State of the Pod

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State of the Pod

We've gotten this question a lot over the past few months since our last podcast with Bert Kreischer (which was a bucket list of mine and hanging out with him after the show was amazing) and I figured it was time to really set the record straight about where we've been, what we're doing, and where we're going.  Not like we really owe it to you but it's nice to have something of record.

Last year was an interesting year for us.  We both got really busy with work and personal life.  I'll spare you the particulars but shit got BUSY, and it was just tough to get around to podcasting every other week.  We love the support: the questions of when the next episode is coming, stopping us at games to have a drink with us or talk about a conversation you've heard us have, just saying hi to us at a game, it really means a lot.  

We don't get paid for this, any of it.  Most of the money put into this has been from Chris, who takes more of an executive producer type of role to the show.  We're not sponsored, we've never asked, nor have gotten any kickbacks from anyone, and all of this has been very organic from a growth perspective from the very beginning.

Last year we acquired the talents of one Aaron Gunyon.  In my personal opinion Aaron is one of the best writers for Indy Eleven out there.  His wit and candor fit perfectly in line with our vision within the podcast (of not really giving a shit about what people thought) and wrote some pretty amazing articles for this site which was something we desperately needed.  Aaron is now doing that same amazing work over at Soctakes.com, so if you loved reading his work here, give those guys a follow. 

Where to now?

Anyway, much like our show, I'm rambling away from the point: Where are we going?  We're not going anywhere, but we're going to take the pedal off the gas from doing soccer shows.  We'll still tweet and post pics and videos from Indy Eleven games.  We'll still be tailgating there and having a great time much like you've seen us there over the past few years.  Hell there might be a soccer based show at some point, but I can set the expectation now that it'll be few and far between.

We are challenging ourselves to cover new things.  Food, beer, places around Indy, fight pods, whatever really sparks our interest.  We're getting back to the roots of podcasting as a whole.  Too much focus has been on advertisers and sponsors and listenership, numbers that hit our inbox and views of the site.  Frankly, we feel like all that stuff is bullshit.  We want to have intriguing, funny, sometimes offensive conversations about places and things happening around the city we love.  Our shows with the team are just the tip of the iceberg.  We hope that you come along for the ride, but if you were just around to listen to the players and staff talk and win some free shit, that's fine too.  If we can get some people to follow us that was just listening for the Indy Eleven aspect that's fine too.

In summary, we can't thank everyone who's helped us and listened to us along the way.  It's meant the world to two guys who happen to be best friends and decided to do some shitshow of a podcast. Never could we have imagined the following on Twitter or the recognizing at games. We hope that you find our next chapter as entertaining as the first.

See you at the game Saturday.

 

 

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Indy Eleven And The New Year: Part 2

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Indy Eleven And The New Year: Part 2

It has been a little more than a year since I first met Coach Hankinson in the Tomlinson Taproom on the second floor of the historic Indy City Market.  At that time he was Indy Eleven´s newly appointed head coach and it seems like a lifetime ago.  So much has changed for the team since his arrival that I wont list it all here, but I will note the immediate positive impact he has had on the community and the culture of soccer here in this town.  For me it´s very difficult to identify the future without exploring the past.  We can look back for clues to see how the next important months play out.

Hankinson proudly helped the Eleven hoist their first piece of hardware last Spring and he took the #1 seeded Cosmos to penalties in the Championship game.  That Cosmos team was best in the league for goals scored and yet they had accumulated none on November 13th.  Even with that record setting success, there were lulls and questions about the teams form.  We can learn from that too.

¨As the season went on, there was a five game streak in the Fall where we didn´t lose every game, but we were not playing that well, we were not looking dangerous, we were not scoring...At that particular juncture we needed more ways than were finding to score goals. Different ways.  In the first half of the year we were -get it wide-cross it in- and hope the ball falls our way. As the season went on, that wasn´t enough to count of for goals.  So we felt we needed a player like Sinisa that brought different ideas-found different angles-could feed strikers from a central position.¨

Perhaps I should also point out some of my reservations after that first handshake and the first conversation I had with Coach.  I heard his ideas about players and formations and I have to admit that something stuck out for me in a negative way.  Greg Janicki was coming back and I couldn´t believe it.  Greg´s 2015 wasn´t that strong.  He certainly didn´t score four goals.  I told coach about that last week.  I told him I was critical of that decision to bring Greg back and that I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.  It was a difficult moment of honesty for me.  I questioned Coach.  Now I will never make the team.  But Janicki did make the team last year and he earned his time in spite of my ignorance.  

¨Because I had a couple years with Greg, I knew what he was capable of...When I first came in, I was handed a roster with three marks listed next to each name.  One was ¨Definitely Keep¨. One was ¨Letś Discuss¨. This is a maybe and the other one was ¨Definitely Cut¨.  Greg was on the definitely cut list.  I saw that and I needed to look at some video and see where has his game had gone that he would be so far down the list that basically says, ¨You´re not coming back¨.  What I recognized is that Greg is at his best when he is man marking...And I recognized what type of player Greg needed to have next to him in order to be successful...A central defender that can verbalize and organize and correct...And that was Colin [Falvey] and that allowed Greg to have a great year.¨    

Enjoy retirement Greg and I am sorry for doubting you.  Coach´s answer gave me some real confidence now I wanted to talk to him about some of Indy Eleven´s original roster.  I wanted to know about his thoughts on the players that survived the great roster scrubbing of 2016 and had pushed themselves out onto the pitch.  I phrased this very carefully and I asked about his ¨late approval" of Dylan Mares and Don Smart.  They were clearly outside and looking in at the start of the last season.  Coach answered like he has given this a lot of thought in recent days.  Keep in mind that some of the players mentioned here are free agents that were discussed in Part 1.  They are still some of my favorite players.  

¨I´d also add Marco Franco¨

Of course Marco Franco.  I can´t believe I forgot.  Now pay attention here because there is a quote within a quote.  Hank recounts a conversation he had with our young RB.

¨Because Marco was a starter before I got here...When Lovell had an injury I told Marco,
¨The fact is you never lost the position, it was taken from you-by me as the coach-to put a different player in that spot. So now is your opportunity to show that you never should have been replaced and that you are a top class right back.¨ 
And I think that Marco proved that.  I think with Dylan and Don, they existed in this team as pretty much automatic starters or go-to players before, but remember if you look at the make-up of the squad, that it was a young team.  They probably didnt feel challenged in fighting for their positions because of the way that roster was made up.  We brought in basically-we signed 12 new starters to fill 11 spots believing that some of the guys who were playing before would give us better quality bench play.  There were some players like Dylan and Don that took this on as a challenge.  They had to raise their game which they did.  As we saw what they were now bringing to the field, they started to establish themselves.¨

Coach acknowledged that while it is difficult to know the best way to deploy Don, either as a starter or a sub, the Jamaican had a breakout year.  

Hard shift. Going forward.  What areas of the pitch need addressing?  Let´ś talk 2017!  Read carefully for clues as to who might be in or out.  I´ll tell you what I noticed right away.

¨Well...You know when we first started out-again going back to free agency-we had to see what players we were going to lose and what players were we going to cut away.  We had to look at the lineup and say where do we need to focus our search?  I think obviously Greg presents the #1 priority.  We do have a solution for that in Lovell Palmer.  If you remember that Lovell played a number of games centrally and I think surprised everyone at how well he did it so we do have an option there but we are going to continue to look for an additional starting center back that is of starting quality.¨  

Important

¨I think the left midfield.  It´s hard to find a natural left-footer.  We don´t know whether Duke [Lacroix] or Dylan will return which were our two options on that side of the park.  We will focus on making sure that we have an option there.¨  

At forward

¨Up top-you always like to-I mean obviously Justin [Braun] and Eamon [Zayed] formed a great partnership, but we want them to be challenged.  We want to push them.  Gaining a couple more assets at the forward position that we would hope could score goals.¨

Real talk.  While Coach Hankinson is always quick to point out that the Cosmos salary was triple that of the Indy Eleven last year-there will be cost cutting in version 3.0 of the NASL.  The rampant league spending was out of control and Indy Eleven took part alongside several others.  Players we know and love will not be affordable in 2017 and making those tough choices is good for the longevity of a young team in a young league.  More affordable players may stick around even though they are destined to fill a bench role.   

¨When the NASL started to have concerns as to its stability, I know that all of the ownerships in the league started to take a closer look at the business plan and that means making cuts.  Those are the realities of any business-to try to get to a point of breaking even and profitability.  We are not there yet.  Maybe some of the level of players that I would like to pursue I have to make some adjustments with.¨

Finding players eager to play is never a problem.  Peter Wilt once described the talent pool, to me, as ¨virtually limitless.¨  I think it´s important to discover young or new players and develop them for the NASL.  While assembling a journeyman squad can be fun, it is certainly not the most cost effective.  I think this may have been a part of NASL 2.0ś downfall and something to really keep an eye on as we track the success of the league going forward.  Can coaches, owners and teams discover young and blossoming talent at a cost that is measured and practical.  

I doń´t know if this is the reason, but Hankinson has already been on a scouting trip to Mexico.  Remember.  I mentioned it in Part 1.  

TAKE ME BACK TO PART 1

¨I´ve been down to Mexico. To Puebla.  I actually spent 3 days with Torrado looking at 40 free agents.  In Mexico they have a new roster rule that they are allowed 10 international players per roster so there are a lot of Mexican nationalized players that are now free because there is just not enough room.¨

This offseason has been tumultuous at times, but I think the hard part is over.  The fun part is just beginning.  Indy Eleven will be making a few roster announcements in the next few hours, but I think the surprise or interest from these immediate announcements will be due to the departures rather than any new arrivals.  Be prepared to wish some people well.  

Coach Gets into town in a couple weeks.  He will be Skyping with Tim Regan and Jeff Belskus in the meantime.  These next few days are going to go pretty fast considering how much business was held up and back logged.    

¨We will continue to look and search and hope to kick off preseason on February 15th!¨

It is 2017! It is a new year and a new league.  I am looking forward to what this season can and will be.  I am still not sure if four teams make the playoffs though.  

TAKE ME BACK TO PART 1

 

 

 

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Indy Eleven And The New Year: Part 1

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Indy Eleven And The New Year: Part 1

After all the turmoil we have seen unfold in recent days, I cannot help but think of a line from a classic Richard Pryor movie

"Everybody go back to work...Because this is a business, and we're in the business of being in business and we're doing business and nobody's business...Do it!  Business.  Good!  I want business done...Just the way it should be!" - Monty Brewster - Brewster's Millions

Although, the safety of the Indy Eleven may never have truly been in doubt, there were many puzzle pieces out of place that were in desperate need of sorting.  Roster news seems irrelevant without a team or a league to play in, but we have that now.  And so we get down to the proper business of silly season.  Roster spots, player evaluation, and on-field changes can now be freely discussed.  

I don't mean to infer that the team hasn't been hard at work.  The truth is that many people have been hard at work behind the scenes, but now is the time that things will start to make more sense and we are going to see more movement with the tricky bit out of the way.  Without going completely into the madness that was USSF sanctioning, it is important to understand that the very nature of player contract business was hindered greatly by the lengthy ordeal.  

Based on conversations that I have had with team personnel and reports (read: "sourced" rumors) from around the league, I surmise that there was legitimate uncertainty about what league Indy would play in.  Contracts written for one league would become null and void for another.  I point to this as the greatest clue that Indy Eleven gave serious thought about an existence outside of the NASL.  

Consider how difficult it might be to sign players if you are unable to definitively state which league they might play in.  Consider what operating budget would be required as business models for the two current division 2's are quite different.  The players would have to be getting anxious at this point.  I am sure there are "handshake" deals in place for many teams across many leagues, but I only really care about the one.

So I spoke with Indy Eleven Head Coach Tim Hankinson recently and he let me in on what he had been working on so far in the offseason.  I am not sure he even took much of a break from the game after Indy's heartbreaker in New York.  I led rather informally with a "what have you been up to?" and he almost instantly was into his day-to-day and week-to-week with Assistant Coach Tim Regan.  They Skype apparently, and they evaluate players, but I was taken aback because I really wanted Tim to tell me he had gone skiing in the Alps with former Indy Eleven goalkeeper Kristian Nicht.  

He hadn't.  

But he had been spending time with his family in San Antonio.  He had also already made a trip to Mexico although that may have been more business than pleasure but I am getting ahead.  Hank started dropping bombs on me pretty early. This next quote was 40 seconds into our conversation.  

"Immediately, we had to address free agency. There are a number of players that were at the end of a contract.  Dylan Mares, Duke, Brad Ring, Marco Franco, Daniel Keller.  Those right there were the focus from the start.  I think we will retain some of them. I think we will loose two or three of them.  Not by our choice.  It's just based on-other teams may have offered a bigger contract/longer-term than we were in a position to do..."

Coach Hankinson has been around the business for a while and he knows that a successful roster like the one he just had will attract attention from around the league.  I hadn't said anything, but I think Hankinson knew I took this news pretty hard.  Losing two or three of this bunch?  These are some of my favorite players, and Coach continued unprompted.

"...There are going to be teams circling like vultures looking to pick you apart-so to speak-so we have been fighting hard to make sure we keep as much of our core as possible."

You get 'em, Hank!  You bring back our boys.  Keep in mind I din't say any of that.  I am pretty mousy around Coach.  I made a joke once after the USOC match in Chicago.  The look I got in the tunnel just outside the locker room put knots in my stomach and I am much more professional now.  I drink less before interviews.  

When I started my phone call with Indy Eleven's winningest coach, I had only a handful of questions written down and in this case it was not due to a lack of preparation.  It was by design.  Coach is very easy to interview.  He has a lot to say and he is confident while saying it.  Our conversation drifted from the joy of the "Mircacle at the Mike" to coming up short after 120 minutes of championship play.  What I find the most impressive about our white-haired wonder boy is his passion for the game.  What sets him apart and what sets him up for success may be his standards and a desire to continually improve.  Coach Hankinson is very upfront about his expectations for the future of this team.  

"It was a season of achievements and that sets the standard for season ahead. Where the fans had no expectations last year, this year, anything less than winning the Spring or Fall or making the playoffs-You know we will feel that hunger from the fans to repeat the things we did last year and in a second year it's that much harder.  You know you enter the Spring last year and probably our first five or six opponents had very little concern probably when looking at our name on their schedule.  This year we intend to set very high standards and teams will be aware of that...Every coach in the league will talk about 'Let's be the first team in over a year to knock Indy off their winning streak at the Mike."

I tried to start a follow up question and then Hankinson blasted me and jarred me to attention with a common expression that I have no doubt is his motto for this offseason. 

"No resting on our laurels. We've gotta have a great preseason.  We've gotta be ready for it."

Again with the passion, I got a little rattled and reverted to what I felt was my worst pre-written question.  I couldn't help it.  Coach was talking about the future and for some reason I wanted to go back in time.  I asked him what he had learned from last year and he went through some of the daily thought processes that impacted the lineups we saw all season.  It's the stuff that I find the most fascinating.  Coach had bailed me out and the interview was back on track. 

"I think flexibility is important because the group is always changing...There are injuries.  There are card accumulations.  There are times that individual players are on their game and finding a great zone where we can count on what they can produce and then there are times that same player goes through a bit of a drop in performance.  It's important that the ingredients-the components of the game that have to be spot on in order to win-have to do with finding that group of players-weekly- that are on their game and work well together. You know when we started the Spring Season a player like Sinisa had not had a good preseason and he had injuries.  And so we had to look and say what group or player seem like they are on their game and how can we play and give them the best chance to win?"

To be continued in Part 2..

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Club > All Else

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Club > All Else

The Coach Hank piece will have to wait.  I just deleted it all.  I kept the title for tonight.  I'll start again on Sunday.

This is just too nutty to ignore.  My Friday night was perfectly planned out.  I plugged in my laptop and placed it on an expensive T.V. tray.  My wife calls it a C-table and That's probably why it costs more, but I am not fooled.  It's a T.V. tray.  My Boston Celtics lounge pants are on and I had strategically placed a whiskey bottle within arms reach.  My headphones were in and I was mining my Hankinson recording for nuggets of wisdom.  Pork chops are in the oven and I have to listen for the timer.  But...the chaos was calling and I couldn't miss the #SoccerTwitter train wreck as it unfolded.  

Today was the day.  We had been given plenty of warning.  A decision was looming in the first week of the new year.  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday ticked by quite quickly on the calendar which left lower division soccer with a potential First Friday to remember.  #Sources had confirmed it would be today.  Friday morning came and it was filled with the usual silence from the powers that be and the usual suspects filling the void on social media.  The decision was left until Friday afternoon until it wasn't.  The delayed announcement had been delayed yet again and then it was to be tonight. 

Tonight was the night!  The momentum built steadily again.  The story had been playing out for months. Or 7-10 days.  Whichever one is longer.  I'm not even using sentences anymore.  Is it the whiskey or the fact that I have been refreshing 140 characters for the last three hours?  It was wonderful really and I am sorry if you missed it. 

Delicious memes, hashtags and gifs create a perfect storm of madness, euphoria, hope and despair.  Tonight was the night that Division 2 became... 2 division... 2's. I am not sure that even makes sense but let me try that again.  The United States Soccer Federation has awarded division 2 status to two separate leagues.  The decision had been made and announced as official.  Sports Illustrated was reporting on my league.  All of lower division soccer was there and I didn't really know how to feel.  Honestly, I wasn't sure. 

When this evening began, I really had no idea that this could happen.  What I actually mean is that I knew this could happen.  There was some sort of provision in the US Soccer bylaws to allow for such and an anomaly, but I just didn't think it would happen.  I mistakenly assumed there would be one winner and one loser.  There had to be a D2 and a D3.  Truthfully, when the night began, I was expecting business as usual.  I was thinking that the USSF would allow the NASL to retain it's division 2 moniker and USL would remain relegated in division 3.  I was fairly confident. 

I was wrong.  

There will be two leagues operating as division 2 when I wake up tomorrow.  I'll be at work when you are reading this.  I have to work on a Saturday.  I warned them I would be drunk.  This is the silly season.  Welcome!  #Sources can confirm that things cannot get much sillier.  

The NASL does not meet all the necessary division 2 requirements and neither does the USL.  And yet...2017 will be the year that they both proudly wear the distinction.  The two leagues will continue to operate 100% independently of each other although one of the leagues isn't 100% independent.  Another of the two leagues isn't meeting 100% of it's financial obligations to players or staff.  

The epic dysfunction of the NASL had precipitated speculation on a massive scale.  Defection and dissolution (fairly certain I am using this word properly. See Also: Whiskey) ran through the league like Montezuma's Revenge.  Six weeks ago I thought the NASL was toast. Four weeks ago I thought Indy Eleven would end up in the USL.  2 weeks ago I thought that NASL would be the lone division 2.  Imagine what I will think tomorrow.  

There were rumors a plenty over the past few weeks.  There were private meetings and information leaks.  I am sure there were many people working long hours who were doing their best for their respective organizations and building the future of this sport in America.  It was not really transparent. it's not known how it all went down at this time, but this storyline seems to make sense.

The USSF bought time for a dying league and delayed a decision that would have been a death blow had it come any sooner.  They promoted a league in the name of fairness and most likely to avoid litigation of some kind.  They have kicked the can down the road and allowed for this topic to be revisited during the next silly season.  This division war is not over by any stretch.  Both the USL and the NASL have made promises and I bet that neither one can keep them all.  The race is on for the league that can keep the most promises and make the most improvement.  The NASL needs more teams.  The USL needs more money and bigger stadiums.  A merger was out of the question with business models so diametrically opposed.   Promotion and relegation is still a pipe dream for some although it seems to be prominently displayed here.

We saw an entire league get promoted just a few hours ago and there is now nothing to stop an entire league from becoming relegated in the following season.  #ProRelForUSA is real. I have no idea what Tinfoil Ted is up to.  I blocked him a long time ago as you all should, but I smile and laugh when I think about the conspiracies and the racism he will dream up based on tonight's conclusions.  

This also opens the door for two simultaneous and  functional division 1 organizations in the future.  MindExplosion.gif .  An interesting precedent has been set here and it will be something to watch for in the future.  In the very distant future.  

I care about only two things in this equation of today's events.  I care about what is best for Indy Eleven and what is best for soccer in my country.  Long term growth of the sport is always at the forefront of my thoughts, but I can be a fan of both entities and know that their possible interests remain opposed to each other.  I can be a fan of both to suit my needs as citizen and a hometown fan.  

I'll admit that I would not have shed a tear had the NASL fallen.  I do think that the USSF took the cheap way out.  I know why they did it.  I get it.  It might even be for the best.  Deep down, there was a part of me that was ready for a rock solid central division in USL featuring Louisville City, Cincinnati FC, and St. Louis FC, but it was not meant to be.  There are still more questions than answers and there is not a lot of certainty for the NASL even in the wake of such a monumental decision.  I find my thoughts relegated to the fact that I will cheer for a team, in 2017, that will have possibly 6-8 opponents spread to all the corners of this continent and with nothing much in-between.   

But I retained trust and faith in Indy's front office throughout the entire ordeal.  I was continually assured or reassured that the club would operate in 2017 and that's all that really matters.  I am happy that this portion of silly season is behind us and the team can get down to important business matters involving actual business. 

Indiana Uber Alles.  

 

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Tres A Cero

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Tres A Cero

The Indy Eleven are full throttle down the stretch having recently dispatched Puerto Rico FC by a score of 3-0.  While PRFC may not have been near the leagues elite this year, the opponents don't seem to matter to the boys when they play at Carroll Stadium.  Saturday's score was the third consecutive home match with an identical tally for Indiana's Team.  Indy's convincing victories over New York Cosmos and the Carolina RailHawks seemed to carry an edge to them.  Perhaps revenge was the underlying theme and motivation for embarrassing the league leaders and removing hope from playoff hopefuls.  

But what did Carmelo Anthony's team do to deserve this?  Nothing.  Saturday's win was a cold-blooded assertion of dominance at home.  The Indy Eleven conclude their 2016 season being undefeated at Michael A. Carroll Stadium (13-3-0).  It's a historic edifice that no doubt strikes fear into the hearts of all challengers.  The Eleven have now recorded 37 goals this year during 16 NASL matches in the Circle City.  Their 2.31 goals per game average is only made more impressive by their +26 goal differential as hosts.  

Indy's offensive firepower has been on display all season.  The team has put away a record setting 50 goals thus far, but there are currently no signs of slowing down for this team.  Indy has put up nine over their last three.  Saturday night's heroes were Indy's usual suspects and team leaders.  Justin Braun (8 goals), Eamon Zayed (15 goals) and Dylan Mares (5 goals) all found the score sheet against PRFC last night.  Coincidentally, those same three found the back of the net a month ago against the aforementioned New York Cosmos...in the same order.  Also tres a cero.  That three goal outburst came at a similar junction in the match and lasted over a 20 minute span just like it did against the Melos.  

Indiana's team leads the NASL in assits (36) with an impressive 11 different players registering helpers in 2016.  It may not be surprising, but Zayed (6), Braun (5) and Mares (6) top that category for Indy as well.  All three currently find themselves in NASL's top ten for assists which is further testament to Indy's scoring prowess.  There is no need to do it alone when you have a team this deep and this strong.  

So much has been said about Justin Braun's work rate and Eamon Zayed's nose for goal that some might incorrectly assume Indy's attack begins and ends with that dynamic duo.  Dylan Mares makes it the the terrific trio.  Indy's all time assist leader (13) is also second on the all-time scoring list with 10 goals.  

Mares has earned his starting job and proven himself to be indispensable in his attacking role.  His ability to slash inside and to put defenses on their heels allows space for others to join the attack.  The left-side pairing of Nemanja Vukovic and Mares in midfield has proven to be a well balanced tandem.  Mares naturally drifts toward the action in the center of the pitch and Vukovic tends to fly up the wing and provides the width needed from that side.  It's an open secret that while Vuko lines up at LB, he earns the bulk of his defender pay in the attacking half.  

Indy's 4-4-2 diamond is actually a very well oiled 3-5-2 in when the aggression is turned up.

Tres A Cero has become a reoccurring scoreline.  Saturday's contest was the fourth one this year.  It also marked the sixth time Indy had bested an opponent by three goals at home.  While defense wins championships, it is the offense that fills the highlight reels.  Four of Indy's last six opponents have been held scoreless, but the fear comes from insurmountable numbers.  The pressure for visitors to score at Carroll is causing them to crack.  

How do you beat a team that scores so frequently at home?  How about when they concede less than 1 goal per game?

Look ahead to the game in OKC and the conclusion of Indy's regular season next weekend.  The outcome of the match is insignificant, but positive momentum heading into the postseason will surely be a plus.  It's proven that the trio of blue shirts, shorts and socks are nearly invincible, but the practice of winning on the road (wearing white checkers) still might be needed yet this season.  The team that Coach Hankinson unveils in Oklahoma will very likely be the group fans see on November 5th.  There will be few dramatic changes as the time has come for the end of the season push.  

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Indy Eleven Something Something Win At Home

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Indy Eleven Something Something Win At Home

Indy Eleven wrote another chapter in the classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde at home on Saturday while adding three more points for the combined standings (49 total).  The Eleven won 3-0 to avenge a recent road loss to Carolina and simultaneously dashed any hopes the Railhawks had for postseason glory.  Indy put away goals in the 45th, 77th and 90th but more importantly held their opponents scoreless for the second straight match.  

Which is the good one? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.  One is impotent on the road and the other is a terrific force at home.  Indy is simultaneously among the best and the worst of the NASL.  A strange elixir has given Indy the second best home record 12-3-0 and the second worst road record 1-7-6.  While the boys in blue haven't lost at home since last October, the boys in white haven't won on the road since their first away game in early April.  Indy has taken only three points from nine away games this fall which is good enough for last in the NASL.  

The Indy Eleven have exceeded expectations at home and throughout the entire course of the 2016 campaign.  Every goal scored and every point earned sets a new club record.  Indiana's team has dramatically improved with version 3.0, but they may wind up being second best on the year.  They are second in goals scored (44).  They are the guaranteed second seed in the Championship.  They are tied for the second best defense having allowed only 29 all year.  

The team that finished 2014 and 2015 with goal differentials of -11 and -12 respectively now has a positive 15 this season.  It's also second best. 

The postseason picture comes closer into focus with each week as we approach the conclusion of a record setting year for Indy.  While we cannot know what the future holds, we can predict how current trends will play out and how those trends affect Indy and its supporters. Indy was the first team to clinch a playoff berth with their Spring Championship and that fact should not be forgotten, however, the smart money doesn't include Indy on the road.  

Indy traveled to Jacksonville midweek and failed to score on a team with a terrible defense and nothing to play for.  The Armada have been improved over the last few games, but only have two wins at home in 2016.  Jacksonville has a dramatically negative goal differential and yet Indy have only managed to tie Jacksonville twice in two trips to Florida.  

Flip it now to consider the Carolina Railhawks and their most recent demise at Carroll Stadium.  A Railhawks win on Saturday would have injected them into the thick of a playoff hunt for the fourth and final spot.  Carolina had everything gain and a loss would effectively render their remaining games to mere pageantry.  

Beating the playoff contender and drawing with the basement dweller in the same week is curious, but Indy has been consistent with this all season.  It's frustrating for fans.  At home it is "game on" and away it is ..."Meh, I am not really feeling it."

It's a stark contrast for the two manifestations of the 2016 Indy Eleven and it's one that I have contemplated all throughout the year.  I have considered weather, travel accommodations/conditions, and I have landed on one acceptable explanation. 

It comes down to the Brickyard Battalion.  The singing, smoking, standing, drinking, boisterous group that propels this team to victory.  You love this team and this team loves you.  They simply wont perform for anyone else.  

It is important to get your tickets for next weekends fixture as well as the first ever playoff game in Indy Eleven history on November 5th.  Get to #TheMike and get ready to celebrate.  If some bizarre turn of events would allow Indianapolis to host two playoff matches, then you might just get to see a curious, frustrating, but special team make 10,000 plus lose their collective minds.  

#IndyForever

 

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Surprise Surprise - Indy Eleven Defeat Cosmos At Home

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Surprise Surprise - Indy Eleven Defeat Cosmos At Home

This is sarcasm of course.  The Indy Eleven are always up for a big match at Carroll Stadium.  They are undefeated at The Mike and they are a remarkable 13-1-0 while wearing the full blueberry kit.  I am counting victories over Pachuca and Louisville City in that stat.  Perhaps the surprise comes from the 3-0 bare-bottom spanking the Boys in Blue just gave the league leading New York Cosmos in front of 9,000 plus.   

It's no surprise that unselfish play propelled Indy to victory.  Eamon Zayed fed Justin Braun for the games opener in the 32nd minute but the hockey assist goes to Don Smart.  Don't forget to mention Cory Miller though.  He unlocked the defense by launching a perfectly weighted 50 yard switch to Smart who was streaking down the right flank.  On that play, 4 completed passes circled almost the entire pitch and the Cosmos were chasing the whole time.  

That goal surprised the Cosmos in the same way the whack-a-mole surprises 5 year olds.  

It's no surprise that Dylan Mares registered his assist for Zayed's 13th on the year.  Mares is Indy's all-time assist leader and Mr. Hat Trick is Indy's all-time goal scorer.  Unselfish team play again confounded New York in the 48th minute and it's not surprise that Big Z shed his defender and finished a tap in with his right foot.  That's literally the least surprising thing that happened all night.  

Maybe it's surprising that the Cosmos don't know where Zayed is going to be in that moment.  

It's no surprise that Mares earned his own tally with heart and in the 51st.   Capitalizing on a New York turnover, Mares and Braun pressed the sprint button and executed a give-and-go to perfection.   It's not surprising that Mares' first touch set up his shot just outside the 18 yard line and it's not surprising Dylan felt he was open.  

The shot did surprise the Cosmos' goal keeper Jimmy Maurer.  He wasn't to blame for the first two, but he was beaten soundly by the Indiana hero for the third.  

Indy Eleven now have an even 40 goals on the year.  They are the second most dangerous team in the NASL behind only the New York Cosmos who have 45 tallies.  New York and Indy now sit in first and second position on the combined table with six regular season matches to play in 2016. Both of these teams are juggernauts at home.  They combine for 23-5-0 in their respective stadiums.  It's no surprise that the home team has come away victorious in all three contests this year.  

It is surprising how tough the road has been on these two NASL leaders.  They combine for a whopping 4-8-12 when they take the field away from home.  The stats do balance well because Indy has two less road wins and NYC have 2 more road losses.  This overwhelming statistic will be surprisingly important over the next few weeks.  Both teams are undefeated at home, but they are vulnerable when they travel.  

Home field advantage for the playoffs will be a game changing psychological edge that neither team is prepared to give up at this point. 

Indy's next opponent is another postseason contender in FC Edmonton.  The Eddies will host Indiana's team a week from today in a match soaked in playoff implications.  The Canadian side is now third on the combined table after this weekends results, but they have a game in hand on NYC and Indy.  It's a home game to boot.  

There have been massive games for Indy all season and I caution the overuse of the word, but Indy has risen to the challenge every time the points were truly needed.  It's no surprise that a team with only 5 losses has a chance at the #1 overall seed, but I am predicting that the road to the championship has to go through Edmonton at least once.  There is no doubt that Indy would prefer not returning to Alberta in November should that situation arise.  If Indy Eleven secure 3 points in Edmonton next Sunday, and negate the mathematical advantage the Eddies have, they could position themselves well with remaining games against lower opponents.  

What's the bottom line?  Indy Eleven will have to win on the road at some point if they want to hoist more hardware in 2016.  I hope that that the Indy Eleven understand this and go ahead and take care of business as they did yesterday.  This team has done very well for itself in recent weeks with impressive wins against streaking teams.  It's no surprise that this team is untouchable in front of the Brickyard Batallion.  The surprise will be when they get it done without having their mommies tuck them into their own bed.   

Indy will still need  favorable results from the Cosmos, but the Cosmos and Indy are in the same boat with regards to the remaining schedule.  Both teams have just 2 home fixtures remaining, but they each have 4 road games yet to go.  New York has already dropped 7 road games this year.  An extra 3 points in Edmonton for the Boys wearing white checkers will be massive.  

 

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Indy Eleven's Mr. Hat Trick

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Indy Eleven's Mr. Hat Trick

Let me first apologize and say that I don't know the proper protocol. Eamon Zayed now has 2 hat tricks for Indy Eleven and I have given him zero hats.  Hat tricks are rare in soccer and they have been so rare at Carroll Stadium that the issue had never truly arisen before.  Zayed put in his 11th of the season on Wednesday in front of 8,000 fans.  He finished chances in the 16th, 58th and 65th minutes while contributing to the highest score in Indy Eleven history.  The Eleven defeated the Jacksonville Armada comfortably with a 5-2 advantage. Do we owe him hats?

There were no hats to be found but Mr. Zayed was saddled with yet another load of bricks from the Brickyard Battalion.  I hope that is sufficient and we will be sending your 8,000 hats with Amazon Prime here shortly, Mr Z.  Perhaps you can use the hats while sitting on your new patio that you are sure to be building soon.  

I caught up with Zayed after training on Friday and asked him some questions about the season.  I wanted to know his thoughts about the team and the stadium, but I wanted to know how he is doing it.  It's hard to keep count on the goals and the records, but Zayed now stands completely alone with the club record for goals scored.  He is both the all-time leader and the single season record holder.  Those numbers wont stand.  They will be broken again by the international striker known affectionately as Big Z.

While the media scrum surrounded Coach Hankinson during the post game interview session on Wednesday, Both Eamon Zayed and Nemanja Vukovic could be heard going over some of the evenings events. It was playful banter among friends and teammates, but Vuko was giving Big Z an earful over some perceived missed opportunities.  I don't think it was serious criticism for Zayed who has 8 more goals than his defensive counter part.  Zayed had this to say about it after Friday's training session. 

"I got 3. Could have been 4, I mean I'll take it.  I had 5 chances. 3 out of 5 is not a bad return.  I'll take it every week.  The main thing is that we are creating the chances.  I felt Don Smart came on against Miami and played exceptionally well.  He's a different type of player I feel from the other wide players that we have.  He started the other day against Jacksonville.  He created my goal and 2 other chances for me."

 Zayed is not wrong about Smart.  He is a different type of player and he has assisted Zayed in each of the teams last two matches.  The interesting thing here is that everyone is coming alive with talk about how good Don Smart is.  Zayed brought it up and he elaborated without any follow up from me.  Zayed has a lot of respect for the work Smart has put in this season and is happy his teammate has found success this year. 

"He's done well and he deserves to start...I'm delighted because I know what he brings.  For me he's the best crosser on the team.  Obviously I'm a guy who lives off of service."

I don't want say that Zayed is the only player that can score or that he is the only route to success, but you don't have to look to hard to find trends or key stats.  10 of Zayed's 11 have been at home and Indy is a team that has struggled to find the net on the road.  

"At home, we're playing well. We're flying. We're getting results...I feel we can beat anyone in the league at home."

Zayed managed only 13 touches in Miami in spite of astronomical volumes of crosses.  While he did convert in the 89th, the team fell short of the ultimate goal.  With 28 touches just 4 days later, the outcome was a complete reversal.  What is going on there?  An obvious correlation between the leading goal scorer's involvement and the success that comes from that.  Feed big Z at home and away and to do that you need Don Smart. 

"Sometimes you connect with players...I know when he [Don Smart] has the ball what he wants to do and perhaps what he's going to do.  If I go near post he looks for me on the near post.  If I go far post he finds on the far post."

Today is another home fixture for the boys and they face their expansion cousin Ottawa Fury yet again.  I don't expect a hat trick every time out, but I wont complain if it happens.  The win on Wednesday was needed because it restored the teams collective confidence.  The result in Miami is not the story of this team defined by resilience and grit.  The season is only recently past the halfway point and there will be more goals to come.  Indy has 8 wins at this juncture which equals the total number of wins from 2015.  

Records were made to be broken.  Wear a hat next time.  

 

 

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Indy Eleven (Insert Ocean Pun) Jacksonville Armada

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Indy Eleven (Insert Ocean Pun) Jacksonville Armada

The Indy Eleven will host the Jacksonville Armada in just a matter of hours.  Carroll Stadium will come alive again and the Armada should have no doubts about tonight's outcome once the Brickyard Battalion joins in.  Jacksonville hasn't dropped anchor in Indy yet this year and their first time head coach, Tony Meola has never felt this kind of crowd as a sideline boss.  

The Eleven will enter as the clearest of favorites.  The Spring Champions have shutout all 3 of their visiting opponents in the early part of this Fall Season and Jacksonville have never won on the road...ever.  Indy haven't lost at home all year and they have won their last 7 including a US Open Cup victory as well as friendly against the Mexican champions Pachuca.  

Tony Meola and his squad have yet to find their sea legs and don't want to come to Indianapolis on a Wednesday.  The landlocked capital offers no safe harbor for a team that has not scored an away goal since July 2nd and have been blanked over their last 4 matches.  Ft Lauderdale were the the last ill-fated team to visit the crossroads at midweek and that game was over by the 30th minute. 

Indy Eleven are averaging 2.12 goals per game while being spurred along by the West End during the 2016 campaign and they are recording an astonishing 2.6 gpg over their last 5 home contests.  I know Meola's Linked In Profile is up to date, but the Armada could use some good boat insurance too.  The leaks in their defense give up 1.5 goals a game during Fall.

This has the potential to be ugly and it should be.  I am not the first to notice Indy's unsettling trend of playing down to lower opponents.  That simply wont do tonight.  This is a trap game and should be handled carefully as well as efficiently.  Step on the throat of this match and set them adrift as soon as possible.  These teams met earlier this year while in Florida and that match ended in a 1-1 draw.  Not only did Jacksonville score first, but they broke their last scoring drought in the face of the Eleven.  

It seems that Indy are almost back to full health and that is great news for a team with a quick turnaround and another home fixture on Saturday against Ottawa.  Team captain Colin Falvey has been participating in training. He was on the roster last weekend and reports indicate he might see his first minutes of Fall.  One of the leagues top defenses only gets better with his return although Corey Miller has filled in admirably.  

I don't think there are any real question marks regarding the lineup.  Jon Busch will reclaim his place between the posts, but perhaps we see Omar Gordon on a short leash.  Don Smart is a worthy replacement waiting in the wings and his influence was felt immediately upon his arrival in Miami last Saturday.  

1-0 will not do it for me or the land lovin' Eleven.  3 points will not be enough on their own.  I want everyone to leave this game healthy and eligible for the next match, but a statement win would be something to make up for so many missed opportunities in the sunshine state.  

The game kicks off at 7:30pm and tickets are still available.

 

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Indy Eleven Stumble Away

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Indy Eleven Stumble Away

The road is a lonely and unforgiving place.  That is where the Eleven found themselves on Saturday night as they dropped their second straight away game.  Two weeks ago it was Minnesota, but this week it was Miami FC that bested the boys in blue by a score of 2-1 (see footnote).  The visitors were not outclassed but they were beaten out of the blocks yet again.  Miami's first goal came just 4 minutes in and that set the tone for the contest.  

It's not quite a pattern, but it is a trait to watch.  Indy's visit to Minnesota had a similar feel with goals conceded before the team could get the match or their legs completely under them.  Mistakes in the early minutes created a 2 nil deficit that Indy were not able to overcome.  One got the feeling that Saturday vs Miami might yield a similar result, although not for a lack of trying. 

There were times throughout the match that I almost felt sympathy for Miami.  I thought how cruel it was to let them think they had the upper hand.  It felt that it was only a matter of time until Indy would equalize, but as the match wore on, that feeling subsided.  Indy chased the game for too long in the Florida heat.  

Indy had the majority of possession and record setting performances.  47 crosses I would assume would be the club's new high mark.  Passing percentages were well above average for the Eleven.  Brad Ring and Gerardo Torrado went off for a dizzying combined 93% on 92 attemts.  Eamon Zayed now has 9 goals across all competitions which puts him ahead of Kleberson for Indy's all-time scoring lead.  He has 8 in the NASL which equals Kleb's output, but he's done it at a faster rate than his predecessor.  

Miami's last outing was 3-3 draw vs the Carolina RailHawks.  The two times Miami went up, they were brought back level in a back and forth match.  Miami had given up 7 goals already during 4 matches played in the fall.  This one seemed ripe for a comeback win, but it wasn't to be.  

Did you know?  Miami held a two goal lead for the first time in their NASL history.  It was short lived, but it is worth noting.  Only two teams in the NASL put up multiple goals on the Eleven in 2016.  Minnesota have done it twice now during home and away matches, but Miami have themselves a bit of a scoring tear going on.  9 goals in 5 games during the fall.  Impressive considering that Indy came into the match boasting the best GAA of the fall and being second only to FC Edmonton on the entire season.  

Coach Hankinson did what he had to and what he could with his subs.  There was nothing wrong with the performances from Ring or Torrado, but they made way for SInisa Ubiparipovic and Jair Reinoso in the hopes of creating some magic in front of goal.  Don Smart came on for Omar Gordon sometime around the hour mark and his impact was felt immediately.  The crosses rained down all night long and the shot tally climbed in concert with the game clock, but Miami countered and Indy were down 2-0 before fully coming alive and claiming an elusive goal in Florida.  

Subbing off two very solid defensive midfielders for two attack minded options tells us two things about Indy Eleven and their coach.  The first is that they are always going for it and the second is that he is willing make in-game adjustments when the original plan is not getting it done.  The lineup that finished the game is probably the most dangerous selection that Indy could muster in any competition.  There was a lot of firepower out there.  

There was enough time for an equalizer after Zayed's mark in the 89th, but Indy has gone to the well a few too many times in the dying minutes and came up dry.  They had a chance, but it was a chance to steal and not a whole chance to be honest.  It's impossible to know, but perhaps the extra attempts to throw everything forward is what led to Miami's second score.  Although, there were players in good defensive positions and it might have just been Miami's time for a bit of fortune in the game's closing stages.  

One of the things that I was looking for during this match were the things that Coach Hankinson has told me he was looking for as a measuring stick.  The idea is to get 50% of possession, completed/accurate crosses and shots on goal.  Lets see how they did according to Opta Stats.

53% possession-23% completed crosses-29% shots on goal (excluding blocked shots)

This is a stumble and not a tailspin.  The sky is not falling but the Indy Eleven do have some issues to work out with regards to stepping off the bus and getting their heads in it early.  No team wants to chase for 85 minutes  and that is especially true with such a busy week ahead.  

Truthfully, this loss doesn't do anything to impact the tremendous season that Indy Eleven are having.  This season, like all others, will be a work in progress until the end.  Jacksonville Armada are next to face the Eleven at Fort Carroll where Indy have hosted 3 games, 3 victories and 3 shutouts this fall.  I do not envy them.  Indy's last midweek fixture was at home and Ft Lauderdale can tell you how that went.

Footnote: The team was actually wearing white as they tend to do on the road.  Indy remains undefeated while wearing blue shirts at home.  They have recorded 8 straight wins wearing blue shirts and blue shorts.  I still refer the Indy as the boys in blue whether they are home or away.  The team is also 2-0-0 wearing novelty socks.  Anyway I really like the alliteration saying "bested the boys in blue" so that's what the footnote was for. 

 

 

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Indy Eleven And The Miami Midterm

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Indy Eleven And The Miami Midterm

The sprint is done and the 32 game season is long underway.  Indy Eleven will head south again to face Miami FC on Saturday.  The first meeting was uneventful, but the Eleven packed up and headed home with their signature point while away.  A 0-0 draw doesn't hurt on the road, but it should be noted that the expansion side had a league worst record at the time of the first meeting.  A lot has changed for both teams since June 4th but this game will be a good snapshot to dissect performances and to evaluate the teams progress at the halfway point.  

Once again in first place in the combined standings, Indy is in a good place approaching the halfway line of the 2016 season.  While it is no secret that Indy's stout defense holds no matter what the terrain, Indy's offense has struggled to produce goals while away from the comforts of Carroll Stadium.  An away match at this point ought to be a good measuring stick for a team that has recorded 4 goals and has been shutout 4 times in 7 tries.  

Rarely do they miss out on points though.  Indy has a combined record of 7-7-1 during NASL action and the Indy Eleven are seemingly unstoppable in front of the Brickyard Battalion.  The last 3 wins were by shutout and Indy currently have the best Goals Allowed Average (0.6) in the Fall Season.  The team is in good form and have shown no signs of taking it easy as we cruise toward the postseason.  

Indy Eleven are sitting on 28 points through 15 games.  How far have we come since 2014?  Indy amassed a whopping 27 points during 27 matches in their inaugural campaign.  This team is significantly better with players on both the assist and goal scoring leader boards.  The club that put together 33 points last year has locked up a playoff spot for this year and is working on home field advantage throughout. 

Eamon Zayed leads the team in goals scored with 7 in NASL.  He is 1 behind Kleberson for the all-time club record, but He is tied if you consider his mark on the US Open Cup match back in June against Louisville City.  Zayed's 16 outings are rapidly approaching Kleb's 21 appearances so the race for 8 (and 9) gets more exciting with each upcoming match.  Zayed has zero away goals on the year which is interesting but that can't be all Big Z's fault and hopefully that changes at FIU Stadium.

Miami FC have made improvements in midfield with the addition of several overpaid acquisitions, but they have still conceded 7 goals in 4 games this Fall.  They gave up 3 to the New York Cosmos and 3 to the Carolina RailHawks.  Miami's lone win this Fall came against a Jacksonville squad that held Miami scoreless until stoppage time while playing with 10 men for the last 80 minutes. Blanking any team other than the Armada would be impressive, however, 1-0 against that sinking ship is not.     

Service is the real deficiency on the road.  Effective passes and crosses are what this team needs and that's what I will be looking for on Saturday.  It's how I will grade the teams performance.  Crosses, passes completed, and chances created are the stats I care about this weekend.  I spoke to Indy Eleven Head Coach Tim Hankinson not long ago and he clued me in on some of the metrics that he watches.  It was not just possession and it's not just shots on goal.  He's looking closely at completed crosses.  

"The only thing that has not improved to the level that we need it to...And this is the difference between not losing and going out and winning games...is our ability to cross the ball into an accurate or dangerous area." - Coach Tim Hankinson

My goal all season has been to paint the picture of how the team is really doing.  It's not to be negative or to bring people down.  I love this team and all that they have accomplished so far.  The bottom line is that no one knows the team better than the coach.  So if the coach is happy then I am happy, but if he is looking for more, then I will too.  

"You look at the statistics of the games where we have scored multiple goals that our crossing ratio is always 50% in the accurate area...and I would say one of the statistics we have noticed is that when we have 50% of our shots on frame we score multiple goals."-Hankinson

This is what coach is telling his players.  This is what he is asking for and what he is looking for.  After 15 games to date and it will be 16 come Saturday evening, I think we will have a good indication of where this team is with 16 to go before it's win or go home.  

"50% of possession.  50% of crosses in the accurate area.  50% of shots on target.  50-50-50 is to me what you have to shoot for every game.  that's a measuring stick for us that will dictate whether we are a multiple goal team going out and winning games or we are always in a tight one trying to steal points at the end." -Hank

Last time vs Miami FC -

42% Possession

0% Successful Crosses (0 of 16)

9% Shots On Target (1 of 15 excluding blocked shots)

Please take out your No. 2 pencils.  You will have 90 minutes to complete this test.  

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Indy Eleven Vs A Florida Team

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Indy Eleven Vs A Florida Team

The Indy Eleven continue their 2016 campaign today when they host Ft. Lauderdale Strikers at Carroll Stadium.  This second home game in 4 days will be Indy's first midweek match of the Fall.  Indy defeated Minnesota United on Saturday 1-0, but the team cannot rest on past performance if they wish to be the best in the NASL.  The Spring sprint is now over, but the race for home field advantage continues.

The truth is that the boys in blue checkers are now the ones with the targets on their back.  They are the team to beat and the ones that all others will chase.  Everyone else will want to play the spoiler and prevent an unbeaten team from dominating the entire league.  Indy has flown under the radar a bit during 2016, but that just isn't the case anymore.  A record setting streak and a passionate home crowd will provide fuel to all visiting teams hoping to test themselves against the best.  

All games become harder from here on out.  Indianapolis is the Crossroads of America and the road to a championship may also come through Indy with the guaranteed playoff game already in hand.  While Indy has clearly been motivated for the big games, the needed shift will be an understanding that its always a big game for the opponents.  Even though they haven't always gotten the results that they wanted, or felt they deserved, the Eleven have indeed been special and fun to watch.  The reason why that is is a lot less complex than you might imagine.  

Before I got to interview Coach Hankinson on Tuesday, I got a chance to listen in on his address to the team after training at the Mike.  He stressed the importance of unity and teamwork.  At this stage of the season he is still keeping players on task and encouraging them to support each other.  He gave me the same speech a few moments later.  It was hot so we sat on folding chairs in the shade provided by the player tunnel, but Hank always has time to talk about this team and what makes it so special?

"Belief. They believe in each other and what they can do together.  The reason we have had great moments out here at the Mike is because it's not about the individual. It's not about the word "I". It's about we. It's about us. It's about united.  It's about the work we are willing to do together to make something special happen."- Coach Hankinson

In spite of that team philosophy, the Eleven have struggled to find goals against Florida teams.  Three of the four Florida trips were 0-0 affairs.  Perhaps its the travel.  Maybe it's all the orange juice, but the last meeting against Ft. Lauderdale was a scoreless draw that required Indy Eleven goalkeeper Jon Busch to stand on his head.  Coach was impressed with Busch's individual effort against Ft. Lauderdale in the Spring but he isn't exactly hoping to see a repeat performance.  Coach pounced on this topic and I get the impression that it may have been inspiration for the "No-I-In-Team" speech I just heard twice...now three times. 

"Best game of his career!  We just said this is a team effort.  Everyone's got to step up and we can't be reliant on one guy to have a miracle game.  We are glad Buschy did that day, but everyone's got to be ready because this is a dangerous team." -Hank

The NASL is a very small but very competitive league and the split season raises the value of each fixture.  Taking points in every game seems to be Indy's winning strategy.  Indy Eleven were able to steal 1 important point while down in Ft. Lauderdale the last time, but this game is smack in the middle of a recently heated rivalry with Minnessota.  Coach Hankinson is going to have a lot to think about as far as the roster and training are concerned.  I asked Coach how he intended to juggle it all after Tuesday's training session.

"More recovery time since Saturday. A lighter practice. Not using the legs or as much fuel as you might in a normal session.  It's about leg management at this point, and its about looking at the roster and saying where can we put a fresh player going into game 2 and to keep the roster regenerating." -Coach Tim Hankinson

We already know that RB Lovel Palmer will be serving an automatic suspension due to his red card after the final whistle on July 9th.  That means Marco Franco will return to the starting 11.  Injuries have prevented Indy Eleven captain Colin Falvey from joining the roster lately.  He is taking it slow and is not expected on Wednesday so Cory Miller will continue to put his life on the line for the Brickyard Battalion with no regard for human safety.  I asked Miller if he ever considered that when he goes in for a challenge to which he replied.  "Not really. That's probably why I have so many scars."

Duke Lacroix has been earning field time lately and I think his recent outings have deserved confidence in his abilities.  Although I have been fooled before, I would not be surprised to see Omar Gordon take a breather on Wednesday and allow the speedy Ivy Leaguer to start.  

Will Gerardo Torrado see NASL action? I would not find it all that odd if he got to come on as a late sub, but I doubt he will be in the starting 11.

The only must start is Dylan Mares.  He can do it all on his own.  In the last game he intercepted a pass and scored unassisted and saved the game tying goal when no one else could.  Honestly, Mares is a must start in every game no matter what personnel is available.  Where is he best suited? With the ball at his feet.  

Look out Florida Team!  

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Welcome To Fort Carroll

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Welcome To Fort Carroll

From the first time Tim Hankinson spoke to the fans in Indianapolis, he had said he was looking for warriors.  It's not an uncommon philosophy in sports, but it is one easier said than done.  He's found them! And they defend Carroll Stadium with a grit that would inspire General Lew Wallace and his hipster beard.  

The Eleven held the Fort on Saturday night and battled hard against the visiting Minnesota United FC.  The 1-0 scoreline will not tell the full story but the Indy Eleven were once again victorious at home.  The banks of the mighty White River are still safe and the checkered banners still hang proudly around the stadium.  The Mike has become a fortress.  

Indy Eleven are undefeated on the season due to technicalities and definitions, but there is no denying the Indy Eleven's stats when playing for the Brickyard Battalion at home.  This team really likes red and blue smoke. 

  • 13 goals during 6 home games in NASL competition.  
  • 4 wins and 2 draws in NASL competition.
  • 6 wins and 2 draws including USOC and a mid-season friendly
  • 5 game home win streak (Including wins against both the best of the USL and Liga MX)

The boys in monochromatic blue (At Home) are the most dangerous team in North America right now.  This team is both inspiring and inspired when playing in blue socks, shorts and shirts.  Jon Busch is the only exception because he plays 10 feet tall wearing sweatpants and a dad hat.  

Jon Busch is 39 but still managed to unlock gamebreaker mode in the 37th minute.  He guessed correctly and denied a penalty attempt from from Christian Ramirez who happens to lead the NASL in goals. Busch had it the whole way in a classic "ball never lies" scenario.  That save kept a 0-0 score heading into the halftime break and and was what paved the way for Dylan Mares' second half performance.  

There are three players remaining from Indy Eleven's original 2014 roster.  Mares is one of them and proved why on Saturday night.  Mares stole the show and Man of the Match with not one but two game changing plays.   

Luck is what happens when practice meets preparation.  

Mares converted from distance with a perfectly weighted ball in the 78th minute.  He intercepted Lance Laing and punished Minnesota by himself while simultaneously forcing goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock to question everything he knows about physics. 

And Mares was the hero again.  This time it was in the 90th minute.  Every one of the Eleven were beaten on a corner except for the native Hoosier patrolling the goal line.  He was in a perfect position and he headed the ball clear in the end.  After the game Mares was asked about his positioning during that play.  His response was simple and matter of fact.  He didn't seem too impressed with his game winning save.  

"I am always on the front post."

The score held after 5 minutes of stoppage time.  Celebrations and congratulations among the players showed just how truly devoted to each other and the result they were.  This game meant something.  The team was yelling and embracing as if they had just achieved glory in an ancient battle.  

Even with a guaranteed home match in the playoffs, the Eleven are pursuing greatness and hope to claim more victories in the process.  Winning the NASL Spring Season has allowed them the chance to rest, but they aren't taking it.  The team knows how important home field advantage is to them and the The Brickyard Battalion.  This team has stated goals of going undefeated and raising more hardware like they did on Saturday.  An idea that sounded crazy three months ago seems surprisingly attainable today. 

The spring trophy was shared but it will be put away as a reminder.  Although it is a beautiful sight to behold, as a fan of this team, it is not the ultimate goal.  The warriors will keep grinding out points through sheer acts of will, heroism, and guts and we will love them for it.  

The next few days will once again test the inner strength of this team.  Moments of heart and brilliance may be called upon with an upcoming home match on Wednesday and the Minnesota rematch only three days later.  A poor man's home and home fixture will be sandwiched with a visit from Ft Lauderdale Strikers.  

"It's going to be one of those things where we have just got to come in mentally tough.  We have 3 games in one week and we have just got to stay focused.  Everyone has to be ready." -Dylan Mares

The advantage in the Wednesday match will surely go to the Eleven as they are hosting and with one more day of rest.  The strikers will be road weary having traveled to Edmonton on the Sunday before.  It will be tough as the Strikers are on a bit of a run themselves, but I think the real challenge will be in not looking too far ahead to the looming trip north.  

The dying moments at Ft. Carroll got more than a bit chippy on Saturday.  Minnesota will have 6 days to stew and to study.  Their gameplan wasn't really that far off and the offside trap was very effective against Indy.  The Eleven will be thinking and preparing for one game at a time.  Indy having bested and embarrassed a team with championship ambitions will provide more than enough fuel for the Loons to bring everything they have, but Indy Head Coach Tim Hankinson will have something up his sleeve for sure.  His substitutions and changes on Saturday earned Indy 3 points. 

The second annual Game of Kings euchre tournament is coming up.  Register Here

It will be held at Chatham tap in Fishers with proceeds to benefit Playworks Indiana.  Prizes and Championship Belts will be up for grabs.  

Game of Kings II: The Reckoning July 20th

 

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Indy Eleven Vs Chicago Fire: A lot Of History

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Indy Eleven Vs Chicago Fire: A lot Of History

This 103rd eddition of the US Open Cup continues with round 4 on Wednesday.  It is a tournament that puts all American teams on an equal playing field regardless of division or payroll in an attempt to present one champion with $250,000 and piece of soccer history.  The Indy Eleven will travel to Illinois on Wednesday to continue their quest and to face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.  

There is another much newer cup up for grabs, and it is poured from even more tradition than the Lamar Hunt Trophy.  It is younger prize that honors the past but represents the future of American supporter culture.  It is the unintended creation and simultaneous celebration of one man on a mission to carve this great country's soccer landscape with sheer will and determination.  

It is known as the The Schlabst Cup. 

Its roots can be traced back to a Midwestern town with German ancestry and a proud brewing heritage.  Milwaukee is the birthplace of two fine beers that have served America well over the last sesquicentennial.  Schlitz and Pabst are libations with beginnings that can be traced back to a time long before the American Civil War and as early as 1844.  Those aforementioned beverages combine together to make something greater than the sum of their two equal parts...

The Milwaukee Black and Tan is also affectionately and colloquially known as Schlabst for it's two sole ingredients.  An empty is glass is filled halfway with Schlitz and then topped by PBR, but never the other way lest your resulting concoction be called a Pitz...and nobody wants to drink a Pitz.  

Peter Wilt was there at the beginning and I don't just mean that one fateful day at the Highbury Pub when the first Schlabst was poured.  Peter was also there at the inception of both the Chicago Fire and the Indy Eleven.  He was the founding president of each club.  Worlds and beers are now colliding and we find ourselves in the midst of another creation point. It's our own Peter Wilt Big Bang Theory.  Wednesday marks the first time that these two clubs will face each other in meaningful competition and the US Open Cup will provide the spark.

Truthfully, this will not be the first contest between the two clubs. That meeting was a preseason friendly on neutral territory in 2014 and the Fire came away victorious. Their supporters are currently in possession of the actual Schlabst Cup and the two teams have not met again since. The Indy Eleven and the Brickyard Battalion have been waiting for this moment and for this rivalry since Peter Wilt first came to town and when the team was announced in 2013.  The US Open Cup is the only way they two teams can meet in this fashion and the matchup will be a highlight in this round of the tournament. 

More than 200 Indy faithful are reported to be making the trip on Wednesday.  They will be cheering the boys in blue as they did two weeks ago when the Eleven defeated Louisville City in round three.  In a testament to the good spirit between the fans of the teams, the Cup is once again up for grabs as well as a donation to charity.  The winning supporters will be awarded the Schlabst Cup as well as the proceeds from the first ever Schlabst Cup T-Shirt sales.  These teams now have a lot more to play for than just a 100 year old tournament.  They will play for pride and for bragging rights of their supporters as well as whatever awaits them in the following rounds.  This game belongs to the fans.  The re-configured hockey trophy belongs to the winners.  

The Brickyard Battalion will be donating to Playworks Indiana in conjunction with the #EamonZayedRule and Section 8 will be donating to the Lampstrong Foundation.  Peter Wilt has no official connection to either club, but he will be seen sharing the competition with both of his "children" in Bridgeview.  American soccer is the winner on the day.  A lot of history is to be made.  

 

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Indy Eleven And The Legend Of Spring

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Indy Eleven And The Legend Of Spring

Songs will be written about this team, and this performance, in a game that none who saw will ever forget.  The most significant game in Indy Eleven history did not disappoint as the hosts rose to the occasion yet again and did so in front of 9,341 loyal fans.   

The Indy Eleven defeated the Carolina Railhawks by a score of 4-1 on Saturday night but that wasn't the victory that sent the Brickyard Battalion into a frenzy and leaping over barricades.  All four of those goals were needed in order to challenge the New York Cosmos for the Spring Season.  Anything less would have been admirable but it would not have been enough to dethrone the Cosmos and or to prevent their second straight Spring title.  

(credit: Rebecca Johnson)

(credit: Rebecca Johnson)

When the smoke cleared and the crowds settled, the boys in blue found themselves claiming the top spot in the NASL table.  The Eleven are equal on points with New York (18) as well as goals for (15).  The difference in the 2016 Spring Sprint will be the result of a head-to-head match played at Carroll Stadium in week 3.  Indy Defeated the New York Cosmos 2-1 in thrilling fashion and that outcome sealed New York's fate on Saturday.  It also propelled this Indy team to their first ever playoff berth.  

The Indy Eleven are the best in the NASL after 10 matches played...and they are undefeated.  What makes this team so special?

"It's the commitment they have to look at each other as equals where they're not asking any one to lift the load for themselves.  They are all equally lifting.  The ability to commit as a team for each other has really helped this team...That doesn't mean we always play great, but whether we go through a rough patch or not in a game, this team continues to push on." -Tim Hankinson

The word of the week is "buzzing" and that is how I describe the atmosphere before, during and after this match.  Celebrations and cheers could be heard all around as post-game interviews were briefly interrupted by joy or hugs as well as emotion.  It's hard to contain all the excitement for a group, a team and family like the one present here in Indianapolis.  

"We just thought maybe it was meant to be and something special was going to happen.  And we believed.  We believed from Tuesday until the start of the game tonight.  That goal at halftime was absolutely massive because we came in at halftime completely energized.  We were buzzing. We were tired...but that goal gave us a new energy and we came out firing again in the second half." -Eamon Zayed
credit: Christopher Ball

credit: Christopher Ball

Big Z came out firing for sure and got on the end of three goals and was the beneficiary of three different well placed assists.  Mr. Hat Trick strikes again in an epic match, but he was very quick to recognize his teammates knowing that none of this is possible without help.  

"It was a whole team effort of 11 and then even the subs that came on...obviously Duke with the final assist.  Look there was 11 man of the matches out there...Everyone put in an absolute shift.  Especially the two midfielders Gorka and Nicki and Dylan put in an exceptional shift.  We needed to press them.  We needed to take risks and the strikers, myself, Omar and Justin we needed to stay up top a little more and that meant the midfielders had to do more work than usual.  Special mention to them, but it was a whole team effort." -Zayed

That pressure and those risks made for an exciting soccer game.  Indy truly played team defense and controlled almost all area's of the pitch.  Players were getting forward in attack making incredible efforts to track back and snuff out any Carolina possession.  Carolina had dangerous moments, but they were never truly in the game on a competitive level.  It was over 90 degrees at the time of kickoff but the heat never factored negatively for Indy.  The visitors never looked comfortable.  They often looked slow and drained.  

credit: Christopher Ball

credit: Christopher Ball

Coach Hankinson has more up his sleeves than anyone thought or could have known.  In-game adjustments throughout the match and a willingness to go for it should earn him mountains of respect among the supporters of this team.  We know the team lined up with somewhat of a 4-4-2 but it was much more like a 4-3-3 in attack.  There were bodies flying in all directions and Indy's movement off the ball was too much for Carolina.  We saw a return to a more traditional 4-4-2 after the break but players like Nemanja Vukovic and Marco Franco were never denied access to the Indy attack.  This team was like a hungry dog off-leash and with very sharp teeth.

Indy is a team that has struggled to find that bite in games, but that was not the case on Saturday.  Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed combined for six shots on goal although 5 belonged to Zayed.  Zayed finished three.  Braun completed 31 of 37 passes.  Most of which were in the opposition's half.  Zayed had 30 touches on the ball and that is the most he has had since a Minnesota match that also turned out to be a goal fest.  I said in my preview that a key for this game would be to get the ball to the forwards at all costs.  

credit: Rebecca Johnson

credit: Rebecca Johnson

Forwards are only as good as the service to them.  Four goals required four assists.  Never forget.

I would like to extend a thank you to Coach Hankinson for taking my advice and reading my blog.  

credit: Christopher Ball

credit: Christopher Ball

Indy Eleven had the game well in hand at 3-1 when team captain Colin Falvey subbed out due to injury in the second half.  The silver-haired fox tactician had a choice to make and it seemed to come without hesitation.  Hankinson inserted Sinisa Ubiparipovic in the 76th minute to go with three in the back for an aggressive shot at the title and giving Indy yet another look on the night.  

3-4-3 means we are doing this and we are doing it now.  It doesn't mean lets see how we do and good luck in the fall.  Coach Hankinson was patient but poised to strike and talked to his team about their strategy at the half in preparation for a push down the stretch.  

"Lets balance the game.  It's a long 45.  We will take more risks as the game goes on." -Hankinson

4-1 doesn't sound like a risk.  It sounds like a team got it done in a championship game.  Cosmos could have tied last week to put it out of reach, but they didn't.  Indy Eleven took the field ready to play and to claim their place in the history books.  They knew the score and they went after it.  Indy has raised the bar yet again. 

credit: Christopher Ball

credit: Christopher Ball

I part with a final question for the Railhawks.  At this point in the season and In Eamon Zayed's career...How do you lose him on the far post? He now leads the league in goals scored with six and has a seventh in all 11 competitions for Indy Eleven this season.  Kleberson is the all-time club leader with 8 goals in 21 matches played, but I have a feeling that wont last much longer.  

"There are strikers and there are goal scorers.  Eamon is a goal scorer." -Hank

Thank you. A lot of thank yous to Peter Wilt to Ersal Ozdemir to the team and to my fellow fans.  This was an amazing game and I can't wait to tell the story "I was there" over and over again.  The pitch invasion.  The goals.  The smoke and the emotion.  

Don't forget to donate to learn about and donate to the #EamonZayedRule by clicking here

 

 

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Previewing Carolina: Glory Glory Indiana

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Previewing Carolina: Glory Glory Indiana

The Indy Eleven are already the "Pride of The Midwest" as it is proudly sung in the West End, but pride will have a double meaning this Saturday at Carroll Stadium.  Indy Eleven have a short history, but the proud tradition of "Indy Pride Night" continues in 2016 and this upcoming match will make it three years in a row.  

"Bleep the Cosmos."

The community wins no matter the scoreline, but on to the "Glory" bit and to the match at hand.  The aforementioned New York Cosmos are sitting idle this weekend with 18 points through their 10 games in Spring.  The timing of their bye week should make them apprehensive due to the fact that they are now powerless in determining their own fate.  The Cosmos have done enough so far to earn the Spring Championship and an automatic playoff berth, but will it be enough on Sunday afternoon when all teams have have played an equal 10 games?

Realistically, Indy has a chance and that means this coming Saturday is a championship game.  I wont break down all the possible scenarios, but here is what you need to know.  Indy Eleven will become the NASL champions of Spring if they score 4 goals (or more) and win by 3 goals (or more)

That means this Saturday is a Championship game.  Let that sink in Coach Hankinson.

"We've made great strides...To find ourselves on the final day of spring-without defeat-with a chance to go at a cup is a remarkable run for us." -Indy Eleven Head Coach Tim Hankinson

This unbeaten run is indeed remarkable.  There are no other currently undefeated professional teams to be found anywhere in the top tiers of American soccer.  "Refuse to lose" should be this teams new motto, but wins have been hard to come by.  Even though Indy Eleven are positioned well in second place, they have only 3 victories in league play this year.  All the other top seven teams have four wins except for the Cosmos who have defeated six opponents this year.  

The good news for Indy is plenty.  Not only will they be playing for pride, but they will be playing in front of their inspiration and the best fans in the NASL.  Indy Eleven have scored six goals in their last two home games while obviously winning both.  They bested (then first place) Minnesota United to keep this upcoming match interesting and they defeated a pesky Louisville City to come from behind in the US Open Cup. 

Carolina Railhawks come to town on a different kind of streak.  They have not won a league game since April 23rd and having lost three out of their last five.  Carolina have only been able to muster one goal in NASL  competition since starting the season 4-0-0.  This matchup looked a lot tastier a few weeks ago.  There was potential for Indy to be playing the league leaders for the chance to go ahead in the standings. Instead, Indy find themselves facing yet another floundering foe, but scoring in bunches and convincing victories aren't really the Eleven's thing.

"Obviously the challenge of three and four goals is not our suit.  It's not our style, but we have to keep growing as a team and we will look to make some adjustments and take the risks necessary to try and win the cup." -Coach Hankinson

This team can win and should win at home against a wounded animal like Carolina.  The Eleven have shown the ability to attack in recent games, but efficiency is the real key.  Indy Eleven will have chances, but they have to be focused and they have to make them count as they did against Minnesota.  Players like Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun will have their work cut for them against a Carolina defense that hasn't really allowed many goals.  But that is what we said about Minnesota before the boys unleashed and doubled the numbers in the loons goals allowed column.

The team looked loose and playful during training on Friday morning.  I saw the positive type of banter and camaraderie that one might hope to see at this stage of season.  I asked the coach about his philosophy for motivating the players and getting them prepared for a game like the one ahead.  

"What I have felt this week is that they are pumped and I'm not going to need to add fuel to that.  They are excited for this game. They are hungry for it and so I think my demeanor needs to be calm.  It's going to be a testy night and it's important that the players use all their energy in the right direction."-Hank

Defense typically wins championships, but that's not going to be the case on Saturday.  It's going to take heart and determination and it's going to take four goals with a three goal margin of victory.  But it may end up as a two goal margin of victory.  That would be a positive ending to spring as well. Being tied on points with the league leaders would an accomplishment for any team.  Indy has spent the entire spring undefeated and have set a new club record for games without a loss, but there is another evolution to be had. 

"We have learned this year how not to lose, but what we have not learned good enough is how to go out there and just win games.  We've gotten the first part right and maybe tomorrow night we start showing that we've learned how to win too."-Coach

The lineup for Saturday's game is going to be a best available type of scenario.  We will not see tactical changes to exploit matchups, but we will continue to see the 4-4-2 that we have seen since Indy faced New York and won 2-1 in week 3.  Palmer is practicing but he in not available so Marco Franco will go once again as a worthy replacement.  Don Smart is nursing injury so he will also be watching the action and wearing street clothes.  There is no surprise in midfield but my projected starters are Omar Gordon, Gorka Larrea, Nicki Paterson and Dylan Mares.  

Perhaps it is unfair but I place a lot of responsibility on the midfield's ability to get the ball to the forwards.  Good decisions and getting crosses in dangerous areas is a key in all games, but 1-0 doesn't really get the job done in this case.  Dropping points in both Jacksonville and Miami has left a lot of work to do.  Efficiency is imperative.  

Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with a draw or a win that falls short in the standings, but they don't write songs about falling short of championships.  

There is a reason to play for glory.  We were already proud.   

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Indy Eleven Continue The Streak Against Miami Fc

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Indy Eleven Continue The Streak Against Miami Fc

Indy Eleven (3-6-0) are still unbeaten after a 0-0 draw to Miami FC on their fourth trip to Florida.  Indy went to Miami (1-4-4) while riding high from a recent US Open Cup win against Louisville City and remain as this country's only undefeated unit across all professional divisions.  The Indy Eleven have not lost a meaningful game in 2016 and extend their record to 10 games.  

It was not Indy's best game, but it was enough.  The result allows Indy to remain in striking distance.  The gap on the first place Cosmos was reduced, but one goal during 360 minutes in the Florida sun will need to be addressed.  It is rare opportunity to face the second worst team in back-to-back weeks and many will feel it was another opportunity lost.  Only taking 2 points against Miami and Jacksonville should provide inspiration going forward.  

Indy were in sole possession of second place heading into this week's round of NASL action and that is where they remain.  Indy are still the second best on the table but they are joined by a few others nipping at their heels.  Tampa Bay and Ft. Louderdale are finding rhythm as well as wins so Indy will hold on to the #2 spot on goal differential.  Indy Eleven, Tampa Bay and Ft Lauderdale all have 15 points with one game remaining in the Spring Season. 

Tip of the hat to Ft. Lauderdale

Although their new position next to Indy on points is unwelcome, the Strikers deserve credit for defeating the York Cosmos and keeping the dream alive for a spring championship. Mathematically speaking, all four of the top teams have a chance at the trophy as well as the automatic playoff spot which is worth even more.  Indy has the most realistic chance (among teams not named Cosmos) but they need another goal party like they had on Minnesota United.  

Is it possible?

Yes, but Indy will require another performance like when they defeated the loons by a score of 4-2.  The Brickyard Battalion will be happy to host another four goal outburst, but Indy has to win by 3 goals in order to lock up the Spring.  4-0 and 4-1 are acceptable scorelines in order to be crowned the Spring Champs.  

Indy Eleven will host the Carolina Railhawks on Saturday June 11th for a chance to win the Spring Season.  That match will become the most significant game in Indy's three year history and it's importance will surpass that of the Minnesota game several weeks ago.  Positive results against Minnesota were required to keep Indy in the conversation for the leagues elite, but this upcoming fixture will answer the question.  

The infirmary

Injuries have hampered Indy's progress as I have been reporting like a broken record.  Don Smart is the latest casualty.  His seasons journey is a roller coaster of emotions and he didn't travel to Miami.  Smart was a healthy scratch and left off of the roster several weeks ago, but the clubs appearance leader battled back to the starting 11 before being subbed out early against Louisville in the US Open Cup due to injury.  Jair Reisnoso was also subbed out of his first USOC, but he was available for selection on Saturday. 

Sinisa Ubiparipovic is back on the roster and was available on Saturday, but Brad Ring is still recovering from a MCL sprain.

Big Picture Talk

No one is writing this team off as a contender for the season.  The Spring Championship is just the closest at hand so it draws a natural amount of discussion.  It's also the most efficient route to the postseason.  Win convincingly next Saturday and book your tickets to the playoffs.  The truth is that Indy is now a respected side and are often a favorite to win matches.  This team is better than ever and it raises expectations above where they have been in the past.

The Indy Eleven are extremely tough defensively and have three shutouts on the road.  Getting the team to a complete and healthy status remains priority number one.  However, the Indy Eleven front office is not exactly sitting and twiddling their thumbs.  Outgoing Team President Peter Wilt has been teasing a going away present on social media and I have recently seen trialists training in Indianapolis.  

The second best team in the NASL is making efforts to be better.  

Blue On Blue On Blue

I am encouraging a "Blueout" for the blowout.  The Indy Eleven have 3 wins going monochromatic blue this season.  2-1 over Cosmos.  4-2 over Minnesota and 2-1 over Lou City.  

Click here for further inspiration

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Indy Eleven And The U.S. Open Cup

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Indy Eleven And The U.S. Open Cup

It sounds like a bedtime story for sports nerds and history buffs and maybe it is.  The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup began 103 years ago and is the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the US.  This years tournament started a few weeks ago with a record setting 92 clubs.  It put pros against amateurs and lower divisions against the top tier talent in the nation.  

"It's a famous tournament.  We just got excited about the 100th running of the Indy 500 and the US Open Cup is a 100 year old tournament.  There is $250,000 in prize money sitting in that cup as well as a place in history if you win it." -Indy Eleven Head Coach Tim Hankinson

Indy Eleven find themselves entering the 3rd round of play along with their US based NASL counterparts.  They debut in the midst of a highly competitive NASL Spring Season that has Indy perched near the top and in second place.  

What do you do if you are a coach?  Do you chase glory or do you take a practical approach?  Indy Eleven's opening tournament date is sandwiched in a hectic travel week that has the boys head to Florida on back-to-back weekends.  They will have one recovery day on Thursday and wheels up on Friday giving them very little rest or training from now until then.  The regular season is 32 game grind and this Open Cup schedule is not going to make that any easier. 

"When you look at the NASL season, that Spring Cup is still on the table with two games to play. So you kinda have to play for the trophy that's closest to you."

Indy will have their hands full at home against Louisville City on Wednesday.  Louisville lead the USL in wins, points and goal differential.  Lou City has not allowed a goal during 5 games in May and they have only one loss in their 11 league matches of 2016.  The Ohio River Derby is the closest thing that Indy has to a geographical rival, but the lower division team isn't likely to be phased when they take the pitch at Carroll Stadium once again. 

"Louisville beat us in preseason.  They beat this team in a previous Open Cup so they are coming in here with great confidence thinking that they can come in here and steal a game."

The Indy Eleven have been bitten by the injury bug lately and will be without the services of several key players.  Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Brad Ring, Greg Jankicki, Lovell Palmer and Colin Falvey (Hamstring) will all be unavailable for Wednesday's match for health concerns.  I think that Falvey will be good by Saturday and Janicki may be day-to-day as well, but coach is unlikely to take any chances in this round of the Open Cup. 

Nicki Paterson will be unavailable as well.  He is serving a suspension from the 2013 version of the Cup.  Paterson spent his last two seasons with Ottawa Fury and was therefore never able to serve said suspension due to the fact that the Fury are Canadian and don't participate in the US Open Cup.  

"We are not taking the approach of putting a lesser squad on the field, but because of the number of injuries we have, we don't have a choice."

Nemanja Vukovic has been a force for Indy so far this year.  He has two goals and three Team of the Week nods to go with them.  Vuko will be given the captain's armband and will anchor the back line.  He will most likely be working alongside Corey Miller, Marco Franco and Neil Shaffer.  The latter of which will get his first start wearing vertical stripes at The Mike.  Jair Reinoso will likely get a return to the starting lineup, but both Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed have been working tirelessly this season so it's unclear who might get to rest.  

Midfield is impossible to predict, but Dylan Mares, Don Smart and Duke Lacroix would be good bets. 

"I think it's a great tournament and a great format.  The team we have right now, when fully healthy, can compete for it.  The team that will be battling tomorrow night, can compete tomorrow night."

It sounds like Hankinson might be slow playing his hand just a touch, but he has fooled me on several occasions before.  The players like Shaffer will be eager to please and will be giving it everything they have.  Miller, Franco and Lacroix are all familiar faces here in Indianapolis and have earned cheers from the Brickyard Battalion before. It's easy to forget how deep this roster is but it will be tested by Louisville.  

Tickets are still available and beers will be discounted.  The game will kick off at 7:30pm.  The winner of this match will take on Chicago Fire in the following round.  Lower division teams can Cupset (a combination of up the word cup and upset) and can make a run with a bit of luck.  The furthest advancing team from each division will also be awarded $15,000. 

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Previewing Jacksonville: Sink The Fleet

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Previewing Jacksonville: Sink The Fleet

(if you haven't had a chance yet, check out the new episode of the podcast where Andy and Chris welcomed Omar Gordon and Lovel Palmer.  Available for download on iTunes and a direct stream here)

The 4th place Indy Eleven (3-4-0) travel to Jacksonville to take on the 10th place Armada (1-1-5) on Saturday.  The game has little relevance to Jacksonville in the Spring Season, but a convincing win would mean quite a bit to the visitors escaping the record crowds at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  

9 possible points remain for Indy as spring winds down and that puts the Eleven in control of their own destiny.  Winning their final 3 games makes a strong case for NASL's spring trophy.  However, winning out does not automatically result in hardware or the more coveted playoff spot.  

Minnesota United find themselves in a very similar position to Indy Eleven.  Both teams are level on points and both teams have an equal number of matches remaining.  Both teams could earn a maximum of 22 points if they get the job done from here on out.  The advantage for Minnesota is that they have 2 home matches.  The advantage for Indy is that their two away matches are against the two worst teams in the league.  

Tiebreakers may play a big role in deciding the Spring Champions and that means Indy will need goals.  A 1-0 victory will be nice points on the road for the boys but being a champion will require more.  Goal differential is the first tiebreaker and Minn United currently have that advantage.  If both teams win with 1-0 scorelines there will be no change in the standings.  

Miami FC has turned into some kind of wild card and that is who Indy will face next, but lets not get ahead of ourselves again.  Indy Eleven will want to go down to Jacksonville on Memorial Weekend and earn 3 points in convincing fashion to find any kind of separation from Minnesota.

Wins are always hard to come by and the boys in blue will surely attest to that, but the Armada are taking on water and simply have no way to right the ship.  Jacksonville has the second worst goal differential in the league at -6 having only produced 3 goals in league play.  They have not scored a goal in four games and they have only one win.  That 2-1 win was against Miami FC on April 15th. 

Indy Eleven will be heavy favorites in this match coming off of the emotional high and the momentum of one of the most important wins in their history.  A 4-2 defeat of Minnesota United earns them the right to be included in the championship conversation for the first time. 

To be the the champs you have to beat the champs.

But you also have to beat the worst and you have to do it consistently.  That is the task on Saturday.  Sink the fleet with a broadside barrage.  Attacking options are finding their sea legs for Indy.  Four different scorers found the net last week.  Three of them earning bricks for the first time wearing checkers.  

We will see a 4-4-2 again and I have to think that Indy head coach Tim Hankinson will start the same group that fared so well last week.  Dylan Mares has earned a starting role and so has Don Smart.  The latter had found himself outside of the 18 man roster a few weeks ago but is back in the good graces of the 61 year old skipper who has a new respect for Smart's work ethic and determination.  

Justin Braun was awarded the NASL Team of the Week for his performance against the Loons and he should take his place up top paired alongside "Iron" Eamon Zayed.  The unknowns remain in central midfield.  Gorka Larrea was subbed off due to an apparent injury last week and that might open the door again for Nicki Paterson.  The second half substitute proved his class with set pieces and his desire to help the team in whatever way possible.  

Brad Ring's mcl sprain was projected to put him out of the lineups for a few weeks so it's hard to imagine he would start even if he was 100%.  Sinisa Ubiparipovic has also been recovering from injury, but he hasn't done enough to earn a role in the starting 11 to this point.  His nagging injuries have seemingly prevented him from getting back to his 2015 form.  A knee issue in preseason to a calf strain in week 2 and now to a non-specific hip issue are slowing his progress.  

Jacksonville will likely be without the services of two Haitian internationals.  Armada FC defender Mechack Jerome and mid/fwd Pascal Millien have been named to the their national team's 23 man Copa America roster.  Both are regulars on the Armada squad, but Haiti has a friendly in Miami on Sunday so I would not expect to see them on Saturday.  An already weak team just became a little bit weaker.  Combine that with the well publicized transfer of Richie Ryan a couple weeks ago and the Armada are floundering with first time Head Coach Tony Meola at the helm.  

The most dangerous part about this game will be complacency from Indy Eleven and the Florida humidity.  Indy has not produced much offensively in Florida.  Two trips south have yielded a pair of nil-nil draws.  That simply wont be enough for a team with loftier ambitions.  The Indy defense travels extremely well having only allowed one goal so far in three games.  That trend should continue against the the worst in the NASL.

This continues to be an incredibly favorable schedule for Indy but beware the mighty trap game.  With jobs and professionalism on the line, I expect to see some fight from the Armada.  Restructuring and rebuilding is eminent, but who has to walk the plank is probably still up in the air.  Jacksonville is a shipwreck that you want to give respect to because of a healthy fear of tetanus, rats and whatnot.  It is up to Indy to put them out of their misery early and send them to Davy Jones' Locker.   

The game will be on ESPN 3 and kickoff is scheduled for 7pm Saturday.  

Follow me on Twitter @Agunyon or follow @prpodcastshow

HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE #EAMONZAYEDRULE ?!?!

This is an amazing collaborative effort with Permanent Relegation, Bloody Shambles andPlayworks Indiana to raise money every time Indy Eleven Striker Eamon Zayed scores.  

Participation info can be found here.  Cheer on the Boys, Donate to charity and everyone wins!  He's got 2 bricks so far and he is calling for more already.  Help us help a great community program to keep kids active and playing.  

 

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This Is New: Indy Throws A Goal Party

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This Is New: Indy Throws A Goal Party

4-2!

Indy Eleven are still undefeated and they went to bed with second place in hand.  The boys hosted the league leading Minnesota United and didn't back down.  Then they made their presence felt and provided one of the best goal parties in Indy Eleven history. Three new Indy players made their first appearance on the score sheet at Carroll Stadium in front of 9,000 fans.

"It's a great atmosphere here. The fans are amazing. It's way different back home, but here...they just want you to play.  They just give you that spirit to play and I love that." -Omar Gordon

Although the stay in second place will be short lived for reasons I described in my preview, the positive emotions and the momentum will carry this team much further than I could have imagined.  The most meaningful game of the year did not disappoint as Indy rose to the occasion and played to their potential.  

Breakdown

What a predicament to have.  There are just too many goals to break down, but lets talk about why the first goal was so outstanding and we can talk about the rest another time. 

Indy is a counter-attacking/counter-punching team!  They defend first and look to hit hard on the break.  Nemanja Vukovic had another impressive night and his aggressive play from the back just mind freaked the entire Minnesota team in the 16th minute.  Play on! and the Loons were caught ball watching as a flock of Indy attackers gashed the middle of a formidable NASL defense.  

What makes this goal important?  For Indy Eleven? So many things.  

  • The ball from Vuko was perfectly timed and weighted
  • Justin Braun made a great run to find himself with a ball at his feet and headed toward goal
  • Eamon Zayed continued his run
  • Braun made the pass!

There was nothing that could be done because Eamon Zayed doesn't miss from there.  The pressure and the ability to get forward so quickly is what this team has wanted all year long, but that was the first time we have seen it work so well.  It was a sign of things to come.

That Indy Eleven goal proved to the league that these boys and these strikers have class and that they can score on anyone.  The Loons had conceded four goals through six games and that included four shutouts.  Scoring early helped take some weight off of the home side.  Minnesota has a potent offense but they had given up all four of their goals allowed on the road.  It was important to make Minnesota chase early and to plant the seed of doubt in their minds.  

Minnesota did not roll over

Nobody thought they would but Indy took a 1-0 lead into halftime feeling pretty good about themselves and then they scored again.  Welcome to the party Omar Gordon!  What made that goal was Braun's early cross.  It was very dangerous and although Zayed couldn't connect, Gordon never gave up on the play and was able to beat everyone to a ball in the box and finish from a tough angle.  2-0 to the good guys.  

"After I see Eamon go in, I see that the angle he had, it's impossible for him to get off a good shot. So let I just see if I follow up and if I am lucky enough for it comes 'round, I'll just tap it in." -Omar Gordon

I find it hilarious that Gordon thought Zayed's angle was impossible, but his was no problem.

Either way-Busch to Zayed to Smart to Braun to Zayed and a finish from Gordon took about 11 seconds and 6 total touches.  That looked easy and it again shows what this team can do when the offense is firing on all cylinders.  Two forwards and two outside midfielders connecting on the same play is going to lead to chances like that.    

The most dangerous lead in soccer

The cliche came to life on Saturday and Minnesota let everyone in Indianapolis know that they are also pros and they came to play.  Minnesota has always had a gifted offense but Stefano Pinho is a new addition and a proven scorer in the NASL.  He capitalized on some miscommunication and disorganization with Dylan Mares out temporarily from injury.  Mares would return but the damage had been done and Pinho's goal is a "Play of the Week" Contender.  

"They're a very talented team. They're preparing their roster for Major League soccer. They have spent more money than normal trying to get the type of players that they can carry forward into that roster and on top of that-Let's face it-Minnesota is year in and year out one of the best teams in the league." -Tim Hankinson

2-1 turned to 2-2 on a set piece by Minnesota but we just want to talk about Indy today.  It is worth noting, however, that MNUFC did score two on this Indy team.  It is the first time all year that the Indy Eleven have given up two in the same match, but it is right about the average production from Minnesota.  They now have 12 goals in 7 games so their scoring was good, but Indy was just better.

Justin Braun

So many players had a great night and all the players will celebrate the win, but way to go Justin Braun. 

  • Sacrifice your body to lay it off for the #EamonZayedRule and the kids in goal 1
  • Great run and well placed 1st touch cross to EZ again resulted in goal 2
  • First to the ball and another tough (some would say impossible) angle finish in goal 3

Braun earned the go-ahead goal, remembered to climb into the west end and collected his brick after the match.  If there was ever a player that needed a goal, it was Braun.  He made it 3-2 and but it might have felt like it was worth more than that.  

"It was big.  As a forward you wanna get that first one off your back, but I think the most important thing is we got three points tonight.  It was a hard fought victory for the team. Again we showed this team is never going to give up...We're going to fight 'til the end." -Braun

From where I was positioned I could see the weight evaporate from his shoulders.  He has been giving a lot on the field but just could not find the net.  There was a great moment after the post-goal jungle-gym celebration were Braun and Zayed could be seen talking to each other.  Good teams and and great teammates celebrate each other and their individual accomplishments. I have no doubt that was one of those moments, but EZ was encouraging Braun just before the goal too.

"Right before the free kick, he turned to me and said get yourself the winner.  He and I are starting for form good partnership up there and hopefully there be more goals to come as the season progresses." -Justin Braun

The Man From Motherwell

Nicki Paterson made it look easy.  The second half substitute is a set piece monster and he threatened on his first one but it was just over the crossbar.  That would not be the case in the 97th minute. 

Again Justin Braun! Your holdup play in that stage of the game! Don't sleep on this team.  They play to the final whistle.  Busch to Zayed to Mares to Braun to Zayed to Mares.  Fucking fantastic team play to get a ball in an extremely dangerous place at the feet of an unsung hero tonight in Dylan Mares.  It took 15 seconds from Busch's boot before Mares was fouled just outside the 18, but it took less than one second for the referee to show Justin Davis the exit.  

Minnesota was beaten before Paterson stepped up to the ball, but that was a good stamp on the game.  Around the wall and side netting was the insult to injury that 9,000 fans wanted to see.  4-2 Indy Eleven.  Full-time followed soon after.  

"...To come back with the kinds of goals we got in the end was a tremendous night for the fans and for the team itself." -Hankinson

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