(special thanks to guest blogger and Indy Eleven Man of Mystery @ForeverCheckers for writing this piece for us. You can check @ForeverCheckers out at their twitter page. Give em a follow!)
For what its worth and what it proves, the Indy Eleven are still searching for their identity. They are two games into the Spring Sprint and they have answered many questions. However, more questions remain. Both of Indy's draws have given some encouragement for the season and yet both contests have illustrated a need for improvement.
To hang on late for 0-0 in Tampa, in spite of poor possession and fitness, showed grit. To challenge and push for the equalizer at home showed determination. The defense has only conceded one goal through 180 minutes and Nemanja Vukovic is already winning hearts in the Brickyard Battalion as well as Team of The Week honors in two consecutive matches. It seems that net minder (not a parental control app for android) Jon Busch and central defender Colin Falvey are earning their keep and doing as promised to ensure everything stays in front of them.
This team can be proud of its core and its character, but where is the attack?
Indy Eleven head coach Tim Hankinson has chosen to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation to start every match I have seen. That fact comes as no surprise as it was one of the first things to come out of Hankinson's mouth when he was formally introduced as the club skipper back in December. It is a departure from some of the formations of the past but that is of little relevance because this team is too.
Only 3 players remain from the opening day roster of 2014 and the vast majority of playing time goes to Hankinson's handpicked squad. These are not ragtag players thrown together and forced to fit a system that they had no knowledge of. These players and their roles were defined, scouted and selected by the Indy Eleven personnel dept.
This is supposed to be an inspirational piece. I'm trying hard to write an inspirational piece.
Preseason is preseason and nobody cares. Maybe we should pay little bit of attention though if we want to catch a glimpse of what the future holds. 9 games played through preseason and even though the lineups changed and some positions did too, the formation did not, and the results were strikingly similar. Only against Butler University did Indy provide consistent dangerous attack. That earned the boys a 1-0 victory. Other games against USL opponents saw a couple 1-1 draws and a 0-1 loss. Indy conceded first in those 2 draws and also failed to do much with possession. Hankinson said in an interview, after one of those such draws, that he does not wish to have a "counter-punching team."
He wants to strike first and dictate the game. I guess most coaches do. Wouldn't that be nice?
That's not this teams identity. Outgoing President Peter Wilt said that this would be one of the deepest defensive units in the entire NASL. It is a solid unit with proven players like Marco Franco and Corey Miller in reserve. The block, the double 6, the 4-2-3-1 is tough to score on if nothing else. It doesn't have to generate a lot of goals to get points.
I talked to Eamon Zayed this week after he was done with the shit show known as Permanent Relegation Podcast. He had this to say about the teams tactics and formation regarding the 4-2-3-1.
He's already said defense twice. Zayed is an international striker with 170 some odd goals across multiple continents and his first thoughts have nothing to do with a ball or a net.
I know from my interviews and conversations with Hankinson that he wants those three midfielders Zayed mentioned getting forward and generating attack too, but that just isn't happening with any regularity. The fullbacks can get up the pitch and swing crosses in as well but that hasn't been happening either. Issues with fitness still persist and sometimes honest mistakes and miscommunication occur which prevent chances in the final third. There is a noticeable gap to bridge before Indy becomes an attack first team.
The setback for this week will involve Sinisa Ubiparipovic who took an early exit last week with a hamstring injury. He has been limited in training is officially doubtful for Saturdays match-up vs. the New York Cosmos. The injury doesn't seem to be all that serious so no matter what I would expect him back after the bye. The concern here is keeping the number 10 healthy for the entire season and not risking anything too soon. There are a lot of games to go and Ubi has been dealing with various minor things for weeks now.
Dylan Mares was easily last years most improved player and he will probably get the start as the simple plug-and-play like-for-like option at central attacking midfield. Mares was leading the team in goals and assists in 2015 and he is just a couple shy of Kleberson's all-time club record.
What I want to see
Play Justin Braun in the middle where he seems to be the happiest and where he always tends to drift. Insert newcomer Jair Reinoso into the the right midfield position. He may not yet be 90 minute fit but he has a motor and a desire to wreak havoc on opposition defenses.
The Indy Eleven are currently a defend first team. Another Jamaican attacking option is on the way, but for now, the cautious and pragmatic approach should keep games close and also keep them in it at all times.
It will be frustrating for goal scorers, however, Vukovic proved the 89th minute equalizer is always possible and he celebrated with pride and passion for the fans in Indianapolis.
Neither the formation nor the coach can be held responsible for that goal. That was professionals being professionals and doing what needed to be done. That's the mentality right now and the identity of this team. Take points when you can. Send the kitchen sink if you need to.
I'll take it!
The Indy Eleven defend the Mike on Saturday. It will be a beautiful day for soccer in Indianapolis. Tickets are still available.