A champion has been crowned, and Indy’s first season in USL play has come to a close. While many felt the team did not accomplish all it was capable of, the team did reach some important milestones. After an up and down year, we enlisted Richard Rainwater and Brian Cook to put a wrap on the year that was for the Eleven.
They will be taking a look at what Indy Eleven did well, where they struggled, and where they need to go to build upon a foundation that surprised many.
How Would You Grade 2018 for Indy Eleven (1-5 Scale)?
Brian – 3
Indy Eleven did the best they could. They were rushed to finish the homework assignment they forgot was due the night before and were able to pull off some great answers before the bell rang. Obviously certain things were out of their control in regards to the timing of everything and we may never truly know what the hold up was in December-January of 17/18 but Indy Eleven did the best they could.
Grabbing the signatures of guys like Jack McInterney, Eugene Starikov, Ayoze, and Owain Fon Williams proved that they could foresee the jump in competition. Going from North American Soccer League where they played the same eight teams 182 times to the United Soccer League where they were made to actually build for more than a few teams was never going to be an easy task.
The reason they achieved only a three out of five was due to seemingly never getting over that. The shortened timeline was a crutch in the beginning of the season but by August at the latest this team should have been performing much better than they did. Three out of five leaves room for improvement which should be what the story of 2019 is about.
Richard – 4
It’s been said many times, but it’s worth repeating: Indy Eleven almost folded last year. While other NASL teams were willing to make the NPSL drop for the 2018 season, all indications are that the Eleven were not among them. So when they made the jump into USL with only a couple weeks to throw things together, fans were not heading in with high expectations, but were simply grateful that the team was coming back.
Rather than crashing and burning, however, the team really came together. Martin Rennie had the team organized and playing strong defense. Indy competed really well against the top teams in the conference, and earned a playoff berth in their maiden USL campaign. The fact that fans were disappointed in a first-round exit shows just how far this group came.
This season was about laying the foundation for something bigger. The move to Lucas Oil Stadium, jump to USL, and increased exposure through ESPN+ has the Eleven in a much better position than a year ago. Considering all the uncertainty the team has faced over the years, that accomplishment has to be seen as a unabashed success.
What Was Indy’s Best 2018 Moment?
Brian – The best moment for Indy Eleven in 2018 was just the entire season. If you’ve been a fan of Indy Eleven or followed them from afar the uncertainty surrounding the team’s time in the North American Soccer League would often lead to nervous offseasons. Waiting, watching and wondering if the team would be around the next year or the league would be around next year were how fans kept busy in the offseason.
Seeing the team come out for the match against FC Cincinnati just made fans relax and realize that those fears every offseason would be a thing of the past.
Richard – This may seem like a cop-out, but their best moment was a collection of moments, as Indy had a flair for landing on the SportsCenter Top 10 list. Besides providing fans with incredible memories, these moments served a bigger picture purpose as well.
In all their years in NASL, Indy Eleven was hardly mentioned on the ESPN website, let alone their flagship television program. For the casual sports fan, their awareness of Indiana’s team was almost zero. Now, with USL’s television deal, Indy has gotten the exposure they couldn’t have ever dreamed of previously.
Indy Eleven have a chance to capitalize on this increase in attention moving forward, which should continue to give them more room to grow. In a season full of firsts, this one should have the longest positive impact for the team.
What Was Indy’s Worst 2018 Moment?
Brian – Indy Eleven’s worst moment might have come before the season started. While the struggle of the roster building came into place one name that many fans were expecting to see get signed was Brad Ring. Ring, a former IU and MLS player, has been with Indy Eleven since the team began and many fans expected this trend to continue.
As time went on and more player announcements came out many fans began to worry about where the legend who drank a beer after the NASL Spring Championship clinching victory was going to be. It wasn’t until a twitter hashtag sparked fans rallying behind Indiana’s team bringing back a staple of the team.
What was the worst moment? The fact it felt like it would take a twitter hashtag for the organization to see what value Brad Ring brings to this team on the field, off the field, and in the locker room.
Richard – Easily the loss to Mississippi Brilla in the US Open Cup. Indy have a long history of struggling against NPSL and League Two sides in this competition, and 2018 was no exception. And while the loss to a League Two side was bad enough, there were team missteps that could have made this avoidable.
Indy was selected to the South region of the competition, in a questionable decision of geography by US Soccer. Rather than applying to host, and avoid a long mid-week road trip, the Eleven travelled down to Mississippi on short rest and didn’t have the legs to keep up with Brilla. It was a gut-punch to Indy fans, who have been longing for a competitive cup run for some time.
Eleven fans have had a lot to like from the 2018 season. But the continuation of a lack of effort in the Open Cup was a black mark on the year. Though I’m sure they care about how well they do in the competition, fans need to see more effort to get into the later rounds. With the Eleven seemingly primed to compete towards the top of the Championship next season, losing to semi-pro teams should no longer be an option.
Who Was the Most Valuable Player in 2018?
Brian – I think the Most Valuable Player can’t go to one person but rather the entire defense for Indy Eleven. Mitchell, Fon Williams, and others had to effectively learn to play with each other quickly. Defending in soccer requires fluidity and chemistry and that demands a lot from players. If one player has to be chosen?
Owain Fon Williams for seemingly leading the building of chemistry for Indiana’s team.
Honorable mention goes to Zach Steinberger who put in a performance (albeit on loan) for North Carolina that made his value sore for Indy Eleven and make him difficult to drop from the team in 2019.
Richard – The MVP of 2018 is without a doubt, Owain Fon Williams. The Welsh goalkeeper came on loan from the Scottish Championship, and had big shoes to fill. News broke that Jon Busch was retiring, and the team was coming off of a historically bad defensive season. Once Fon Williams arrived, however, a position of uncertainty became the strongest on the squad.
Owain organized the defense, made highlight-reel saves, and connected with the fans in the same way his predecessors between the sticks did. He was one of the top-ten goalkeepers in USL this past season, and helped to keep the Eleven in playoff positions all season (sometimes single-handedly). No other player on the team is as responsible for the point total Indy earned this season as Fon Williams, and he ran away with MVP honors as a result.
Who Was the Least Valuable Player in 2018?
Brian – I’m not sure if there was a least valuable player for Indy Eleven in 2018. A lot of the issues this team faced was consistency related. Players like Nathan Lewis had key games where they looked like the best player in the world and then the next week would look lost.
Two possible candidates might be Soony Saad and Jack McInterney who seemed to struggle towards the end of the year (Saad was often coming off the bench). Both players had a lot going for them before the season started and the results might not have lined up with expectations.
Richard – Nathan Lewis offered glimpses of being the dynamic change Indy Eleven needed. With Martin Rennie running a more defensive-minded system, the team longed for a player to come off the bench and ratchet up the tempo. While Lewis certainly had the speed and determination, unfortunately his impact was far more negative than positive for Indy.
With no goals and one assist in 11 appearances, his statistical output was not very extensive. But diving deeper into what he did with his limited time shows one crucial stat: only 2 out of his 19 crosses were successful. This includes many crosses that went behind the goal, into the stands, or directly to defenders and killed Indy’s momentum.
Lewis has all the raw tools to be a Championship superstar, but his 2018 season was a disaster. He had the ability to be what Indy needed most, but will leave this season wondering what could have been.
What Are Your WAY TOO EARLY Predictions for 2019?
2019 is going to be a BIG season for Indy Eleven:
- Indy Eleven announcing a stadium
There are widespread rumors that 2019 might see Indy Eleven announce a PRIVATELY funded soccer specific stadium IN downtown Indianapolis. When we touched base with the team, a rep told us that these are just rumors but the team is always looking for a possible permanent home for the team. Lucas Oil Stadium will not be the home of Indiana’s team in 2020 so a stadium announcement in 2019 would make sense but also has nothing to stand on in November of 2018 from a rumor standpoint
- Martin Rennie will get a job in MLS
Rennie has a lot of history and standing with his name in the sport of soccer in America. He’s coached in pretty much every level in the country and has a pretty sizable resume. Rennie’s shift from a wider formation to a more narrow and defensive 4-3-3 proved to dramatically slow down and hurt the attacking power Indy Eleven has and 2019 could either see Rennie take a coaching job on a staff in MLS or his firing if a slide late in the year occurs in 2019 like it did in 2019.
- Indy Eleven will get into the top four of the Championship Eastern Conference
Indy Eleven has every reason and ability to hit the top four and with FC Cincinnati leaving for Major League Soccer the door is pretty wide open for a new team to move in. They will have to contend with a Tampa Bay team who should come back strong, Louisville City who will be a two time champion among the other eastern conference teams so nothing at all is locked in but 2019 should be a top four season for Indy Eleven
- Indy Eleven will announce…or clarify… or do something with those “MLS intentions”
It’s almost been a running joke but Indy Eleven occasionally pump up that they put in a Major League Soccer expansion bid a while ago. It was an 11th (ha) hour bid that no one really knew was happening and no one truly knows the details. That being said, 2019 needs to be the make or break, give or go, poo or get off the pot movement for Indy Eleven and MLS because it’s time to solidify themselves in the media market and I’m not sure you do that with how they carry themselves in the shadow of MLS.
- Indy Eleven will announce a new stadium.
- They have hinted at a new home in season-ticket literature, and last season’s struggles to be on the same page with the Capital Improvement Board shows the need for their own home. With Louisville announcing their own stadium, and many other teams doing the same, the pressure is on to not be left behind. While playing in Lucas Oil with be an almost certainty for the next year or two, expect Indy to finally announce plans on a long-term home.
- Indy will host a playoff match
- The core of this team was good enough to be in the top-four of the conference this season. A lack of cohesion and disappointing performances from a few players, however, left them travelling in their first playoff match. With Cincinnati leaving for MLS, a full-length off season, and a host of expansion teams that will experience growing pains, there won’t be a better time for Indy to take the next step into becoming one of the Championship’s elite teams.
- The Eleven will announce a League Two affiliate
- Central Indiana is a hotbed of soccer, with many successful collegiate and youth soccer programs operating in the area. For Indy Eleven, who struggle for local relevance at times, there is no better way to connect with the community than operating a League Two team for player development. Not only would it bring in more fans and draw more attention, but Indy would finally have a pipeline to bring in and develop talent for the first team. While it wouldn’t be immediately impactful for 2019, a League Two team builds a foundation for continued Championship success in years to come.
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