Saturday, July 15, 2023

Indy Eleven vs - San Francisco Glens 02.13 (Playoff)


- Opponent: San Francisco Glens
- Location: Grand Park
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 3-2 W

- Starting XI: Reason, Chatterton, Creel, Bahr, Martin, Kraszula, Rogers (C), Dewey, S., Soderstrom, K., Chester, Williams

- Substitution: Whitsett 72’ (Dewey); Sexton 80’ (Chatterton);Kugler for 80’ (Kraszula); Soderstrom, S. 90’+2’ (Williams)

- Unused: Edwards, Johnson, Ojongmboh

- Scoring Summary:
IND – Chester 14’ (unassisted)
SFG – Gomes 40’ (unassisted)
IND – Williams 50’ (assist Dewey)
SFG – Penn 64’ (assist Gomes)
IND – Martin 90’+1’ (assist Whitsett)

- Bookings:
SFG – Immethun 60’ (Yellow)
IND – Chester 87’ (Yellow)

- Referee: --
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

The last time Indy Eleven hosted a playoff game was in November 2019 when Indy hosted Louisville City, and He Who Must Not Be Named, put the dagger in Indy fans’ hearts with a goal that salvaged Louisville’s day and pushed the game into extra time where Indy eventually lost. The last time the club played a team from San Francisco, Indy lost 2-1 in October 2017. Indy fans came into this USL W-League semifinal game against San Francisco Glens hoping that the Indy Eleven women fared better than their male counterparts. In Indy’s brief history in the USL W-League, success has been plentiful, but this was Indy’s first chance to host a playoff game. There was optimism that this wouldn’t be the last playoff game for Indy to host THIS season. 

The starting lineup for Indy remained much the same as it did for the games against Flint City and Minnesota with the exception that Chatterton and Martin found their way into the starting lineup to bring a high level of experience to the start of the game against an unknown foe. With some scouting and Dolinsky’s knowledge of the west coast due to his time there, San Francisco was kind of an unknown quantity. Having as much experience on the field to start was key, and this lineup was full of experienced players. 

The early minutes of the game had a frenetic clip as both teams tried to put their own stamp on the complexion of the game with the BYB in full voice. San Francisco showed early pace, getting behind Creel a few times early. Notably in the early stages of the game, Chester played up top with Williams, while Soderstrom held back in a more midfielder role. It didn’t take long to figure out the reason for Dolinsky’s tactical adjustment as San Francisco’s Nadia Gomes is fast. I’m certain that it was her pace that prompted the need for Soderstrom to hang further back to help Creel cover Gomes. The team’s talent, and particularly Soderstrom’s in this case, is what allowed Coach Dolinsky to make that kind of tactical adjustment to be able to cover a player who has Gomes’ speed. 

Indy’s team defense, not just on Gomes, was a thing of beauty in this game as Soderstrom wasn’t the only one who was tracking back to help defend. As an attack for Indy progressed forward in attack, but on the opposite side of the field of Williams, Williams immediately fell back into a defensive role after the ball was turned over until her midfielders that had moved forward could track back. Chester did the same thing a number of times, as did Dewey who was a constant threat moving forward throughout the half. The midfield rocks of Kraszula and Rogers were constant thorns in the SFG midfielders’ sides as they covered so much ground that it was a good thing this game was in the conditioned air of the Grand Park Event Center than outside in the nearly 90-degree and muggy Indy weather.

Soderstrom’s deep lying position allowed her to pass from just short of midfield that sprung Williams up the right side of the field. Williams put the ball into the mixer, where Chester had a chance to get to it, but it was headed away from her but towards the middle of the box. Rogers then had a chance before it was blocked directly towards a waiting Chester. Chester didn’t miss on her attempt now that the ball finally reached her, which put Indy ahead in the 14th minute, somewhat against the early run-of-play. 
As the half reached its midpoint, Indy had settled into San Francisco’s pace and attempts for Indy began to become more frequent. Indy’s midfielders and forwards had the appearance of a group that knew a second goal before half might put this game away. A 1-nil lead is tenuous against a team with SFG’s speed up top, and Indy looked like they knew that the best was to counteract that speed was to have a healthy lead at halftime. Indy’s defense, for their part, kept SFG’s forwards at bay by stepping to every player that received the ball to limit the time SFG had to make decisions for the next pass.

Just before the halftime whistle though, SFG were awarded a free kick that Gomes managed to make it around the wall, through the mass of bodies, and beyond the outstretched arms of Reason who saw the ball late after it took a slight deflection on its way through. 

Just like that, the game was level again. 

Both teams kept their foot on the gas pedal until about the 44th minute when a pause in the BYB showed that everybody was needing the break. Soderstrom put a ball towards the goal late, but two of the best teams in the nation went into the halftime locker room with a 1-1 scoreline.

In the start of the second half, Gomes had moved to the right side of the field, directly against Chatterton. Clearly, the SFG coaching staff didn’t pay attention to the fact that Chatterton has the speed to keep up with Gomes. While I was busy typing about the SFG coaching decision to disrespect Chatterton’s speed, Indy found their second goal. In the 50th minute, Dewey split the defense perfectly, Williams timed her run perfectly, and put a cheeky ball around Banuelos that tucked just inside the post. Minutes into the second half and Indy had recaptured their lead, but with a lot of time remaining. Yet, that 2-1 lead once again gave Indy confidence that this game was theirs to win. After the goal, the questions became whether Indy could find a reassurance goal, how long Williams and Dewey would be able to go, and whether Gomes would be able to put SFG on her back and speed past the Indy defense to get SFG on the board again. While she didn’t score SFG’s second goal, it was her attack that put the ball to an on-rushing Penn, who put the ball over Reason and into the goal in the 64th minute. 

Just like that, the game was level again.

The game also became wide open as both teams tried to find the game winner with end-to-end action

I also became a fan first, and completely neglected my writing duties for the last 20 minutes of the game. 

Sorry. Not sorry.

With time winding down, the game had all the appearances of going to extra time. Both teams going all out in both directions, with promising attacks stifled by superb defense. Williams has an absolute knack for timing her runs to beat defenders, and can make an offside trap look silly. If it hadn’t been for SFG’s  Banuelos making great save after great save, this game likely wouldn’t have been so close, or needed Martin’s late-game heroics. 

As the referee’s  watch and the stadium clock turned past the 90-minute mark, extra time seemed to be a given. However, a defensive clearance from Kugler allowed her to put yet another ball up the field into a place where Williams could run onto it to try and do something with it. With Chester, Whitsett, and Martin at full sprint to get in a position to receive a cross, Indy found themselves with a numbers advantage. Williams put a ball toward the penalty spot that kept Banuelos on her line. Whitsett found her head to the cross, that bounced straight up in the air. Martin had raced past the SFG defenders and found herself in the perfect position to get her head to the ball as it came back down. She directed the ball over Banuelos and under the crossbar, and an already raucous Grand Park became deafening as the Indy Eleven fans erupted with joy in celebration. A couple minutes of trying to keep the ball away from SFG, and Indy had punched their ticket to the USL W-League Final next week against NC Courage, who won their game 4-1 against Eagle FC. 

After the game, it was said to me that about the only thing missing from this game was a pitch invasion. With the way the game played out, I couldn’t disagree with their assessment, but I’m so glad that it didn’t/couldn’t happen. Indy’s history with pitch invasions is memorable. The first one happened in 2014 when Indy finally got their first home win late into the season against Minnesota United. The next one happened in 2016, with the famous Miracle at the Mike after defeating the Carolina Railhawks by a score of 4-1. The thing that would have differentiated a pitch invasion tonight is attitude. The first pitch invasion was a cathartic release from the fans after a long season waiting to celebrate a home win. The second one has a “miracle” designation because so many things had to come together for Indy to win its first piece of hardware with the Spring Championship. 

Indy’s women’s team is close to being able to hoist a league trophy to go with their divisional trophies, but the difference here is that I’m not surprised this team is one win away from winning a league championship. A pitch invasion wouldn’t have seemed right. There was no catharsis. There was no miracle. This is a group of women who are well coached, but maybe more importantly, have the talent, the heart, the desire, and the fight to never give up. They play for each other. They cover for each other. The celebrate for each other. These women are winners, and I think they’re going to show that next week against yet another talented NC Courage team.

Next week’s match will be here in Indy, but will take place as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team. Personally, I would have liked to see the men get bumped to the afternoon heat, and let a LEAGUE FINAL be the nightcap, but I don’t get to choose these things. A ticket gets you into both games, and I heard rumors of bands being around between the games to fill the time. So get a ticket and support Indy Eleven as they attempt to secure a league title.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Martin is an obvious choice. Obviously. She had the game-winning goal in a 3-2 slugfest between two very good teams. One of Indy's starting defenders hustled down the field in the +90th minute to put herself into a position to get her head to a ball that she was able to direct over Banuelos, who had stifled many of Indy's previous attacks.

And yet...

My GBGB goes to Katie Soderstrom. I know. She didn't score. She didn't have any assists. Yet Indy's club leader in goals and points sacrificed her own personal potential stats to play a deeper midfielder role (you could argue a wing back role she was so deep at times) because that is what the team needed out of her in the tactical defending of San Francisco's offense. As Coach Dolinsky stated after the game, "We have our strengths as a team. Our strength, a lot of times, is taking away the other team's strengths and doing what we do individually in the attack. We could have scored 4 or 5 goals on the counterattack this evening, so it was well executed by the girls." A key part of that was Soderstrom and her ability to put the team goals ahead of her personal goals, which includes trying to make a professional team. For that level of effort and dedication, Soderstrom just edges out Martin for tonight's GBGB. 

Additional Photos (Don Thompson Photography)

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