Ahead of their second season in USL Championship, Indy Eleven have built a solid squad.
The end of 2018 wasn’t what Indy Eleven fans had in mind when they saw the names that came to the team in late January. Names like Jack McInerney, Soony Saad, Fan Favorite Dylan Mares, and others fell short of not only the team goals but fans expectations as they slid to 7th place in the east and were thrashed by eventual league champions, Louisville City FC.
Part of this, if you can believe it, can still be tied to how the team was built. Indy Eleven’s late move to the United Soccer League in 2018 led to a late roster building and a fast-food style of roster development and team chemistry. This was an understandable excuse at the beginning of the year but by the middle of the season, these excuses were not acceptable for fans and the team grossly fell below expectations.
Tactical issues in 2018
You’ve heard the phrase “fitting a square peg into a round hole”, right? That is what tactically the later part of 2018 felt for Indy Eleven. After the end of the season arrival of Dylan Mares, the team went from winger based wide play to a more traditional Martin Rennie 4-3-3 that was centered around holding and protecting the midfield. This often led to single forward runs and roaming style players like Mares with cinder blocks on their feet preventing them from helping in attacks.
This led to stagnant attacks and the weight of chance creation on players who don’t have that ability. Jack McInerney, an underperforming former MLS forward, had a chip on his shoulder for most of the season and while he was able to press backlines lost his way towards the end of the season and it felt like everyone was rushing to the finish line so we could prepare for the 2019 season.
Following the thrashing Louisville City FC placed on Indy Eleven in the 4-1 first-round playoff matchup, Indy Eleven went back to the drawing board.
The roster needed updating and a shift in the style of players. What began with subtle announcements of the returners: Goalkeeper Jordan Farr; defender Ayoze Garcia; midfielders Nico Matern, Ben Speas, and Matt Watson, and forward Eugene Starikov has led to players like USL All-Time goal scorer Dane Kelly, 2018 Golden Boot Runner-Up Thomas Enevoldsen, Kenney Walker, Tyler Gibson, Paddy Barrett and reigning Golden Glove winner Evan Newton coming over from FC Cincinnati and even newer players like international Macauley King and former Charleston Battery midfielder Neveal Hackshaw have jumped on board with Martin Rennie and new assistant Juan Guerra.
The clear message from the signings are two-fold. One, Martin Rennie is still going to favor his defensive midfielders and likely a similar lineup.
He actually has a roster which can play his style.
What they could look like
It wouldn’t be preseason without a very clearly overarching, painfully early prediction on the starting lineup for Indy Eleven for their opening game.
There a few locks in the lineup. There’s no reason to believe anyone but Evan Newton will be in the net. Ayoze will likely be on the wings. Dane Kelly should easily be starting. You could even bet confidently on Karl Ouimette and Nico Matern, consistent members of the 2018 starting eleven, to be involved in the 2019 starting eleven. Besides that, the field is relatively wide open with who starts and for each third of the field, arguments could be made for certain people to start over others.
Ayoze will likely be on the left as he provides the ability to hug that wing and get to nearly anywhere on the pitch while minimizing the chances he is outside of his position. Karl Ouimette should see himself retain the central defender spot as he is not only returning and not new to Rennie’s system but had a stellar season last year and paired well with Ayoze on set pieces. Paddy Barrett will likely slot next to Ouimette as a central defender and should work well with Ouimette.
The spot on the right will be interesting to see. If Rennie plans to play with another wingback styled after Ayoze, Tyler Pasher could be slotted in on the right but likely it will be someone else, with the new signings of Macauley King or Lucas Farias being able to be on the right.
The philosophy for the defense should center around how the midfield moves. Martin Rennie does favor his defensive midfielders and that makes it simple to understand the defense will still need to cover holes. Ouimette and Barrett will hold the line while Ouimette will need to play a little wider to cover Ayoze who will travel up high.
The midfield for 2019 Indy Eleven will be interesting. I don’t think it is a shock but Nico Matern should retain his position as the defensive midfielder (by position) and will play a little further back to support the central defenders covering for the wingbacks. Both of the central midfield spots should be filled by new players. Kenney Walker has a strong chance to slot into one of those spots. The other spot is a large question mark with anyone from Hackshaw to even Tyler Gibson able to slot there.
Philosophy-wise it’s difficult to know what Rennie could do. If the wings of the defense are made to fly up it’s reasonable to see the midfield become three defensive midfielders and sit back holding that area. If they do play three defensive midfielders, it could likely that Walker, Matern, and perhaps a successful tackler like Hackshaw sit and win the ball to dish out to an attacking midfielder surging up.
The forwards might be the most simple area on the field for Indy Eleven. Chances are high that we will see Dane Kelly, the league’s all time goal scorer, and the runner-up for the Golden Boot in 2018, Thomas Enevoldsen, start up top. Ilija Ilic, the forward from Louisville City FC, could also poke his way into the starting eleven depending on how the lineup is constructed.
The largest difference in the goalscorers of 2018 versus 2019 is with players like Ilic and Envoldsen, you have a dual threat. Less chance creation weight will be put on the midfield and more can be developed with players like Enevoldsen who in addition to his 20 goals in 2018, put up 10 assists, something that Indy Eleven struggled to earn from their forwards in 2018.
In and out of possession:
It’s not revolutionary what is about to be written but tactics have changed in the sport over the years. Going from a simple understanding of shape and positions, soccer now has gone into two phases.
- In possession
- Out of possession
This means that a team might set itself up different between both phases. For Indy Eleven and the borderline defensive mindedness that Rennie likes to play control the ball, in possession they will likely play with the width in the midfield while Matern should drop back as a ball winning type midfielder with half back tendencies to help cover any quick counters that come Indy Eleven’s way.
Out of possession, it’s easy to see this team to be set up for close to five at the back. Matern will be the clear pivot point and after a year on the field, he should have the skills and confidence he needs to play that role. The key thing for Indy Eleven from that standpoint and from a defensive standpoint is that Matern can’t be given as long of a leash as he was given in 2018. Martin Rennie can’t be afraid to pull a player he favors for a player better suited for that role and to help control the midfield, whoever that may be.
Outlook for 2019
Indy Eleven is being built for at minimum a top-four finish in the east. Louisville, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Charleston will be in the mix but with the moves made, this team has set the expectation to challenge for the east title. It wasn’t well received on Twitter, but fans need to let this team know how it feels if the team fails to finish in the top four of the East because they have no reason to fall short of that.
Off the field with the pending stadium deal, this season is big. On the field, Indy Eleven needs to show it has the ability to not only perform but meet expectations and surpass them. Indy Eleven didn’t host a playoff game last year and cannonballed out of the US Open Cup in an embarrassing performance to Mississippi Brilla FC. Indy Eleven needs to show they have the ability to get out of their own way, otherwise, 2019 will be an absolute waste.
The expectation for this team at minimum is a top-four finish, but you can easily put them into the conversation for the number one season as long as Enevoldsen, Kelly, Illic, and everyone else on the attacking side gels. Regardless of the outcome, 2019 is spinning its way into being arguably the most important season of Indy Eleven’s short time as a professional team and should be exciting for fans to enjoy with those football lines!