Monday, April 25, 2022

Indy Eleven vs Orange County SC - 09.07


- Opponent: Orange County SC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 5,906
- Final Score: 3-1 W

- Starting XI: Panicco, McQueen, Jerome, Cochran, Timmer, Ingram, Law, Aguilera, Ayoze, Fjeldberg, Pinho
- Substitution: Hackshaw 25' (Jerome - injury); Arteaga 45' (Ayoze); Powder 53' (Law - injury); Briggs 70' (Pinho)
- Unused: Trilk, Michael, Ouimette

- Scoring Summary:
OC - Kuningas 13'
IND - Powder 54' (assist Pinho)
IND - Pinho 64' (assist Arteaga)
IND - Briggs 90'+2' (unassisted)

- Bookings:
OC - Henry 45'+3' (Yellow)
IND - Powder 54' (Yellow)
IND - Aguilera 90' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elijio Arreguin
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

I've already conveyed a few times this year that I lean pessimistic and so I'm going to start out that way here. I won't end that way though. 

A 3-1 win is great and it sends fans home happy. As can be seen in the graph to the right, Indy's five-game unbeaten streak and three-game win streak, has Indy trending in the right direction. Which is good.

Sliding towards pessimism, with the exception of the draw against Louisville, AT Louisville, Indy's undefeated streak hasn't come against the USL world-beaters. However, clawing my way back towards optimism, you can only play the teams in front of you and get positive results from those games. Indy has found itself at home, against (on paper) "lesser" teams, while Indy gets used to each other and a new coach, and recovers from some key injuries. If you win your home games and beat the teams you are supposed to beat, you'll likely make the playoffs where anything can happen. That's exactly what is happening for Indy right now. They're winning the games they are supposed to win, even if they aren't doing themselves any favors at times.

Orange County's goal is a good example of that last statement. They're a big team who started the first half playing long balls over the top to avoid Indy's midfield. In one of the rare example where Cochran (or Timmer or Hackshaw or Ouimette) didn't win a header cleanly, the ball made it over all the defense putting Kuningas in a 1v1 with Panicco and he nicely finished through the five-hole. Seven games into the season and a clean sheet continues to elude the Eleven. Which is a bit frustrating, but Panicco also didn't have to make a save. Having your goalkeeper finish the game without a save, and win, is always a good thing. 

There were also some close calls where OC crosses narrowly missed being placed into Indy's goal by Indy players. Yet, Coach Lowry confidently told the broadcast at halftime, "we're going to win this game." When I asked him why he said it so confidently, he said, "I thought, the goal aside, the first half was fine. We finished the first half really well...with the subs I knew I had in my back pocket on the bench, I just felt like we were going to win this game."

Look at the stats. In nearly every category, Coach wasn't wrong. Indy won this game. For me, this is one of those times when the stats and the eye test agree. Did OC have some chances? Sure. Did I think they played at a level to win the game? No, not really.

I still have my doubts about a couple of the players (I'm not going to name them right now, but I know others disagree with me), but this team took the hit in the first games as they worked their way into the system and gained familiarity with each other. As they have gained experience together and with Lowry's system, they have been able to play games at home and against struggling or tired teams (remember, OC played LAFC midweek in the U.S. Open Cup). That's not an unimportant fact. Playing at home is supposed to be an advantage. An advantage the 2016 and 2019 versions of Indy Eleven understood and rode to, and into, the playoffs. That can be the case here and Coach Lowry knows it:
"I feel we have the environment to do that. The fans are obviously fantastic, The BYB make the energy superb. Sometimes having this type of field [editor's note, yes, that is yet another reference to the crappy Carroll Stadium turf] an advantage because teams don't enjoy coming here. So we have to embrace that and find ways to win here. And I think we're doing that. Teams don't want to come here and play here. So you know what, we'll make them miserable for 90 minutes as well, beat them and send them home with zero points. We have to keep doing it. We can't lose games at home. If we do that, at the end of the season, we'll be in the playoffs. That's how football works."

What doesn't help are injuries. Getting Ayoze and Arteaga back has taken this team from "ok, let's see where this goes" to "yeah, this team could be dangerous." More on Arteaga later...hint, hint. Yet, Lowry's substitution pattern was thrown completely out of the window last night with two more injuries, both key injuries. The first one was Jerome in the 25th minute when he rolled his ankle chasing down a high-bouncing ball and came down wrong. Fortunately, Hackshaw has returned and seems to be healthy again and slotted in the backline in his old left back role, and Timmer took over the CB role vacated as Jerome sat down early. The versatility of the guys on the roster makes that change easier, but Jerome is still a major loss depending on the extent of his injury. The second injury was Nicky Law who left the game in the 53rd minute. I've had two years of telling you what I think about Nicky Law, so I'll save that today. So just as Indy is getting two very important pieces back, two more very important pieces left this game early. Oh, and Fjeldberg left with cramps, further hampering Lowry's substitution patter in this game. 
"Nicky should be fine... Jerome rolled his ankle over in the corner...the next couple of days will let us know how quickly it goes down. We got a home game next weekend against Hartford and then we got a week off. So that week off might come at a good time. ... looking back at Nicky's [injury] at halftime, we probably should have taken Nicky off at halftime and kept Ayo on for another 10 minutes, that would have saved a sub, but the plan was to try and win the game and get Manu and Ayo quality minutes with some thought to it."

I might have the next statement from Coach placed somewhere permanently on my site. With the possibility of Jerome maybe missing some time, I asked Coach if he thought it was going to be beneficial that Hackshaw, Timmer, and Cochran all had time together last year along the back line? "Yeah, that's a good point." 

That's it. I had an Indy Eleven coach tell me I said something worthwhile. I could retire now and go out on top.

Or I'll just keep going, like I seem to do... Back to the game...

This version of Indy Eleven has attacking options for days. Even with the affected sub pattern, Indy is able to bring on Arteaga, Powder, and Briggs. That's some serious firepower to have in Lowry's back pocket, and you can see why he was confident about winning this game. As I said last week, it's not always the team that starts the game, but the team that finishes it, and with back-to-back 90'+2' goals, Briggs is showing he can absolutely destroy a back line that is tired of dealing with Pinho for the first part of the game. And Asante is still to arrive! 

Look, I'm prone to pessimism, but in some ways this team is setup like what it feels like how many of the Western Division conference are setup. Indy, undoubtedly, has the ability to start getting clean sheets, but they definitely feel like they are close to being able to try and outscore some teams. They're not there yet, but having Arteaga back in the mix feels like the piece that was missing and Asante is just going to make that attacking threat greater...and deeper.

Indy gave up an early goal, absorbed pressure towards the end as OC were looking for a game-tying goal, and yet Indy not only hung on, but found a third goal through Briggs. Indy remain home for another week against a bottom of the table Hartford and a chance to stay in the top half of the table. 

Win your games at home. Beat the teams you're supposed to beat. Make the playoffs.

I know Indy has some struggles and some things to fix, but even my jaded pessimistic self is starting to see that Indy has the ability to follow that formula.  

An opposing goalkeeper with his hands on his hips in a cloud of smoke from the BYB.
The way it should be.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
This is another game where I think several guys deserve the GBGB. Ingram was spectacular in an unassuming way. Pinho, Briggs, and Powder all had goals. Fjeldberg was inches from having his own. Hackshaw came into the game so early he had to take his earring off and give it to Gabe right before he went onto the field. Ayo looked like Ayo. All that being said, I have to give it to Arteaga.

He just changed what OC had to deal with when he came on at halftime. He had 2 chances created, 1 assist, won 11 of his 15 duels, won 6 of his 7 aerial duals, and was 80% accurate with his passes in ORANGE COUNTY'S HALF. 

This likely won't be the last GBGB for Arteaga this season, but I also think that it isn't going to be long before Ingram gets "rewarded" with a future GBGB.

Additional Photos (Courtesy of @DLTPhotog)

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