Sunday, September 29, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds - 06.29

- Opponent: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
- Location: Pittsburgh
- Attendance: 3,520
- Final Score: 3-0 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw (C), Osmond, Ouimette, Gibson, Conner, Ayoze, King, Ilic, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Starikov 65' (Ilic); Watson 65' (King); Rodrigues 78' (Conner)
- Unused: Farr, Perea, Walker, Novoa
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Ayoze 60' (Yellow); Watson 73' (Yellow)
- Referee: Malik Badawi
- Adage goals: One

Interested in knowing the last time an Indy Eleven team lost 3 games in a row in league play? In 2017, Indy lost three of the final four games before closing with a draw. Last year, Indy lost 5 of their last 7 games, limping into the playoffs before succumbing to Louisville City FC. Following this game's defeat, the Eleven have four games to right the faltering ship they find themselves, having gone from potentially sitting in 1st place outright to sinking to 5th place in a weekend.

New York Red Bulls II spent the past 7 weeks as the top ranked team in the East, with Indy joining them at the top the past two weeks. Recently, both teams have looked like they have had no desire to claim the top spot and home field advantage throughout the eastern conference playoffs. NYRBII have lost 3 of their last 5, while Indy has lost 4 of their last 6. As a result, at the end of week 30, both teams were surpassed by Nashville and Pittsburgh. Indy's loss to Pittsburgh gives the Riverhounds a 7 game undefeated streak and a clear chance to be the top team in the East at the end of the regular season as they too have a game in hand on the other teams at the top of the table. While Louisville City FC managed to give up two goals late to Tampa Bay to prevent them from inching even closer to the conference front-runners, the reigning back-to-back champions are on a 9 game undefeated streak. Not exactly the sight that the rest of the conference leaders want to see coming at them in their rear-view mirrors.

Indy had a chance to get on the board early and affect the tenor of this game.
4' Dane Kelly (Indy Eleven) hits the right post with a right footed shot from very close range.
As has been a habit of Kelly this season, his shot is just a little off; a little wide, a little high, a little crossbar/post. I think he could have taken a second touch and calmly slotted into the goal before the defenders arrived, but he rushed it from a tight angle with a one touch ball that found, once again, the post. Not long after that, the team's were forced into shelter after a lightning storm went through Pittsburgh. Not long after returning to the field, Pittsburgh put themselves ahead with a goal from Neco Brett in the 15th minute on a 30-yard free kick. Just before halftime, Forbes doubled the home squad's lead with a shot from a similar location, but to the opposite corner of the goal. From there, Pittsburgh just needed to hold on and absorb the expected pressure from Indy in the second half. Not only did they succeed in doing that, Forbes added a third goal to make the evening a complete disaster for Indy fans.

Interestingly, as Indy finds themselves struggling at the end of the year, this was the first time that they have given a brace to a player all season. The game included some other firsts for the season:

  • Captain Watson was shown his first yellow card of the season a mere 8 minutes after being subbed into the game in the 65th minute. 
  • Ayoze also picked up a yellow card in the 60th minute. Much like Conner's straight red card two games ago, it was in a part of the field that didn't require Ayoze trying to make the tackle he attempted. Also like Conner's red card, Ayoze's yellow card is going to force him to miss the next game due to yellow card accumulation. If you're keeping track, that makes 3 games in a row where a player's actions have resulted in disciplinary action that forces them to miss the next game. Indy has been rotating players this month due to the schedule and the player's undisciplined actions has made that rotation even more difficult.

I would like to say that I know how to fix Indy's recent woes, particularly with yet another road game on the schedule in Ottawa before Indy find their way home next Saturday. The best I can do though is say that Indy's continued woes at finishing their chances has persisted and at game 30 in a 34 game schedule, this is who they are. Teams are content to let Indy win the possession battle, which has happened 22 times this season (or 73% of the games played), and then look for their own chances either through counterattacks or during their own smaller spells of possession. Indy's attack is mostly methodical, with the periodic long ball over the top to a streaking Pasher or Kelly. Teams have also figured out that putting numbers on Pasher is an effective strategy, forcing others to beat them. In the recent stretch of games, that isn't happening. Indy has scored 1 goal in the recent road trip debacle, which was a put-back goal from Barrett. Indy managed just 3 shots on target tonight; 1 from Pasher, 1 from Kelly, and 1 from Starikov. With Indy chasing the game from the 15th minute, 3 shots on goal isn't going to cut it.

In the press conference at the last home game, Ilic made reference to a saying that players, coaches, and fans like to say. "Strikers win you a game, but defenders win you championships. If you have a good defense throughout the season, that's how you get to the top." Coming from Louisville, which has won championships, Ilic is in a prime location to speak of what can win the championship. Yet, the offense's inability to score lately has put a lot of pressure on the defense and it may be finally showing as the season concludes. If Indy can't keep teams from scoring as they've been successful at doing for most of the season (Pittsburgh's 3 goal output took Indy out of being the top defense in the league) and can't put the ball in the goal themselves, their playoff run could be a short one.

Indy head to Ottawa on Wednesday before finally returning home next Saturday against Memphis. Indy can still host a game in the playoffs, but it has to start with a win against the Fury and maintaining their home form against Memphis and then Swope Park. If the team doesn't get wins in those three games, they may be looking at traveling in the playoffs and that's not an alternative that Indy fans will find comfortable nor appealing given Indy's road record.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Newton got a couple of big saves to prevent this game from being worse than it ended. 

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