I guess I’ve put off writing about this weekend’s match as long as possible.
I’ve used the refrain “Mondays after a loss suck” three weeks in a row now, and it’s no less true. We were all hoping for a home milestone for the Eleven on Saturday, but “first home loss” wasn’t the one we wanted. What’s most frustrating is that Edmonton were a very beatable team, and while they weren’t terribly good, the Eleven were worse.
The other results were plenty interesting, and the Spring season as a whole looks to be heating up as we pass halfway. But the Eleven aren’t anywhere close to the mix for the Spring, and right now, it’s hard to see any way we’ll be in the playoff picture. All we can do at this point is keep fighting one game at a time and work hard for that elusive first win.
Before discussing the game, I want to talk about the best parts of the evening. It was another beautiful night at The Mike, with another sellout crowd of over 10,000. Indy is on a pace to have the best attendance in the NASL since Montreal in 2011 — now playing in MLS, of course. The stadium experience, good to start with, continues to get better, and logistics are smoothing out with every game. My wife and I got to the game early, grabbed some food truck food, and relaxed with the other tailgaters. It was a fun time and we were in high spirits for the game.
The crowd was active and attentive as always. The BYB was in fine voice, singing throughout the game as usual. When Indy went behind, the crowd got behind the team in great voice. “I Believe That We Will Win” is becoming a familiar chant. Even better, fans in the main stand are starting to pick up the chants too. Indy is quickly building itself into a soccer town; there are still those who doubt, but those filling Carroll Stadium aren’t among them.
So, a great night. Except for one detail.
Indy Eleven 1-2 FC Edmonton
What a frustrating, frustrating game.
The first part of the game had a real back-and-forth to it, but Indy were more or less holding their own. We knew going in that Edmonton were going to be difficult to break down; the consolation was that they have a hard time scoring goals. If we’re going to gift them two goals — when they’re on the road — they’re going to shut down the game and play to their strengths. Refusing to concede had to be at the heart of our gameplan, and we blew it up in the first 25 minutes.
The first goal came right after a legit Indy penalty shout, when Kareem Moses handled the ball in the box on a long free kick from Jamie Frias. Instead, the ref called Pedro Mendes for a foul that I don’t see on the replay. Regardless, Edmonton took the kick quickly and played up into Indy’s left channel. Indy defended well and broke up the attack… but when a pass from (I think) Dylan Mares came his way, Frias made the worst possible choice in attempting to play the ball back to… Kristian Nicht? I have no idea what he intended. The ball came to Frias after a series of not-great decisions on playing the ball out from defense, but still he needed to do better. Instead, he played it directly into the path of Daryl Fordyce, who was instantly one on one with Nicht. A simple finish put the ball in the far corner, and Indy were down by one. A pure gift from the Eleven.
Indy was rocked by the simple goal, and got hammered again on the very next Edmonton possession. Sloppy passing in the Indy attack gave the ball to Edmonton and they played it upfield with a series of quick passes. The ball came to an undefended Mike Banner on the left wing, and he lofted in an excellent early cross that gave Kyle Hyland little choice but to play it out for a corner. The corner came in short to the near post, but Edmonton easily moved the ball around within the penalty box. When it fell to Moses, with Nicht already grounded, he had a fairly simple finish to put Edmonton up 2-0. It was a collective defensive failure by Indy on a rather routine corner; Edmonton did well but there’s no way a defense should allow so many unchallenged looks inside the box without at least an attempt at a clearance.
The early lead was a serious mountain for Indy to climb, but they pulled the first goal back just three minutes later. Indy won a free kick on the left side, 40 yards from goal. Walter Ramirez’s excellent kick found Mike Ambersley at about twelve yards from goal, and his header deflected off Mallan Roberts into the net. A bit lucky, yes, but it came from good pressure and a dangerous free kick.[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCmy7fNmOLw%5D
Indy kept up the pressure for the next 60 minutes, but to no avail. NASL.com reports 54% possession overall for Indy, but the stats for the last 60 minutes had to be far more lopsided, as Indy brought attack after attack with very little threat from Edmonton. That was by design, though, as Edmonton parked behind the ball and allowed Indy to do what it liked outside about 35 yards from goal. This is where Indy’s second weakness came in — a lack of creative ability to break down a dogged, packed defense. Indy wisely adjusted later in the second half to invite Edmonton further upfield, and it created a few more opportunities. But the Eddies remained diligent, and the Eleven weren’t able to create any gilt-edged chances. The best chance, perhaps, was an indirect free kick inside the penalty area, but like the other attacks, it fizzled out harmlessly. Indy fought to the end, but the score remained 1-2 and Indy set the dubious milestone of its first home loss.
There’s no excuse for two foolish defensive lapses within two minutes of each other. It’s made worse though by the opponents. Edmonton were the team with the worst offense in the NASL — but the best defense. If you gift them two goals, on the road, you’re giving them exactly the scenario they hope for. Indy had to know this. They had to know that the first rule was “don’t give them an easy goal.” And yet, we see what happened. Edmonton played like an outmatched team — throwing themselves to the ground, delaying the game, arguing every minor foul. What else could Indy expect? A team with no wins and a lead; a team with only two goals in four games; a team on the road — of course they’ll seize every advantage. Whatever else they are, Edmonton aren’t naive. I can’t say the same about Indy. “It was a pleasure to play here and in front of this crowd,” said Eddies coach Colin Miller. I know it was a compliment on the experience at Carroll… but I’d much rather have a coach leave feeling bitter and petty rather than magnanimous.
The good news is that Indy get another decent chance for a win next weekend. They’ll be home again — this time to the other Canadian team, the newly-minted Ottawa Fury. I’ll summarize the rest of the games later — I’m watching Cosmos vs Minnesota as I write — but Ottawa got a draw against Tampa Bay on Saturday and sit in 8th, with four points to Indy’s two. A win would at minimum see Indy climb off the bottom rung of the table. At this point though, it’d mean even more. That elusive first win would unlock some confidence in the team, and it’s needed.
Indy need to solve some problems, and quickly. It’s maybe not a surprise that the team needs a few games to gel. What’s frustrating is that they’re making the same mistakes as in the first few weeks. Soft passes, easily intercepted. Lack of communication and ideas in the attack. Lots of long, hopeful balls from the defense — caused often by a lack of options through the middle of the field. Bad decisions under pressure. These are solvable problems. There are positive signs: Indy is scoring decently (better than half the league) and haven’t been shut out yet. They have energy and can be creative, and they can win on set pieces. These are building blocks.
Now let’s build. Forth the Eleven!