Indy Eleven Sneaks into MLS Expansion Race Under the Wire

Indy Eleven stadium

by JAKE NUTTING

Even after survival, the NASL is still looking at clubs hoping to defect.

Per a report from Brian Straus at Sports Illustrated, Indy Eleven.  owner Ersal Ozdemir is expected to hand deliver the team’s official application to MLS officials in New York before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

While Indy’s last-minute entry into the expansion discussion is a surprise to most, Ozdemir has always kept an eye on a potential move up from the North American Soccer League and even had talks with MLS before his team played its inaugural season in 2014.

Disagreement among Indiana lawmakers  in 2015 halted the Eleven’s stadium plans, and perhaps the team’s MLS aspirations. Indiana’s house and senate could not come together on whether the best use of tax money would be to renovate the team’s current venue, Carroll Stadium, or fund a new facility in downtown Indianapolis as the team initially proposed.

With newfound confidence in the support it has from Indiana’s legislators, the Eleven are now ready to move full steam ahead with another proposal for a new stadium and a bid to join MLS, according to team president Jeff Belskus.

“We have a lot of energy for building a soccer stadium here,” Belskus told Strauss. “We’ve proven Indianapolis has the fan base to support soccer. It will support pro soccer and it will support Major League Soccer … It’s so logical for us.”

The Eleven are one of two current NASL teams submitting a bid for expansion into MLS. North Carolina FC Owner Steve Malik also made his MLS ambitions clear at a press conference in December, although his plan is to privately-finance a new stadium up to MLS standards. Malik has yet to finalize a location for a potential new venue,though, and is said to be considering several options.

It’s unclear how or if Indy and NCFC’s MLS bids will impact the longterm viability of the NASL. Ozdemir and Malik are well-respected within the league and played a big part in helping to keep the lights on during a turbulent offseason. It does seem highly unlikely that both teams would win one of the four MLS expansion spots up for grabs, though their bids could cast doubt on how committed each owner is to the NASL.

For their part, NASL officials have remained steadfast that the league’s darkest days are behind it and that several markets could join for the 2018 season.