The 2016 NASL Season is winding its way to an end. Accolades have been awarded to many individual players both throughout the league and locally (in the form of corn dog statues). Several of the Eleven have been given league-wide acknowledgement. Duke Lacroix snagged Goal of the Year, Eamon Zayed is gracing the NASL’s Best XI, and Tim Hankinson was deservedly granted Coach of the Year.
There is only one season-ending award left to claim.
The Soccer Bowl trophy.
Indy Eleven and the New York Cosmos: the two teams that have dominated this season and produced some of the very best displays when squaring off against each other. Three of Indy’s players were engaged in this very same matchup a year ago, fighting to realize Ottawa FC’s championship hopes. Falvey, Ubiparipovic, and Patterson lost that battle with New York and they have carried a vengeful demeanor ever since.
With players like Ayoze and Mendes in New York’s back line it’s no wonder they’ve been so difficult to break down for most teams. These two also finished as part of NASL’s Best XI and New York’s talent pool by no means dries up with them. Juan Arango, the Cosmos’ decorated midfielder, has a forward’s nose for goal. He has managed decisive scores in critical moments, including New York’s previous test against Rayo OKC. A danger both offensively and defensively, the Indy Eleven has never had a worthier opponent.
But the Eleven are worthy opponents in their own right. Two names that have been notably absent among the slew of awards at season’s end are that of Colin Falvey and Nemanja Vukovich.
Captain Falvey has truly embodied the essence of this team. His insistence on playing through a bleeding head wound last week against Edmonton exemplified the mentality of this entire roster. Even if not wholly unique in his courage, he has been instrumental in creating and driving that kind of culture in the club. Vukovich was on the NASL’s Team of the Week a whole third of the time the award was given. His play as a wing back was the most inspired the Eleven has ever seen. From technical skill to defensive ability to set pieces and scoring, he covered the most ground of any player for any team in the league.
To those pillars add players like Don Smart and Marco Franco who have stepped up and traded the bench for starting positions, or Justin Braun, a tireless workhorse who seems to consume the imaginations and fears of opposing defenders every time he’s on the pitch. And we haven’t even discussed shutout monster Busch-There-It-Is, or the recent resurrection of Supercalifragilistic Ubiparipovic, or the many other storylines and standouts.
Think they just might have this in them? I do.
This team is a jacked up battalion that has risen above every obstacle put in their way. They need only prove themselves one more time—by bringing home the championship.