Friday, July 31, 2020

Indy Eleven vs Hartford Athletic - 07.06

- Opponent: Hartford Athletic
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
- Attendance: 4,775
- Final Score: 4-1 W

- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw (C), Osmond, Ouimette, Conner, Gibson, Antley, King, Pasher, Ilic, Moon

- Substitutions: Watson 71' (Moon), Rafanello 82' (Ilic), Dumas 82' (King), Carleton 90' (Pasher), Lindley 90' (Conner)
- Unused: Farr, Barrett

- Scoring Summary:
IND - Moon 4' (assist King)
HFD - Dixon 46' (assist Swartz)
IND - Pasher 51' (assist Ilic)
IND - Conner 81' (assist Ouimette)
IND - Watson 87' (assist Ouimette)

- Bookings:
HFD - Swartz 33' (Yellow)
HFD - Davey 45'+5' (Yellow)
HFD - Silva 90'+3' (Yellow)

- Referee: Lukasz Szpala
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

A loss on the road isn't the worst thing in the world, particularly with the start to the season that Indy has had so far. However, the best way to get rid of the sting of a loss is to head back home where you haven't lost in over two years. Luckily for Indy, that was exactly the schedule that was laid before them. 

What you don't expect if you're an Indy Eleven fan is to have the team play a home game and score four goals. Prior to this season, Indy had scored 4 goals in a home game (in a league game...) just 3 times, all in the 2016 season. It's an interesting fact that the last time Indy scored four or more goals multiple times in a season, they walked away with hardware for the NASL Spring season and made it to the title game and have now already done it twice in six games this season.

The goal scoring is, obviously, going to make the opening headline to this and many articles about the game. Moon gets the team off to a quick start with a textbook header down and back in the direction it came, making it extremely difficult for a goalkeeper to stop. A header that came from a one-touch cross from one of the best crossers on the team in King. Hartford then claws one back immediately after halftime on a shot that deflected off of Osmond on its way to Newton, who was left frozen. Less than five minutes later, Ilic and Pasher put Indy back in the lead by fighting to keep possession and proceeding to move forward and Hartford forgetting that Pasher is the league's leading goal scorer and the lose track of him. As the game wound down, Ouimette found Conner and Watson for the insurance goals and a game that often felt close, became a route.

Indy scoring four goals at home deserves some obvious attention.

Yet, what stuck out for me is the defensive midfield. A double six defensive midfield isn't a new thing under Coach Rennie. It's been a staple of his time here in Indy and in his time in most (all?) of his coaching stops along the way.  

What is different is how well the pairing of Gibson and Conner is working together and their movement throughout the field. Their energy levels are impressive and they take their defensive roles seriously. However, the addition of Conner to the team has also brought a player that is more box-to-box than Walker has been in the past and provides a better connection between the back three and the front three. Gibson and Conner are roommates and being stuck together for an extended period during a pandemic may have created a deadly combination for opposing midfields. Both players got into the attack in this game, providing three chances created between the two of them, with Conner scoring the insurance goal. They were both completed more than 80% of their passes (Gibson at an astonishing 93.5% overall and 91.7% in Hartford's half of the field). Indy fans started to see what Conner could provide after his addition last August, but it has become more and more obvious this season that his addition to the team may have been what the team was missing to get better offensive output. With the way that Antley and King are playing on the wings in the absence of Ayoze and Haworth, the midfield is becoming the engine that Coach Rennie's roster is designed to support.

I've been mentioning the way to win in a "sprint" season versus the "marathon" season and Indy are continuing to follow the script perfectly. They are winning games early in the season to put teams behind you so that the pressure is on them to catch you, win at home, win against the teams that you are supposed to beat, steal some points on the road, and then hope for some other results to go your way. Louisville is struggling to beat anybody right now, Indy is beating everybody, and winning at home where they play the majority of their remaining games. Indy have played more games than the other teams in Group E, but with every win, they are ratcheting the pressure on Louisville City, Saint Louis, and Sporting KC II to get similar results. Another win on Saturday at home against SKCII and a Saint Louis loss to Memphis that night would put Indy 9 points clear of 2nd place in the group after just 7 sames. That's how you live up to the preseason hype about the team.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
I thought about giving this to the defensive mid duo of Conner and Gibson, for the reasons I described above, but Ouimette provided two perfectly weighted long balls that became assists as they lead to Conner's and Watson's goals to close out the game from nearly the exact same point in the field that solidified it for me for him to receive this game's Game Beckons Game Ball.

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