Vukovic’s defense reason for Eleven lineup change

Vukovic

Photo credit: Trevor Ruszkowski/Indy Eleven

INDIANAPOLIS — Known more for his offensive qualities than his actual defending, Indy Eleven left back Nemanja Vukovic has proven a very useful weapon darting up the left flank in his two seasons with the club. His numbers speak for themselves.

But as Indy slumped in the NASL fall standings, culminating in an embarrassing 5-nil loss at North Carolina FC on Oct. 1, it became apparent that some changes might be in order. Head coach Tim Hankinson decided to shake things up a bit against Puerto Rico FC on Wednesday.

“Vuko has not been on his defensive game,” Hankinson said. “That was very evident in our Carolina result, where we give up five and a lot of stuff is coming down his way. Even when we played in Edmonton, they know he over-commits offensively and they were playing a longer service and catching him in transition to (Sainey) Nyassi, which got the goal for them there. So teams are starting to figure out how to try and take advantage of him.”

Hankinson started Daniel Keller at left back against PRFC, sliding Vukovic up the pitch to play as a left winger in a 4-2-3-1. Later in the match, Vukovic swapped flanks with midfielder Don Smart and looked dangerous cutting in from the right. The result was a 2-1 Eleven victory.

While it’s unfair to definitively state the move worked — Indy was significantly out-passed, out-possessed and out-crossed — there did seem to be more of an openness to the Eleven attack in the middle and final thirds. The left side of the defense also seemed a little more cohesive with an anchor fullback instead of a get-forward fullback.

“Keller is a true defender,” Hankinson explained. “He’s not going to cheat. He’s not going to worry about his offensive game.”

Tim Hankinson

Photo credit: Matt Schlotzhauer/Indy Eleven

But the decision to make the switch wasn’t completely related to masking Vukovic’s deficiencies. It was also a chance to take fuller advantage of his attacking traits by freeing him from some of his defensive obligations.

“The team kids Vuko a lot that he plays left midfield, not left back,” Hankinson added. “And so we said, ‘Let him play midfield.’ Let him bring the attacking aspects of his game and encourage him to go forward.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the Vukovic-on-the-wing experiment is something that Indy continues to dabble in.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KJboxing.

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