Tired of all the negative soccer coverage? You’ve arrived at the right article.
As soccer writers, it is common to find ways to criticize performances, regardless of the ultimate outcome. When a goalkeeper makes a great save, we ask why the defenders weren’t in position. When a ball is cleared out of the box, we’re asking why the team didn’t push forward on the counter-attack. If a team plays in a state-of-the art NFL stadium, the empty seats and still-visible football lines fill our column inches. It seems as though we can’t be satisfied no matter how hard we try.
In an effort to bring more positivity to soccer coverage, I have found three things to bring smiles to the faces of Eleven fans. Trust me, the effort to reign in cynical tendencies was not easy. But, this list will hopefully be a refreshing change from Soccer Twitter’s dour outlook as of late.
Indy Eleven Are Competitive
I’ve mentioned it a few times in my columns, but it’s worth revisiting here. Indy was set up for abject failure in their maiden USL campaign. A short off-season and nearly total roster overhaul left Indy without much time to come together as a team. The front office also had to contend with paying an NASL exit fee, USL entrance fee, and securing a stadium schedule in a matter of weeks. All of this chaos would have given Eleven fans a reason to write-off 2018. Instead of struggling, though, the team is in the thick of the playoff race.
The team hit on almost all of their player acquisitions for the season. Despite being a frequent-flyer to the disciplinary committee, Jack McInerney has developed into a dangerous striker and competent winger. Soony Saad, Ayoze, and Eugene Starikov all bring pace and creativity to the side, and the defense is stronger than ever before with Owain Fon Williams leading the way. Combine that with the underrated coaching of Martin Rennie, this version of Indy Eleven is as good as we have ever seen.
The Eleven currently sit 8th in the table, but they have games in-hand on the teams above them. They are strong on the road, improving their play at home, and have an expectation to reach the post-season. The team is hungry for success and seem to have a deep appreciation for the city and its fans. Indy may not raise the USL Cup this year, but they have laid the foundation for many successful years to come.
Indy Eleven Charged with Decent Exposure
I’ll be the first to admit that USL Productions don’t get everything right. Not even close. I still remember watching a match that was interrupted by an impromptu commercial break after the second half started. The Rochester game was a debacle, and some of the away match commentary is lacking, to put it nicely. However, Indy have never had as large a reach as they have this season, and it has translated to real success so far.
For all the commentary and commercial issues, USL does produce strong, professional broadcasts. The graphics are strong, camera work is solid, and the halftime video shorts give USL matches a larger sense of importance. The USL Productions investment was a large reason the league was picked up by ESPN and has helped boost Eleven attendance to the tune of 2,000 people per match. Seeing the Eleven matches lined up next to MLS and Serie A matches, with the production quality to match, gives the Eleven the national footprint they never could have dreamed of in NASL.
USL Is Forcing a Foundation to Be Built
Indy Eleven came into the USL fold after five years in the NASL. During that time, the team built a reputation for a strong fan base, despite only moderate league success. And though the club received the praise of those outside Indianapolis, fans of the team saw the Eleven start to fall behind. Lack of progress on a soccer-specific stadium has hampered the team financially. Meanwhile, a lack of academy or development side has limited young talent available to the Eleven. As the sport has continued to grow, these two items have become standard for clubs in the first and second divisions, and teams with them are reaping the benefits.
I promised this article would be positive, though, and there is a positive side to this. With the announcement of USL 20/20, the league has committed to helping their teams achieve the things that have eluded Indy thus far. USL have hired in-house stadium designers to help teams create manageable proposals, which the Eleven have struggled in creating. The league’s history of stability and growth have made negotiations with some state governments easier to accomplish, giving hope to a breakthrough on talks.
USL have also been rumored to mandate academies soon, pushing Indy to start investing in young, local talent. The ease of creating a PDL side also makes Indy’s addition to that league a probability. Both these things would provide access to a much wider array of players to choose from, and help alleviate the team’s reliance on transfers and loans from MLS teams.
A Constructive Closing…
Maybe I’m viewing the team through rose-colored glasses, or maybe I’m far too optimistic about the team’s situation. But, I would like to think that the reality is that things have steadily improved for Indy Eleven players, coaches, and fans. The NASL was the wild-west of soccer leagues, and created massive instability each off-season. And while there are problems that need addressed, they are not nearly as dire as they have been recently. The future for this team is bright, and sometimes it helps to take a step back and appreciate that the road ahead is a little less bumpy than the one already traveled.