After a loss in the 2019 Eastern Conference final, Indy Eleven will try to take the next step in 2020.
When the referee blew the whistle on the sideline of Michael A Carroll Stadium and Louisville players, staff, and supporters celebrated another Eastern Conference title victory while a lowly, hushed growl could be heard from the Indy Eleven players, supporters, and staff.
That growl was hunger.
Hunger was what carried over to the offseason. Hunger remained over the offices off of Pennsylvania street and the training facilities at Grand Park as Martin Rennie knew how close the team had been to achieving greatness and the hunger to get it right in 2020.
That hunger carried over into the offseason and roster building as Rennie worked to retain a strong core that was clearly good enough to get to the Eastern Conference final while bringing in strong players to both challenge the core for spots while also filling in needs the team had.
One of the biggest additions to the team, for both on the field and off the field reasons, was Connor Antley. Antley arrived after two seasons with Tormenta FC, the first being with the League Two outfit and last season being with the professional USL League One team. Antley arrives on the back of a Defender of the Year season and will not only help solidify the right side of the field which, following Lucas Farias’ injury was strained, but will likely find himself in a starting position at some point.
It was also a major move for the fact that it was the first time a transfer fee was involved with a player moving from League One to the Championship. The fee was reportedly less than 10k, which wouldn’t make a blip on the pulse of international transfers. But, the move signaled that Indy Eleven was ready to evolve their roster-building tactics and go after the best players possible.
Other moves like Nick Moon from the defunct Lansing Ignite, Carl Haworth from the defunct Ottawa Fury, as well as the pickup of Andrew Carleton on loan from Atlanta United, along with a slew of other players, push the narrative that Martin Rennie means business in 2020.
Underrated part of the core
One aspect that has felt underwritten as added value with the core brought back for 2020 is the full retention of key defensive players from 2019. Paddy Barrett, Neveal Hackshaw, and Karl Ouimette (along with Mitchell Osmund) played vital roles in the evolution of Martin Rennie’s tactical development over the season and with the use of a non-traditional ‘3 at the back’ formation, having that familiarity is vital to the importance of starting seasons strong.
Along with that is retaining of both goalkeepers in 2019, Evan Newton and Jordan Farr. Newton would go down in the latter parts of 2019 and Farr, who hadn’t started a professional game prior to the 2019 season, exceeded the expectations of many with his stellar performances. Obviously, many questions were asked during the offseason about if Newton and Farr would both come back if Rennie would decide to let one go if either were being pursued by any other teams. But, the return of both men should give fans enormous amounts of confidence that the goal will be protected and with the retaining of the defensive stars ahead of them, the defense could be poised to repeat it’s strong performance in 2020.
Good selection headaches
It’s rare that coaches would get a good selection headache. Often, selection headaches are caused by injuries or players being unable to be played. Even in USL Championship, international call ups can cause coaches to be forced to use players in unnatural positions.
The way that the roster has been built by Indy Eleven in the offseason provides some incredibly interesting discussions. Common selections, Tyler Pasher, Neveal Hackshaw, etc., can be seen without any issue, but the main area of interest will be the midfield.
With the ‘3 at the back’ formation, and the way Indy Eleven has played it, the wingbacks slide up generally next to the center midfielders and the center midfielders can either support attacks or cover that space. For Indy Eleven last year, Tyler Gibson was the ironman of the team playing all but a few minutes of the season.
One of the notes that commonly came up, however, was the lack of vertical play from the midfield. There are many reasons you could see for this issue, but a lot of it was a lack of true playmaking and good passing from the holding midfielders, often Kenney Walker and Gibson.
For this, Rennie went out and provided more depth, retaining Drew Connor who came on mid-season and provided a sweet bit of relief, and bringing in former Indiana Hoosier Cam Lindley who provided 7 assists while on loan to Memphis 901 FC. Looking into the first few matches, the new group at the central midfield spot is a refreshed selection headache for Martin Rennie because now, he isn’t forced into conceding the midfield to one style or another. Each one of the potential starters in the central midfield provides a different set of skills and Rennie can provide a slight bit of unpredictably for opposing teams.
New season, new opportunities
That hunger from the 2019 Eastern Conference Championship game still sits with a lot of those players. The chance to not only represent the conference but to bring a championship to the circle city hasn’t left their minds. For Martin Rennie, he knew what he needed to do in the offseason to fix some of the issues of the season with fractured goal scoring and poor form away from home.
It remains to be seen whether or not this team is more talented or more prepared for the season than the 2019 squad which many believed to be the most talented team Indy Eleven have ever had. Even if the 2020 team isn’t the most talented team, 2020 Indy Eleven looks to be the most prepared to tackle the Eastern Conference and achieve all of its goals of bringing a USL Championship to Indianapolis.