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Training Notebook - Hitting the Pitch

Tue, Feb 21, 2017 3:52 pm
Three takeaways from today's session as Indiana's Team preps for their preseason opener on Friday...

1) Partners in crime

Indy Eleven fans have waited for three long months to see forwards Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun link up again. On Friday against Butler University at the Butler Bowl, they'll get their wish.

The two developed a special partnership last season as the most lethal striking combination in club history, and if this week's training sessions are any indication, they are well on their way to something similar in 2017. Playing in a similar system as last year, the two no longer have to work on understanding the little things - when to time their runs, where to be when the other is looking for an option, and essentially when to zig when the other is zagging. Working in front of new signing Ben Speas at the apex of the midfield, Braun and Zayed played off each other seamlessly as the attack began to look increasingly prolific.

Speaking of Speas, it's not often that a new signing is able to inject a direct bit of flair, control, and speed like the former Minnesota United FC man has in just over a week with Indy Eleven. Showing his intelligence, Speas has already developed a knack for collecting the ball, spinning off his man, and firing forward a pass through tight angles. He'll need the room to work with, but Speas and the two up top are well on their way to establishing something great.

2) In the thick of it

It may be preseason, but as competition ramps up for playing time ahead of Friday's 5 PM game at Butler University, so does the heat on the park - and we're not just talking about Indiana's unseasonably warm weather.

Head-to-heads, heavy (but clean) challenges, and clever bits of skill - it's all a part of the training regiment. While head coach Tim Hankinson heavily stresses that there will be no injuries, and therefore no tackles that would even put a player at risk, that doesn't mean any of the "Boys in Blue" have backed down from earning their spot. 

Two players that are making their presence known in defense are Lovel Palmer and Kwame Watson-Siriboe, who have formed a strong partnership at the center back spots. Both members of Indiana's Team have the stature to put off any attacker, but these two have made a special point to get in front of everything that has come their way. The two former MLS vets are really stepping up in the absence of the captain Colin Falvey.

3) Sharp minds, quick feet

There's a strong mix of talent on the pitch when "Coach Hank's" team hits the field. There are the returning members from last year's team - proven winners who have shown their ability to lead; there are the new signings - guys with plenty of past experience but who have yet to fully earn their spot; and then there is the array of young talent - players who have either featured for the NPSL side in the past or who are fresh out of school and looking for a way to the professional game. The main benefit of this mix? It keeps everyone sharp.

Take, for example, goalkeeper Jon Busch. Busch knows forwards Zayed and Braun - he knows their abilities, their tendencies, where they like to plant their shots, etc. Even after just one year, he knows them well. Who Jon Busch doesn't know are people like the NPSL trialists - quick, dicey forwards with enough pace to wear out the energizer bunny. These players all test the other's abilities, and they push each session to the fullest. If nothing else, the blend and range of talent provide a fresh perspective with their first test just days away.

Training Notebook - Returning Anew

Wed, Feb 15, 2017 2:30 pm
The 2017 season is upon us...

But before the first whistle blows for the opener against San Francisco in late March, there is work to be done. The "Boys in Blue" came in fit and firing yesterday, but their first on-field bout took place this morning at the Grand Park Sports Complex Event Center as part of the team's initial training and tactics session. IndyEleven.com's Scott Stewart were there to take it all in, and here are his five takeaways from the opening session:

1) Many happy returns

With a solid number of players from the 2016 roster coming back to the Circle City, it was good to see so many familiar faces in action. On one end, goalkeepers Jon Busch and Keith Cardona led a 'keeper-specific session with two trialists working on goalkeeping fundamentals, while the rest of Indiana's Team went through a series of small-sided drills and games. 

One player to pick out in the early session was Brad Ring, who has once again cemented himself as a valuable option for coach Hankinson due to his energy and work rate. Ring was absolutely everywhere for his group, consistently lunging into (clean) challenges while being mindful of the necessity to keep the heavy challenges to a minimum due to the nature of the session. 

2) Coach (?) Cory Miller

Indy Eleven fans have celebrated defender Cory Miller since his arrival as the original "new guy," but after his season-ending injury against FC Edmonton last October he has been more of a morale boost than anything else for the team. As the 2017 preseason kicks off, Miller is there again for his team.

Hankinson jokingly refers to him as an unofficial "coach," but the defender is largely there to provide an extra sense of leadership and comradery while also helping to set up sessions, provide instructions, and act as an extra voice on the sideline once the work begins. Miller, who has been a part of the Indy Eleven family since 2014, will continue to rehabilitate from his injury while assisting Hankinson and co., for the foreseeable future.

3) New signings impress

The confirmed new signings of Ben Speas and Kwame Watson-Siriboe were stuck in from the get-go, earning plaudits from their new teammates for both their work ethic and ability alike.

Speas showed his prowess as a tidy attacker, often collecting a pass, spinning off of pressure, and finding the open man while keeping the ball moving in the early session. On the defensive side, Watson-Siriboe used his size and power to put off the "opposition" attack on a number of occasions, closing space and blocking scoring opportunities like he never missed a beat. In addition, newcomer Craig Henderson looked the part when helping his side distribute effectively and keep possession.

As more additions are confirmed in the coming days, one thing to watch will be how these new signings continue to integrate themselves into the team.

 

See more photos from the session below:

Coach Hankinson looks on in the first kickabout of today's session.
 

The "Boys in Blue" separate after warm-ups with trainer Brian Gerlach.
 

The guys continue going through their paces as "Coach Hank" stalks the sidelines.
 

Back in action: forward Eamon Zayed (left) and midfielder Don Smart (right) wait their turn for a touch.
 

The Great Debate: Midfielder Brad Ring (left), forward Eamon Zayed (center) and defender Nemanja Vukovic (right) discuss Vuko's decision-making skills!
 

Wrap it up: The boys gather as the first session of the year comes to a close.

SI.com: Indy Revs its Engines for MLS

Fri, Feb 10, 2017 10:51 am

When  it comes to Major League Soccer expansion, no one has been covering the topic better than SI.com Planet Futbol writer Brian Straus. In recent weeks he has been taking a fine-tooth comb to the group of 12 bids ... and now it's time for #IndyMLS' turn under the microscope.

Click here to read Straus' article chronicling Indy Eleven's bid for MLS 

Click here to see the breakdowns for the rest of the competition for MLS' 4 expansion spots

Foremost Fixtures: Five for the Spring Season

Tue, Feb 7, 2017 1:54 pm

When Indy Eleven takes to the pitch against the San Francisco Deltas, it not only marks the beginning of its quest to repeat as Spring Season champion, but also the beginning of a 2017 season that presents challenges entirely different from the run in 2016. Here are five fixtures to keep your eye on ahead of the season opener on March 25 »

 

Saturday, March 25 - Indy Eleven at San Francisco Deltas

March (25) is coming, and with it comes the earliest start in Indy Eleven's short but growing history. Indy Eleven will be pitted against expansion side San Francisco Deltas, whose CEO Brian Helmick has stated that he wants to emulate the Indy Eleven gameday experience at historic Kezar Stadium. He'll get his chance in the opening week.

While the "Boys in Blue" are returning a solid core of players from the team that reached The Championship Final last year, the Deltas are bringing in a fresh group mixed with NASL experience and first-year players alike. Names like Nana Attakora (Fort Lauderdale), Tyler Gibson (Jacksonville), and, most recently, Tommy Heinemann (Tampa Bay) headline those with prior league caps, while Patrick Hopkins (IK Sirius Fotboll - Sweden), Cristian Portilla (Mensajero - Spanish 2nd division) and Kenny Teijsse (Go Ahead Eagles - Dutch Eiredivisie) are among those who will be making their NASL debuts on the day.

With Indy Eleven closing out its 2016 road slate in solid fashion (1W-2D-1L across the final month), it will be imperative for Coach Tim Hankinson's side to pick up where they left off and spoil San Francisco's party in the 2017 season opener.


Saturday, April 1 - Indy Eleven vs. Puerto Rico FC

Just as important, if not more so, is Indy Eleven's continually unblemished home record, which has seen the "Boys in Blue" go unbeaten in 19 regular season games at "The Mike" since October 2015. 

Indiana's Team capped off an incredible 16-game home unbeaten run in the 2016 regular season with a win over, ironically enough, PRFC, at the end of October, and now the 2017 home opener sees it welcome a strengthened side that will be fresh off of participation in the 2017 Caribbean Cup. With a lot on the line, the first night back at Carroll Stadium is a big one for Indy Eleven.

 

SEASON TICKETS: "Cue The Smoke" during every home game in 2017!

 

Saturday, May 6 - Indy Eleven vs. FC Edmonton

Recent history aside, Indy Eleven has always traded blows with FC Edmonton, and the early May match-up promises to be no different when the Canadian club comes to town for their lone trip of the Spring Season.

The sides were as even as they come in three entertaining regular season affairs last year (1-1-1), but the Eddies won't have forgotten their postseason letdown in which Indy Eleven midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic dealt a decisive blow, a finessed finish that found the top corner and sent Indy to The Championship Final last November. While it has retained most of what was far and away the best defense in the league in 2016 (just 21 goals allowed in 32 games), Edmonton will have to replace NASL Bext XI 'keeper Matt VanOekel, who recently secured a move to Real Salt Lake.

 

Saturday, May 20 - Indy Eleven vs. Miami FC

Dylan Mares was a crucial part of the Indy Eleven midfield during the team's first three seasons, but in securing his move to the 305 in the offseason, the South Bend native has set himself up for a big return trip to the Circle City with Miami FC in late May.

Scoring five goals and assisting on another six, one of Indy's "Original Three" last season now has the chance to operate in a different system and with a different side. However, history has proven it tough for former players to capitalize on their return - inaugural season performer Pedro Mendes is the only ex-Eleven player to score a goal against his former side at "The Mike."

In addition, Miami FC has revamped and reloaded going into 2017, picking up notables such as former Rayo OKC left back and set-piece specialist Michel as well as former Minnesota United FC forward Stefano Pinho, meaning their attack will have that much more venom in a gargantuan mid-season matchup.

 

Early July (4th & 8th) - "Cosmos Week"

It doesn't get much bigger than Indy vs. New York in the NASL these days, and fans of both bases are treated to two rematches of last November's Championship Final inside five days. First, the Cosmos will play host to Indy Eleven at their new home ground of MCU Park, adding to the usual July 4th festivities on Coney Island. The two sides then head to the Midwest to square off at Carroll Stadium on Saturday, July 8.

Neither side had claimed victory heading into the 2016 season, but that road took a number of turns starting in the third week of the Spring Season. The only meeting in the "Spring Sprint" saw an Eamon Zayed brace claim a dramatic last-minute victory over New York at "The Mike" - and ended up providing the head-to-head win that would produce the Spring Season title for Indiana's Team.

Two separate 3-0 results in the Fall Season three weeks apart earned a separate but equally impactful set of three points for both sides. When the two met in The Championship Final, a scoreless and evenly-matched 120 minutes was not enough to decide a winner. It was the Cosmos claiming victory on penalty kicks in the final moments of the 2016 season ... and Indy left wanting revenge heading into 2017.

LISTEN: Soccer Saturday (Feb 5)

Fri, Feb 3, 2017 11:05 am

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FEBRUARY 5TH PODCAST EDITION OF SOCCER SATURDAY!

 

Host Greg Rakestraw is raring and ready to go for another edition of Soccer Saturday on 93.5/1070 The Fan, with this weekend's show from 9:00-10:00 a.m. featuring:

  • Jeff Belskus, Team President of Indy Eleven
  • Kwame Watson-Siriboe, former MLS and NASL veteran, and the newest member of your "Boys in Blue"
  • Jeff Carlisle, seasoned soccer columnist for ESPN who recently broke down the 12 cities vying for MLS

Speaking to IndyEleven.com, Watson-Siriboe was elated to secure the move.

"I'm blessed to have a club that believes in me and is willing to bring me in and win a championship," said the native of Chino Hills. "I spoke with coach Hankinson and with Jon (Busch), who is a mentor of mine, and they told me that Indy has a good group of guys and that the interest was real. Seeing their success last year, and seeing Jon's success along with other friends I have in the NASL, for me to come to a club that was putting a good project together like this was the obvious choice. The belief those two have in me showed that it was a no-brainer to come to Indy and repay them by giving 100%."

Visit www.1070thefan.com/listen to see all the ways in which you can tune in (although we suggest downloading The Fan's handy app to listen in ... click here for team Android and here for team iPhone). 

SATURDAY'S SHOW: If you missed it, go back and listen here!

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