|Striker Eugene Starikov checks in with fans in the Brickyard Battalion after scoring two goals in the first 20 minutes of Indy Eleven's 3-0 shutout of the New York Red Bulls II. (Photo by Rebecca Townsend)
By REBECCA TOWNSEND (aka The Pitch Bitch)
Indy Eleven stepped to the field on Wednesday night with a straightforward message to visiting New York: We're going to win this game in a major way! With a 3-0 scoreline by halftime (Eugene Starikov, a former member of the New York Cosmos, scored once within the game's first two minutes and again within the game's first 20 minutes), the message remained undiluted.
New York kept pressing throughout the second half — and opened up what appeared to be several decent chances — but nothing they brought to the field could unsettle the hosts.
The final score remained 3-0.
Excellent assists came from Mares and Watson, respectively, on Starikov's brace. The third goal was ultimately settled by a decisive strike from Brazilian defender Reiner Ferreira, but defensive midfielder Nico Matern deserves credit for making an excellent penetrating run that served to put New York's defence on its heels. It was a rebound off Matern's initial shot that his teammate Dylan Mares was able to control and pass off to Seth Moses, who laid it into Ferreira's path for the kill shot.
Wednesday's match represented a refreshing taste of revenge for Indy Eleven. When the squad visited New York earlier this season, the junior Red Bulls beat the visiting Midwestern squad 4-1, the Eleven's worst defeat of the season. Though New York can console themselves with the fact that the 59 goals they've tallied this season have placed them ahead of every other team in the league in the "goals scored" category, they could not shake their winless road status. (They've lost five road games and tied eight this season.)
The victory drives Indy Eleven up two places in the USL Eastern Conference standings table to fourth place.
|Standings as of September 6, 2018.
"Today was fun!" midfielder Seth Moses said, reflecting on the victory postgame. The team's performance demonstrates its "determination and ambition to reach the next level," Moses said. "I believe we have a championship-winning team."
But even with an eye on the ultimate prize, Moses added that he and his teammates are committed to taking "one step at a time" as they move toward the playoffs. It is "vital that the pieces come together" as each player provides leadership in different ways, he said. When questioned on where he sees his greatest contribution over the remaining few weeks, Moses said he is known as a team fitness leader and he plans to remain accountable on that score.
"I feed off their energy," Moses said.
"We played one game in 19 days, then seven games in 22 days," Indy Eleven's head coach Martin Rennie said after the game. "I've never seen anything like that in any schedule. We came through that — and that is a great confidence booster."
Making it through such a trial of endurance demonstrates the team's considerable depth and its ability to make adjustments, stay fresh, and even grow stronger over time, Rennie said.
Two home games remain ahead of the playoffs, but fans must wait three weeks to see their team take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indy will host its final WEDNESDAY NIGHT GAME against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wed., Sept. 26. The final regular-season home game is set for Sat., Oct. 6 against Bethlehem Steel FC. (These games will be broadcast on MyIndy 23 TV. Tell your local bartender to tune in!) Kickoff time for all these matches is 7 p.m.
Fans may also consider a road trip to lovely southwestern Ohio on Sept. 29, when Indy will visit Cincinnati FC, the most dominant team in the USL's Eastern Conference.
Fee-free tickets are available for purchase through the Brickyard Battalion supporters club at BYBtix.com. The team has plenty of good deals, as well, at IndyEleven.com.