Friday, July 15, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 03.13

- Opponent: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 8,066
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Miller, Janicki, Vukovic, Mares, Paterson, Ring, Lacroix, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Youla 68' (Braun), Gordon 73' (Mares
- Unused: Cardona, Torrado, Smart, Ubiparipovic, Keller
- Goals: Zayed 10' (assist Paterson), Lacroix 21' (assist Zayed), Janicki 26' (assist Paterson)
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

Rarely (and absolutely never in Indy Eleven history) is a game over within 10 minutes into it, but that's exactly how this game felt in the stands. After a nearly 3 hour delay, the teams finally took the field and The Eleven immediately put the Strikers on their heels. The Eleven had their first shot on goal within the first two minutes and a 12 shot flurry followed in the first half. In the first 30 minutes, they scored three goals, hit posts and crossbars, and forced Striker goalkeeper Restrepo to parry the ball over and wide. This could have easily been a 5 or 6 to nil halftime lead if not for some unlucky bounces. They were faster, stronger, and seemed to want it more. Passes were one-touches and crisp.

It was beautiful soccer to watch.

After Zayed's goal in the 10th minute setup by a one-touch outside-of-the-foot chip from Paterson, Lacroix's ability to outmuscle and outrun his man and fire a shot by Restrepo in the 21st minute, and Janicki's header in the 26th minute off of a Paterson corner kick, the Eleven added one more historical statistic to their already impressive season. By my count, this is the first time the team has ever scored 3 goals in a half. They did score 3 goals in under 45 minutes last year against Minnesota, but that was spread out over the two halves. This year's goals aren't coming from midfield prayers either. They've scored twice from outside the 18 yard box in 20 goals. Twice.

When the Strikers' Moura received his second yellow card in the 42nd minute, what was already a victory by the Eleven looked like it could become an absolute beating, much the way that the Strikers beat the Eleven last year. The Eleven went to Fort Lauderdale this Spring and came home with a nil-nil draw thanks to Busch playing out of his mind. Wednesday's game didn't require any of those defensive and goalkeeping dramatics. The Eleven were seemingly finding shots at will and by everybody, to the point that the sparse but still vocal BYB (and their sound REALLY carries on a cool post-storm night with a small crowd) started chanting "John Busch score a goal." It almost didn't seem ridiculous.

The 2nd half was... anticlimactic.

Almost the entirety of the Strikers lineup played in their own half.
Three goals in the first half, up a man for +50 minutes, the Eleven could have potentially created a significant goal differential against a team that looked entirely overmatched. Fort Lauderdale came out of the locker room at halftime and put a moderate effort for a short time but fairly quickly seemed to resolve themselves to the defeat and the game dissolved into a slow prodding affair where the Eleven played down to their competition. Normally, that would have bothered me. However, given that the first half was the creamy filling in a Minnesota United Oreo cookie 3-games-in-8-day schedule (and we all know the filling is the best part of an Oreo) and that Fort Lauderdale didn't really come out with any substantial effort in the 2nd half, I can see why the Eleven backed off. They took some chances and were upset by not connecting on some passes/shots, but they weren't playing at full throttle either. Content to knock it around, save the legs that weren't being taken out from under them by Fort Lauderdale, and try to make it easier on them when they go to Minnesota on Saturday. It seems to go against their normal attitude to play hard until the end of the game, but for all intent and purposes, the game was over at halftime.

Afterwards, I saw that the Striker's Managing Director Luis Cuccatti appeared to be very unhappy with the fact that the game was played.

A three hour delay is not ideal. Obviously. While the fans were forced into secondary locations to wait out the delay (and I spent a good chunk of it in the garage across the street having a very nice conversation with a guy from Lafayette), I've been told that the Indy Eleven Operations staff were receiving regular updates from local authorities and campus officials regarding the lighting in the area and communicated the updates regularly with both team and league officials for how that was going to affect the schedule, including the time for the warm-ups and the kickoff. "Per the request of the game's League Designee, and in accordance with safety guidelines regarding time and distance of last lighting strike in the area, a kickoff time of 10:36 p.m. ET was established, communicated, and agreed upon by both coaches." Which we all saw in the form of tweet from the team telling us to vacate our safety locations and get to the stadium because we were going to get to see some mid-week #SoccerAfterDark.

To me, it boils down to the last five words of that last quote from the team. "Agreed upon by both coaches." Fort Lauderdale agreed to start the game at 10:36 in the PM. However, for those fans in attendance who were getting wet again right around 10:36 and wondered why the Indy Eleven were on the field waiting and the Strikers weren't, it could be (and I'm guessing here) because Fort Lauderdale changed their minds and were using some delay tactics by staying in the locker room, with the idea being that if they delayed a little longer, it would push the start beyond a 3-hour delay threshold. A couple years ago, the league had an extended weather issue with a Cosmos vs Silverbacks game and re-evaluated their delay policy. I can't immediately find it, but I think that threshold is now 3 hours. Based on Mr. Cuccatti's statements, that looks to be a good guess.

So after nearly 3 hours, the Eleven players were on the field, as agreed upon, and the Strikers were in the locker room. When, I'm sure, they were forced to leave the locker room and get onto the field so the game could be started, the Strikers players looked like they had resigned themselves to not playing the game, while the Eleven did not. In fact, the Eleven looked like they were taking it out on Fort Lauderdale for making them wait in the rain even longer.

Mr. Cuccatti further had this to say.
One of those five games is a U.S. Open Cup game. I don't feel sorry for the Strikers since "this year’s winning team will receive $250,000, a berth in the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions’ League and have its name engraved on the historic Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest nationally contested trophies in American team sports. The runner-up will earn $60,000, while the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will take home a $15,000 cash prize." At a minimum, the Strikers are taking home $15k as the last remaining NASL team. If you don't want to participate in the tournament, that's your option. Otherwise, the rest of the schedule is just like other NASL teams in having 4 games in 13 days. Mid-week games are no surprise to anybody in this league. Your other mid-week game is in the U.S. Open Cup.

I don't know that the Eleven players made an explicit decision to make the Strikers pay for making them sit in the rain longer than was scheduled and agreed upon, but I remember my days as a player and any extra motivation that you can bring to the game was often helpful. There's a reason "bulletin board material" is a common phrase these days. I think the Eleven were going to win this game regardless, but you don't give a group of warriors additional reason to take it to you. While it's disappointing to see that kind of reaction from the Strikers front office, it was good to see former Indy Eleven player Victor Pineda get 59-minutes against his old squad after not playing in the first game between the two teams. Stat-wise, Pineda had a good game, even if the scoreline was lopsided against his team.

It was a long night for everybody, but I'm glad I was around to watch the Eleven work through the adversity of the delay to put on one of their best 45-minute displays. Given that the game slowed down so much in the end that Coach Hankinson didn't feel the need to use his normal substitution pattern nor full compliment of substitutions (making only 2 of the 3), hopefully the Eleven are able to come out strong against Minnesota. Once again, the factors are stacked against the Eleven versus Minnesota. They're a team that will want to make amends for the loss this past Saturday, while playing at home, without a mid-week game with which they had to contend, and a chance to prevent the Eleven from setting a new undefeated streak record. It may not be a 3-0 affair, but once again, I have to admit that nothing is going to surprise me with this team any longer.


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