Sunday, August 4, 2019

Indy Eleven vs North Carolina FC - 06.20

- Opponent: North Carolina FC
- Location: Cary, North Carolina
- Attendance: 4,393
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett, Ouimette, Walker, Gibson, Ayoze, Pasher, Farias, Watson, Kelly
- Substitutions: Ilic 80' (Watson); Enevoldsen 81' (Kelly); King 90'+5' (Walker)
- Unused: Farr, Osmond, Kim, Diakhate
- Goals: Watson 15' (assist Pasher); Ilic 87' (assist Gibson)
- Bookings: Barrett 84' (Yellow)
- Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
- Adage goals: None

The knock against Indy from many fans, myself included, is that they have struggled to get wins against the "higher level teams." With the exception of about a 25 minute timeframe immediately after the halftime break where Indy spent the majority of the time defending, this was a relatively evenly matched game and Indy's win is a fair result. A result that keeps Indy in the top 3 in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand on both teams above them and a game remaining against each of those teams. By the end of August, when the Eleven only play 4 games, the number of games in hand will increase. By the end of September, it will be a lot easier to determine where each team truly sits in the table. There are a lot of games between now and then, but Indy's 2-1 win over NCFC helps keep them in the discussion at the top of the table and in a position to host a playoff game.

In reading the post-game quotes from the coaches, both Rennie and Sarachan thought their team was the better team. Coach Rennie agreed that the team struggled with Sarachan's halftime adjustments, "but once we did that [adjusted to the corrections], I thought that we looked more likely to score, and I feel like we really deserved it.” To his credit, Sarachan felt his team started poorly in the first half but adjusted well after halftime and felt his team deserved the win. "We get the goal and I think we could have had one or two more to be fair. I didn’t think they threatened a whole lot in the second half, but yet they made a play. ... But certainly in the second half, I would kind of say (NCFC was) the better team, but didn’t show for it."

Which shows that Indy's ability to keep fighting and find late goals took a likely "fair result" of a draw into a win for the visitors. Indy have become known as a team that likes to make it interesting at the end of games, scoring late goals to get positive results out of games. However, Indy's propensity to score late game goals (9 goals in the 75th minute or later) is nearly matched by their ability to score early (8 goals in the first 15 minutes). Watson and Ilic took care of both of these trends with Watson getting the opening goal in the 15th minute, while Ilic scored the game-winner in the 87th minute as a late game substitute. Indy's goals bookended a goal in the 69th minute by NCFC's Fortune from just outside the 18-yard box when the defense didn't step to him quickly enough and he put a perfectly placed shot into the far post upper-90 over an outstretched Newton.

With Coach Rennie unavailable due to his red card at the half of last game, Assistant Coach Guerra took the reigns for this one. Presumably, the starting lineup was created by the entire coaching staff beforehand so it's difficult to judge Guerra on the inclusion of Watson into the starting lineup. However, Watson, who used to play for North Carolina, looked energized to be playing against his former squad. Guerra's substitution pattern differed from Rennie's though. Coach Rennie has been fairly consistent about making the first sub around the 65th minute or in the early 70s. Coach Guerra didn't make his first sub until the 80th minute, but the first two subs, Ilic and Enevoldsen, were immediately effective with Ilic getting the game-winning goal. Honestly, I would have liked to see both Walker (the 3rd and stoppage time sub) and Kelly taken off earlier as I thought both struggled with their touch and effectiveness.

Kelly reminds me a lot like Indy's 2015 season with Kleberson. Both Kleberson and Kelly came into the team with a lot of expectations, complete with a large salary (though I suspect Kleberson's was a significantly higher percentage of the team total than what Kelly's is with this current roster), and both drastically under-performed. The glaring difference between the two players was that Kleberson was sidelined due to an Achilles injury. Kelly is just not living up to the expectations due to poor play.

Maybe that's our fault for having the expectations that we do for Kelly. When you sign the USL's all-time leading scorer, you suspect that by the 20th game of the season, he would have more than 4 goals (all of which came in a 3 game burst 14 games ago). Yet, he's seen time coming off the bench in favor of a young player who made the team from an open trial. He's routinely called offside. Many, like this one pictured, he's staring down the line of his offside position and doesn't adjust. He was called for 3 of Indy's 8 offside calls in this game. His first touch failed him on a number of occasions in this game. He didn't have a single shot on target.

Sometimes a player needs to get a goal to get out of a slump and open the flood gates. Based on his play in this game, I honestly don't see that happening with Kelly right now. It's a good thing that Ilic is getting healthy. Hopefully his goal tonight is a sign of things to come as gets healthy and gets more minutes.

As Enevoldsen stated at the last home game during the post-game press conference, "We have a really good squad. We don't have the biggest squad, but we have really good players at every position..." If you assume that Nieto and Brown are basically for training purposes and not realistic game options and that Crognale won't be returning, that leaves just 19 guys for selection, one of which is backup goalkeeper Farr. Ilic and Starikov's extended injuries further exacerbated the small squad issues, but their return could significantly help provide additional options in the offense. It will also be interesting to see if Ilic and Starikov's multi-game "rests" allow them to supplant Kelly and Diakhate in the starting lineup in the last half of the season.

Tampa Bay and NYRBII also picked up wins this weekend, so Indy needed this win to keep pace with the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. Indy now has two weeks of league rest before returning home to play Saint Louis FC. Indy will be looking to exact some revenge after losing their season opener to Saint Louis in March. Indy will be playing a friendly vs Detroit FC in Detroit in the interim, which will help keep them in a competitive mode and give Ilic some more game time minutes.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

This week's Game Beckons Game Ball goes to Ilic. It's difficult to have a long-term injury so it's nice to see him finally get back on the field and be rewarded by scoring a goal. Glad to see the former Louisville City foe getting back into competitive minutes.

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