Sunday, November 3, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Nashville SC - 06.36 - USL Playoffs (Conference Semifinals)

- Opponent: Nashville SC
- Location: Nashville
- Attendance: 4,145
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Novoa 70' (Kelly), Watson 86' (Pasher)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea, Starikov, Ilic,
- Goals: Pasher 59' (assist Gibson)
- Bookings: Ayoze 22' (Yellow); Ouimette 24' (Yellow)
- Referee: Elton GarcĂ­a
- Adage goals: None

Through the first week of the USL Championship Playoffs, the Western Conference was a veritable roller coaster ride full of lower seeds upending the higher seeds, including 8th seed Austin Bold taking Phoenix Rising to penalty kicks just days after having to play in the Play-In Round. The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, proceeded mostly according to script with all 4 of the top seeds advancing past their conference quarterfinal matches.

Week 2 of the Playoffs began the same way as Week 1 with Real Monarchs finishing the job that Austin Bold was nearly able to do the week before and send Phoenix Rising, the odds-on favorite to win it all before the playoffs, exiting the tournament without even making it to the conference final. With the other Western Conference results, by the time the #3 Indianapolis - #2 Nashville and #1 Pittsburgh - #4 Louisville games started, everybody knew that the final was going to go through one of the Eastern Conference cities yet again.

 As Austin Bold can attest, keeping a clean sheet in the playoffs doesn't guarantee success when it can be undone by penalty kicks. However, playoffs are often the time when defensive efforts are rewarded and the Indianapolis vs Nashville game matched the top two defenses in the league. It was the kind of game where the expectation was that a single goal could be enough to be the winner.

In the early part of the game, all signs pointed to Indy being the winner who held the early advantage in shots, possession, and corners. Action evened out a bit just past the 20th minute when a kerfuffle arose after a hard Ayoze challenge and Nashville increased their intensity. Ayoze's challenge and the resulting pushing and shoving provided the game with 3 of its 5 total yellow cards, as Ayoze and Ouimette received cards, as well as Nashville's Washington. After that, both teams settled in and finished the half with 50/50 possession, but Indy had more shots on target than Nashville.

Jordan Farr, continuing his excellent play in replacement of Evan Newton, was forced to make one of this 3 saves early in the second half. As the game progressed and the defensive strengths continued for both teams, a moment of brilliance looked like it might be the deciding factor. Then in the 59th minute, Tyler happened.

"'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'
My man John Keat's said that."
Tyler X 2 to be more exact.

Tyler Gibson, the team's iron man in starts and minutes this year, picked up the ball near midfield, picked his head up, and spotted Tyler Pasher about to make a Tyler Pasher run. Gibson put an absolutely perfect ball over the top that would land just inside the 18-yard box where Nashville's Pickens couldn't come out to get it, but where Pasher could run onto it. Pasher one-touched the ball with the outside of his left foot past a stranded Pickens and just inside the left goal post. It's the kind of shot that Indy fans have seen numerous times this year just dribble agonizingly on the wrong side of the post, but it squeaked in for Pasher's 5th game winner this season.

Indy continued to play within their game tactics, but the 70th minute substitution of Novoa for Kelly indicated that things were getting adjusted for the visitors. Novoa was left up top to chase down real estate clearances and Pasher (and then his 86th minute substitute Watson) dropped further and further back to help defend and solidify the Rennie Bunker (TM). By the time the game ended, Indy fans knew that the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket was already filled by Louisville City FC. It took until the conference semi-final games, but the lower seeds both prevailed, providing Indy and Louisville fans with a #LIPAC with some conference hardware on the line.

Indy return to #TheMike on Saturday November 9th with a 3:00 in the afternoon start time to continue this I-65 rivalry. LCFC are the back-to-back reigning champions and haven't lost a playoff match in 3 years. To be the King, you have to defeat the King. Until somebody does that to LCFC in the playoffs, they are still the team to beat in the east. Indy will look to use the good run of form and their home crowd to do just that; be the new King.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I'm not sure that I've given him enough credit this year for all that he does, but I can remedy that by giving Tyler Gibson this game's Game Beckons Game Ball. He:

  • Leads the team in minutes played (3,234; more than 500 minutes more than any other player)
  • Leads the team in Starts (36) and Games Played (36), which is the only field player in Indy's history to do so.
  • Leads the team in Passing Accuracy (87.8%), 
  • Leads the team in Long Pass Accuracy (63.1% - not counting Starikov who has only attempted 5), 
  • Is 2nd in Passes per 90 mins (59.1), 
  • Is tied for first in Passing Accuracy in the Opponent's Half (83.7%), 
  • 2nd in Passing Accuracy in Own Half (91.4%), 
  • Leads the team in Interceptions (42), and 
  • Is even 2nd in fouls won.
He's been the right guy to do what Coach Rennie needed him to do and he's doing it consistently and at a high level. Indy have utilized the ball over the top effectively all year, but Gibson's play versus Nashville highlights his ability and Tyler Pasher rewarded him for that ability.

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