Christmas is the time of the year where children take into account their year and throw together a list of things they want from Santa this year. Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, at some point something you celebrate has you list things you want or need. Even if it's just a list to the grocery store, we all make lists of things we want or need.
24 hours after naming Tim Hankinson head coach last week , Indy Eleven announced the 8 players from the 21+ the team had by the end of the season that they would retain.
Photo and text from Indy Eleven
Eight players have seen their contract options picked up by Indy Eleven for the team’s third season of North American Soccer League play next year: defenders Marco Franco, Greg Janicki and Cory Miller; midfielders Dylan Mares, Don Smart and Dragan Stojkov; and forwards Duke Lacroix and Wojciech Wojcik.
“Indiana’s Team” declined to pick up options on eight other players: goalkeepers Jon Dawson and Kristian Nicht, defenders Judson McKinney and Erick Norales and midfielders Marvin Ceballos, Daniel Cuevas, Kleberson and Victor Pineda.
Two players, defender Kyle Hyland and D/M Daniel Keller, have seen their contracts with the team expire, while Indy Eleven is continuing contract discussions with two other players, goalkeeper Keith Cardona and midfielder Brad Ring.
Hankinson has made it pretty clear that while these eight are retained, that "one or two of them" could be starters on the field. Of note on the declines of options would be Erick Norales. Norales was a staple of the "NASL Team of the Week" and outside of being suspended for three games as a result of two red cards during the season he was a constant goal threat and help marking men on the run.
In addition, loan arrangements with six players – defender Jaime Frias [C.D. Guadalajara (Chivas), Mexico]; midfielders Sergio Peña (Real Sociedad, Honduras), Dane Richards (New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer) and Zach Steinberger (Houston Dynamo, Major League Soccer); and forwards Brian Brown (Harbour View FC, Jamaica) and Charlie Rugg (Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer) – have expired.
While it's unofficial the reasoning behind his option being declined, Indy Eleven president spoke on "Soccer Saturday" on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis and touched lightly on the reasons, citing his age, cost, and Hankinson's experience with Janicki over Norales. Also of note would be the numerous amount of written interviews that came out after Norales made it public he wasn't returning to the team including this portion:
Photo and quote from Aficionado
It's unclear his next destination, with many saying not to rule out retaining his location in the States, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Norales return to Honduras or otherwise so he can even be brought back up for the Honduras national team.
Other departures, like Hyland, seem more based on the tactics of Hankinson citing that the backline will probably play a "flat four" which leaves Hyland high and dry as he typically led attacks on the wings. Pineda, Ceballos, and others seem really just based around the tactics the team will be using and the changes that will be coming for the club.
While there wasn't much surprise from the roster choices, there were still aspects that I'd like to tweak... Thus presenting my wishlist (in no specific order):
- Re-sign Brad Ring. Both Ring and Cardona (as reported) are in contract talks but between both Ring not only fits the mold of "experience" that Hankinson is after for this year's team, but Ring has also been steadily the best player on the field for Indy since year one. Ring can provide a great bit of play building and confidence in the midfield, but if Mares makes his way back to the starting lineup in that attacking mid role he held in the beginning of the season, he and Ring are great to build off of each other and help each other.
- Hankinson needs to establish his "plan" tactically by the first game. Hankinson has said no wrongs (per Bloody Shambles column) but really, what head coach on the new job won't say what he's said? He's credited the fans, the culture, and the club as his reasons for taking the job but in reality it's December. I'm remaining cautiously optimistic but by that first game we need to see a real difference in the style and feel of play compared to the previous two years. I'm not crazy enough to say "We need to see a WIN!" but Hankinson needs to back up his talk.
- Avoid bandaids on bigger wounds. One of the issues that this club ran into was putting small fixers on bigger wounds. Cuevas, who eventually broke his leg after his first game and Ceballos came in and provided, but weren't ever going to be long term solutions for the club. In a league where your turnover roster wise can anywhere between five or six to twenty players you need stability. Avoid the quick fixes unless there is a long term vision behind it.
- Bring back Steinberger. Financials aside, that is arguably the most logical and realistic loan deal that can be done again in year three. Rugg has had his option declined by LA Galaxy as has Dane Richards but Steinberger provided more compared to all of the loanees short of Richards. Houston also just traded away for three big named MLS midfielders, so Steinberger would otherwise get lost in that set up.
- Finally, in regards to roster building, Eleven need to bring players in who can support the starters. That seems odd to write, but at some points during the year we had 13, 14, even 15 fringe starters who were rotated out which in reality, isn't bad, but you then run into the issue of chemistry when you are constantly rotating players around. Bring in 12 guy who could be rotated around, but after that support the spine of your team otherwise team cohesion will again haunt a team with around 30 goals last year.
In reality, the moves Indy Eleven made were needed. Losing players like Norales, Hyland, and even born leaders like Nicht hurt the fans who have followed the club since day one, but Hankinson has made it clear that he is here to right the ship and will be grabbing the issues this club has faced on the field in the last two years and pushing them away.
For now, we can just speculate. Judgement on moves comes in January when the club really takes form and we get to see what identity they will have.