Another beautiful night for soccer in Indianapolis. Another home draw for the Eleven. The start of the season has been amazing from a soccer perspective, but results have lagged behind a bit. Still, there’s a lot of good things happening within the team, and there’s much promise in what we’ve seen so far.
At the Game
Once again, we had another beautiful April evening for soccer; the team has been wonderfully lucky in its first two home games. We spent some time in the tailgating areas again, chatting with friends, and it’s been a wonderful setup that we think we’ll have to join. The only thing we missed was a much reduced food truck presence from last week.
The team put in a lot of work to address issues from the first game, and it was evident Saturday night. Concession and merchandise lines were much shorter, and for AT&T users at least, stadium wifi let us get out on social media and talk up the game a bit. The team has been relentless in working to fix problems, and I continue to be impressed at how quickly they can move with a relatively small staff. There will be challenges along the way, but so far the team has been aggressively positive at every step, and have created an excellent fan experience.
Attendance was unsurprisingly down from the first week, but not by much: 10,421 fans attended, which is only a small drop from the 11,048 fans at last week’s match. The team still reported a sellout, which likely means that the drop was mostly from season ticket holders who elected to take a week off. It’s great to see single-game ticket sales stay high, and that should only continue as we get into youth soccer season and warmer summer nights.
I’m still struggling a bit to figure this team out — and I think the team itself is, too. The easy answer is that 1-1 was probably the fairest result. Both teams had chances, looked dangerous at different points, and could have won it late. So, a draw.
The first half was a bit tepid. Tampa Bay held the majority of possession, though Indy were able to mount some threatening attacks. Kleberson in particular had good chances, especially a 30-yard shot from a bit right of center that rocketed off the top of the crossbar. Tampa Bay’s attacks grew stronger as the half wore on, and Kristian Nicht was called on for a series of saves, including reaction saves on shots from Darel Russell and Shane Hill, and a gritty smother on a Georgi Hristov breakaway. At the half, both sides could feel a bit unlucky to be scoreless.
The second half opened with the quick Tampa Bay goal, which had a whiff of controversy or bad luck about it. After a rough defensive scramble, Erick Norales went down in the six-yard box while the Rowdies collected the partial clearance about 35 yards out. Blake Wagner’s pass put Brian Shriver through on goal — with Norales still on the ground — and Shriver was able to finish under Nicht. The Eleven were incensed, and I can understand why; it’s odd for a ref to allow play to continue with an injured player in the middle of the action like that. Whether Norales was a distraction to Nicht or could have made a tackle on Shriver becomes a moot point, and the referee allowed the goal to stand. At the very least, the Rowdies can count themselves lucky that Shriver had one less defender to deal with.
The goal brought more attacking intent out of the Eleven, and they pressed hard for the equalizer. The most dangerous was another attempt from Kleberson, as his 30-yard free kick hit the post with Matt Pickens rooted to his line. But despite some real threat from Indy, Tampa Bay had chances too, as they sought to hit back on the counter. Indy dealt with them well for the most part, but a Tamap Bay goal wasn’t out of the question.
The equalizer for Indy finally came at 81′. Kleberson, involved as always, collected a loose clearance on the right side, stepped inside his defender, and found second-half sub Dylan Mares. Mares’ cross nutmegged his defender and found the onrushing Norales, whose composed near-post finish looked more like a striker’s than a defender’s. The crowd erupted and Indy had a deserved equalizer. Indy had a late chance to win all three points, but Pedro Mendes was unable to connect on a cross from Kyle Hyland. Final score, 1-1.
Indy are obviously still figuring themselves out. The team showed real threat and versatility, and were mostly comfortable dealing with the Tampa Bay attack. Kleberson clearly has the steering wheel, and his dead-ball prowess is going to win points for the team at some point. The defense again demonstrated organization and grit, and Nicht showed that he can clean up problems.
But there are also flaws. The most frustrating (for me, anyway) were the numerous soft passes that Tampa Bay were able to intercept and turn around. It’s most dangerous at midfield, as it catches the Eleven heading the wrong direction; the Rowdies created several scoring opportunities that way. Maybe it’s related to slower ball movement on the artificial surface; late arrivals like Kleberson and others who are more familiar with grass might still be getting used to it. There’s also a tendency to slow the pace a bit on counterattacks in the final third, where players pull up rather than attempt a pass or shot, even when there’s a numbers advantage.
The problems, though, seem like things that will get better over time. Challenging for a spring title was always going to be difficult, as a new team and staff adapt to each other and the league. The bad news is that two points from two home games will probably be enough to keep us out of the Spring season title. But the two draws were very winnable, and there’s much to be hopeful about. The two upcoming road games should tell us a lot about the team. If the Eleven can take two or three points from the trip, it’ll be a good sign.
Come on you red and blue!