|Jack McInerney netted early and late to salvage a 2-2 draw with Pittsburgh.|
By: REBECCA TOWNSEND (aka The Pitch Bitch)
When Indy Eleven hosted the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Lucas Oil Stadium Wednesday, both teams were riding unbeaten streaks: The Hounds with five and Indy with six.
By the game's end, each team had extended their streak by one. Thanks to a stoppage-time goal from experienced striker Jack McInerney, the hosts walked away with a two-two tie, which holds them steady at sixth in the United Soccer League's 17-seat Eastern Conference. The Hounds, meanwhile, slipped from second to third. Both remain favored for the playoffs — and with only four home games left before post-season, every game remains critical.
The match was textbook topsy-turvy.
The Pitch Bitch's first game notes of the night read: "Two minutes into the game, relative chaos in Indy's box." Less than two minutes later, Jack McInerney scored a goal thanks to a tough fight for possession in the midfield from Captain Matt Watson, who, after securing the ball, sent a beautiful pass through into the attacking third where McInerney was waiting in perfect position. (Always play hard, like Matt Watson, kids, because you never know when the pass you make after winning a hard-fought duel will end up being an assist!)
The Hounds' goalie, Michael Kirk, stepped up to try to intercept the pass, but McInerney held the ball and his position as Kirk overcommitted, leaving Jack to step around one last defender and, like a trained assassin, deliver a swift and decisive kill shot, putting his team in an excellent position to pile on Pittsburgh's pain. But the visitors were resilient.
At minute 8, the Pitch Bitch was nervous when the Hounds found the foot of a weak-side runner steaming toward the left goal post. He couldn't keep his effort on frame, but if he was more Cristiano-or Lauren Cheney Holiday-like he would have.
In the 14th minute, the PB notes read: "A LOT of fucking around in front of the goal almost had us eat an ugly goal."
Twenty minutes later, defender Karl Ouimette almost netted his third goal of the season, exhibiting gorgeous touch and a solid shot across the goal mouth. Minutes later, the Hounds' Christiano Francois beat Indy in their defensive third to unleash a threatening shot, but fate would not have it stay on frame. Indy was back on the attack next, with Watson and McInerney nearly executing a repeat performance of the evening's first goal.
In first-half stoppage time, the Hounds found Indy's net off a Joe Greenspan-headed Francois freekick. Then, in the 59th minute, Francois made up for his missed opportunity earlier in the evening by reading a mistimed defensive pass, using his considerable speed to intercept the pass and elude Indy keeper Owain Fôn Williams.
The situation looked bleak as the game's final minutes slipped away with Indy trailing. As Indy's head coach Martin Rennie said in post-game comments, sometimes the clock works against the team, but other times the opposite holds true. (In a recent game against Toronto, in which it seems stoppage time expired, the team somehow managed to score a tie-winning goal against Indy. Against Pittsburgh, though, the stoppage time goal went Indy's way.)
In the 94th minute, Ben Speas controlled the ball in the central channel about 30 yards from the Hound's goal and lofted a pass just over the central defenders' heads, as McInerney ran in from the weakside to control the ball off his chest and around the keeper to finish with immaculate finesse.
He then gave himself a yellow card by giving the ecstatic home crowd a shirtless display of surging testosterone. But his coach didn't care. Martin Rennie had his attention focused on this bigger picture of how his team is functioning as a unit.
In a post-game interview, Rennie said he is taking confidence from a couple main points: 1)
His team stayed unbeaten against one of the toughest rivals in the conference. 2) Indy scored two goals on a team that doesn't give up many goals 3) They opened up the Hound's formation on a number of occasions, finding viable scoring opportunities 4) Team defense is looking good. The errors tend to be isolated individual mistakes that can be minimized with, for instance, a more decisive response to balls entering the defensive third and a reduction in the instances in which a ball is left to bounce, setting up 50-50 balls. The general idea being that, even if you lose possession of a ball, but clear it away from the area where it poses an immediate threat, that tactic is better than scrapping for a loose ball in front of the goal.
"This is one of those seasons that is a grind," Rennie said. "We have to work hard for everything but, by doing that, we're building a lot of resilience and character — and, ultimately, you need those things to be a team that wins at the end of the season. As much as everyone would like things to be easy, it doesn't really make you stronger..these games are hard but at the end of the day we're getting results, they make us strong and so overall I'm very happy."
Whereas the Pitch Bitch was losing her mind about some of the ref's calls — or lack thereof — throughout the evening, including the blatant — and uncalled — foul against Indy that preceded the Hounds first goal, Rennie adopted a circumspect attitude post-game when asked if he would launch a formal complaint.
"In life, there's lots of things we can't control," he said. "Officiating is one of those things. They say in the course of a season that things even out. We're in for a ride at the end if that's the case."
|USL Eastern Conference playoff positions as of 8/30/2018|