INDIANAPOLIS – They say age is just a number. It is, of course, but not one that matters to the Indy Eleven.
Ahead of the 2016 season, new head coach Tim Hankinson made a number of offseason additions that included bringing in experience in defenders Lovel Palmer, Colin Falvey, Nemanja Vukovic, and ‘keeper Jon Busch. All of these players are over the age of 30 (one a bit older – Busch turns 40 in a week), but despite fan concerns of potential injury trouble and not being able to do the job completely, this group has been ruthless in defense.
Early in the season when the attacking side of things needed time to coalesce, the unit was leaned upon helping Indy to a Spring Season title and, currently, first place in the Fall Season as the attack grew stronger.
“My message to those who would say we are too old is that, maybe I’m old considering my age – my passport would say I am – but if I’m playing like a 22-year-old and running 90 minutes up and down the pitch, then I don’t consider myself old. I feel as young as ever,” said the left back Vukovic.
“Many players on our team are 30 or older, but it shows that experience is good for us and that, physically, we are doing really well,” continued “Vuko,” whose eight NASL Team of the Week placements are the most in the league. “I’ve played [editor’s note: almost] every minute this year in both the cup and the league and I’m still healthy and haven’t had any injuries, so let’s hope that continues.”
In the case of Vukovic, he takes this sentiment a little more personally as he revealed he was passed up on for a national team call-up due to his age. Though the Montenegrin continues to show his ability to perform in the Circle City, he is disappointed by the decision overseas.
“They thought I was too old and wanted to force someone younger in,” he said. “It would be different if I was on the field and wasn’t running, or wasn’t active, or clearly looked out of place, but I’m not. I’m still playing on a good level.”
For Falvey, the team’s captain, the situation is entirely different.
“I don’t really think about age, to be honest,” said the Irishman. “Last season [in Ottawa] I was one of I think six outfield players to log every minute, and again this year I’ve logged a lot of minutes. I was unfortunate to be out for a number of weeks, but that was the longest injury stretch of my career.”
As the year rolls on and Indiana’s Team continues to gel into the cohesive unit they are on the pitch, Falvey credits more than just himself. After all, individual performances are important, but they are part of an overall collective, something the defender emphasizes.
“It’s kind of a case where we’re all looking out for each other now. If somebody does make a mistake or gets caught out, someone is there to cover them. I think that’s why we’ve been successful and why we’re so hard to play against. It’s why we seem to keep getting wins,” he said.
Busch is another player who laughs off the idea of being “too old” to get in the net week-in and week-out. The goalkeeper spent the last 15 of his now 20 professional seasons in Major League Soccer, and he sees the crossover to the NASL as more seamless than one might think.
“You know, transitioning to the NASL, soccer is soccer no matter what league you are in. If we defend well as a group front to back, then the results come and the good defensive performances come. It’s not one individual, it’s a collective performance that requires everyone pulling their own weight to succeed, and we’ve done that so far this year,” said the American goalkeeping legend.
“It’s tough at any club to only have one leader. I think you need four or five voices on a daily basis. There are different things that different guys can handle, and we have the right amount that can handle that pressure and alternate who handles what in different situations as you don’t always want to hear the same voice,” he said.
That leader, no matter their age, emerged in the form of multiple voices this year – Busch, Falvey, Palmer, Janicki, and “Vuko” just happen to have joined the party at the right time. Every single one of the defensive additions in the offseason has brought an ability to perform as an individual and as a team, but they also bring a leadership quality to Indy that has not been nearly as present in years past.
“I think if you look around a lot of leagues now – and for myself it’s someone like John Terry who’s been doing a job week-in and week-out in the Premier League and just got a new deal – that’s just one example,” Falvey explained. “People think that as soon as you get to thirty (years old), there’s a need to overreact. But you’re not thirty-five or thirty-six, you still have time on your side.”
“The combination we have in terms of experience and leadership has taken us to where we are today. We drive ourselves every day to be better and better, and alongside the coaching staff won’t stop until we’ve reached our ultimate goal – winning the NASL Championship,” the Indy skipper concluded.
It takes a certain balance to succeed in this sport. Youth – to have the legs to keep driving forward – and experience – to have the mind and body to continue the fight. With proper balance, the results will come, and that’s what fans of the “Boys in Blue” have seen so far.
With The Championship postseason just a few months away, it will take both the legs and the knowledge to fight for that final prize. And while their ages are considerable they will not be considered a road block to more hardware for this group. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – it’s been Indy’s defensive veterans that have been the road blocks thus far, that is, if you ask the various attacking units that have been stonewalled by Indy Eleven’s ageless wonders.
This story originally appeared on www.IndyEleven.com and is reposted with permission.