Indy Eleven have done a great job of making headlines in the time leading up to their eventual debut in the North American Soccer League. They amassed an impressive season-ticket holder deposit list, put together a good front office and coaching staff and have pieced a decent team together. But can their success translate to the on field product? That is the biggest question for the expansion club as it nears opening day.
Ever since Indy Eleven was announced as an NASL expansion side, the work began for the hierarchy of the club. They hired Peter Wilt as President, Juergen Sommer as Head Coach and later revealed their name and crest. Both Wilt and Sommer are impressive hires, not just for an expansion club, but for any NASL club. Indy hoped they were making the right choices with these hires, and so far (which isn’t much) they seem to be paying off.
Sommer has put together a squad mixed with NASL veterans, some players with MLS experience, and youthful players recently out of college looking to prove themselves. In most sports, being an expansion team condemns you to the bottom of the standings for the first few seasons, but the NASL is a unique league and teams have been known to compete right out of the gates. San Antonio did it in 2012, so it is not unprecedented for Indy Eleven to shock the league and finish near the top of the table, however it is easier said than done. Either way, the squad has done all the right things off the field leading up to the 2014 season, so a smooth transition of success to the product on the pitch would be a nice reward.
There is only one storyline that comes to mind, and it’s asregurgitated as anything else in this league. Can Indy Eleven come out of the gates and compete for aChampionship spot in 2014 in their first season? Can the club show any kind of reflection of their off the field success on the pitch? Does Sommer have what it takes to get his team playing the kind of football that wins Soccer Bowls? It is exciting that the answers to these questions are getting closer, but we will still have to wait and see.
Walter Ramirez – Ramirez was widely regarded as one of the best wingers in the NASL after the 2012 season that saw him named to the NASL Best XI while with the regular season champion Scorpions. However a brutal 2013 saw his stock fall and the Scorpions did not resign him after the season. When on his game, Ramirez is a dynamic left sided midfielder who can find his strikers with crosses into the box, while chipping in with a goal or two. He scored a stunner last season against Minnesota United FC as proof. He has had problems in the locker room as it seems his ego gets the best of him sometimes, but he will be out to show his new teammates that he still has the abilities that led to such a good 2012 term.
Mike Ambersley – Ambersley is another NASL veteran who has spent time with Minnesota, Tampa Bay andAtlanta. The striker attended college and played soccer and Indiana University so this move is a reunion of sorts for him. He scored 19 goals in 60 total appearances with theRowdies from 2011 to 2013, and claimed a championship with them in 2012. He plays best when he is a part of a two-striker formation and is very good at bringing the bestout of his striking partner.
Brad Ring – Ring has some valuable experience in MLS that he will bring to Indy. Ring has spent time with the San Jose Earthquakes as well as the Portland Timbers. He is also an IU alum and normally plays as a defensive midfield player. He cleans up messes in midfield and connects the defense to attack when he is playing well.
Pedro Mendes – Mendes looks set to be the partner that should benefit from playing alongside Ambersley. Mendes scored 12 goals with the Atlanta Silverbacks from 2012-13, eight of which came last season. Mendes is a strong forward who helped lead the Silverbacks to the 2013 Spring Season championship and eventual Soccer Bowl berth. Indy fans will be hoping that he continues to improve in 2014.
Potential breakout player
Ben Spencer – Spencer is a Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA academy product that went to play in Norway with Molde, after declining a scholarship to UC Santa Barbara. The 18 year old has played with the US U-18 national team, scoring three goals in six appearances. He is a promising young striker and playing in the NASL with an expansion club could see him get some serious time on the field in 2014.
It’s hard to say what Indy’s biggest strength on the field will be, seeing as we have yet to see them play a competitive match. Something that will go a long way for them however is unpredictability. The mysteriousness of this expansion side that has had so much success off the field could potentially rack the brains of opposing managers. Not many have seen them play too much this preseason and not a lot is written about how they are setting up. If opposing teams can’t prepare properly when theyplay Indy Eleven, then Indy already has an advantage when entering matches.
Most Glaring Weakness
In one word? Defense. As an expansion club, it will go a long way to get their defense settled as early as possible so they can get some consistency at the back. Indy has not brought in too many household defensive names with most of the current defenders on the roster being recent college graduates or players with limited experience elsewhere. To compare, when the Scorpions came into the league in 2012, they brought a defense with MLS veterans like Greg Janicki, Ryan Cochrane, Wes Knight and Blake Wagner. Their defense was the best in the league and helped them to an impressive opening campaign. At the moment, it doesn’t look like Indy has the same tools at the back to replicate that scenario.
Again, if their success off the field is anything to go by, then Indy Eleven fans should have a positive outlook on the season. Whether or not the squad is uber-competitive off the bat shouldn’t dilute from the excitement of an expansion club in a big time soccer city like Indianapolis. A team’s first season is always something to be excited about, and from a league perspective, Indy is a fantastic town to add to the list of host cities.
Sommer has done a good job quickly assembling a squad ofcompetitive players. This is a league that is there for the taking every year and there is no reason why Indy cant at least compete to be one of those teams. What they may lack in overall talent they can attempt to make up for in momentum. Players, staff and fans will be hyped to get the season going and hopefully for them, that adrenalinecontinues to feed them throughout the summer.
Although they have put together a decent squad, it seems to be asking a lot to have Indy claim one of the four Championship spots. A first season filled with competitive matches and large attendances would be a win in almost every category for the new club. I don’t think Eleven will finish at the bottom of the standings, but neither do I think they will top them when all is said and done. Maybe somewhere around mid table, or mid to lower table might seem an appropriate finish. But as stated earlier, they can still end the 2014 season in successful fashion with an impressive inaugural campaign. We will see what they do on the field, but NASL soccer has come to Indy and the club should be raring to go.
(image courtesy of Indy Eleven)