Indy Eleven announced the return of nine players from the 2016 season on their website on Thursday afternoon. With all the confusion regarding the divisional status of the North American Soccer League, teams will now find it easier to sign contracts to new and returning players.
Among the nine names announced yesterday is Don Smart, who is at this moment the only remaining name from the team’s inaugural season in 2014.
Smart, the 29-year-old Jamaican is the longest-tenured player on the roster, returns for his fourth season on the team. He played in 24 games for the Boys In Blue in 2016, starting in 20 of them with two goals and three assists in 1,724 minutes on the pitch.
At 40-years-old, John Busch will return for his second season with the team. In addition to playing on the pitch in the goalkeeper role, Busch serves as the team’s Director of Goalkeeping. He coaches goalkeeping for the team’s National Premier Soccer League side and assists in scouting duties. On the pitch in 2016, Busch started in 32 games and played at a high level. He only gave up 28 goals for a .86 Goals Against Average and completed 13 shutouts.
“Mr. Hat Trick” Eamon Zayed returns for his second year on the side. Zayed was a key player for the 2016 Indy Eleven side that went to the NASL Championship match. In 35 games played (33 starts), Zayed netted 16 goals including a memorable hat trick on June 11 to help the Indy Eleven secure the 2016 NASL Spring title with a 4-1 victory over the formerly named Carolina Railhawks. Zayed is the all-time goals leader and shared the team lead in assists with Dylan Mares in 2016 with six assists.
Joining Zayed up front will be Justin Braun. Braun joined the team in 2016 in a transfer from the Sacramento Republic of the United Soccer League. Despite missing five games with an ankle sprain, Braun finished in the top five in minutes played for the team. He also finished second in goals (eight) and third in assists with five.
Sinisa Ubiparipovic, the first announced signing leading into the 2016 season is among the first nine announced to return in 2017. Ubi struggled to find form early in 2016 due to injury and a change in tactics from Head Coach Tim Hankinson. However, he scored the game-winning goal in the playoffs to send the Indy Eleven to the Championship where the team ultimately lost to the New York Cosmos in a shootout.
Team Captain Colin Falvey will be returning to the squad for 2017. Although Falvey missed the first month of the season due to injury, he also finished in the top five on the team in minutes played. The 31-year-old defender’s lone goal of the season came against Rayo OKC on Aug. 13.
Iron Man Nemanja Vukovic was announced as another player returning for 2017. Vukovic returns for his second season with the team and hopes to continue on a fine run in 2016. Vuko lead the team with nine NASL Team Of The Week honors. Vuko played in 35 games, starting 34, and played for a total of 3,148 minutes scoring three goals and notching three assists.
On the one-year anniversary of his signing, it was announced that Lovel Palmer will be returning to the team. Palmer started in 20 of the 25 matches he played in 2016. His lone assist came on Sept. 10 against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Back-up goalkeeper Keith Cardona was also announced to return. Despite being 24 years old, Cardona is currently the second longest tenured player on the team. Cardona looks to continue learning from veteran Busch and can possibly be the team’s goalkeeper for the future.
Of all the names announced, none of the players were new to the team. Fan speculation goes on over other popular players such as Brad Ring, Dylan Mares, and others. A team spokesperson confirmed that there are on-going talks with other players from the 2016 roster, but could not confirm any names, or how many players.
Nicki Paterson announced via twitter that he would not be returning to the team for 2017. "I'm a big believer in never closing any doors so never say never, but for now we will enjoy home,” said Paterson.
Head Coach Tim Hankinson could not be reached for comment but told IndyEleven.com, "All of these guys have won championships, most of them have worn the captain's band. It's a no excuse group. They know the work that needs to be put in. They know how to win. We expect great things in the 2017 season."