2014 Week 1: Indy Eleven 1-1 Carolina RailHawks (and other NASL action)

The first Indy Eleven match worked out reasonably well for the home fans. While neither team looked particularly sharp, both had their chances, and in the last 15 minutes it was usually the Eleven that looked most likely to find a goal. The 1-1 draw was a fair result, and the Eleven have started with an acceptable home point against one of the stronger NASL sides. Whether it’ll make a difference in the spring season crown remains to be seen.

Indy Eleven 1-1 Carolina RailHawks

It’s really hard to actually talk about the game. It’s such a thrill to just think that it even happened that evaluating the play on the pitch seems like a bit of a sacrilege.

And yet, it’s why we’re here, right?

You can spin a draw lots of ways. In June or November, we would likely have stronger feelings about what it means. For now, it’s a decent point against one of the tougher NASL teams, and likely an accurate assessment of the balance of play. Either team could have won it, though my (admittedly biased) heart says that the Eleven were closer to getting that winning goal at the end.

I don’t have a detailed tactical analysis to offer. I think 11th Heaven did a great job of breaking down the details, and I’d endorse most of his conclusions. Neither team looked polished quite yet. Both Carolina and Indy had energy and commitment, but passing and finishing were a bit rough all night. Carolina has a revamped lineup, and obviously Indy are still coalescing, so it’s maybe not surprising.

11th Heaven points out that Indy had an extra challenge with both their (probable) first-choice strikers unavailable at the start. Pedro Mendes was reported to have a bit of tendonitis in his ankle(though he did at least get on at 67′), and Ben Spencer was lost to a US U-21 national team callup for the Dallas Cup. Considering that Spencer got two goals in a come-from-behind 3-2 win over River Plate, it seems Tab Ramos made the right choice. In their absence, Mike Ambersley was tapped to start as the lone striker in the Eleven’s first match. That kind of switch, late in the week (Spencer was called up on Wednesday), can’t help the team’s preparations. We’ll see if a solid week of practice will make for a more composed performance.

Beyond that, I don’t think there’s too much to be concerned about just yet. The Eleven demonstrated plenty of creativity, but just struggled to find the right solutions. The defense was mostly well composed, but Carolina were able to get joy on the flanks a bit too often. These all seem like rough edges that will be smoothed out as the team gets used to one another.

Other games

In meaningless stats: every Saturday game finished with two goals, while the Sunday game doubled that with four. The home teams went 2-2-1.

San Antonio Scorpions 0-2 Minnesota United FC

Minnesota came up with an encouraging road win at Toyota Field, starting with a goal from Christian Ramirez at 17′. San Antonio were put farther into a hole at 25′ when Julius James was sent off with a straight red for retaliating after a high boot from Tiago Calvano. San Antonio pushed for the equalizer, but the man disadvantage was too much to overcome, and Minnesota sealed the win with a Kevin Venegas goal at 73′ off a 20-yard free kick over the wall.

Minnesota will be quite happy with the road win, particularly in a major rivalry game. San Antonio fans will be concerned given their weak showing in the 2013 fall season, so starting off with a home loss is exactly the wrong way to begin the spring.

Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-1 Edmonton FC

Edmonton continued their habit of tenacious defensive performances on the road as they were able to get the 1-1 draw with Tampa Bay at Al Lang Field. Edmonton was ultimately responsible for the Rowdies’ goal, as Eddie midfielder Darel Russell deflected a cross into his own net. Edmonton worked hard to chase the equalizer, and had an excellent chance at 54′ thanks to a foul in the box on Frank Jonke by Tampa keeper Matt Pickens. But Neil Hlavaty’s penalty was too close to Pickens, who made a fairly easy save. But the Edmonton pressure finally told at 88′ when Daryl Fordyce put in a creative chipped cross to Tomi Ameobi (brother to Newcastle United’s Shola and Sammy). Tomi’s looped header to the far post gave Edmonton the equalizer they deserved.

Both teams have reason to be unsatisfied with the draw. Tampa Bay would want to see a stronger attack, especially at home, but their 7 shots on goal isn’t a bad tally and the point was maybe a bit more than they deserved. Edmonton could easily have won, except for the own goal, but can’t be too upset with the away point.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-0 Ottawa Fury FC

Fort Lauderdale started the season with a comfortable home win over expansion Ottawa at Lockhart Stadium. The Strikers opened the 2014 NASL scorebook with a goal at 13′ from defender Rafael Alves, who got on the end of a low FK from Mark Anderson. Ottawa held more of the possession for the rest of the game, but were unable to find the equalizer. Finally, Fort Lauderdale were able to seal the three points at 80′ on a counterattack. Forward Maurice Ebbers found right back Darnell King with a through ball, who then squared to Anderson. Fury keeper Devala Gorrick was able to palm the cross away, but King was able to find the loose ball and hammer it home.

The Strikers will obviously be pleased with the win, though it’s difficult to know just yet how difficult an opponent Ottawa is. The Fury will be hungry to get their first-ever goal when they return home next week, and anything but a win will put them in a serious hole for the Spring title.

New York Cosmos 4-0 Atlanta Silverbacks

The single Sunday match saw New York start their season with a goalfest over Atlanta at Shuart Stadium, in a replay of last year’s Soccer Bowl. The Cosmos goals came through defenders: CB Carlos Mendes at 23′, RB Ayoze at 32′, Mendes again at 38′, and striker Mads Stokkelien at 72′. Silverbacks technical director/head coach Eric Wynalda was unimpressed with New York, arguing that the scoreline didn’t describe the game well. That might well be true, but in the end the four-goal margin makes the difference at putting New York and Atlanta at the top and bottom of the table, respectively.

 Tale of the Table

Team GP W T L GD PTS
New York Cosmos 1 1 0 0 4 3
Minnesota United FC 1 1 0 0 2 3
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1 1 0 0 2 3
Carolina RailHawks 1 0 1 0 0 1
FC Edmonton 1 0 1 0 0 1
Indy Eleven 1 0 1 0 0 1
Tampa Bay Rowdies 1 0 1 0 0 1
Ottawa Fury FC 1 0 0 1 -2 0
San Antonio Scorpions 1 0 0 1 -2 0
Atlanta Silverbacks 1 0 0 1 -4 0

Cosmos make a strong statement of continued dominance. Minnesota also does well with the away win over San Antonio, who join Atlanta at the bottom of the table. Still early… though with only 9 games in the apertura, there’s not much room for error.

Up Next

Week Two brings us the inaugural home game for the Ottawa Fury, as well as home openers for Atlanta, Edmonton, and Carolina. Indy are the only team to start the season with two consecutive home games, and Minnesota have to put off their home opener for another week. (I’d make a joke about the Minnesota April weather, but it can’t be any better in Edmonton.)

Saturday 19 April:

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Minnesota United FC
Atlanta Silverbacks vs. San Antonio Scorpions
Carolina RailHawks vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Indy Eleven vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
FC Edmonton vs. New York Cosmos

All the games are still interesting as the season is early, but (aside from the Eleven) I think I’m most curious about the Cosmos trip to Edmonton. It’ll be interesting to see if New York can get another win on a long road trip against one of last years’ better defenses. I’m also curious whether Ottawa can get a win in their first-ever home game, knocking Minnesota back into the pack in the process. Both Atlanta and San Antonio face a winless start if they lose, so that might be a cagey and defensive game.

One week, with two draws, doesn’t tell us much just yet. It keeps things interesting, though! Let’s take a swing at Tampa and see what happens next.

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