Teams are reporting, physicals are being taken,scrimmimiages are being played and with that comes the build up to season three for Indy Eleven in the NASL. If you haven't followed along, this will probably be the biggest season for Indy Eleven both on and off the field.
Expectations are high(er) than previous and with Tim "Nature Boy" Hankinson coming in to the HC spot the roster moves show Indy Eleven want to make the next step.
Here is the roster as it stands (from Indy Eleven Dot Com) and above is my projected starting roster for the first game of 2016.
Shortly after arrival, Tim Hankinson made it pretty clear that while it's not set in stone that the club would shift from what was normally a 4-4-2 structure (4-4-2 diamond...narrow... you get the idea) to a new formation of 4-2-3-1. What this does is pull a forward back, moves two of the wingers up and with Hankinson's system, push the backline flat.
Normally we saw a lot of overlap with Franco and Hyland crossing over to play up in the wings which could occasional leave that gap open for a counter but with this the defense can focus on defense and offense focuses on offense.
I foresee at least in the beginning Eamon Zayed starting as the lone forward up top. From the press following the announcement of him coming in he sees to be built as a goal machine... which of course is how you win soccer games (THANKS MONEYBALL!)
Zayed will probably play some mixture of a poacher or an advanced forward. While (at least from the beep test) it seems Braun has the speed Zayed has the goal scoring ability on his side. I think if he isn't played there that Justin Braun starts for the boys in blue.
Advanced midfielder/central midfield:
I'm interested as to what this means with using three advanced midfielders. Indy Eleven seems to have gone out and gotten an arsenal of fire power and as Tim Hankinson has stressed "experience" in attacking roles.
In terms of the three players behind Zayed, there's a fairly good chance you see Mares return to the starting lineup. Dylan Mares, an IU Soccer product, played out of his MIND last season and may have carried the offense at times playing in a playmaker type role out of the midfield. I like him to play on the left or right as I do see Ubiparipovic (spelled correctly the second time) to slot in behind the forward position and help shadow the striker. Mares on the right in this lineup can help be a winger, dip inside, and play balls in from the wings.
On this chart, I went with Duke Lacroix on the left. Many people outside of NASL fans won't know Duke but he grew so many from the time he joined Indy Eleven until the end of the season. He can play first touches decently but the guy can hit mass ave before you even get to the center of the pitch. He also has some ability with the ball... (Shout out to Brad Ring for this cannon shot)
In the central midfield, Indy Eleven obviously liked it so they need to put a Ring (I'm sorry) on their central midfield spot and I foresee both Brad Ring and newcomer to Indy Eleven Gorka Larrea to help hold the midfield. My favorite plays are whenever we get to see Brad Ring spring into support for the attack like a bat out of hell but I think between him and Larrea, who is very strong in marking and closing down that will secure the midfield and pump the ball up.
The back four:
No shying away from the changes, I expect a huge difference in terms of the back four. I don't think anyone will be yelled at for helping the attack but Hankinson wants to see a more compact solidified back four and for me that makes a fair amount of sense. I think the two backs will help move the ball when needed, but I do like the idea of a full defensive presence when combating attacks.
Starting on the left, newly signed Stephen DeRoux makes my list. DeRoux and Palmer, who I think starts on the right) are new comers to Indy Eleven but both have the ability to play the ball as well as help shield the attacks from getting painful.
Central defense is where things could get interesting. One of the glaring questions in aftermath of roster cut day in the off season was why Greg Janicki was retained by Erick Norales who was the largest anchor short of Mares for the team, was let go. Janicki played with Hankinson with the now departed San Antonio Scorpions and has marking ability. I think for what Hankinson sees as the defense's role Janicki can cover behind the line and really clean up any through balls and help close down on attacks. Next to him can be a number of people but I think Colin Falvey makes the spot and helps Janicki by playing the ball up more and trying to make the workload low if at all possible.
The goal keeper spot is a coin flip. Cardona has the upside and youth but Jon "Ironman" Busch has the experience, ability..and apparently incredible balance.
Physical testing at @otwsports. Stephen DeRoux & Jon Busch stick the landing. #Eleven2016 https://t.co/smRbsR7AqZ— Indy Eleven (@IndyEleven) February 16, 2016
Side note, my knee magically started hurting after watching that. Damn!
Regardless of the lineup, I think between the Front office, the fans, the team itself, and many within the league that this season will need to be the season we see more than just a lower/midtable finish. The ability is there, the scouting is done, the tactics are being practice. It's time we get results.