After winning the league with a few minutes to spare, taking the Chicago Fire to penalties in US Open Cup play, and defeating the champions of Mexico, Indy Eleven roll into the fall season playing their best soccer to date. Now the Eleven will have an extra dose of momentum heading into their first match against Carmelo Anthony’s Puerto Rico FC with new boys Gerardo Torrado and Souleymane Youla. What better way for PRFC to play their first match in franchise history against the champions of the NASL?
Having a team in Puerto Rico is nothing new for the North American Soccer League. The Puerto Rico Islanders started in 2003 and played their final two season in the newly formed NASL. Although the Islanders were successful, especially in CONCACAF Champions League play, the cost of travel was one reason why they were forced to fold before the 2013 season. Now Carmelo Anthony (all-star basketball player for the New York Knicks) and company look to bring back a team that will be just as successful as the Islanders. PRFC’s head coach Adrian Whitbread is no stranger to the island and knows how to build a successful team in Puerto Rico. Whitbread was an assistant for the Islanders from 2008 to 2011 before taking over as head coach in the team’s final year. With the help of PRFC president Thomas Payne, Whitbread has formed a respectable roster that includes some serious NASL experience. That pedigree includes; Cristiano Dias, Ranon Soria, Chris Nurse, twins Pedro and Paulo Mendes, Oliver, and David Meves.
As for the game, no knows how PRFC will play on Saturday night against Indy Eleven. Therefore, it will be crucial for the Eleven to play with a high tempo out of the gates to silence the crowd and disrupt any rhythm PRFC want to establish. The Eleven were successful this spring when the midfield dictated the pace, disrupted to opposing team’s ability to create chances and transitioned that into generating width for their own attack. The same goes for the Eleven’s first game of the 2016 fall season in Puerto Rico. If the midfield can do these three things and provide service to Justin Braun and NASL player of the month, Éamon Zayed, the Eleven should have no problems in Puerto Rico.
KEYS FOR THE ELEVEN: Play like Champions
Play with a target on your back: Coming into the spring season the defending champion’s New York Cosmos and star studded lineup in Minnesota United were forced to play with targets on their back. Now that Indy Eleven won the league in dramatic fashion, the boy’s in blue will play with a bull’s-eye on their back. Knowing this, Indy Eleven cannot change their approach to the game and continue to make consistent strides, starting with how they play on the road.
Pick up 3 points on the road: Collect 3 points at home and 1 on the road is a popular philosophy in the game of soccer. During the spring season, the Eleven only collected 7 points in 5 road games. During those 5 games, the Eleven drew 4, won 1, and only scored 3 goals. As the Eleven prepare to make their first appearance in the postseason, they will need to open up their style and score more goals on the road as if they are playing at Carroll Stadium.
Midfielders dictate the game: As previously stated, the midfield must put in a solid performance to dictate the tempo of the match. This does not necessarily mean hold the majority of possession. Rather, disrupt the opposition from developing penetrating passes then converting it into width in the Eleven’s attack. Of course, the final goal is providing good consistent service to Éamon Zayed and Justin Braun so they can put the ball in the back of the net.
Deal with the heat: If anyone knows how to prepare their team to deal with the heat in Puerto Rico it’s, Tim Hankinson. With experience coaching in Jamaica, Hankinson will have his team prepared to deal with the sticky conditions in the Caribbean. When the Eleven and PRFC kickoff the temperature will be in the mid-80s but feel like 90̊ with a humidity of 70%.
Connections to Indiana:
Trevor Spangenberg: Born in Arizona, Spangenberg grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana. He attended Boone Grove High School where he started every game of his high school career. Spangenberg holds the record at Missouri State University for goals against average with 0.67. During his senior year at Missouri State, Spangenberg led the Bears to a Missouri Valley Conference championship. Spangenberg has played in the MLS for Chivas USA and the New England Revolution.
Pedro Mendes: Although the Brazilian spent less than a full season in Indianapolis, Indy Eleven supporters may remember chanting, “We love Pedro Mendes.” Pedro proved to be a solid striker during his two stents with the Atlanta Silverbacks, scoring 19 goals in 52 appearances. However, the striker could not find the same success in Indy or Minnesota. Once again Pedro has teamed up with his twin brother Paulo in Puerto Rico to try and revitalize their success they had together with the Silverbacks.
PUERTO RICO FC
Head Coach: Adrian Whitbread
Captain: Cristian Dias
NASL record: First game in franchise history
NASL record: 3-6-0
Position in NASL: 1st on 18 points
Previous NASL game: W, 4-1 v. Carolina Railhawks.
Eleven: Don Smart (knee) questionable. Colin Falvey out.
Puerto Rico: N/A
PROJECTED STARTING LINE-UP FOR ELEVEN:
QUESTIONS HEADING INTO SATURDAY’S MATCH:
How will the Eleven play with a target on their back?
Can the Eleven’s midfield dictate the pace of the game and provide service for the strikers?
How will the Eleven deal with the heat in Puerto Rico?
Will the Eleven open up their style on the road to help score more goals?
Current Carolina Railhawks manager, Colin Clarke, coached the Puerto Rico Islanders from 2007-2011. Clarke led the Islanders to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2009. In 2010 Clarke led the Islanders to a USSF Division 2 championship (what is now NASL).
Puerto Rico men’s national team is currently 158 in FIFA’s rankings. Their women’s team is 103.