My blogging has been rare this year, but the end of the season gives me a good chance to put down a few thoughts. As with last year, 2015 has provided Indy Eleven fans with ups and downs. But maybe even more than last year, we have a feast of intriguing questions facing us in the offseason. I’d like to take a look at a few of those, starting with the obvious one: will Tim Regan be able to shed the “Interim” from his title, or will we have a new head coach for April 2016?
After a dismal start to the season, Juergen Sommer was fired on June 2. That followed a run of one win in nine games, including a DLLLD run in the league and the extremely disappointing 2-0 home loss to Louisville City FC in the US Open Cup. Tim Regan was promoted from his assistant coach job to be interim head coach, and had immediate success with two wins to close out the spring season.
Indy’s fall season was all up to Regan, and the results were a mixed bag. Indy took 20 points from 20 games — they averaged a draw. Five home wins left the fans with a favorable impression, but four draws and six losses on the road left the Eleven well off the playoff pace. The fall table closed with Indy in 9th, behind Tampa Bay on goal difference. The table was tight. Converting one loss to a win would have advanced Indy into 7th place… but switching a single draw to a loss would have dropped the team to last place. The 7-1 loss to Fort Lauderdale was easily the lowlight of the season, while the 3-1 home win over playoff-bound Minnesota might be the best game of the season.
Anecdotally, I’ll say that I saw things from Regan that I’d want from a head coach. Indy generally were more organized and strategic under his eye. The team was able to make tactical shifts during games, particularly at halftime, that seemed to elude Sommer. And Regan’s sometimes fiery sideline presence was a marked contrast to Sommer’s stoic demeanor. The team still seemed prone to overly aggressive defensive play, and hasn’t entirely given up its tendency to lose focus. For the limited amount that a fan can judge these things, I’d say that Regan did reasonably well, but it’s harder to judge whether the improvements were enough to keep his job.
Of course, the head coach only bears so much responsibility for the team’s performance, particularly when he didn’t choose the squad. Indy added four players under Regan’s tenure — Dane Richards, Zach Steinberger, Marvin Ceballos, and Daniel Cuevas — who generally provided bright spots for the team. Indy also dealt with a significant injury list. Prior to the last home game, Peter Wilt summed it up succinctly:
That has an impact too, although the two late home wins certainly show that the team wasn’t prohibitively crippled.
So the fall season had ups and downs, and how you judge it depends on your outlook. Glass half-full or half-empty? And how does it reflect on Regan? What would I do? Hoo boy, it’s a tough call. I liked a lot of what I saw from Regan, and the team was definitely better under his watch than before. He’s a coach with a lot of potential… but that might not be enough. The painful 2-2-7 run in August and September (LLLWDLLWLLD) knocked Indy out of realistic contention in the league; that might be the deciding factor. On balance, I wouldn’t feel great about it, but I would be looking for a new, permanent head coach for 2016.
Of course, my opinion doesn’t mean a lot. Ersal Ozdemir and Peter Wilt are the ones to make the decision. They know what their expectations were, and they have access to Regan, the players, the locker room, and to potential new coaches. I don’t think they have an easy choice. Another factor is that Sommer was positioned as both head coach and director of player personnel. I think Wilt is very involved as executive, but my guess is that he will want someone with more experience and a higher profile to play a major role in player recruitment and loan discussions. (And Wilt is a busy man.) If Wilt and Ozdemir could keep Regan and develop him, I think they would. But the NASL is not a developmental league, and I think the Eleven are a team that wants to compete for the title immediately. And I think that means they’ll bring in a new head coach for 2016.
I’m not at all confident in that assessment; it wouldn’t shock me to see the call go the other way. And I wouldn’t complain about that. I’m hopeful that we’ll know the answer one way or another by the end of November, perhaps before or shortly after the Soccer Bowl. But I keep thinking back to song lyrics that Wilt tweeted before the final game of the season:
Is that tweet a secret signal? Unlikely. Even so, my gut says that a new person will be on the sidelines for Indy in 2016. It would be a bit cruel to Regan, to be sure, but it still might be the kindest path forward for the Eleven.