|Justin Braun notches his first two goals of 2017|
By: Jordan Kalt
It’s one of those games where you walk away fighting a bad feeling.
The scoreline eats at you. It didn’t feel like a 3-3 draw, but that’s what you got.
Indy Eleven’s 2017 home opener had excitement, confusion, drama and frustration. A good cocktail of a plot for one of those Gordon Ramsay cooking shows.
On the one hand, Hankinson has clearly helped Braun and Smart work into the best form we’ve ever seen from the two. Marco Franco is performing at a high level as well. These three have been important support players in the past but seriously stepped up in training camp this year and are carving out large roles in the team dynamic this year.
It was thrilling to see these and other players really clicking during different stretches yesterday afternoon. Smart was exemplary as the midfield led an impressive clinic on passing and possession, controlling the ball at the top of the box before setting up carefully timed crosses from the outside. Justin Braun opened with an early header and then picked up an assist on Ben Speas’ over-the-keeper chip, and all in the first ten minutes.
Emotions were running high throughout the stadium. Our championship-caliber team was clearly alive and well, if not even improved. And then, inexplicably, our veteran Indy Eleven squad started slowing down and sat back on that all-too-comfortable 2-0 lead.
Indy’s defensive shape began to get a bit, well... relaxed… and Puerto Rico set about retaking possession and methodically worked their way deep into Eleven territory.
Daniel Keller is stout-hearted but a bit short for a stormtrooper/centerback. Puerto Rico’s imposing forward, Hector Ramos, knowingly exploited the size mismatch, handled the ball in the box, and slid a pass to Conor Doyle for PRFC’s first easy goal in the 24'.
|PRFC slip their first goal past Busch to open a scoring spree.|
Then things got downright sloppy.
Just before halftime Kwame Watson-Siriboe committed an inexcusable foul in the box, setting up a penalty that was at first saved by Busch and then decisively buried off the rebound by Ramos. The second half didn’t promise much better at first. Jon Busch made a rare mistake getting off his line and into trouble one on one with a lone runner in the 57th minute. Clipping the runner’s legs set up a second PK for Puerto Rico and they took the lead, 3-2.
Eamon Zayed had, however, returned at the beginning of the second half from his brief bench hiatus and the positive juxtaposition of his playstyle with Braun’s began to show. The team seemed to wake up as time went on and Zayed drove the attack forward. A rebound fell to Justin Braun during the 75' mark and he put a powerful left-footed strike through for his second goal of the match.
Braun was poised for a happy birthday hat trick to take Indy up 4-3 for the win during stoppage time but the line judge ruled an onside Eamon Zayed off at the beginning of the play. A careful look at the replay reveals an admittedly close call, but still a wrong one.
Whistle. Draw. 3-3.
Leadership and Hunger
You know who we need? Colin Falvey.
The return of Falvey’s leadership should keep us from seeing a repeat of the amateurish malaise our players fell into after gaining the early lead. His penchant for leading by example and organizing the back line have been sorely missed. This roster has great defensive components. With the supremely skilled Vukovich as a returnee and with Marco Franco developing nicely, the wings look promising. At centerback Watson-Siriboe offers great physicality and seems like an intelligent player. This was a poor game for him but he will eventually be paired with Falvey and should perform better. Teammates and supporters alike will be glad to see Colin reclaim his role over the next game or two.
|Leadership sidelined. Zayed and Falvey look to transition back onto the field.|
All of these players must be hungry for better results. A carefully re-tuned midfield looks like it will bring much better possession and early scoring than has been typical of Indy’s style. When the attack was working well against Puerto Rico it was because the Eleven were building play much further up center midfield than they’d been accustomed to in the past.
Directing play from the top of the box like this is ideal for using fast runners like Speas and Smart down the wings to set up penetrating plays in the box. These components could work very well over the season, but coming off of last year’s championship run the danger will be in merely becoming complacent.
Many other NASL clubs have put in the money and effort over the offseason to raise the competitive bar. Puerto Rico is among those teams but will not be the stiffest competition Indy Eleven faces this year. We can't afford to buy the lie that this regular season year will be an easy walk into the playoffs.
Regardless of bad calls it was mid-match, lackadaisical and downright poor play sitting on a comfortable lead that first cost the Eleven a win.
And then, yes, poor officiating probably cost Indy a hard-fought redemption at the death. Aside from getting better referees, what can you say? What can you do?
You can own your lapse in maturity and get on with the next match.
I bet that’s what Hankinson will have them do.
Post match reactions from Justin Braun, Tim Hankinson and Ben Speas