|Watson stripped Atlanta of the ball and opened the scoring for Indy (Photo: James Cormack)|
By: Rebecca Townsend (aka The Pitch Bitch)
Indy Eleven took a good 30 minutes to feel out their guests, Atlanta United FC 2, in front of a crowd estimated by the team to have topped 10,000 people Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And then the Eleven turned on the heat.
Captain Matt Watson returned to the starting line-up just in time to score the critical morale-boosting goal around the 30th minute, after intercepting a mis-timed Atlanta pass at midfield and proceeding to cut past Atlanta keeper Paul Christensen, who was far upfield
of his goal line, and taking one more cut wide around a final defender, before turning his hips back toward his opponent’s goal and using his less-favored, but better-situated left foot to drive the ball past the line to score.
With Brad Ring, Zach Steinberger and Ben Speas on the bench, the starting midfield featured Watson, Soony Saad, Juan Guerra, Nico Matern and Seth Moses, who earned his first start of the season. Justin Braun played target striker and, from left to right, Ayoze, Karl Ouimette, Carlyle Mitchell and Kevin Venegas made up the back line.
Two members of that backline, Ayoze and Mitchell, combined nicely when a corner kick dished from the former connected with the perfectly timed running header of the latter, propelling the ball to the back of Atlanta’s net to bring the hosts a 2-0 lead 10 minutes
into the second half.
|Carlyle Mitchell nodded home his first goal for Indy Eleven to bring the score to 2-0 (Photo: James Cormack)|
When the ref signaled the game’s final whistle, the hosts managed to protect the win — and a clean sheet in the match (though Indy keeper Owain Fon Williams was a bit roughed up in stopping a last-minute drive into Indy’s box). All in all, a refreshing change of pace for Indy fans who had not had a home win since its May 5 win against Louisville City FC.
Another change of pace for the Indy lineup. Forward Eugene Starikov brought a refreshing intensity in his first appearance back at a home game since the season opener.
Picking a sprig of wild mint from a Fletcher Place patio about an hour before game time, the Pitch Bitch wondered if that vibrant shot of revitalizing aromatherapy could be teasing an emerging theme for the evening: Revitalization.
Reviewing the first-half notes, a refreshing theme does emerge: repeated examples of the team maintaining possession through a series of several passes, not rushing … working together to build. Furthermore, this possession was not mindless. When the team found itself within striking distance, players would shoot or drive into the opposition’s back line.
|Seth Moses showed aggression and a different dynamic in midfield for Indy (Photo: James Cormack)|
The Pitch Bitch game notes recorded several examples of these continuous building efforts in the minutes leading up to halftime:
* Indy threatens, is dragged down before cross sent pack in …
* Venegas manages to weave a cross through... Soony meets it, but couldn’t get a proper foot on it.
* Watson and Guerra had a promising moment only to have Atlanta keeper Christensen right on point.
* At 41: Indy makes a good team effort to work it around, then lost when they took too many touches, opting to dribble instead of making a quick pass. (But on the edge of the attacking third — which is where Indy was at this juncture, the risk of dispossession is worth the chance of a goal. Keep up the pressure, Indy! You are on the right track!)
— Rebecca Townsend (@hoosierchild) June 10, 2018
The game marked the “best performance so far this season” from the Boys in Blue, according to Indy head coach Martin Rennie, who said he was happy to have a full week of training in before the evening’s match. Throughout May, the team had so many games, full training weeks were impossible, he added.
|Coaches Rennie and Dos Santos prepare for Indy's first game of June (Photo: James Cormack)|
The productive and energetic teamwork reflected the past week’s training, the coach said.
“In May, we didn’t really get to train because we had so many games*...a lot of the fundamental things that we’d worked on were not on show. And that’s not that surprising with new players. But we can’t revert back now that we’ve set the standard.”
Rennie is likely to look at the season’s first repeat lineup as he looks forward to the team’s next challenges: away games to Toronto and Nashville before returning home to host Penn FC on June 30.
“We’ve not been able to play the same lineup twice ever, so that would really help us,” Rennie said.
Working on other things, the team forgot about fundamental lessons players felt they had mastered early on. Now, they’re returning to their roots.
It means, according to Captain Watson, “back to basics, hard work.”
He summarized tactical issues his team faces and presented his ideas for improvement:
“When we sit back and don’t press the ball, we’re not very good.
“It’s mostly about making sure we are moving as a group .. sometimes we get spread out where the back line is really deep, the forwards are high, and the midfield is huge and we can’t cover the whole field. So it’s important that we talk.
|Matt Watson showed how much he has been missed on Saturday against Atlanta (Photo: James Cormack)|
“Communication is key. Sometimes I like to press. If I go, they’ll stretch the field. So, when I go, we all need to go. And press higher to make it harder for them to play balls in behind. Hopefully, we have a high line and can play them offsides. We’ve got great guys back there who can, if it goes over the top, get there first. It’s all about moving all around the field as a group. Something fundamental that we got away from …
“Is there a communication hierarchy when it comes to heat-of-the-moment communication on the field?” the Pitch Bitch asked Cpt. Watson.
“It’s situational on the field,” Watson said. “It’s about balance. Sometimes there’s not one right answer. Sometimes, if I go, people may say I’m wrong because I’m stretching the field, but if I win the ball like I did today … every play in soccer is situational, there’s not one right or wrong answer. You kind of look at it and say, ‘What’s best for the team? No one player is bigger than the team."
*The team played six USL games in May, plus its tragic loss to Mississippi Brilla in the US Open Cup.
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