Indy Eleven end the spring on a five match unbeaten streak
Coming off a Cinderella season that saw Indy Eleven win the North American Soccer League Spring Championship and appear in the NASL Soccer Bowl, much was expected for the 2017 version. However, things did not start out as planned with younger faces on the roster and a new assistant coach.
The league catches up:
Teams around the NASL caught up to Indy Eleven in terms of player signings and adjusting their tactics accordingly to counter Indy Eleven’s style of play. Several times the Eleven were outnumbered or caught off balanced in their traditional 4-4-2 diamond in the middle approach to the game. This was also helped by Indy who struggled to keep their shape and find width on the counter as injuries to Gerardo Torrado, Ben Speas, and Don Smart.
How many draws does it take to get to the center a win?
The Eleven started the season with six straight draws and finished with a total of eight. Those six draws followed a depressing funk that saw the Eleven lose four of their next five, including a rare defeat at home. But that 4-1 drilling at home against a surprising Jacksonville Armada is exactly what the Eleven needed as the next five games was a mixture of old spirit, deadly speed, a healthy roster, a bit of luck, and a slight change in the midfield tactics.
Hankinson puts the boy’s back on track:
After the six draws and several defeats, fans were calling for head coach Tim Hankinson’s exit. Credit to the Eleven’s front office for being tolerable, Hankinson, and the team for staying together to see the season through as it paid off in the final five games of the spring. The Eleven adjusted to a flat midfield, saw the return of Speas and Smart, and Hankinson quietly guided the Eleven to 13 out of a possible 15 points to finish the spring season in striking distance of a playoff spot.
Hankinson is old school in his approach to the game. He defines each player’s role, wants them to flourish within their realm, is more worried about his team than the opponent, forces the other teams to make adjustments, and rarely makes adjustments to the formation. Refined tweaks but nothing drastic because he knows his team’s strength better than anyone. The slight adjustment of going from a diamond in the middle to a flat four has been all the difference for the Eleven. As Erik Albers mentioned in his previous post, Siniša Ubiparipović has become the Ubi of old over these last five games in addition to Torrado in the final match against Jacksonville in part due to the flat midfield.
If the Eleven stay healthy…:
As long as the Eleven can stay healthy over the next 16 games, there should be no doubt they can clinch a berth in the playoffs. But the lack of depth is a real concern if the injury bug wonders back to Indianapolis. That depth and injury concern will be a big factor after the Eleven finish with a home and home series with the FC Edmonton as they will follow up against four teams that finished in the top four this spring. The good news is Indy knows how to put up a fight and teams in the NASL never have a fun time tangling with the Eleven.
Our spring MVP for Indy Eleven:
Erik Albers: Justin Braun, froward.
Michael Carney: Daniel Keller, Defender.
PHOTO CREDIT: MATT SCHLOTZHAUER