|There can be smoke without fire!|
It probably was not much fun for the players either, playing on a slick wet turf in a strong wind, the conditions were not conducive for pretty football. However the weather gods cannot be blamed for the result, there are 22 players on the field at any one time and they all had to deal with it.
I felt before the game, despite the weather, this could be the best opportunity thus far for Indy to put a real beating on someone, it was right there to be taken but not all tales have a happy ending. Carolina, as has been common for this season, were thin on players, only five subs on the bench and only four of those outfield players. Of those missing were top scorer and striker Nacho Novo, not in the squad, leaving them with only two strikers, Simone Bracelello who would start up front alongside midfielder Mark Anderson and Bradlee Baladez who had just been announced as a signing the day before the game.
Indy started the game with two changes from the previous match. I am not sure why but there probably was a logical explanation. The most confusing part of the starting lineup was the omission of Dragan Stojkov, he hasn't done too much wrong for me so far and is a player showing a lot of tenacity, he did take quite a few thumps in the game in San Antonio so perhaps it was precautionary. He was replaced by Don Smart, and Wojcik was favored over Brian Brown.
The first 45 minutes began with the obligatory game of aerial ping pong that seems usual for the beginning of an Indy game. Indy were the first team to settle after a couple of minutes and looked aggressive, first winning a free kick through Wojcik followed by a corner on the right, both instances causing Carolina to look shaky at the back. It only took 6 minutes for the first goal to arrive, Wojcik who was covering a lot of ground wrestled possession in the midfield and played a neat chip over the defense to Charlie Rugg on the right side of the 18. Rugg's low drive across the box for Mares was intercepted by Carolina's Scott and turned into his own net. Indy's early aggression paid off, but also woke Carolina up a little. Indy wouldn't see another chance again until the 12th minute, a Malgares corner was sent too high over the defense, recovered by Smart but the attack came to nothing. Indy's plan seemed to be to come out of the blocks fast and hit Carolina early, but by the 15th minute they seemed to sit back a little and let Carolina come back into the game. Outside of the own goal neither keeper was really tested in the first half, Kristian Nicht would not be called on to make a save until the 35th minute, Gilstrap was not really given any cause for concern again until the second half.
Both sides traded possession without gaining much in attack, it was Carolina who gained more momentum in the final 20 to 25 minutes of the first half, they didn't do a lot with the ball when they had it but they were able to frustrate Indy and make them chase. Indy slipped back into a mode of trying to play balls over the top into Wojcik or Rugg which was being as usual ineffective especially with the wind and the surface conditions. Carolina was having a personnel nightmare with first Bracalello going down with a hamstring pull in the 26th minute followed by center back Danso suffering the same in the 32nd minute. Baladez and Tobin came in to replace and Tobin brought the rain back in with him. Going into the break Indy should have been frustrated, we didn't really have a shot on goal in the whole half, we started brightly and got a lucky goal and then backed off, we allowed the Railhawks, despite all their problems to come and eat some of the possession pie and get comfortable, and we failed to get that second goal. Had we gone in 2-0 at half time this game would have been well and truly over.
The second half started like the first, no doubt a few choice words at half time got the boys fired up again and within the first ten minutes they had tested Gilstrap at least three times, first a low drive from the top of the 18 by Smart forced the Railhawks keeper to scramble and force the ball out for a corner, shortly after Norales found an opportunity to attempt a bicycle kick that didn't quite work, in the 54th minute Marco Franco ran at the Carolina defense and found enough space in the right of the 18 to force a save from Gilstrap at his near post and a few minutes later Wojcik connected well with a cross but his header was plucked from the air by the Carolina keeper. Shortly before that, Carolina probably could not believe their luck as they saw another player go down injured Albadawi looked to have either pulled his groin or aggravated a hamstring and had to go off. I guess the silver lining for the Railhawks was having the ability to bring on Tiyi Shipalane. But it left them with all subs played and 35 minutes to go, Indy had not yet used a sub. If ever there was a time when you should capitalize on another teams woes, this was it, even some of the players who remained on the field like Kupono Low were hobbling. Before us lay the wounded prey waiting to be put out of its misery. Unfortunately what we saw was a long period of ineffective long ball play, shots from distance and a failure to convert opportunities when they arose, chances like Mares wild and wide shot in the 60th minute when we had opportunity and space to carve out a better chance.To be fair Carolina were doing much of the same thing, but came closer with an attempt from Mark Anderson who broke from the Indy back line inside the 18 in the 63rd minute with a clear chance on goal but fired into the side net.
65 minutes in saw the end of Don Smart's shift for the evening and Dragan Stojkov came in to offer fresh legs for Indy Eleven. Three minutes later and a lack of communication in front of the Indy Eleven goal saw a head clash between Norales and Janicki which saw Norales leave the field for concussion check, luckily he returned shortly after. Indy's shooting chances were coming further apart, Brad Ring flashed a shot wide of the left upright in the 72nd minute right before Mares was removed from the game in favor of Sergio Pena, surprising to me as Mares had looked the liveliest player on the park up until that point. So at 1-0 down against a tired and disheveled team we brought on a more defensive minded player for an attacking midfielder. Shortly afterwards we came the closest we probably would in the game to scoring a single goal by ourselves. Carolina keeper Gilstrap with the ball at feet from a pass back was being too slow releasing in the box and great pressure from Rugg retrieved the ball for Indy and made space, his shot was deflected away to the feet of Ring who rifled a ball on target but was again cleared on the line by Carolina and the ball fell again to an Eleven player, Dragan Stojkov's shot was saved off the line by Gilstrap who had eventually found his way back to his goal. Carolina survived a nightmare scenario and Gilstrap despite his earlier mistake mad a crucial save. The clock was running down and even with two pairs of fresh legs on the field Indy couldn't put together a concentrated attack, our chances were still limited to mistakes from the opposition or opportunistic snaps from distance. From the 80th minute Carolina started to get a little more of the ball. Brian Brown replaced Malgares on 84, but still there was no real concerted push for the insurance goal.
What happened next can only be described as suicidal, I am not sure if Janicki or Norales talk to each other but there was definitely a communication breakdown that led to an equalizing goal for Carolina. A hopeful ball chipped forward on Indy's left looked to be skidding out for a goal kick, as it went by on Norales outside Bradlee Baladez peeled away from Janicki who just watched him go, he ran behind Norales blind side and kept the ball in and knocked it back to Shipilane who unmarked, crossed the ball over the Indy's box, Franco managed to hook the ball away but without much power and it was met by Wagner, alone at the back post, who controlled the ball and powered it into the back of the net past Nicht's left hand. I don't think any single person can be blamed for that bloody shambles it was a group effort, you never just assume a ball is going out, your team mates must communicate with you and when the ball came back to Shipilane he was wide open because our left back was nowhere near his opposite mark, standing some 6 or 7 yards behind the play. It was a terrible, ridiculous goal to let in, it was sloppy.
A minute later after a scramble form an Indy corner Pena flashed the ball just over the Carolina crossbar, giving Gilstrap an opportunity to practice his time wasting at goal kicks. Minutes later on 89 Brian Brown almost stripped the ball from Gilstrap in front of goal but it didn't come off. Rugg gained a corner that was sent in by Brown right on the 90 minute mark, it reached Wojcik at the far post but was headed down and out. The fourth official indicated 4 minutes of added time, Gilstrap made sure to eat some of that again at the goal kick. Carolina pressed more in those final four minutes than Indy did, and thankfully Hlavaty who found himself wide open in the center of the 18 yard box, skied it into the east stand rather than drilling it into the net. That was pretty much game over.
You can't pretty it up, try to find a silver lining, you can't put a positive spin on 2 points dropped that we started to lose after 20 minutes. Carolina probably went home feeling like they won the game, with a bare bones squad and making all three subs by the 55th minute and being a goal down on a cold and shitty night to go home with a point is Christmas in April! Indy failed to take advantage, a 1-0 lead is never comfortable and we failed to score a second against what was not a great team, no offense to Carolina they have been stronger in previous seasons, right now they are not great and I'll bet they will be on the end of a whooping real soon unless they get more players in. We did use the width a bit more again but failed to find anything from it other than the own goal, we were ineffective in the center, little or nothing came through the middle to create chances in front of goal rather than shots from angles, we made little effort to play the ball into feet to our strikers again and when Carolina made mistakes we did not punish those effectively.Too many times we reverted to long ball tactics AGAIN! There is not too much point in dissecting it further, in the space of 90 minutes we didn't score a goal, Carolina scored both of them, in the first half outside of the own goal Gilstrap didn't have anything to do. We have five goals from four games, one PK, one own goal and only one scored by a striker. I guess the most fortunate thing about this round of games is the results from other matches has kept the table tight. The boys should be hurting and embarrassed, the coaches should be frustrated and quite frankly bloody angry! We can't be just a good road team, the support deserves to see a home win now and again and the team needs to provide that, hopefully this will be a wake up call, I still think we have a great squad right now, making it gel and produce goals is our issue at the moment. We are a better defensive unit than last spring, but as last year at this time, failing to find the net is all too familiar.
Things to be worked on: I know I am going to get tired of saying this until it becomes reality. We need a better form of transition from the back or middle to the front other than putting the ball up in the air. Regardless of having a player as large and physical on the field as Wojcik, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to count all the times we play a long ball in a game and actually achieve something, the number ALWAYS is VERY VERY FEW! We need to concentrate on short sensible passing, controlled possession and playing balls into strikers on the ground. We got two weeks, chop chop!!
Bloody Shambles moments: Both of Carolina's goals. Wish TV showing half time stats representing Indy Eleven and New York Cosmos.
Bloody Shambles MVP: There were a few notable performances, Dylan Mares and Brad Ring especially for being a constant presence and never giving up on anything, was not happy at Mares being subbed out at all. But for me, despite the lack of goals my man of the match was Wojciech Wojcik, he worked tirelessly for the full game, did what he was supposed to do, picked balls out of the air with his back to goal and knocking them down, but for me what I really like in football is a forward who never shies from coming back and helping out his midfield and defense, he hustled well and when he had possession and the ball at his feet he very rarely lost it. Pretty sure this guy can produce so much more if we build attacks rather than try to force them.
As it is the bye week next week and I am heading to the Caribbean the week after, I am going to do a general NASL week 5 preview before Saturday, hopefully the wireless on vacation doesn't suck too much so I can preview our game against JAX!