Friday, March 30, 2018

Indy Eleven Face Strong Test In Home Opener - Indy Eleven V FC Cincinnati PREVIEW (3/31/2018)

Enough Talking! Let the game begin! Okay we talked too much.

By: James Cormack

The moment everyone has been waiting for is finally here. Ticket sales are rocketing and Indy Eleven look set at least to break their highest ever attendance for a home match and probably even smash it. New areas have been opened up due to demand and the entire lower bowl of Lucas Oil Stadium is now available for supporters.

Earlier this week it was announced the south end had been sold out and more seats would be opened, the visitor allocation has been sold and we believe more tickets for traveling support have been made available and their section has been moved and expanded along with the opening up of the east side of the lower seating.

While for me attendance is secondary in priority to the product we put on the field, it is very exciting and important for the future of the club. Indy's highest ever attendance at Carroll Stadium was somewhere around 11,500 and this looks set to be smashed. Anything above what we have done previously is a step in the right direction and the higher we go the more Indianapolis as a city can see that Soccer is not going away and is very much a part of this city and state, and it's growing.

Come On You Seats In Blue! Lucas Oil Stadium prepares the field for Indy Eleven (Photo: Jeff Belskus)

Our team is as prepared as they can be for this game. We have one game and a win under our belt and enough evidence for Martin Rennie to pour over and see where we can improve on the field. We face a stiffer challenge this Saturday, but we will play in front of our own support, it is early in the season and while the result may not give an indication of where we are in terms of playoff quality, a positive result could certainly turn a few heads.

So what about FC Cincinnati...

It could be argued that they are one of the poster boy teams for the USL, they are breaking attendance records and turning heads by themselves since joining the USL in 2016, but are they matching this with their product on the field? By all accounts reading through some of the USL articles we seem to have been placed as underdogs for this game, we got that a lot in NASL when we played the Cosmos for example, but it didn't seem to give them an edge when playing us.

In their inaugural season of 2016, FC Cincinnati finished 3rd in the regular season and came up against Charleston Battery in the first round of playoffs losing 2-1 at home. In 2017 FC Cincinnati scraped into the playoffs finishing 6th in the regular season and losing out again in the first round by 3-0 to Tampa Bay Rowdies. What should be noted from this is a new team has made the playoffs in their first two seasons and made a great US Open Cup run, not the fact they have failed to win silverware. It's impressive. 

I was fortunate enough to attend FC Cincinnati's home opener last season against St Louis and I was very impressed firstly by the huge attendance and the atmosphere, not going to lie it's always incredible to see the continued growth in teams and support in this country. I was also impressed with the product on the field.

FC Cincinnati won that game by four goals to nil and all four were scored by Djiby Fall, I was impressed with how he and Victor Mansary were causing the St Louis defense no end of trouble on both sides of the field. Neither of those players is there anymore. Mansary is now with Charleston Battery and Djiby Fall is as far as I know without a team. Djiby collected a rather lengthy ban in 2017 and despite scoring 12 goals for the year appears to have fallen out of favor with the team.

Ledesma scores for Cosmos in a 2-1 Indy victory in 2017 (Photo: Bloody Shambles)

The 2018 Cincinnati roster is strong, is it as strong as previous years, this remains to be seen. Familiar names to Indy Eleven fans such as Blake Smith, Lance Laing, Nazmi Albadawi, Richie Ryan, Emmanuel Ledesma, Tyler Gibson, and Tomi Ameobi have been added, all previously played in NASL. Among the notable returning players for FCC is Danni König who scored 11 goals for Cinci in 2017.

Ledesma had a good year in 2017 with Cosmos scoring 10 for the season, for several years before he was getting very little game time at clubs like Middlesborough and Rotherham, Emmanuel is a great player who was never given enough opportunity. He is definitely a player who will be a danger to Indy, he scored twice against us last year for New York.

Blake Smith is well known to Indy and played for the Eleven in 2014 on loan from Montreal Impact, his most notable match was our first US Open Cup game against Dayton Dutch Lions where he scored the clubs first ever hat-trick in a competitive match, a tie that ended 5-2 in favor of Indy Eleven. Smith also scored against Columbus Crew in the following round.

Blake is a versatile player who can cause danger in any part of the field. After returning to Montreal and failing to become a part of the first team plans Smith was picked up by Miami FC in 2016 as they commenced life as a new franchise in NASL. Blake was a regular starting player at Miami and scored four goals in two seasons. He is one to watch for Indy and scored FC Cincinnati's opening league goal in a 1-0 away win at Charleston.

Lance Laing working the left for North Carolina in Indy 2017 (Photo: Bloody Shambles)

There is one former FC Edmonton player in Cinci's roster that worries me and it's not Tomi Ameobi. Lance Laing has a great scoring average and is dangerous not only in attacking build up but also from set pieces, he will no doubt be a part of any creative attack from Cinci if he plays and is another player who can change a game very quickly.

I am only touching on a few players, and mainly because they are known to me, but if I were to sit on the outside and look at Indy Eleven's roster I would be equally as worried or perhaps more. There is really nothing that stands out between these two rosters that give me a reason to label one team as a favorite in this match over the other. On paper, it looks very finely balanced.

So are Indy Eleven the underdogs in this game?

It would seem so, and although most of the spin appears to be coming from USL's own punditry and maybe a little favoritism towards a team that has made USL playoffs in two consecutive seasons, it's not really surprising.

Former NASL teams should not be underestimated, but to be fair Indy Eleven's 2017 was possibly the worst season we have ever had. It's an entirely different squad, less returning players than FC Cincinnati but it is probably the strongest team and the most depth we have had in a roster to date.

Both teams have had seven preseason games and both suffered only one loss. Cincinnati beat Indy in our first preseason game without a full squad and also lost their last preseason match against Sacramento. Those games mean nothing at the end of the day, both Indy and Cincinnati have played one league game and both won 1-0 on the road.

Formidable. Indy coaches Dave Dixon, Martin Rennie and Phillip Dos Santos (Photo: Bloody Shambles)

In all fairness I would rather be the underdog, pundits are already putting a check in the win box for Cincinnati so all the pressure appears to be on them if we are expected to be the losers, I doubt very much that Alan Koch will be taking anything for granted and pretty sure Martin Rennie is prepared for any challenge.

It is going to be a spectacle between two well-supported teams in a great venue in front of a large crowd. There are no stats or theories or any evidence out there that is going to help you call the winner in this game, we'll find that out in reality somewhere around 9pm on Saturday night, everything else is just speculation.

How different will this game be to the opener in Richmond?

It will most likely be much more intense, Indy Eleven will have to deal with a more technical and clinical attacking build up from Cincinnati. The defensive line and midfield in Richmond worked very well and certainly look like they could handle a tougher challenge, they will have to defend more and this can affect stamina over the 90.

If anything could have been better in Richmond it probably could have been our overall attack, Cincinnati will probably provide us with fewer opportunities at goal so it will be important that we not only create more but put more of those chances on target. 

The work rate and area covered by our attack were not in question but more opportunity in the final third needs to be talking point for this game. As mentioned in our review you can't just expect this to happen in the first game of the season but you can improve upon it match by match.

'SAS' Soony and Starikov were a handful in preseason, turn it up a notch and more goals will come.

Our center backs will be called on more in this game, how much work they have to do will depend on the combination of players (if those players start) that I mentioned earlier this week. Ouimette, Pasher, Matern, Watson, and Steinberger. Breaking down Cinci's attacks without losing our shape will be critical, players will need to support and cover each other much more in this game.

Defending will be critical, this doesn't mean we need to worry about a "Park The Bus" scenario, but how cleanly and clinically we defend will have a significant bearing on how quickly and effectively we overturn possession and switch to attack. Sloppiness will not cut it in a game like this at all, so better to be patient than frantically chasing everything that moves.

I won't make a match prediction although I feel Indy Eleven will not lose this game. I am envisioning an opening period of frantic jostling before settling down to what could become an intense chess match, and if it comes to that it will be all about Rennie versus Koch. So bring it on Cincinnati.


We already know we are going to surpass attendance expectations for tomorrow's game if you are still sitting on the fence about coming along it's really a no-brainer. The Brickyard Battalion need as many wild and crazies in their section as possible so if you want a great deal, a crazy day and be right up on the action fork out $15 and buy yourself a ticket without added fees by following THIS LINK! DO IT NOW, RIGHT NOW!

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