Saturday, September 25, 2021

Indy Eleven to join the USL W League

It was a busy week for Indy Eleven as they added three players in three days, beyond the signing of Liam Doyle on the 13th. This week it was former 2018 USL MVP winner Emmanuel Ledesma on Wednesday, Kevin Partida on Thursday, and Tobi Adewole on Friday. Partida is already with the team, Adewole will be joining them in OKC, and Ledesma could be in town early next week. Indy has added some very significant players for the stretch run towards the playoffs. Whether the additions work, in the time remaining in the season, will be seen in the next couple weeks.

However, maybe more important than the four players that Indy has added this month was the other announcement that was made on Friday. Indy announced that in addition to the men's team and the Academy teams, they were going to field a team in the upcoming USL W League that is set to start in 2022. Indy will field a team in that inaugural season.

INDIANAPOLIS – The United Soccer League (USL) today announced Indy Eleven as the newest club to join the USL W League. Indy Eleven, a member of the USL Championship men’s professional league, will introduce its women’s senior team in the USL W League in 2022.

Indy Eleven is looking forward to other exciting news, which will also include future announcements around details surrounding its W League entry’s name, logo, and branding; home venue and training locations; staffing model and more at later dates accordingly.

“Indy Eleven has long desired to take a tangible step towards representation in the women’s game, and we are proud to partner with the United Soccer League and the W League to make that a reality,” said Indy Eleven President & CEO Greg Stremlaw. “Indy Eleven is eager to do our part in growing women’s soccer here in Indiana and, just as is the case with our USL Championship team, fulfilling our aim to be the premier club in the USL W League both on and off the field starting in 2022.”

This is something that many, maybe most, fans have wanted to see for a long time. I could probably create a long list of fans who have wanted to add a women's team to the Indy Eleven brand. Admittedly, most of those fans had envisioned that team to be a professional team in the NWSL. However, the USL has taken a serious step at creating more opportunities for women soccer players to continue playing beyond their high school or college years and for those who are not able to play at the highest levels of the leagues around the world. The USL has the aspirations to create a "women’s pathway [that] now includes the Girls Super Y League, the Girls USL Academy, the women’s pre-professional USL W League which kicks off next year, and the women’s professional USL Super League. The USL Super League will apply for Division II sanctioning from U.S. Soccer in the coming months." So this will cover all of the levels below the NWSL, and doesn't, at least at this point, directly compete with that league. 

Until today, the thought has always been that the Indy Eleven wouldn't add a women's team until they had their own stadium. Physically had the stadium and not just the legislative backing they currently have for the stadium. So this announcement came as a complete surprise to me. Everything I have ever seen from the team's financial packets provided to the legislature, a women's team was always included as being necessary to make the stadium work financially. I just didn't expect the chicken before the egg.

Again, those assumptions implied the attendance numbers of a typical NWSL, U.S. Soccer sanctioned Division I level team. The USL Super League is going for Division II status. The USL W League is further down the pyramid than that, consisting of "pre-professional" players. This seems to put the new Indy Eleven team somewhere along the lines of the teams that make up the WPSL. Indianapolis already has two teams that compete in the WPSL; Lady Victory FC and FC Pride. There is also a third team that seems to be, roughly, in the same level of play, which is the Indy Saints that compete in the Ohio Valley Premier League. All of these teams play at high schools with relatively small crowds. These are not the size crowds that Indy assumes in their stadium financials. Though, maybe having a team under the Indy Eleven umbrella will bring in a few more fans than what those other teams see.
Anybody else envision a Saturday doubleheader of the USL-W team, followed by the men's team? There is also the possibility that the Indy Eleven USL-W team, eventually, or maybe immediately in 2023, makes the move to the USL Super League when it starts. 

Sidenote: Laura Mills designed the Indy Saints logo and who has created some of my favorite Indy Eleven posters, including one that inspired a tattoo by Josh Lauritsen.

One of the things that stuck out for me in the announcement from the team and the league was the language that stated there "will also include future announcements around details surrounding its W League entry’s name, logo, and branding; home venue and training locations." All of this implies to me that there's a good chance that Indy Eleven's W team doesn't go by Indy Eleven. Given my above assumptions on attendance numbers, until the team has their own stadium, I would be surprised if the W team plays its games at Carroll Stadium. I would imagine that they play at a high school or at Grand Park on one of the grass fields. As far as the branding goes, as I stated on Twitter on Friday:

"Why would the team use any other logo except for the one that the men's team uses? Men's, Women's, Academy all under the same crest. All IXI family under same watchful eye of Victory." 

Andrew Schmidt replied

"Trying to not be completely cynical but I can see club brass thinking new brand = new merch = more revenue"

My response was that,

"I don't think this is cynical. To me, this is the only reason to have 2 "brands." I'm just of the opinion, that if it's part of "Indy Eleven Sports and Entertainment," then it should look the same."

Which is only partially true. I do think that they should be the same, for the very reason that I stated in the first tweet. The club I support in Europe follows that model.

However, this is the United States, and I can also see my daughters not wanting "their club" to look like "my club." I hate to say this, but Louisville's NWSL team could have easily followed the branding of the men's team and rode the coattails of a very successful men's team. However, they created a new brand under the umbrella of the Louisville brand and it's a good Racing Louisville brand. We won't get into the fact that Racing Indy was what the Indy fans were using as the placeholder name long before Indy Eleven became Indy Eleven. <sarcasm font>I'm sure it's just a coincidence, right?</sarcasm font>

I have also done the thought exercise on what a women's team might look if they didn't go with Indy Eleven branding. You've seen my articles on the stadium. You didn't think that was all I was thinking about, did you? 

Then earlier this year, Peter Wilt indicated in a response to a comment from Peter Evans that Molly Kruger, Tom Dunmore, and he (Peter Wilt) had also been flushing out those details. 

Beyond the fact that this had to be early in the history of the club since Tom left to go to IMS in early 2017, Peter indicated in the tweet, that the brand "wasn't IXI." When I asked Peter for some clarification about this he indicated, "It was consistent, but not the same. We liked the idea of [a] women's team having their own identity that had a thread connecting the two."

Peter, willing to share a lot of things with me, declined to share any of those details. Yet. So the rest of this is speculation and the results of my thought exercise on a women's team.

A thread that connects the two...
  • Checkers
  • Victory
  • Red and Blue
  • Star from the Indianapolis flag

Lady Victory. 

Indy Victory.

Peter Evans has said it. I've thought it dozens of times. Indy Victory with Lady Victory as the center just works. Even Lady Victory works pretty well. Though I can hear the folks that hate when female teams are called "the Lady Giants" or "the Lady Tigers." My point in this case would be that there are no "Victory" that the "Lady" is preceding. Lady Victory would be unique to the women's team. For the sake of the rest of this article, I'm calling the team Indy Victory, whether it is the name that is ultimately selected or not. "Indy Victory" can be the new "Racing Indy."

I don't know what kind of details Molly, Tom, and Peter decided, but I know that Patrick Cummings, the creator of Indy Eleven's crest and a large chunk of their early brand appearance, created multiple iterations of logos before the one that we all know was finally selected. What if it was some iteration of one of those? There were a lot of options from Patrick, so what if it was one of the versions that made everybody's Top 5, but wasn't ultimately selected (to be clear, I don't know that the one to the left was one of those, but it drew my eye in the above linked iterations). It's unique, doesn't follow the normal crest appearance, and seems to highlight Victory, a female, even more than the selected Indy Eleven crest does. 

Replace "Indianapolis XI" with "Indy Victory", adjust the colors so that the checkerboard pattern is different, and Patrick's Indy Eleven crest moves closer to an Indy Victory crest. For full disclosure, Patrick Cummings had nothing to do with the abomination edit of his original sketch other than to provide me with the original file above (I was having difficulty adjusting Victory's colors easily and didn't want, yet, to spend the time to do it properly). There's a lot that I don't like about my quick color adjustment, but it was adjusted mainly to prove a point. 

It isn't that difficult to take an Indy Eleven brand and adjust it to an Indy Victory brand with some "threads connecting the two."

I don't know that Indy Victory is the club's direction. I don't know that they will stick with the red, white, and blue. I don't know how an Indy Victory team affects, works with, or puts out of business the other pre-professional teams in Indy like Lady Victory FC, FC Pride, and Indy Saints. I don't know anything other than Indy has another pre-professional women's team to support, this one is under the Indy Eleven Sports and Entertainment umbrella.

For now, that's a good start.

I'm glad that Indy Eleven has finally made the step into the women's game. Giving more women the opportunity to continue playing is something I'm glad to see. I do wonder why it took this long? Indy could have easily added a team at this level in the WPSL or the OVPL, like the other Indy teams. 

I hope this signifies that whatever financial hit the team took with the COVID-19 pandemic, they feel secure enough to add yet another layer to the club. Lastly, this should further signify that a stadium IS coming, since having a dedicated stadium makes having a pre-professional women's team easier.

I look forward to seeing the details of the Indy Eleven USL-W team brand, and then learning how similar they are to Molly, Tom, and Peter's efforts. 

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