modified version of this be sufficient for Indy Eleven,
\with the ability to expand later as needed?
While the attendance figures increased over last year, the eye-ball test as a spectator makes you question those numbers, particularly during the string of Wednesday night games. Whether the values are inflated or not, the optics of 10,000 fans in a place that seats nearly 70,000 was not good. After the +17,000 record setting attendance of the first home game of the season against FC Cincinnati, you would have been hard-pressed to think that the team needs a stadium that can sit 20,000 fans. A stadium of 15,000 might even be optimistic. Yet, the team and, more specifically, owner Ersal Ozdemir, continue to use a MLS carrot to rationalize a need for a larger stadium. If the team wants their own stadium, I continue to think that they would be better served to think smaller with the ability to expand later. I've seen a lot of stadiums and renderings of new stadiums that are much more subdued than the one that was presented to fans in the Stadium for Indiana push and I think the team should consider that route rather than the brick wall they are running up against right now.

In Belskus' exit interview with Rakestraw, he indicated that the team is looking at a stadium arrangement that includes a larger development consisting of retail, housing, etc. I had this idea three years ago, including building some of those items directly into the stadium. I also have to wonder if they are considering something like the Airport project that was discussed two years ago. I interviewed Jeff about the stadium a couple of years ago and I recently reached out to the team for more information on stadium discussions to include in this article, but I did not give them enough time to provide the detailed answers I wanted. A follow-up article on the stadium will happen later this off-season as I'm able to pry more information from the front office.

(For additional information, here are all my posts related to discussions of an Indy Eleven stadium throughout the years.)


While the front office's social media content was well done, the announcement that Martin Rennie would be returning as head coach for the 2019 season was met with a "ho-hum" response from most fans, myself included. Not necessarily because they didn't want to see Coach Rennie return (though there are a few of those as well), but rather that it was generally expected that this would be the case. Even Coach Sommer was allowed to start a second year at the helm and he didn't get a brand-new roster of players into the playoffs in their first season in a new league. In my opinion, there seemed to be almost no chance that Coach Rennie would be let go after this year. Further adding to the well hyped, but underwhelming "announcement" was that Coach Rennie stated in an interview with Greg Rakestraw on Soccer Saturday that he had moved his entire family to Indy full-time. That doesn't seem like the kind of move a person would make if they weren't returning for Year 2.

An unknown at this point is the status of Assistant Coach Phillip Dos Santos. Dos Santos' brother Marc was recently announced as the new head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Phillip was an assistant under Marc during his tenure with the San Francisco Deltas, so it would seem logical that Marc might extend an offer to his brother in Vancouver as well, especially since Phillip was born in Canada. If Marc makes the offer, I can't blame Phillip if he decides to headed to snowier, but probably higher paying, pastures.

Front Office

Much like the players on the field, the front offices of lower division soccer teams routinely have a lot of turnover from season to season. Last year it was Scott Stewart exiting to new rival Louisville City FC (who have done nothing but win the USL championship since he's been there) and Bianca Velez who exited for the Colorado Rapids. There was John Koluder and Peter Wilt and Tom Dunmore before that... This year it is Danielle Wooding and Molly Kruger and Jeff Belskus. Danielle was the Community Relations Manager, Molly was the Director of Corporate Development, and Jeff was the President.

Jeff Belskus announced his retirement a couple weeks ago and I'll reiterate the question I posed on Twitter after the announcement: Was his tenure successful? I believe that it depends on your expectation of why he was hired. If you believe he was hired to use his connections from his days with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to facilitate getting the team a new stadium, then it certainly seems like he failed. When pressed by Guy-Jo Gordon (another former FO staff member) about Belskus' accomplishments during his tenure, my most notable response is that he helped facilitate the transition from 2017 to 2018. Meaning, new coach, new league, new stadium, and scorched-Earth rebuild of the roster (though I would argue that last one was not a positive and that many of the players from 2017 were not handled as professionally as they deserved). I believe he was hired to bring a new stadium, which does not seem to have been accomplished. So by that metric, it's hard to say that his tenure was completely successful.

Molly was famously the 1st hire of Peter Wilt when the team started. With her departure from the team (but remaining in Indy), only Mike Henn, Andy Piggush, Larry Linde, and Tian Liang remain from the original Season 1 front office staff.

So the Front Office took a bit of a hit this offseason. Which leads me to...


Coach Rennie consistently said all season that the team needed some time and continuity with each other. With that in mind, he will likely want to retain as much of the roster as possible. Otherwise, the excuses this year will follow him into next year and fans will be less patient in year 2 as they were in year 1 of his tenure.

May be gone:

  1. Campos - This is an easy one for me. He was loaned from the Chicago Fire and injuries prevented him from even getting an official number from the team. He was non-existent and I can't imagine a scenario where the loan is renewed.
  2. Lewis - Despite his blazing speed and international experience, Lewis struggled in all 11 games that he played. Nine of his 11 starts took place in the first 11 games and then he fell out of favor for the remainder of the season.
  3. Rusin - He was one of the first signings, but really only found minutes early in the season as a result of some injuries to Coach Rennie's preferred defensive starters. His minutes dropped off drastically as the season progressed. Unless Coach Rennie sees him as a good backup, I think Brad might not be on next year's roster.
  4. Amankona - Unless he's playing for very little money, Amass was the only field player not named Campos to not see a single minute of league action. If history is any guide, that's a bad sign for him being on the roster next season. 
  5. Braun - Rumor is that he is retiring. After back-to-back seasons with injuries, I can't blame him. I hate to see him go, but I can understand his frustrations and the risk of trying to continue playing.
  6. Pasher - This has nothing to do with his performance on the field...when he was on the field. Any player that spends as much time on the injured list with a head injury is concerning, both from the team's perspective, but more importantly, from his own perspective. Without knowing any of the details of the injury, the duration of his injury concerns me about his long-term prospects of playing professional soccer.
  7. Steinberger - Despite the level of play that Zach displayed after being loaned to North Carolina FC late in the season, I have a hard time believing that he returns next year. I don't know the details of the loan, but guys like Steinberger want minutes and he wasn't getting them in Indy. Given his success in NCFC, I wouldn't be surprised if they offered him a contract and the Eleven have to play against him next year.
  8. Ring - I know. I hate writing this as much as you hate reading it, but Coach Rennie's persistence of playing rookie Nico Matern in the holding midfielder position in lieu of Ring tells you who he prefers. Some conspiracy theorists say there is a reason for that and I wish I knew the actual reason, but I'm worried about Ring's future in Indy. Unless Coach Rennie sees Ring as a useful utility defensive back-up or Ring is playing for cheap money, Indy's last remaining player from its inaugural season may be on the outside looking in. I hope I'm wrong. 

Expected to return:

  1. Ayoze - He was the team's MVP and I'm not sure how you could vote for anybody else for that award. If he wants to play, he's the #1 going into the preseason.
  2. Ferreira - Reiner played with Dos Santos in San Francisco. The Ferreira-Mitchell-Ouimette 3-back system seemed to be the favored lineup by Coach Rennie towards the end of the season when all three were available and healthy. I expect those three to be at the forefront of the contract renewals.
  3. Fon Williams - Dependent on the loan with Inverness Caledonian Thistle but he improved throughout the season and would expect that Rennie would like to keep the backline and goalkeeper arrangement as consistent between Year 1 and Year 2 as possible. 
  4. Guerra - I could see this go either way, but I think he stays.
  5. Matern - See comments above under Ring. Coach Rennie prefers him and I didn't see enough out of him to warrant substantial interest from other teams.
  6. Mitchell - Went to Korea with Coach Rennie. Came back from Korea with Coach Rennie. If there's a Rennie guy, I think it's Mitchell. See above for Ferreira. 
  7. Moses - Workhorse with a lot of pace. 
  8. Ouimette - Karl played with Dos Santos in San Francisco. See above for Ferreira.
  9. Saad - Young player with a flair for free kicks. Minutes were reduced at the end of the year, but I think he returns.
  10. Speas - Much like Guerra, I could see this go either way, but I think he stays too. 
  11. Starikov - When healthy, Starikov demonstrated an ability to score goals and be physical up top. I think he stays. 
  12. Venegas - Pasher's ability to go forward as a wing-back, but without Pasher's desire to get back on defense. Regardless, I think he's back.
  13. Watson - Matt was the old man on the roster this year, but his soccer IQ makes up for some of his reduced speed. I think Rennie brings the skipper back. 


"Kubel to Base. I've lost the package" - Kubel (probably)
  1. Mares - He was with the team outright at the end of the year and not as a part of a loan, but Dylan did nothing but get better in his time away after his first stint with the Eleven and he was pretty damn good back then. In his limited time in Indy this year, he separated himself from everybody but Ayoze as the best player on the team. The team would do well to try and keep him, but I have to believe that Dylan is going to get some lucrative offers this off-season for other teams. Just like his last departure from Indy, I don't know if the Eleven will be able to match the offers.
  2. McInerney - Jack didn't want to be here in the beginning of the year and it showed. After he settled in and realized that any chance of him moving back up to MLS was dependent on how well he performed this year, he started doing what he was hired to do and scored goals. It's nice having a double-digit scorer on the roster, but I think Jack believes he shouldn't be playing in lower division soccer. Some MLS team might agree with him.
  3. Collier - I would expect that his loan from the Chicago Fire expires and he returns to them, but the Eleven have had some very successful loans from the Fire. It seemed that Coach Rennie was impressed with Collier's abilities, so he might push for another loan, but I think a lot of it will have to do with the Fire's desire to get him back.
  4. Farr and Lundgaard - Back-up goalkeepers that never saw minutes. Do they want to stick around? Their return may also be dependent on what happens with Fon Williams..
That means I think 13 of the 26 players will be retained, with a couple more being possible. In lower division soccer, maintaining half of the roster is doing pretty well. Maybe as important though is that the above 13 players that I think return account for 75% of the minutes played for the season. If Coach Rennie is to be believed that the team needs some more consistently to be really good, 50% of players and 75% of the minutes is a good place to start.

Fans keep clamoring for news from the team. The team keeps telling them to be patient. I hope I'm wrong about a couple of the players and I'm sure the team has different ideas about a stadium, but only time will tell.