As the Chicago Fire continue to build momentum and produce quality performances to begin the year, we take a moment to take a peak at Chicago’s newest affiliates, and check in on how they are beginning their 2019 campaigns.
After two years of official partnership with the Tulsa Roughnecks in the USL, the Fire were pleased to welcome their two new affiliates for 2019, USL Championship club Indy Eleven and Lansing Ignite of the USL League One. Our own RJ previously introduced the new affiliates for 2019, noting the lack of fan fare or media coverage the partnerships attracted.
Following the hot starts and solid crowds for the clubs, it appears Chicago made the right decisions for their franchise.
Fire fans looking for connections to the new teams may recognize some players on the Indy Eleven roster, in former Men in Red midfielder Matt Watson and FC Cincinnati goalie Evan Newton, in addition to Columbus Crew defender Alex Crognale, who is on loan with the Elevens this season.
Indy has looked promising thus far this season, as they look to regain momentum after a disappointing finish to their 2018 campaign. Midfielder Kenney Walker is currently 2nd in the league with three assists in just three games, and forward Dane Kelley among the leaders in both shots and shots on goal, as Indy’s attack continues to threaten and cause havoc for opposing defenses. When talking after their first home game of the season, Indy goalie and 2018 USL Championship Golden Glove recipient Evan Newton praised his team’s attackers, noting that “it’s hard for the other teams to keep up, especially with the quality on our team and the pace. Especially with the dynamic guys forward. It’s going to come. We’re putting in work at practice and it’s going to be a really good season for us.”
Through its three games Indy Eleven has had two players named to the USL Championship’s Team of the Week, as Walker and defender Ayoze Garcia have earned the honors for their club. Walker was able to produce a pair of assists during a clinical performance against Charlotte and Ayoze completed over 80% of his passes two weeks later in Indy’s win over Hartford Athletic, many of which put his teammates into dangerous positions. A former NASL Best XI player and Golden Ball nominee, Ayoze has been rock solid for the Boys in Blue’s backline for a number of years, providing a calming presence and possessing great ability to play from the back. Additionally, defender Neveal Hackshaw received an early season call up by the Trinidad and Tobago National Team to face off against Wales, marking a strong campaign thus far for him.
Indy has started the season well, picking up six points from their first three games, good for fifth in the eighteen-team Eastern Conference. Following a close 1-2 loss against conference leaders St Louis FC to open the season, Indy responded well with an impressive 3-2 win against Charlotte Independence, a game in which three new signings opened their Boys in Blue accounts and the offense began to flow more easily, leading to more chances being created and players being more willing to take their shots and opportunities.
Indy Eleven then played its first home game of the season against Hartford Athletic, and the home fans came in numbers, as they played in front of 20,251, a record-breaking crowd for Indy, and a good sign that the team is headed the right direction on the field and in the community. Talking to Indy Eleven’s reporters after the game, head coach Martin Rennie soaked up and appreciated the crowd and the energy they brought, saying that he was “really happy to get the win in our first home game of the season. It was great to be part of the atmosphere and also the record crowd we had tonight.”
Indy will look to build on its early season momentum and try to take some more points on the road, as they will spend the entirety of April on the road, with visits to Swope Park Rangers (Kansas City), Bethlehem Steel (Philly) and New York Red Bulls II on the schedule for the Elevens.
Chicago’s other affiliate for the season, Lansing Ignite, opened their debut league season this past weekend, and following their week one win, will look to get off to a strong start in their newly formed league.
In an effort to clarify and restructure their soccer hierarchy pyramid the United States Soccer Federation announced the additions of USL One and Two for the 2019 season. The Fire were quick to partner with new club Lansing Ignite on March 19, 2019 as their official affiliate in the fledgling league. The club will compete against former USL teams Richmond Kickers and Rochester Rhinos in addition to a number of new teams, notably local club Forward Madison, Minnesota United’s affiliate.
Lansing went to Virginia to take on the Richmond Kickers in their inaugural match, and held on for all three points after blitzing the hosts for three goals inside the first fifty minutes. Lansing’s first goal ever was provided by Tumi Moshobane in the 19th minute, and was followed up by midfielder Xavier Gomez’s strike in the 27th, as the Ignite were all over the hosts and on the front foot for most of the half.
Following the match, head coach Nate Miller noted how great it was to see that intensity from his players, saying “It was so important for us to start well and play a great game. I thought in the first half, honestly, we were breathtaking. Everything we wanted to do was there on show.”
For their efforts in their week one win, Lansing’s Gomez and defender Grant Stoneman were named to the Team of the Week. Gomez added a second half assist to his earlier goal, and managed to complete over eighty percent of his passes. Meanwhile, Stoneman made four interceptions and won nine of 12 duels, while completing 39 of his 51 passes.
Lansing travels to take on the Greenville Triumph this weekend before returning home to host Richmond again, followed by a friendly against Michigan State University.