The Indy Eleven game provided plenty of excitement of it's own. Going into the game without ever having lost to Cosmos, or having beat them, with four draws between the teams so far, I had a gut feeling about this game before it started that we could see Indy Eleven take first blood in this match up. The way we have been playing lately we certainly had a chance, but as I said in my preview, the most important thing was being the toughest we could be and playing to our best, after watching the other games in the round simple math told me that one point would put us 4th in the combined standings, but of course everyone wants to have a win! Indy and New York drew again for the fifth time as the match ended 1-1, but it was a much different game than Spring and a much better performance from Indy Eleven.
A tale of two halves...
Indy started the game the way I expected them to play, there was a patience about them and a determination to retain the ball and not allow New York to take the game from them. I was very excited to see Duke Lacroix start the game, and the formation and lineup seemed very effective to me. Don Smart also started the game as well as Wojciech Wojcik, Brown and Rugg had recovered from minor injuries and started on the bench. So it was a reasonably familiar looking lineup from Regan with Kristian Nicht in goal, Hyland, Miller, Norales and Franco across the back, Smart, Mares, Ring and Stojkov in midfield and Wojcik and Lacroix up front.
It worked well, going forward we attacked with a 4-4-2 diamond and defending we played more like a 4-5-1 with Wojcik working very hard to come deep and help defend with the midfield and at times the defense, leaving Lacroix a little further forward to pick up opportunistic forward balls or clearances. We were solid and confident in the back and in the midfield, on the one time we possibly could have done better in the 23rd minute Cosmos gained possession after a giveaway by Hyland, the ball was sent left to Stokkelien who was clear in the box after Franco pulled in center to help cover. Luckily for Indy Eleven Kristian Nicht stepped up and pulled off a fine save to deny Cosmos the chance of making the first goal in the game, Nicht also showed dominance in the resulting corner with an assured punch away to keep Cosmos away from goal again. In matches like these where the crowd is quiet and the field is well mic'd, you really get to hear just how much of a communicator Kristian Nicht is, he is constantly sending instructions to every player in front of him, good communication like that is crucial not only for a goalkeeper but for the whole team.
Outside of that Eleven were rarely troubled, even at set pieces and corners Senna was either lacking or we dealt with it well. Indy's patience was rewarded as they started to gain the upper hand in the last 25 minutes or so of the first half. A defensive clearance from the Cosmos bounced off Stojkov and popped high in the air back toward the New York 18 and landed in the path of Wojciech Wojcik who sent a low drive past Maurer and into the net to give Indy Eleven a first half lead. Indy's persistent hustle and retention of the ball pretty much saw them win the first half both in goal tally and possession. Indy could have gone in 2-0 if not for Maurer's save on Lacroix's shot in the 34th minute.
As you would expect, there was probably more to say in the Cosmos dressing room than there was in Indy Eleven and they came out with renewed vigor and took the game to Indy, the Boys in Blue responded by snapping and hustling at every pass from the Cosmos and as the second half wore on despite us never giving up on anything it was going to take it's toll mentally and physically, by the 65 to 70 minute mark we had ran ourselves into the ground little. I think the team stood up to it well even though at times all the play seemed to be in our own half, I can't fault anyone for effort. When you are playing the top team in the league on their own patch and they are a goal down and desperate to turn things around, it's hard work. We spaced out our substitutions well and threw fresh legs in where and when required, we were getting pinned in a lot and seeing players like Wojcik continually coming back to lend a hand and keep Cosmos out showed a lot of pluck from our team and an unwillingness to give up the lead. Wojcik was replaced by Rugg in the 67th minute and Pineda came in for Smart on 74. Cosmos also made a change that transformed their attack by bringing on Restrepo and by this time Indy were coming more and more under the Kosh, but were pressing well and still continuing to make life difficult for New York. Indy had their chances to increase the scoreline as well, a neat flick to Lacroix saw him one on one with Maurer, he neatly sidestepped the onrushing keeper but his touch was a little hard and couldn't get a shot on goal. It was Cosmos who got the next good chance, and I am still in two minds of whether it should have stood as a goal or not, it is a moot point now though, in the 80th minute Restrepo hit a low drive at Kristian Nicht and it bounced up off his chest and back onto the onrushing Restrepo, I have watched the replay several times now and it is difficult to tell but it appeared to me to come off his upper arm and deflect into the goal even though it was judged to be off his head. Anyway, the goal stood, and Cosmos put the ball into the net again in the last few minutes of normal time but it was clearly offside, the referee saved himself some embarrassment after seeming to chalk it up, he conferred with the linesman who ruled the goal offside. In the closing minutes and extra time is was a scenario of backs to the wall for Indy, Brian Brown came on late around 88' to replace Stojkov and add some pace and Indy fought well to hold out for the point. Raul made an appearance around 75 but even with him Cosmos just did not have enough to take all three points.
Overall thoughts..... ?
It was a much better game for us than the Spring encounter, where we spent most of the game after taking the lead trying to keep New York from scoring. We held much more possession, we were much more together as a team and played as good as we have had in the last 3 or 4 matches. It was difficult, but we have to remember who we were playing, we took the game to them, put them in trouble and made them work hard to grind out a point, at no time in the game did we look like the second best team on the field that is for sure. Everyone did their job and we earned that point working as a whole team who seemed to all be on the same page. We even saw our coach get ejected from the field arguing for his team, this to me shows more passion than a lack of discipline, give me a coach that is fired up rather than placid any day of the week. Pretty sure Tim will take that on the chin and not be any less vocal when he returns (not sure if this receives a one match touchline ban in NASL?). As I mentioned in my preview, the way we played was exactly what I wanted to see from our team, make the home teams suffer, make them work, make them disappointed in dropping points, but follow it up by making the home games count. If we continue the way we are, we will make the playoffs I have no doubt. Next weekend we again play Carolina at home, who have to play Ft Lauderdale on Wednesday, we can't afford to be kind to the Railhawks like we were last time around, so we need to follow up this away point with three at home! We played the Spring Champions in their own house and they could not beat us, what is not to like?
Bloody Shambles MVP...
Might seem like an obvious choice because he scored our only goal, but Wojciech Wojcik gave much more than that in the 67 minutes he played, he was an invaluable extra man in midfield and defense throughout his time, work rate was very high and not surprised he was taken off. Honorable mention to Kristian Nicht, I don't feel he can be faulted for the goal (if it was a goal) he stood up big in the first half and helped maintain the lead going into the half and his communication to the team throughout the whole game was crucial. Special mention to 12th man Tim Regan, he lasted almost 88 minutes ;)