|Justin Braun scored a crucial goal on the stroke of half time.|
By: James Cormack
As you no doubt already know, Indy Eleven went into their last game of Spring against the Carolina Railhawks knowing if they could score four goals and win by a margin of three, we would be in the driving seat to win the Spring Championship. We needed to win 4-0 or 4-1 to do that, and we did it, in miraculous fashion the game ended 4-1.
It was never going to be easy, the temperature in the air was 95 degrees at the start of the game, the surface temperature on the field was probably 110+. Indy Eleven were going to go for it from the start, in extreme heat that can presents its own dangers. As I said in our preview, I was going to be content with just getting three points at home. What happened on Saturday was incredible.
Indy started with a similar line up to their previous game in Miami and came out of the traps fast. The first goal came in the 15th minute when Éamon Zayed slotted home a diving header from a Vukovic cross in front of defense to set the stadium rocking.
My biggest concern was that Indy Eleven would go too hard too fast during the hottest temps in the game and wear themselves out. When Carolina equalized in the 29th minute through Nazmi Albadawi it was a concern. After 30 minutes in the game the heat was taking it's toll, almost every player on the field was using their shirt to wipe their face, it was intense and energy sapping. Indy did not let up.
|Zayed's hat trick takes his tally to six in NASL, league leading scorer.|
Had Carolina taken advantage and scored another we probably would not have seen the same post game celebrations, had we gone in at half time at 1-1 it also may have ended up a different game. The most crucial goal in the game came right before half time. Another great pass in from Vukovic was tapped in at close range by Justin Braun to set Indy in front again right before the whistle.
It's an old cliché but there is much truth in the fact that it helps to send your opposition in at half time with their heads down and bring your own team in for the break with their heads up. Indy Eleven had 15 minutes to breathe, take on water and discuss tactics for the second half knowing they were in the lead and within touching distance of getting the job done.
We knew we needed to score 4 and at least only let in 1, the next 45 minutes were all about winning 2-0. The second half was all about the tactical brilliance of Tim Hankinson, and of course a lot of team effort. Indy scored their third goal after 65 minutes again from Éamon Zayed with an assist from Omar Gordon. Hankinson threw everything on the line at this point and switched to a back three taking off captain Colin Falvey from central defense and replacing him with Siniša Ubiparipović in midfield to push for the fourth goal. The air was cooling and Indy Eleven cranked up the pace with renewed energy.
|Éamon Zayed celebrates with captain Colin Falvey after Indy's fourth goal.|
It worked according to plan and with five minutes of regulation time remaining Éamon "Mr Hat-Trick" Zayed scored his third and Indy Eleven could feel the Spring Championship within their grasp, it was a surreal moment and a nerve wracking end to the game. Hankinson wasted no time in bringing on Brad Ring to give a more defensive shape for the final minutes of the game.
Indy Eleven pulled off the miraculous, many of the players have been vocal throughout the year telling people they will get it done when it needs to be done and they did not fail us. Indy Eleven remain undefeated and won the Spring Championship, and it has to be said against the odds at times, we have had numerous problems with injury which began in preseason, we've slipped and stumbled a little along the way but still are undefeated.
We made sure on Saturday night that we are the benchmark for every other team in the league, if you want to win the Soccer Bowl, you'll have to come through Indy first, and it will be far from easy with the roster being strengthened in time for the fall.
Of course, at the final whistle it was cause for celebration for everyone and Saturday evening rolled into Sunday morning for many supporters who continued celebrating into the small hours. There was still the small matter of a game between FC Edmonton and Ft Lauderdale to be played on Sunday. The Strikers could have spoiled the party but it was highly unlikely, having to win by 6 goals on the road in Canada.
Many supporters met at Union Jack's pub in Broad Ripple on Sunday afternoon to watch the game and finally revel in the legitimacy of the Spring title with some champion champagne after FC Edmonton defeated Ft. Lauderdale 2-1 to round off Spring. It was a special moment and chance to celebrate and receive thanks from team owner Ersal Ozdemir, and of course getting drenched in champagne was a lot of fun.
As a supporter it was an overwhelming weekend. When you look back at where we have come from, these are moments we only dreamed of before. It was rewarding to see Peter Wilt who built everything we have now in tears on the field. Ersal Ozdemir with his willingness to back this project to the hilt bounced around with the fans. The staff deserve this as much as everyone and it was a joy to see all of them taste the fruits of all their hard work in the last few years. Alongside and around them the fellow friends and supporters just soaking it all up, it was a crazy magic night, the best so far.
|Peter Wilt shares tears with staff, players and supporters after the final whistle!|
In the first two years Indy had to learn to crawl then learn to walk. Now we are running and teams will be trying to stop us. Indy Eleven has come of age and yet we still have not even reached our full potential.
It must have been bewildering for international players like Gerardo Torrado and Souleymane Youla to witness this having just arrived in Indianapolis. The best is yet to come and the team can look forward to an Open Cup meeting with Chicago Fire on Wednesday and a friendly tie with Liga MX champions Pachuca on June 26th before getting back to NASL business against Puerto Rico on July 2nd.
Prepare yourself for many more nights of celebration in the coming months! It's going to be a great year. It is already a great year!
Caleb Ramp’s Take:
Eamon Zayed after beating the New York Cosmos on 4/16/16: “I think we can win the spring season. I think we can go unbeaten in the first ten games.”
Fast forward almost two months later. It’s been nearly thirty minutes after the final whistle sounded at Michael A Carroll Stadium. Thirty minutes after the Brickyard Battalion poured onto the field to revel in the greatest moment in Indianapolis soccer history. Thirty minutes after the first hugs were shared, tears shed, and beers chugged (looking at you, Brad Ring).
The request for the last of the fans to leave the pitch plays over the PA system in the background. The celebration – which for many would go into the early hours of Sunday morning – would slowly relocate.
The Prophet Zayed is giving his post-game interviews with a trio of bricks at his feet. A shirtless Nemanja Vukovic sprints into view, wrapping up the Irishman while belting out a chant of “Big Z! Big Z!”
That’s why I love this sport. That’s why I love this club.
We’ve said for weeks that this squad was different. That this squad was special. Since early April we were given repeated rhetoric from players and coaches—however cliché—that this team was a family. That everything was clicking.
Time and again the group proved their resilience on the field, defying odds and earning results. Time and again they proved a willingness to fight for each other, the fans, and the badge. On the night they would overcome an incredibly improbable goal differential to win the 2016 NASL Spring Season? Of course they would celebrate together.
|Éamon Zayed celebrates with Coach Tim Hankinson|
It would be easy to write thousands of words detailing the greatness of every individual performance and every tactical decision which led to the 4-1 victory – The Miracle at the Mike. From the opening whistle, every man on the pitch in a blue shirt and shorts was dominant. In the words of our hat trick hero, “There were eleven Man of the Matches out there.”
Eamon is right once again. The combination play was as good as we’ve seen all season. Skills were successfully pulled off with a frequency and consistency fitting a team with limitless confidence and everything to play for.
Nemanja Vukovic, whose own post-game comments would be crashed by a teammate high on the moment (Don Smart), said it best: “This city, this club, everything around the team is amazing.”
Amazing. Undefeated. Trophy winners.
And we’re only ten games in.