Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's a Sprint not a Marathon (Indy Eleven V Carolina Railhawks 4/25/15 Preview)

Solid - We're no easy target anymore!
So yeah um, the reason for the title as most of you will know, the spring season in the NASL is a short run of ten games as opposed to the fall season which is twenty. It's a tough nut to crack I would say to win the Spring Championship, bearing in mind most NASL squads break up for a long off season and also a lot of squads ship players out by the boatload and pretty much reconstruct their squad and start all over again. It can take a few games for teams to find their way, for some that could be a few too many, with 30 points up for grabs a few stumbles could see you out of the running for the Spring title, but obviously not the championship.

As we can see from the table so far no team has a 100% record, Cosmos come closest with 7 points from 9 in three games. Minnesota who looked like sure fire winners for most of 2014 and the eventual champions San Antonio sit at the bottom propping up the table. Teams like Tampa and Carolina who were fast out of the blocks have had their little bump and slide. Only three teams remain undefeated, New York, Indy Eleven and Atlanta Silverbacks who make up the top three. Indy have played both of those teams and drawn, Atlanta will face Cosmos this week while Indy play host to Carolina before our bye week.

So even though a lot can happen in seven games, Spring is short and for those who want to win that playoff spot can't afford too many more slip ups. Outside of Indy Eleven of course, for me the teams that look the most dangerous so far are New York and Tampa. last weeks away win over San Antonio was HUGE for Indy Eleven, it can't be underestimated. Hopefully by the end of Spring we will be looking back on that win as the key moment that sparked things off, every team is going to have its bad day in these first games, I think we have had ours already but I don't think we will look back on dropping two points to Cosmos at home and cursing, that game was a test of character and we survived it.

Anyway on to business, this week we play Carolina Railhawks, who could ever forget the last time we played them? Yes that game could have been our first ever home win, with three home games left in fall and the two teams dominating the standings Minnesota and San Antonio coming up next, I think everyone was really expecting something in that game, and for me it turned out to be probably the worst I have ever seen us play, a 1-0 home defeat probably best forgotten. The Railhawks were the first NASL team to visit Indy on April 12th 2014 in the match that marked Indy's debut in the league, the game ended in a tie 1-1. Carolina were also the team to give us our first ever win in the NASL when we defeated them in Cary by two goals to one, I fondly remember turning up with about 20 other supporters to greet them at the airport with a raging hangover.

I have watched the full games of Carolina against Ottawa and Atlanta and seen the highlights of their game against Edmonton, I have to say I am not over impressed by them at all, the 3-1 result over Ottawa is kind of flattering, Fury are no great shakes to be honest. Any team that goes to Edmonton is going to have a hard game, they are a very tough physical side, but losing to Atlanta at home and conceding two goal that should be bread and butter for most defenses, was pretty weak. Carolina are a useful side going forward, they pass well and can score against anyone, but their main weakness for me is their defense, especial dealing with balls in the air. Carolina have played the same back four in each of their first three games, Wagner, Tobin, Scott and Knight. So far they have let in four goals this season and each one has come from a cross and even at other crosses when goals have not been scored they have looked shaky and indecisive. Scott and Tobin are Railhawks veterans from 2014 whilst Wagner and Knight are 2015 additions from SAS and Edmonton respectively. Carolina are slim in the pack as far as defenders go and I don't think we'll see any changes to the back four for this game.

As far as attacking options go for Carolina, its a sketchy picture. Nacho Novo who is a player I am well aware of from his time in the Scottish Premier League is still a danger despite his age, however I believe he is nursing a recurring groin problem, so far in the three opening games for the Railhawks he has been subbed out in the first half of all three games, in the 29th minute, 41st minute and last weekend in the 30th minute. Quite unusual for non 90 minute player to be used from the start rather than at the end. However if he plays at any point in the game he needs to be watched, he knows where the goal is and also is a very good play-maker. He most likely won't last long though . His replacement Simone Bracalello should be very familiar with Minnesota fans, before arriving in Cary he was with the Minnesota setup since the Stars from 2010-2014 notching 29 goals in 117 appearances, 0.25 goals per game is hardly frightening. Carolina have Wells Thompson, formerly of Chicago and Colorado listed in their forward options, he is actually more of an attacking midfielder but anyway was not listed in the squad for the last game, the only other forward is Mamadee Nyepon a young forward with little professional experience who made his first appearance only last weekend and played 12 minutes. The midfield is where most of the work is done for Carolina and they transition from defense to attack and vice versa very fluidly and supply their forwards well with players like Shipalane, Hlavaty and Osaki. Carolina usually prefers a 4-5-1 formation. The midfield will be where Indy will need to dominate to win this game, if we let Carolina get the upper hand in the middle of the park it could be a long night.

Who's In Who's Out?: As far as Indy goes for this game, with Kleberson not even making the bench against San Antonio, I doubt we will be seeing anything of him this week, at most a bench appearance and also it may be too early for Pineda to make a return. Judson McKinney is still recovering also. I expect to see the same 18 for Indy as last weekend. If I find out more I will update.

My starting XI: If Carolina are smart as I am sure they are and have been watching the replays of our games, I am sure they have noticed the same thing I have, I am concerned about that left back area, I am more concerned about it if Frias and Pena start the game as Pena does not cover his full backs as well as Ring does and is more apt to stay in the middle to cover the centers. If Ring and Frias start again I am not overly concerned but I still think Carolina are going to look at exploiting that area, now I know I am not the coach, but because I feel they may come with this in mind, I would throw a wrench in the works and start Hyland and give Frias time in the second half. I also think Ring put in a solid 90 last week, covered his defense very well and very nearly scored from a header. Yeah Pena scored a great goal, I also actually liked it when they were both on the field, that is a good option to have, but I would start Ring again. So... Nicht, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Hyland, Stojkov, Ring, Mares, Malgares, Brown, Rugg. Subs: Cardona, Dawson, Miller, Frias, Pena, Wojcik, Smart.

How can we win?: Indy improved with their use of the width last week, we have to continue to improve in using all of the field, especially against this team, I think they are vulnerable all across the back four, and as said earlier, all four goals they have conceded this season have been from crosses. We need to get the ball to our wings and feed balls in over the top of their defense and in front of their defense, hopefully with our forwards keeping themselves onside. Corners and set pieces have to pay we may see a goal from Norales or Janicki in this game. So crosses, crosses, crosses please. Let's also try to play in our forwards this week, they didn't get much in the way of service last weekend. Our backs and goalkeeper need to show the same consistency as they have done this year so far. Like last week our midfield and forwards need to be sharp when not in possession in order to break down Carolina rhythm and win the game in midfield.

Prediction: Very much feeling a clean sheet in this game, its time for one, Nicht has been outstanding in three games now and our back line has been near as perfect as we can get it. Moving forward if we play like we did last week and continue our steady improvement we will score goals, I am going to go with a 2-0 win, but something down inside tells me we might see more goals than that. Let's just get three points guys. Indy Eleven 2 Carolina Railhawks 0.

Indy Eleven returning from their first ever NASL win in Carolina
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