|Indy began their league campaign in Richmond and returned home with three points.|
By: James Cormack
Indy Eleven won their inaugural match in USL thanks to a first-half goal in Richmond by Jack McInerney. In a game that many of us thought was a very good chance for Indy Eleven to win, possibly by several goals, we will gladly accept 1-0 victories every week.
Not only does Soony Saad, Jack McInerney, and Owain Fôn Williams make history with Indy Eleven's first assist, goal, and shutout in USL, but Indy Eleven also recorded their first win in an opening league match in five years.
It was never going to be easy taking a guess at a starting lineup with this roster and maybe a few selections were surprising. Martin Rennie has faced off against Leigh Cowlishaw before and it was interesting that the chose the same formation of 4-2-3-1. Was this Rennie's preferred starting XI? Who knows? My feeling is Rennie doesn't think in terms of only eleven players and we may see several different lineups during the early months of this season.
|Jack McInerney scored the only goal of the match and Indy's first in USL.|
The starting lineup for Indy was similar to the one that drew 0-0 with Jacksonville Armada but with a couple of changes. Owain Fôn Williams started in goal behind a back four of Pasher, Ferreira, Mitchell, and Ouimette. Matern and Watson made up the two with Nico playing tighter to the back line while Watson covered a larger area of the midfield.
In front of them, Steinberger took the role of central attacking mid and covered an incredible amount of ground for the entirety of the game, alongside him Soony Saad and Eugene Starikov seemed almost interchangeable and often switched sides during the game while Jack McInerney sat just in front of that attacking three.
Indy Eleven showed remarkable organization and fluidity for an opening match, they were not organized to the point where they just became rigid in their positions with more than a few stepping well away from what may be considered a comfort zone for their position. The best way I can describe how we played is organized, disciplined and fluid, players were not on a short leash but regained formation well at times when they roamed out of their position, and each was covered well by a teammate when they did.
|Heat and Touch map for Matern, Watson, and Steinberger alone is remarkable in the areas covered.|
If you have the time to flick through some of the heatmaps and touch maps provided by USL's Opta stats for the match, you can clearly see just how well each player worked within this formation, and the 4-2-3-1 is an easily adaptable shape if a change is required later in a game. Things that stood out for me was the work rate and areas covered by Matern, Watson, and Steinberger (shown above) and the ability of Pasher and Ouimette to hug the lines from back to front.
The work by this group of players alone when Indy was not in possession allowed our two center backs to solely concentrate on anything that may slip through the middle, they had a bit of work to do but not too much. The same group of players moved the ball through Richmond's midfield very well when we attacked.
When I think back to the opening game of 2016 against Tampa Bay where we drew 0-0 we didn't have that same composure and organization as early, we had a solid starting lineup but it still seemed new and unknown to each other. To me, Indy Eleven looked like they were already a few competitive games into their season and that's a very good sign.
|Matt Watson took the captain's armband for Indy's first USL match and wore it well.|
When you can take three outstanding players like Brad Ring, Juan Guerra and Justin Braun off the bench and fit them seamlessly into a setup that is already working it bodes well for the future. Kevin Venegas and Ayoze didn't even travel with the team and our reserve lineup still looked scary.
The fact we only scored one goal matters not, we'll find more opportunities as the team settles. I felt my prediction of 2-0 was fair, it was our first competitive match and despite Richmond missing some key personnel they were still coming off the back of a heavy defeat and playing in front of their home fans, they fought well and may feel they deserved a point.
A win is a win however it comes and Indy Eleven got another 90 minutes of field time under their belt and will have learned more about each other as they head into what may arguably be a much tougher game against FC Cincinnati. We will likely be considered underdogs this weekend and that's fine, we have been in his position before and stepped up.
The Boys in Blue will have enjoyed their first taste of league football this year and will be eager to head straight back into the fight, FC Cincinnati played in the opening round while Indy watched and it was Cincinnati's turn to sit out this week. It should be a very interesting and challenging game.
Reaction from Caleb Ramp:
Indy Eleven and her fans will experience many “culture shocks” with their 2018 move to USL and Lucas Oil Stadium. While most of these will be in off-field operations and league structure (with the exception of the actual field, I suppose), the potentially large talent disparity in week-over-week opponents is something which may take time to get used to.
In the NASL, there weren’t many free lunches – especially on the road. Perhaps it’s disingenuous to say a road victory in your first match with a new team and a new regime is “expected” – but if we were to categorize the Have Nots of the USL, the Richmond Kickers would certainly qualify.
It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. There were clear synergy issues which come with a late start to the preseason and season. The squad failed on numerous occasions to put Richmond away in a scoreless second half and were lucky not to be punished near the end.
|Tyler Pasher worked box to box on the left flank in Richmond|
That isn’t to say there weren’t moments of positive play or a showcase of talent to encourage further optimism, however. Watson looks active, everywhere, and worthy of the armband. Steinberger looks every bit of the player who made an otherwise-underwhelming Armada squad relevant in 2017. Pasher and Saad look to be a menacing duo down the left wing. McInerney might even make a play for the 2018 USL Golden Boot.
Our much-touted depth – Venegas and Ayoze didn’t even travel with the team, Speas and Moses sat unused on the bench, and Braun was given only a token stoppage time appearance – also shouldn’t be forgotten.
Ultimately, to compete for a playoff spot we’ll have to perform better -- but we certainly have the tools to do so.
In the words of an Indianapolis favorite: We're on to Cincinnati.
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