|Justin Braun (seen here in preseason action) is putting early struggles behind him and quickly finding his stride.|
By: Caleb Ramp
Let's start by making something very clear: this was not a good result for the Indy Eleven. This wasn't a moral victory. Not a point to be celebrated.
This was a salvaged result. This was the aversion of complete disaster, but a major setback nonetheless: Like a merchant ship sailing off-course into hostile water, fending off an attack from pirates, only to beach itself in the process on an island a thousand miles from the intended destination. There's no doubt it could have been worse, but shouldn't it have been better than it was?
Admittedly, it almost feels foolish to be disappointed with a team so racked with injuries managing to remain undefeated after falling behind on the road. This is especially true when you consider the team's previous two seasons. Had you told any Eleven supporter two months ago that they'd be sitting in second place at this point in the season, you'd get nothing but ecstatic reactions.
Yet despite how impressive "undefeated through eight" sounds superficially, Indy didn't leave Jacksonville without a loss: The Eleven no longer control their own destiny in the Spring title race, but are now at the sole mercy of the Cosmos. If New York fails to drop points in Fort Lauderdale next week, Indy ceases to have any mathematical chance of securing their playoff spot ten games in.
All of this isn't to say there weren't outstanding individual performances (Jon Busch and Justin Braun were among the brightest in this regard), or even that the team shouldn't be proud of overcoming adversity yet again and refusing to collapse under the pressure -- something which could never be said of previous iterations of this team.
However, Jacksonville is a side which had lost their last four, hadn't scored in a month, traded away arguably their best player for cash (which has yet to be reinvested in on-field talent), was missing multiple starters due to international duty, had to make a goalkeeping substitution in the 57th minute, and hadn't kept a clean sheet in seven games.
This is a sport (and moreover a league) where anything can happen -- but for a team so close to winning so much so early, dropping two crucial points against an opponent of that pedigree is painful.
Assorted Thoughts and Opinions:
- There’s no question the back four looked like a group missing 50% of their starters. Neither Marco Franco nor Cory Miller had a terrible game individually (although Miller was far from perfect), but the group was clearly uncomfortable together. Disorganization led to multiple chances for the Armada, and the fluid connection between the back line and midfield we’ve seen in previous games was non-existent.
There were also several silly fouls conceded in dangerous areas, including one which led to a Sandoval free kick hitting the woodwork. Franco, to his credit, made a tremendous stop in the final minutes in front of an empty net, effectively saving the game for the Eleven:
- Wide play – a struggle in the first few games of the season – is still steadily improving. While obviously not as successful as last week against Minnesota, there were numerous chances created from balls played into the box from wider positions.
24 total crosses was a season high for the Eleven. Some of these went completely unrealized (such as the low cross in the 89th minute from Duke LaCroix which likely would have earned Indy the victory had anyone been in position for a simple tap-in). Others forced Evers or Gallardo into action -- Don Smart’s incredible ball from 25+ yards out directly to Eamon Zayed’s forehead being one such moment:
Moreover, Indy’s lone goal on the evening was the result of Jair Reinoso beating his man down the right before crossing the ball to a leaping Justin Braun. The in-form Indy front man powered it past Gallardo for his second goal in as many games.
Quest for the Cup:
The Eleven now momentarily shift their focus to the US Open Cup and a showdown with USL league-leaders Louisville City FC on Wednesday. Louisville City is unbeaten in their last nine (6W, 3D), and will be anything but an easy out.
It’s no secret that Indy wants make a deep Cup run while simultaneously exacting revenge on the side that knocked them out of the competition in extra time a season ago. Injuries might ultimately force Tim Hankinson to play a relatively similar lineup (with perhaps 2-3 adjustments, primarily in the midfield and forward pairing) to the one we saw in Jacksonville. Time will tell.
The game kicks off at 7:30 PM at The Mike. Tickets are not included in your season ticket package, but are available online for purchase.
Be sure you’re there to support your Boys in Blue.