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!