Friday, April 6, 2018

Indy Head Into Familiar Territory - North Carolina FC V Indy Eleven PREVIEW (4/7/2018)

Braun and Speas both scored against North Carolina in 2017 and both saw game time against FCC

By: James Cormack

It seems like I always look forward to writing a preview against our old foes the Railhawks, mostly because they provided us with so many key moments in our short history. North Carolina was our first ever league opponents in 2014 and also provided Indy Eleven with their first ever win in the same year in Cary. Add to that the match dubbed "Miracle At The Mike". Indy Eleven's final game of Spring 2016 required them to score 4 goals and concede no more than one to win NASL's Spring Championship Trophy and they did just that, won by four goals to one.

This will be the 15th meeting of the two teams and the first in USL. Indy Eleven currently has the upper hand in terms of wins with 7 from 14 games but they have had the home-field advantage a total of 9 times. This match will be Indy's 6th trip to Cary. Indy's record to date is 7-3-4 against North Carolina. The tally of all goals scored in matches between these two teams currently stands at 23-20 in favor of Indy Eleven. Indy has played in Cary five times with two wins and three defeats.

Indy Eleven have conceded 13 goals in 5 matches in Cary, with one 5-0 defeat on the road in 2017.

Like Indy Eleven, North Carolina have seen quite an overhaul of their squad in the offseason. Familiar names such as Bryan Sylvestre, Kareem Moses, Lance Laing, Ty Shipilane, Nazmi Albadawi, Matt Fondy, Brian Shriver have moved on mostly to other USL teams. The 2018 North Carolina roster is mostly unrecognizable to me, and they have started their season with losses to Tampa Bay and Richmond Kickers. They will be looking to find their form and a home win, which is always a danger.

For Martin Rennie, the trip south is a return to the team that served as a platform for a move to MLS and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Martin served as head coach with the Carolina Railhawks from 2009-2011. When he took the reigns the Railhawks had only ever made one USL playoff appearance in their history. Rennie kept three existing players and rebuilt the team, the attitude, and the environment. In his first season, they missed the league title by 2 pts to Portland. In the following year the NASL returned, the Railhawks joined and finished first in the regular season.

Matt Watson (left) tracks Dylan Mares at Carroll in fall of 2016.

Matt Watson, Indy Eleven's current captain spent four years at Carolina Railhawks, his final two under Rennie before moving with his coach to Vancouver. Watson would return to North Carolina FC in 2016, he made 26 appearances in all including two against Indy but did not make the roster for the infamous 4-1 spring defeat at Carroll. Matt played the 2017 season with Phoenix Rising alongside Didier Drogba before returning to his old coach in Indianapolis.

Despite a rebrand and a league move for the Carolina Railhawks not much has changed since 2011 and success has mostly alluded them despite finishing in the playoffs in 2017. Colin Clarke took over from Martin Rennie and remains the head coach in 2018 after six seasons in charge.

One thing Indy Eleven can look forward to is playing on one of the best surfaces of any North American League team. WakeMed Park is a great venue and very recently hosted the US Men's National team in international competition. I've seen it with my own eyes and if you love a good pitch the grass surface is a sight to behold, I almost wanted to sleep on it but probably would have got thrown out.

Lots to ponder heading into game three, injuries, suspensions and will I need to pack my big coat?

Indy's depth being tested early?

Two players we know for sure will not be making the trip to North Carolina are Jack McInerney and Ben Lundgaard. Jack received a one-game suspension from USL after reviewing the Cincinnati game, assuming he was given a retrospective yellow for his challenge on Walker which would add to his other yellow in the game. Lundgaard underwent thumb surgery this week and may be sidelined for 4-6 weeks. Jordan Farr will most likely make his first professional roster appearance as the reserve goalkeeper.

So far we have yet to see Kevin Venegas or Ayoze make an appearance in either of our first two games but they have been in training. Reiner Ferreira was taken off in the first half of last weeks game and his status is unknown at the time of writing. Soony Saad gained some field time after a knock in the previous week and should be available to start. Nathan Lewis returned from international duty last week and made the bench for the match against FCC.

Indy has depth and Rennie will have to dip into it a little this week. Certainly no need to hit the panic button yet. Should Ferreira not be available to start Ouimette will most likely partner Mitchell in the center. If Venegas and Ayoze are fit they may make the bench, I'd be surprised if either start right away but Rennie has other options at right back including Seth Moses or he may elect to play Brad Ring.

Would a more central position provide a goal or two from Eugene Starikov?

It looks increasingly like Justin Braun will now start a game, even without a McInerney suspension I had a feeling Braun would start our next match anyway but possibly not as the center forward. Would this position be suited to Braun? Possibly. Justin does like to cover a lot of ground but also does some of his best work from the wide areas. 

I guess we'll have to wait and see, Rennie may decide to have Braun and Saad or Speas in the width and move Starikov into the center. I am not convinced we have seen the best of Starikov in competitive play, he hasn't looked entirely comfortable where he has been placed, maybe a switch to the center could produce a goal or two from him.

Indy Eleven has set up 4-2-3-1 for the first two matches of the season, the players seem to be comfortable and working well within it we just need to finish more of our chances. Rennie may elect to try something different depending on the players he has available. Both of Indy Eleven's opponents thus far have used the same formation and North Carolina lined up similarly in the 2-1 defeat at Richmond last week.

It's early in the season and I look forward each week to see what changes take place and how Martin Rennie will utilize his roster depth. It's a game on the road and with plenty of months ahead of us maybe we'll see a little tinkering. In 2016 Tim Hankinson started with a similar approach, he made clear his plans to utilize a specific lineup and to be defensive minded but quick to counter, after a 0-0 draw at Tampa and a 1-1 draw at home to Ottawa he switched to a 4-4-2 diamond and beat the New York Cosmos for the first time in their third match of the season.

North Carolina need to give their supporters a win. Indy Eleven will be looking to show they are not just a one-hit wonder. Stay tuned.


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