I am not sure if it's too early to say JAX is just a good home team, so far they have won both of their home games against Edmonton and San Antonio. Last weeks game against the stuttering Scorpions was hard to predict, and it's also hard to tell if San Antonio are really that bad or whether Jacksonville is a better team than one might imagine, you could be forgiven for losing your road games to Ft Lauderdale and Tampa Bay. Regardless, JAX are pulling a big crowd, and have proven, unlike Indy in spring last year, that they are capable of wining at home. No game for Indy Eleven, despite performing better on the road than at home most of the time, is ever going to be easy for now.
So last week I did not mention anything about Kristian Nicht, nor did I choose to write a blog about it. The plan was always for him to be back very soon, and I like most people were very proud to see him get a chance to be part of a Cup winning team. It looks most likely Kristian will be back with Indy Eleven, however not likely for the game against Jacksonville. So for the first time in a competitive league game we will see a different keeper between the sticks. Difficult to say who that will be, I have not seen anything of Cardona yet, Jon Dawson knows the squad very well and is a very capable keeper. Whoever it will be won't have an easy time of it, JAX have some very good attacking players. Pineda will likely travel and play off the bench, but don't expect to see Kleberson or McKinney any time soon.
In the two games I have seen of Jacksonville, they are very much an attacking threat, they like to play with a front line of three, they played 3-4-3 against Tampa and reverted to 4-3-3 against San Antonio which worked for them. I saw most of the Tampa matched and the way they transition from defense to attack is a little scary to be honest, when you get hit by a counter and one player has two options for a pass, the defense has to be switched on for 90+ minutes, if we fall asleep like we did against Carolina we will get punished badly. Hopefully the week off will add a little steam to Indy's engine, because I really think they are going to need it. Whoever plays in the DM position for Indy will need to be everywhere and anywhere and not tire, I seriously hope Ring starts, it may be we decide to counter Jacksonville with a different formation, it's possible both Ring and Pena could start, we might see a 4-2-3-1 with Wojcik or Rugg starting up front. Or we may start as per usual and switch it later after we get a feel for the opponent. If we see any of our full backs run up and not come back, we're in trouble, with a front three those are the areas that will be exploited, the DM will need to be on his toes and watch for those gaps when JAX gain possession.
Armada are somewhat gung-ho, fast countering, but capable in most areas, and despite being new to NASL have a certain maturity about them already. There attacking threat will be Alhassane Keita, accompanied up top by Millien and Johnson. JAX have scored 8 goals in four games so far and conceded 7. Indy have not been so prolific, 5 scored and 4 but only four conceded. Both teams sitting on a +1 goal difference and 6pts. Hate to have to say it but because of our dreadful performance against Carolina, this game has become kind of a must win if we want to keep alive hopes of a possible spring championship win. New York are looking like breaking away from the pack with 11pts from five games now. I know its going to be difficult, but I don't want to just be happy with being unbeaten and knowing we drew, I want to be happy with a win and being unbeaten. It's going to be tough, but I think we can win. The boys will be looking to improve on a disappointing game against the Railhawks and I think at least we will not lose again. Whether it may be an added bonus or not, whichever of our keepers play, they will want to give a good showing as up until now chances for them to play have been non existent, here is a chance for one of them to show why they are here.
My starting XI: I'd be tempted to start this game with a 4-5-1 and concentrate on feeling out the opposition in the first half. It's possible to play a 3-5-2 to counter a 4-3-3 but I don't think I'd be that bold as our team are still trying to find themselves. I would play with our regular back four (Franco, Norales, Janicki, Frias) and in midfield put Pena and Ring behind Mares and wide have Malgares and Stojkov on the left and right, start with Rugg up front. Soak up attacking pressure and look to hit on counter attack, hopefully with good through passing and not long ball. If we get an advantage and look like we are matching them we can change later, as for the keeper I just don't know enough of either of them to decide, I suspect we will start Cardona. On the bench: Dawson, Miller, Hyland, Pineda, Brown, Wojcik, Smart.
Predictions: I think honestly this game will throw up another tie, I really hope I am surprised and we can win because we need to, but I am feeling 0-0 or 1-1. As for the other games this week, without too much detail, Tampa to win at Ottawa, Minnesota to get their first win of the season over Atlanta, San Antonio also to get their first win over Carolina and Cosmos and Edmonton to draw (that is more of a hope to be honest, I think Edmonton are tough right now, that will be a hard game)