Sunday, September 15, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Bethlehem Steel - 06.27

- Opponent: Bethlehem Steel
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 12,103
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Conner, Ayoze, King, Ilic, Pasher, Novoa
- Substitutions: Watson 65' (Novoa); Kelly 75' (Ilic); Walker 83' (Pasher - injury)
- Unused: Farr, Rodrigues, Perea, Osmond
- Goals: Ilic 57' (assist King); Kelly 80' (assist Pasher)
- Bookings: Ouimette 66' (Yellow); Kelly 87' (Yellow); King 89' (Yellow)
- Referee: Kevin Broadley
- Adage goals: None

How about a little history lesson to start tonight's recap?
  • With his start tonight, Karl Ouimette surpasses Cory Miller and Colin Falvey for 9th all-time in club history for games played. Ayoze is knocking on the door as well, needing just one more game to surpass the duo. 
  • Ouimette now sits at 8th all-time in minutes played. With his 90 minutes tonight, Ayoze surpassed Cory Miller to take over the 10th spot. 
  • Pasher needs 2 goals to tie Mares for 3rd on all-time goal scoring. Ayoze and Kelly are tied for 8th and Starikov is 13th. 
  • Ayoze is tied for 3rd in assists. 
  • Pasher and Ayoze are 5th and 6th, respectively, all-time in career points. 
  • Newton needs two clean sheets to get to 11 to tie the club record for a season, currently held by both Jon Busch and Owain Fon Williams. 
  • With the team's win, they set a new club record for home undefeated streak (across all competitions and locations) with 24 and clinched a playoff position.
What's my point of listing all these rankings? Indy has, more or less, always been set up as a defense first team. However, the guys we are seeing now, and the season still has seven games to go, are quickly moving up the ranks in the offense categories as well, making Indy a more well-rounded team than we've ever seen outside of the 2016 NASL Championship Final appearance team. Indy still has games in hand on the teams around them, but have now caught, or surpassed, them in the table too sitting even on points with New York Red Bulls II who have sat at the top of the table the past five weeks. “We made the playoffs tonight with five weeks to go. That’s a huge achievement. Every club looks to make the playoffs and we’ve done that. We have much higher aspirations than that. We want to be at the top and give ourselves the best chance to win when the playoffs come."

Much like Wednesday's game against Ottawa, Indy was the better team for large portions of this game. Indy's defenders routinely had possession of the ball in Bethlehem's side of the field. The team held the possession advantage and the number of shots. Interestingly, much like the Ottawa game, Bethlehem was credited with more shots than seemed possible given where and when they possessed the ball.

Conner has been a welcome addition to the midfield, as a box-to-box player that has been missing from the lineup to date. With his motor, he routinely pushes forward into the attack and then sprints back to help provide cover with Gibson for the back three. Their pairing, chemistry, and work ethic has elevated the team to be more dominant in the center part of the field. Including Ilic in that group has really been able to take the midfield to a different level that will pay dividends in the playoffs.

In the 26th minute, a giveaway from Hackshaw lead to a chance for Bethlehem that required some team defending, which Barrett, Ouimette, and Newton played to perfection. Keeping the teams level at zero and preventing a dreaded "against the run of play" goal for Bethlehem was vital at that point to not let Bethlehem get any momentum.

I value Newton's decision making as Indy has continued to play out of the back. He makes good decisions about when to pass and when to blast. He makes quick decisions on the need to get the ball long and out of danger. Even if it means foregoing the possession, he allows his defense to realign and get prepared again. With the style that Indy plays, having a keeper of Newton's ability is vital. Bethlehem's goalie Freese was nearly penalized for his carelessness with the ball early in the second half when he neglected to take into account Pasher's speed and desire to get to a ball. It forced him to try and clear the ball all the way to the touchline, while also trying to manhandle Pasher along the way.

Shortly after that goalkeeping fiasco by Freese, Indy continued to knock on the door with a free kick that was blocked, reloaded, and nearly headed in by Hackshaw if not for a great save by Freese. The ensuing corner kick was sent in and cleared a couple times before finally placed perfectly for Ilic to put away in the 57th minute. It was at this point that the game shifted.

Down a goal seemed to set a fire into Bethlehem's offense and the next 30 minutes consisted of much more effort, possession, and shots from the visitors than at any point in the game before. After Bethlehem's flurry, Indy settled back down and began to adapt to Bethlehem's change of tempo. However, Indy continued to give up moments as the visitor's tried for an equalizer. An equalizer that finally came in the 76th minute from a corner kick opportunity.

Indy counter-punched with their own when Freese came out on a reckless challenge that mostly got Pasher and the ball fell to Kelly. With fresh legs and an open goal, Kelly easily put the ball into the back of the net. While the team celebrated the goal, it came at the expense of Pasher who left shortly afterwards due to his injuries. For a guy who battled effects of a head injury all last season, Indy fans have to be nervous until they see him in the starting eleven again. Later, Kelly was also subjected to a hard foul that was difficult to watch on the replay. Surprisingly, neither of the fouls on Indy's top two scorers were given red cards. Looking at them both, a case could be made that the yellow cards given to Freese and Ofeimu were insufficient. It will be interesting to see if the league agrees with the referee's assessment of yellows or the Brickyard Battalion's assessment that the fouls warranted red cards.

While the last 30 minutes or so were not Indy's best of the game, they fought back to capture the win and leap frog a couple of teams to near the top of the table in a week that saw three games in seven days. When Indy play on Friday against Birmingham, they will do so as a playoff eligible team looking to solidify a home field advantage in the playoffs.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ilic. It didn't end up being the game winner, but his effort and composure to get the ball from the cross King down to his feet and shot on goal was spectacular. He's had such an up-and-down season with his injuries, it's good to see him rewarded for his effort. Ilic was quick to point out the success and potential of this team rides on its defense stating, "I'll tell you something – the strikers win you the game, but defenders win you the championships. So if you have a good defense throughout the season, that’s how you get to the top. I would say that this year the defenders are actually much better than the strikers for us. We have the best defense across the league and I’m really happy for the guys."


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