|Tanner Thompson helped Indy Eleven avoid defeat on his debut|
By: James Cormack
Not for the first time in their history, Indy Eleven were the guests at the inaugural match of an NASL expansion team. San Francisco Deltas came into this game with all the vim and vigor of a team bursting with excitement to get their season under way.
Indy Eleven had their own preparation problems to deal with going into the game and there was much deliberation amongst supporters and pundits alike about who would or should start in this match.
Injury issues with Colin Falvey and Lovel Palmer left Tim Hankinson no option but to play with an unfamiliar back four, specifically the center back pairing of Daniel Keller and Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
As mentioned in our last couple of blogs pertaining to roster development and pre-season play there were some concerns about how the more defensive looking midfield setup of Indy Eleven would translate into service and goal scoring opportunities for our attack.
Despite the advertised 4-4-2 formation for Indy Eleven it appeared we were set up and played more like a 4-5-1 (4-2-3-1) with debutant Tanner Thompson playing in behind Just Braun in attacking midfield. Ben Speas and Don Smart played wide left and right while Brad Ring and Gerardo Torrado filled the defensive midfield roles.
Last minute lineup changes made our task of finding goals look even more of a challenge. Éamon Zayed was dropped to the bench in favor of a single striker formation, splitting the usually productive pairing of Braun and Zayed in attack.
Indy Eleven's bench consisted of only four outfield players, Siniša Ubiparipovic, Craig Henderson, Anthony Manning and Éamon Zayed. Keith Cardona took the reserve keeper slot giving Indy five bench players. English forward David Goldsmith was ineligible while awaiting a work permit.
Opening night a good draw...
I had settled for taking a point in this game before it even started, obviously three points would be nice but coming out of pre-season into an opening night game away from home against an opponent we have very little knowledge about keeps the result acceptable to me.
It was not a pretty game by any means and this has to be expected. If I cast my mind back to July 2016 in Puerto Rico when we were the willing guests in PRFC's inaugural home match, it was not entirely different to this game and probably one of the worst games I have seen Indy play despite an undefeated and successful Spring season, Indy had to force a 1-1 draw with a late equalizer from Souleymane Youla.
San Francisco played the match with all the eagerness and heavy challenges you would expect from a new team on their opening night. The home side's enthusiasm was rewarded in the 31st minute when Kyle Bekker redirected an assist from Danny Cruz past Jon Busch into the Indy net.
It would be easy to assume and apportion blame on an untested Indy back four but it did all appear a little too easy for San Francisco. Deltas full back Kenny Tiejsse advance on the left side drawing Marco Franco with him, while Danny Cruz took up position in the corner drawing Kwame Watson-Siriboe away from center. The eventual cross from Cruz was not closed down and Bekker met the ball unchallenged, splitting the remaining defenders and side footed into the net for San Francisco's very first NASL goal.
San Francisco held their lead going into the half time break but lost it early in the second half. In a similar situation to the opening goal Indy Eleven found good space on the left side through Ben Speas who delivered a beautiful ball into the box that found Tanner Thompson, with his back to defense Tanner was able to head the ball into the left of the net whilst under pressure and going to ground.
It was a great opening goal for young player making his debut, Tanner Thompson did not once look in any way overawed or nervous in his first professional appearance. It brought Indy Eleven back level in the game in the 58th minute with ample time to try and push for a second.
Éamon Zayed entered the game along with new signing Craig Henderson in the 77th minute replacing Tanner Thompson and Ben Speas but the game would not see another goal. Zayed had a good look in the 90th minute but his header from a Don Smart cross went wide of goal. Both sides came away from the game with a point, not even 6 minutes of added time was enough for either side to break the deadlock.
|Kwame Watson-Siriboe one of several players making their NASL debut for Indy Eleven|
The most valuable thing outside of taking a point on the road for Indy Eleven in this game is returning home with knowledge of a team we have never played against before. The match was not a great one to watch but we know more about an opponent we will play again at home in a few weeks time.
Tim Hankinson will probably be satisfied with performances from some of the new Boys in Blue, most notably Tanner Thompson, Ben Speas and Kwame Watson-Siriboe and how they perform under league match pressure. While some might wonder about our signings for 2017, Thompson made it clear despite having no professional experience he is not here just to make up numbers and he grabbed his debut chance by the throat.
I am sure some would like to see bigger name signings and a more impressive start. Remember where we began in 2014 with unknown players like Dylan Mares, his approach and attitude given a chance at professional soccer was exemplary and he was included in the starting lineup for Miami FC yesterday ahead of a midfield roster packed with talent. Tanner Thompson could well turn out to be the most shrewd signing of the off season.
Ben Speas worked well in the left side role and provides the same kind of enthusiasm and aggressiveness in midfield as we have seen from aforementioned Dylan Mares in previous years and this will only improve with more competitive game time.
Kwame looks to be a very confident player at center back and also dangerous at corners and set pieces, when Indy Eleven does see the return of Colin Falvey I think they will be a very formidable pairing.
This time last year most people felt that Indy were not ready for the season to begin, we went to Tampa Bay and came home without defeat and continued with a couple of disappointing draws before finding their feet. There have been several changes and we likely will need some time before we find our best combination and formation again.
It's very early and nothing from this game can possibly give an indication of how Indy Eleven's year is going to go. What we already know from previous experience of Tim Hankinson's team is they won't ever give up on a game so it's difficult to be cynical or disappointed with one point from this game. It's just the beginning and we are on top of the table.
|Top four standings after the opening three matches all ended in draws.|