The drama is over. Well, for now, at least. After much speculation of which league the Indy Eleven would play in during the 2018 season, or if they would have a league to play in at all, the Eleven announced via press release on Jan. 10 that the club would be joining the United Soccer League (USL).
“We are excited to begin a new chapter in our club’s history as we join the USL for the 2018 season,” Indy Eleven Owner Ersal Ozdemir said in the press release.
The Eleven's future was put in jeopardy in September when the United States Soccer Federation (U.S Soccer) denied the North American Soccer League's (NASL) Division II status. The Eleven played in the the NASL since their inaugural 2014 season, winning the 2016 Spring Season Championship and advancing to the NASL Championship final in the same season — losing to the New York Cosmos in penalty kicks.
Consequently, the NASL filed an antirust lawsuit against U.S Soccer, saying that the league’s survival depended on retaining their Division II status. But in early November, a judge denied NASL's request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily retain their Division II status for 2018, putting the future of the NASL in serious doubt. The 2nd U.S Circuit Court Of Appeals has yet to make a ruling on the matter.
On Jan. 8, the NASL announced they were adopting an international calendar,citing U.S Soccer's decision to revoke their Division II status as the main reason for the switch. Making the move to an international calendar meant the NASL was canceling their 2018 Spring Season and would begin their 2018-2019 season in August.
"Because of the uncertainty over the NASL and whether they were going to play in 2018 or not it was really a pretty easy decision to move over to the USL," Indy Eleven President Jeff Belskus said via phone on Jan. 10.
"What we ran in to was a practical schedule deadline," Belskus said. "If you're going to play in 2018 at some point you've got to commit."
Belskus added that the Eleven were adamant on fielding a team for the 2018 season.
The Eleven join Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC and ATL UTD 2 as new additions for the 2018 USL season. The 33-team league is split into two conferences, with the Eleven joining the Eastern Conference. The thriving USL offers the Eleven an opportunity to have several regional rivals as Louisville, Cincinnati and St. Louis all field teams in the league.
"Indy Eleven brings all of the qualities that make a club successful in the USL and will add tremendously to the league’s rivalries in the region," USL Chief Executive Officer Alec Papadakis said.
The proximity of teams is something the Eleven lacked in the NASL.
“We’re very excited about the amount of nearby away matches we can attend,” said Brickyard Battalion Vice President Andrew Retz. “In previous years, our nearest away match was Atlanta at eight hours and more recently North Carolina at 10 hours.”
The Brickyard Battalion is the independent supporters group of the Eleven, the fans you hear chanting and shooting off smoke after each Eleven goal.
“We will be working on organized travel plans to all our nearby cities including Louisville and Cincinnati. If the interest is there, Nashville and Pittsburgh as well,” added Retz.
The Eleven might have their league situation finalized, but another question mark remains: where will they play their home matches in 2018? Reports surfaced in the week prior to the league announcement that the Eleven were set to make a move to Lucas Oil Stadium. When asked whether the club had any plans to leave Michael A. Carroll Stadium — the only stadium the Eleven have ever called home — Belskus had little to say other than that Carroll was their venue.
”That is our stadium," Belskus said firmly. "We continue to evaluate options but that's our stadium."
While there’s still uncertainty on what stadium the Eleven will call home, one thing is certain: The Brickyard Battalion will be there to support them no matter where it is.
“There are challenges with moving to Lucas Oil Stadium. The policies in place at LOS are much more stringent than Carroll Stadium,” Retz said. “That said, we have an opportunity to grow our section considerably. We’re looking at around 3,000 seats depending on the section in which we’re given. This is twice as much as at Carroll.”
“Ultimately, we’re positive on either venue,” Retz added.
On Jan. 20, the Eleven announced that Martin Rennie would be their new head coach. Rennie replaces Tim Hankinson, who led the team from 2015-17.
The USL announced home openers for the 2018 regular season on Jan. 12. The Eleven will make their USL debut on Mar. 24 away to Richmond Kickers. They host FC Cincinnati on Mar. 31 for the team's home opener.
The full 2018 season schedule is set to be released later this month.