|We're not Manatees! Get off the bottom!|
This midweek match has now been given an added twist. Back to back wins for FC Edmonton over ourselves and then New York Cosmos has propelled them into fourth place in the combined standings, displacing Tampa Bay into fifth place. Tampa will know fully the importance of winning at home against us, a result which will put them back in fourth two points and a game in hand over Edmonton, before they have to play Minnesota and Ottawa. This game is a must win for Tampa.
In the last couple of weeks the race for the top has changed quite dramatically. A nine game unbeaten streak for Minnesota United along with a valuable win over Cosmos by Ottawa has produced a significant gap now between the top 3 in the combined table (Ottawa, Minnesota, and New York) and fourth place. For the rest of the teams in the league now its all about fighting for fourth. As far as the fall championship goes, it's Ottawa's to lose and coming to the point where it is pretty much between Ottawa Fury and Minnesota United.
The most remarkable thing about that race for fourth place in 2015 is with five or six games for each team left it is still mathematically possible for any team in the league to take that spot. Although you'd have to think for those at the bottom, considering the amount of games left compared to the amount of points needed and current form, for some teams it is highly unlikely. I expect that fourth place to be taken by Ft. Lauderdale or Tampa, but cannot discount Edmonton if they continue in current form.
What's left for Indy Eleven to do now? I think it is evident after the lackluster performance against Edmonton that trying to make the playoffs is not top of our priority list right now, neither it seems is gaining any kind of consistency as a team, the latter has to change. Now anchored on the bottom of the table it goes without saying we are the most inconsistent team in the NASL of 2015, our inconsistency in finding a familiar starting lineup mirrors that.
Once again we tweaked and fiddled in the game against FC Edmonton, four times since the spring season began we have taken in new players and put them straight into the starting lineup. We left in form players on the bench and also players who have proven very valuable this year did not even suit up for the game. The situation has now become something akin to a rowboat with a big hole in it, we are pushing an oar with one hand and bailing out water with the other, ultimately going around in ever decreasing circles.
The objective for Indy Eleven now has to be not finishing bottom whilst also giving the supporters something to feel good about going into next year. That is pretty much all we have left to aim for. I think the only way that can be done is by recognizing what exactly is our strongest starting XI each week and putting them on the field. Then continue putting them on the field. Last year in fall we finished the season with a five game unbeaten streak which included three wins and two draws.
The importance of giving the fans something to cheer about cannot be stressed enough, after the mini vacation in Florida we have a three game stretch at home and the people who will turn up to support the team did aren't paying to turn up and watch experimentation and failure 24 games into the year as we saw in the last home game. Surely both the organization and the team know how important it is to finish the year as strong as we possibly can.
Who is available, who might play.... ?
For anyone who was present at the Meet The Players night on Friday, it was not hard to notice Brad Ring getting around in a boot. A stress fracture will most likely see him miss both the upcoming games in Florida. Indy have Keller and Pena available to play the defensive midfield role.
Kristian Nicht is also out with a sprained ankle which will see the return of Keith Cardona to the Indy goal and a place on the bench for third goalkeeper Jon Dawson.
Dani Cuevas shortly after making his debut for Indy Eleven suffered a leg fracture in training on monday and this effectively sees an end to him playing in 2015.
Charlie Rugg remains out while waiting for a sports hernia operation.
Outside of that all other players are available for selection. Who will be selected has now become a guessing game. Victor Pineda and Dylan Mares did not suit up for the game against FC Edmonton, Ceballos, Steinberger and Smart all sat on the bench. As ineffective as we were in front of goal I would imagine there will be switch somewhere in attack or attacking midfield. Pineda was listed late as a doubt last week before the Edmonton game but is available this week.
The last time Indy faced Tampa the result ended in a 2-0 home win for Indy Eleven. On that night we played with Nicht in goal, our regular back four of Franco, Miller, Norales, and Hyland. Across the midfield we played Lacroix, Keller, Steinberger, and Stojkov with Richards and Rugg up front. Outside of Nicht and Rugg all of these players are available.
I would expect to see a return of either Pineda or Lacroix to left midfield. With Pena not having much match fitness Keller will most likely start at CDM. Either Stojkov or Smart on the right and I hope we may get to see Ceballos, Steinberger and Richards take up the remaining three spots. This also should allow for Dylan Mares to return to the 18 man roster.
Historically games between these two teams have been very close, Indy's 2-0 win in the last outing has been the largest win margin in a game, the four previous meetings have produced three score draws and a 2-1 win for Tampa at Indy in July of 2014.
Indy have to go for it, despite the importance of the game to Tampa, Indy needs to show our supporters and the league that we are not just going to give up. I expect another very close contest. Win lose or draw, Indy need to give a good showing and apply 100% effort in every game now to retain the interest of the supporter base.
COME ON YOU BOYS IN BLUE!!!