Monday, February 1, 2021

2021 Eleven roster thoughts

The Indy Eleven roster is something that moves around. Sometimes there are big changes. Sometimes the roster moves are for positional depth, but with very little movement in the game day roster. The initial roster under Martin Rennie in 2018 had 26 players (22 new to Indy + 3 returning (Braun, Ring, Steinberger) + Mares signed late in the year). 2019 had 30 players (7 returning + 23 new signings). Last year's roster had a total of 31 players throughout the course of the season (17 returning + 14 new signings (7 that were on Academy contracts + Mitch Guitar who was signed late in the year and never played)). So when the team re-signed the first of the players from last year's squad in November, it was obvious that it was not the end of the roster creation for the 2021, but just the start. 

However, the flux that this roster has seen this season has been unprecedented and has bounced around more than a 6 year old on a trampoline after eating birthday cake, particularly this month. The roster currently sits at 14 players, but here's a quick reminder of how it got to this point:

  • 11/25 - Farr, Ayoze, Hackshaw, Haworth, Pasher, Penn re-sign (6 players)
  • 11/30 - Newton, Moon, Guitar re-sign (9 players)
  • 12/4 - Jennings signed (10 players)
  • 12/7 - Newton short-term loan to NYCFC (9 players, then back to 10 players)
  • 12/11 - Timmer signed (11 players)
  • 1/5 - Ouimette re-signed (12 players)
  • 1/6 - Buckmaster signed (13 players)
  • 1/11 - Arteaga signed (14 players)
  • 1/14 - Pasher to Houston (13 players)
  • 1/29 - Koffie signed (14 players)
  • 1/29 - Newton to Vancouver (13 players)
  • 1/30 - Law signed (14 players)

Photo: Don Thompson (@DLTPhotog)

As we can see, the roster has seen a lot of change in the past three weeks. There are going to be more additions; many before the season begins and, if history tells us anything, likely more as the season progresses. I normally don't like to get too in depth with the roster announcements until I see how they are being utilized by the manager, but there are a couple player re-signings that initially caught my attention and recent roster transactions have further intrigued me so I'm going to mostly focus on those.

News broke on Friday about Evan Newton getting another chance in MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps. An announcement that a former player had told me was likely coming. So when the announcement was officially made, I reached out to Jon Busch to get some insight into the signing, what it means for Indy, and what it specifically means for Jordan Farr. Both players train with Jon during the season and off-season at Sogility, so he's in a prime position to give his opinion on the two guys and what Evan's signing with the Whitecaps means for everybody involved.

During a previous conversation with Jon, he had informed me that he thought Newton had a clause in his contract that kicked in for another season with Indy if he reached a certain amount of playing time in the 2020 season. Since Evan played all but one game, the clause was activated and so it wasn't a surprise to me that he was one of the first players announced as returning. However, with his loan spell to NYCFC and now the transfer to Vancouver, I asked Jon if he thought Newton had been actively looking for other teams. Jon indicated, "Evan was under contract for this coming season for Indy Eleven so he wasn't actively looking for other teams. He was happy here. Yet, saying that, ever since he left San Jose Earthquakes many years ago to drop down into the USL to get games, his goal was to eventually get back to MLS. I have known Evan for many years, and over those years, we have had many chats about it." It sounds like, at least from Jon's perspective, Evan is just getting the chance that comes with working hard and having successful goalkeeping seasons, year after year, and having somebody notice the effort. It's nice to see him get another chance at MLS. 

I went on to ask Jon about Newton's potential in Vancouver, given that there are already 3 other goalkeepers on the roster before his arrival. Jon stated, "I am very excited for him to get his chance again. From what I know about it, he has a multi-year contract, which I would expect them to give him being a senior pro with a family. He is going into a very competitive situation. They have a Canadian international at the No. 1 in Maxime and two young homegrown goalkeepers. So I envision him being the second goalkeeper; there to push Maxime and play when Maxime is away for international camps. He is also there to help develop the younger two goalkeepers. As long as he takes care of his business during training and stays healthy, then I see him getting the opportunity in games when Maxime is away."

Photo: Don Thompson (@DLTPhotog)
When both Newton and Farr were re-signed, I had concerns for the trajectory of Farr's career, particularly if he was going to be sitting as the No. 2 keeper behind Newton again for the majority of the 2021 season. I saw nothing in the 2020 season to make me think that Rennie re-signed the two guys, but with swapped No. 1 & No. 2 roles. When they were announced, I wondered whether Farr shouldn't try to be loaned somewhere so that he could get regular minutes. Just as Newton did at San Jose behind Busch, he eventually had to find another place to play to be able to get regular games. Farr needs the same thing. Newton's departure, at least at this point, puts Farr into the No. 1 spot. I asked Jon about what Newton leaving means for Farr, if it makes him the default No. 1, and if his past performances have been enough to secure the spot for him.

As can be expected, nobody knows, but Jon stated that, "I am really hoping that Martin and his staff give him the opportunity to prove his worth. From what I have seen of him, he can be a very good USL goalkeeper. He just needs the opportunity to play week in and week out. From the games he has played in his few years here, he has shown well. The ultimate question is how does Martin and staff see him? Do they see him as the future No. 1 and are willing to bring in a younger goalkeeper to push him and be his backup, or do they go and get another senior pro like Evan as the No 1. Time will tell on that answer."

Jon sees a lot of similarities in his and Evan's situation in San Jose as in Newton and Jordan's situation. "For me, Jordan is in the same spot that Evan was many years ago when he was with me in San Jose. Jordan is at that point of his career that he needs to play games to develop. In my opinion, this is Jordan's opportunity to prove his case as a No. 1 in this league. I am very happy for both these guys and am excited to watch the next chapter of their careers."

Like Jon, I'm happy for both guys. Like Jon, I hope that this is Farr's chance to step up and get regular minutes in the No. 1 position. He has shown promise, but needs the game in and game out responsibility to move his career forward. 

Again, I don't normally like to get too in depth on a roster until I see how it is being utilized, but Farr could have his work cut out for him in the early part of the season. For various reasons, there are now only 8 players returning from last year's squad, and there's no guarantee that two more won't be departing the team if Penn and Guitar work out deals with the MLS teams that drafted them. That leaves just two of the defenders he saw in front of him the past couple of years (Hackshaw and Ouimette), two midfielders (Ayoze, who is 35 years old and Haworth, who missed quite a bit last year with injury), and Moon. That's not a lot of returning minutes in front of a young goalkeeper while he works on his confidence in a starter role. Assuming Farr does become the No. 1 goalkeeper for the Eleven, the team's success will depend on what the new signings and the future signings do in front of him and how everyone comes together.

With a stadium announcement within a couple months and a roster that has recently had a hard time growing, but has seen multiple players receive MLS interest, the team is at an interesting crossroads. Whether that team is anchored by a fan favorite in Farr, remains to be seen.

No comments: