In my opinion, Indy Eleven’s second season was a success. Comparing stats with last season Indy was almost identical in goals for and goals against. But the Eleven won more games, collected more points, the team had more leadership and experience, and the Eleven were more competitive in every game. Year two also saw young talent emerge in; Brian Brown, Keith Cardona, Dylan Mares, Sergio Peña, and Brad Ring. Although the club hit some bumps along the journey, we have to realize this is only their second season in existence.
The Eleven got out to a great start to open their spring campaign as the club recorded one win and three draws. But the next five games saw the Eleven only record 1 point in league play and dropped out of the U.S. Open Cup at the hands of Louisville FC. This resulted in Juergen Sommer being relieved of his duties as Director of Soccer Operations and Head Coach, along with assistant Paul Telfer.
I firmly believe they were let go because offseason expectations from the club and majority of the fans (myself included) were completely different from the reality of the season. The way in which the 2014 season ended so well, the club and fans (as well as myself) felt this team could compete for a playoff spot in 2015. Unfortunately, the season did not go as plan. Indianapolis is seeing this now in their NFL team. Expectations are so great we have issues coping with the difficulties that arise during a season.
Coaching at any level is difficult. But starting a professional sports franchise in the United States is a daunting task. Juergen Sommer could not just put together a twenty-five player roster and let them go play. He had to build the entire soccer side of Indy Eleven starting with a strong foundation. In doing so, Sommer had to create a culture that would display the identity of what Indy Eleven stood for on and off the field. He worked with Peter Wilt to bring in a big name like Kleberson and the face of the franchise, Kristian Nicht.
After someone is fired or laid off from their job, we have to separate the facts of the situation and that person’s opinion to formulate what actually occurred and why they were let go. Sommer did an interview with one of the leading sports journalists in the United States just hours after being let go by the Eleven. Some of the points he made reviled why Indy Eleven has been struggling in the first two years of existence. Statements such as; “we don’t have housing for our players,” “we didn’t really have a medical training facility,” “one construction trailer for 24 players, six staff people, no showers, no bathrooms” (WTHR, Kravitz, 2015). These comments make me feel there is a smoke and mirrors tactic taking place. In my opinion, the Eleven has done so many good things in the community and have pushed for a new stadium that it is covering up the lack of infrastructure that exists for the team to succeed on the field.
Since Tim Regan took over, I have said he is the right man to lead the Eleven. To begin, he was in a difficult situation taking over from Sommer with two games left in the spring. Then, had to deal with the injury bug that plagued the team all season. He guided the team to good results early on as head coach with wins over Fort Lauderdale, Edmonton, Carolina*, and Tampa Bay.
*Kleberson was acting head coach as Regan was sent off the week before.
Tim Regan will have to find an identity the team will play by if he is given the reins on a permanent basis. He had the Eleven in a 4-4-2 with a diamond in the middle- which was successful until the 7-1 loss against Fort Lauderdale. After which, Regan switched to a conservative 4-2-2-2 with ten players behind the ball on defense and the attack relying on long balls to Dane Richards. Once key players were back in the squad from injury Regan created a 4-1-4-1 and the team took 6 points from Minnesota and Fort Lauderdale. This saw Sergio Peña play the defensive midfield position and allowed players such as, Dylan Mares and Zach Steinberger to push into the attack.
Right before the season was over reports came out that Peter Wilt had taken on an unpaid consulting role with the Chicago Sting who look to join the NASL in 2017. Although, it is an unpaid position it does bring up the question; will Wilt stay in the circle city much longer? I believe once the stadium is given the green light by the Indiana General Assembly, Wilt will be heading back to Chicago. I only hope Wilt will not have players who are interested in the Eleven take a detour on I-65 and head north to the Sting prior to him leaving for Chicago. Indianapolis cannot afford to let Wilt go because has energized a fan base that has longed for a pro soccer team in this city and has brought in some big name players.
For the third year in a row Indy Eleven will try for a new stadium. I am biased when I say that I enjoy the Eleven playing at IUPUI (I attend the school and the campus is easy to access from the Westside of the city) and will be sad if the team leaves The Mike.
However, I am in favor of a new stadium. First, Indiana has prided itself on being a hot bed for sports and entertainment, especially in motorsports and basketball. Second, the Eleven’s new stadium will attract soccer players and fans from across the world if the original model of the new stadium is still in place. Third, soccer needs a home were local talent can showcase their gifts to the world.
At the turn of the twentieth century there were forty-two automobile companies in Indiana and fourteen of them resided in Indianapolis. Their needed to be a place where these companies could prove why their model(s) were the best and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was born. Likewise, there are currently over 60,000 youth soccer players in Indiana that need a place to dream, inspire, and show why this state is a great place for soccer. In addition, Indiana has seen the second highest growth in their ELL (grades K-12) population in the United States over the last five years.* A high percentage of these students are coming from Latin America where the number one sport is soccer. Therefore, the number of youth soccer players within the state will only grow. I understand that Indiana needs more funding to go towards education because the students in this state are falling behind. But we have to remember that education does occur outside of the classroom.
*ELL stands for English Language Learner. This means a student’s native language is not English and not all ELL students come from outside of the United States. North Carolina is number one.
However, the likely hood of the Indiana General Assembly passing the measures for tax payer dollars and land downtown to go to Indy Eleven are very slim this year. First, this is a non-budget year for the state of Indiana and giving money to the Eleven will unbalance the budget. Second, the on-field results have not been the best for the club. Third, it will be brought up by the opposition that Lucas Oil Stadium was the most expensive stadium ever built with tax payer dollars in U.S. sports history.
The Eleven took a step in the right direction in building a strong infrastructure as they added an NPSL team. Players will not be able to move up to the first team until their amateur status is complete. But the club will be able to build and recruit young players to be with the Eleven from a young age, having the potential to sign them after college. The Eleven is only the second club in the NASL to have an NPSL team. I think the next step the Eleven will take in strengthening their infrastructure is: acquiring the rights to build a new stadium, a proper club house for the staff and players, a women’s professional team, and an academy.
We do not know what the details of each player’s contract in the NASL entails because the league does not disclose the terms. But the Eleven will need to reconstruct their back line that gave up the third most goals in the season with 48. In addition, the Eleven will have to address the forward position as the team only received production out of Brian Brown who finished tied with Dlyan Mares for the team’s most goals at 5 apiece. Brown was on loan this year and the Eleven will have to decide if they want to extend the loan, let him go back to Jamaica, or sign him on a permanent contract. Do not hold your breath that loan players, Dane Richards and Zach Steinberger, will resign with the Eleven on a permanent basis. Richards made $105,000 with the New York Red Bulls and Steinberger collected a base salary of $60,000 for the Houston Dynamo. Both player’s contracts were paid by the Red Bulls and Dynamo. The Eleven cannot afford to pay this vast amount of money if they wanted to keep one or both players. Also, Steinberger was a first round draft pick by Houston this year and the Dynamo will not give up on him after one season.
I will be waving the caution flag for Indy Eleven when teams line up to start the 2016 NASL season. As the new teams join the league next year and clubs make roster changes I believe the Eleven will finish 10th in the combined standings, respectively. The Eleven were one of the most entertaining teams in the final third but need to remodel the backline. Myself, like all fans of the “Boys in Blue” will come out next year enthusiastic to see the Eleven back in action, knowing the team will have improved from the previous two years. But I will refuse to ride the roller coaster like I did this past season and establish modest expectations for Indy Eleven in 2016.