Indy Eleven confirm switch to United Soccer League

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The Indy Eleven are joining the United Soccer League for the 2018 season, the team announced Wednesday, confirming recent media reports about the move.

The Eleven said they will join Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC and ATL UTD 2 as new additions in the upcoming USL season. The 30-plus-team USL is a Division 2 professional league, as sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, behind Major League Soccer.

Team President Jeff Belskus wouldn’t directly confirm other recent media reports about the Eleven playing their games in Lucas Oil Stadium during the season, but did say the team was exploring possibilities for a new venue.

“Carroll Stadium is our home stadium,” he told IBJ, referring to the Michael A. Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium on the IUPUI campus. “But we are working with the city and the Capital Improvement Board to see if there are other options.”

A source close to Lucas Oil Stadium said city and Eleven officials have discussed playing a handful of games at Lucas Oil Stadium this year.

The Eleven have played in the North American Soccer League since the team’s inception in 2014. Indy led the NASL in attendance in 2017, drawing an average of 9,170 per game, but future of the league is far from certain.  

In September, the NASL was demoted from Division 2 to third-tier status for the 2018 season by the Soccer Federation. And, on Monday, the league said it plans to skip its spring season and postpone play until August.

“This move puts our future on much firmer footing,” Belskus said. “The USL is a strong and growing league.”

Joining in the USL could give the Eleven a better shot at someday meeting its goal of playing in Major League Soccer. In the meantime, the Eleven could have a MLS affiliation in short order. A number of USL teams serve as MLS farm teams.

“We’ve already been approached by a couple of MLS clubs, and we’re evaluating those [possibilities],” Belskus told IBJ. He declined to say which MLS teams the Eleven have talked to.

Belskus said the Eleven are an attractive partner for MLS teams “because Indianapolis is a very strong soccer market.”

“We have shown we have a very passionate fan base and tremendous corporate support,” he said. “The news of our move to the USL has been enthusiastically received by all of our supporters.”

Belskus said the move to the USL “will be very good for our business.”

“The move to the USL will create some great opportunities for regional rivalries with teams in cities like Cincinnati and Louisville,” he said. “We think our fans will travel to those cities, and fans from those cities will travel to games here.”

Belskus said the Eleven hope to have a new coach hired within 10 days and begin training camp in early to mid-February.

With teams still being added this month, the USL has yet to release its 2018 schedule, but Belskus expects the Eleven’s first game to be in mid-March.

The Indy Eleven’s team name, uniform colors and uniform supplier—Adidas—will remain the same, with the exception that the NASL patch will be replaced by a USL patch, Belskus said.

The team continues to have a formal bid into MLS, which is planning to add two to three more teams in the next few years. To get firm consideration as an MLS team, the Eleven would need a firm plan in place for a new soccer-specific stadium.

Belskus said there are no current plans to make a formal presentation for a new stadium to state lawmakers during this year’s General Assembly. But he made it clear the team is still seeking a new venue.

“We continue to talk to everybody at all times,” Belskus said, referring to discussions with state and city officials. “Most of our conversations lately have been with the city, and they’ve been great to work with.”

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