Indiana has a long history of sporting glory. From the the Hoosiers to the Pacers to the Colts and more, championship-caliber teams are woven into the fabric of this Midwestern crossroad. These teams are a treasure to our culture.
Now there is a new name to add to the list.
With the 1-0 win over FC Edmonton in Saturday’s playoff semi-final, Indy Eleven has advanced to a Championship showdown with the New York Cosmos.
Just three seasons into the club’s history, success has come in heaps—in stark contrast to its first two seasons. Indy Eleven won the split-season’s Spring title, has gone undefeated at home for over an entire year, and now has a date with their hated rival in a contest for the 2016 Championship. All of this began with head coach, Tim Hankinson, who was brought on to overhaul the roster last winter. Since then he has showcased determined leadership and humility and has signed like-minded players who have adhered to his warrior-mentality.
Precisely such a mindset was necessary to win the recent semi-final. Edmonton’s game plan and formation has stayed the same for months. Why? Because it works. Their stout defense absorbs blow after blow and tempts opposing teams to over-commit to their attack. With the opposition overextended Edmonton counters ferociously and, once the lead is in hand, settles back on defense for a low-scoring victory.
The low-scoring victory definitely panned out but not in Edmonton’s favor.
Indy established a beautifully balanced mid-to-high level intensity in their attack. When Edmonton dropped back to defend and pull them in, Indy held course and refused the bait. Colin Falvey went down before the half with a bloody head wound, but went on to captain the team through bandages, sutures, and three jerseys. Though beat up, the Eleven’s form only improved in the second half, where they eventually wore the Eddies down and scored a gorgeous goal. Spot in the final: secured.
This particular goal, critical as it was to the Eleven’s Championship hopes, was extremely special for an additional reason.
The winning goal was scored by Sinisa Ubiparipovic, a much-anticipated signing back in the spring that never really worked out. Throughout the spring season Hankinson regularly returned to the number ten who was supposed to be a lynchpin in the Eleven’s system. Results were disappointing and some—including yours truly—were critical of the attacking midfielder. A fight with injury took too long to recover from in the middle of the season and once he was healthy again the team had largely moved on to a strategy that did not quite include him.
Yet through failure and injury and losing his starting spot, Ubiparipovic never gave up. In recent weeks he became an important component of the starting lineup, in many ways for the first time. And in Saturday’s semi-final his never-stay-down attitude granted him another first; his first goal.
That is the stuff this entire team is made of. A bloodied Captain Falvey continuing to play, come-from-behind wins, and redemption for players once labeled as disappointments. It’s what has endeared this club and this team to all of us who support them. It’s what makes them a perfect fit among Indiana’s other championship-caliber sports clubs.
It’s what makes them Indiana’s team.