Indy Eleven 2016 Season Preview

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After disappointing finishes near the bottom of the standings in their first two full seasons in the North American Soccer League, Indy Eleven appear to finally have the right manager, personnel and system in place to make a huge leap up the NASL table in their third season.

New manager Tim Hankinson brings a much-needed cohesive approach, and an influx of veteran starting-caliber players make the Eleven’s outlook for 2016 much brighter than in seasons past.

Indy Eleven 2016 Season Preview

The Eleven addressed their two biggest needs in the off-season — lack of talent and experience — by retaining only a handful of guys good enough to start in 2016 and bringing in several veteran players capable of starting right away and turning things around in Indianapolis.

Returning players: G Keith Cardona, D Greg Janicki, D Cory Miller, D Marco Franco, M Dylan Mares, M Brad Ring, M Dragan Stojkov, M Don Smart, M Daniel Keller, F Wojciech Wojcik, F Duke Lacroix

New players: G Jon Busch, D Lovel Palmer, D Nemanja Vukovic, D Stephen DeRoux, D Colin Falvey, D Neil Shaffer, M Sinisa Ubiparipovic, M Nicki Paterson, M Gorka Larrea, F Eamon Zayed, F Justin Braun, F Dino Williams

Trialists: F Jair Reinoso

It doesn’t take an aerospace engineer to see that the list of new players is a little longer than the list of familiar faces. It’s very much for the better. The newcomers will be asked to log heavy minutes and mold the identity of the team, as the returning cast and ex-squad members from last season simply did not have the pedigree necessary to approach the top of the NASL table. Now, on paper, at least, the Eleven do.

Tactics

New manager Tim Hankinson likes the 4-2-3-1. He really, really likes the 4-2-3-1. The 61-year-old coach has lined his troops up in the formation in each and every preseason match thus far, and that’s a good thing.

During the Eleven’s inaugural season and sophomore campaign, the lineups and formations were constantly being tinkered with to the point of “regular starters” not even existing. There was absolutely no cohesion in regard to player roles, which created a giant mess considering that the players on the pitch weren’t that spectacular to begin with.

So out with old, in with the new. Hankinson’s love for the 4-2-3-1 gives every player a defined role so that it’s crystal clear what the expectations are whether a player is starting or coming off the bench. Based on how Hankinson has deployed his players in the preseason, here is a projected starting XI for Indy Eleven’s April 2 season opener against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, courtesy of StartingEleven.co.uk:

(Starting XI image)

Notes:

  • The holding midfield spots appear to be the starting positions most up for grabs. Paterson and Mares are very much in the mix to start there, but Mares is more likely to have already nailed down the backup number ten role behind projected starting CAM Ubiparipovic.
  • Braun and Lacroix have been used interchangeably on the left and right so they might ultimately swap sides when the home opener rolls around, but both seem to have earned the first crack at starting on the wings.
  • Hankinson dropped some lineup hints in a recent interview with Bloody Shambles’ Aaron Gunyon, strongly voicing his displeasure with his side’s performance against Louisville City FC and referring to the unit he trotted out as “a more reserve-oriented squad (that) wasn’t up to the task.” Ouch. That tidbit basically confirmed that many of the players who featured in that match probably won’t be starting.

Outlook

The roster is way better, the coach has a clear plan and players know exactly what roles they’ll be used in. Anything less than an upper-half-of-the-table finish will be a massive letdown with this group of veterans.

2016 Prediction: Indy Eleven will finish fifth in the spring season, third in the fall season and fourth overall in the combined standings.