Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 01.25

- Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,982
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales (Captain), Miller, Franco, Smart, Pena, Mares, Pineda, Ambersley, Rugg
- Substitutions: Jhulliam 69' (Smart), Moore 85' (Mares), Smith 90' (Ambersley)
- Goals: Rugg 56' (assist Ambersley)
- Bookings: Moore 90' (Yellow)

Confidence is a fickle thing. For individuals, confidence can come and go at a whim.  For an entire team of players, you never know when it’s going to be there, how long it will stay, or what will bring it crashing to the ground.  In soccer, sometimes that confidence stems from the offense.  When the team knows that defensive lapses can often be overcome by the offensive prowess of the team, the team plays with an emotion where they feel they can’t lose.  That they are always in games, even if they give up a goal and are playing from behind.  While they have a spectacular defense and goalie behind them, I think of the United States Women’s National Team in this way.  They have trust in their midfields and forwards to continue to give them chances to win a game as long as there is time on the referee’s watch.

Sometimes, and I think the Indy Eleven are falling into this category lately, the confidence comes from the defense.  They aren’t really scoring any more goals lately than they were in previous games, but they seem to have found four healthy guys who have meshed well together on the backline and a goalkeeper behind them that is simply playing out of his mind right now.  Due to a number of factors, the team has been forced to shuffle around the defensive four for a great deal of the season.  Stone, Estridge, Ring, Okiomah, Norales, etc… They all played well when healthy, but it never seemed like they were all healthy or together for extended stretches.  Recently though, the team has a string of 4 games where the back line has consisted of Franco-Norales-Miller-Frias.  The foursome seem to have found a rhythm that is working and are correctly covering for each other when mistakes are made.  Add in Nicht’s spectacular goalkeeping and some timely defense by the woodwork, and the team seems to have figured out that if they can keep themselves in games defensively, they are going to get some good chances on the offensive side in which the midfield and forwards are more than capable of capitalizing.

Confidence gets you a first home win against a formidable opponent.  Confidence gets you a second home win against a second formidable opponent. Confidence gets you a two-game win streak.  Confidence gets you a three-game unbeaten streak.  Confidence gets you a 307-minute shutout streak. 

Confidence breeds confidence.

Like last week’s game against Minnesota, Saturday’s game against San Antonio had a similar “chippy” feel to it, especially in the second half even though there were much fewer cards.  Like I said last week, that happens when a team comes in thinking they are going to get an easy win against a cellar dweller and find themselves losing.  It also helps that the cellar dweller is a team that never gives up and continues to fight until the end.  There aren’t a lot of times that I feel like Cory Miller or Erick Norales are going to get muscled off a ball, but when San Antonio brought in HagridHassli, I had serious concerns.  He looked like he towered over Miller, who is not a small guy.  It turned out I had unfounded concerns, but not without some serious effort by Norales and Miller.  I was never a big guy so I learned from an early age that a well-timed and hidden jersey pull could give me the slightest of edge to balance things.  Miller had a moment on Saturday that even made me think it was a bit much.  Either the ref (and assistant ref) didn’t see what I saw, or they too thought that Miller needed a little help against Hagrid, I mean Hassli.

Some thoughts on the game:
  • While it was great to see Ambersley back in the lineup, I thought his touch was a little heavy for most of the game.  His hustle never diminished, but his first touch seemed to fail him on more than one occasion.  His hustle is what created Rugg's goal, which is one of the NASL Plays of the Week.
  • Nicht’s goal against average does not do justice for what he has meant to this team this season, but particularly in the most recent run of games.
  • Pena still strikes a ball from further out than I would like (minus his well struck ball in the 38th minute), but I have no problems with his connectivity between the defense and the forwards.
  • I said it last week that Frias has not been my favorite player this season, but he continued to play well again on Saturday.  I still think that the Norales-Miller central backs has helped his play, but he is definitely more improved lately.
  • Smart does good things and makes great runs.  He deserves to be one of the two players to have played in every game, and maybe even deserved some additional time in those games.
  • The Indy Eleven once again on the losing side of a fairly drastic 60/40 possession battle, but it didn't feel that way during the run of play.

The Indy Eleven’s home schedule is finished with only away games against Ottawa and Tampa Bay remaining.  Games that could be winnable, especially given the Eleven’s current form and confidence.  So with the last of the home games in the books, I thought I would take a minute this week and look back at how the off-the-field team did between game #1 and game #15.  After the first game, when everything seemed to go poorly, from concessions, to traffic, to parking, the team did a very smart thing and stated that they did not get things accomplished as well as they should have and sought input from the fans on what they could do better.  Since I spent a very large amount of time standing in a concession line and missed the first goal ever scored by the team (yeah, I’m still a little bitter), I gave my input into the first night’s issues. From the second game forward, I have not had an issue with any aspect of the off-field effort by the Indy Eleven.  Even during the long-delayed rain game against Ottawa, the team did an excellent job of safety and keeping people informed of the changes through their social media outlets.  At Saturday’s game, the team decided to have a “fan appreciation” combo meal made available at the concession stand.  I was at the game earlier than normal and decided to partake and had an issue with the concession staff, who it turns out had some miscommunication between their staff.  However, I went to the Guest Services booth for a clarification, was quickly helped by Mike Henn, who then recruited help from Tom Dunmore, who got it resolved with the concession’s manager.  In fact, by the time I was able to get my combos, the issue was getting resolved internally with the concession staff.  I appreciated the fact that Tom asked the concession stand to comp my combos while I waited for them to figure out the miscommunication, but more than the free food, my belief was confirmed that the Indy Eleven staff will do whatever they can, as quickly as they can, to resolve any issue to be able to make the gameday experience as enjoyable as possible for the fans.

While the team did not enjoy the on-field home success we, and they, wanted this season, I think it was a successful step towards things in the future.  We started seeing positive results on the field and the off-field activities were enjoyable throughout the year.  I’m ready for next season and this one isn't even officially finished.

Update: Norales and Pena made this week's Team of the Week and Rugg's goal was Goal of the Week!  Congrats fellas!

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