The turf at Michael A. Carroll stadium has finally thawed out. The jockeying this past winter between the United States Soccer Federation, Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, and the United Soccer League is done for now. The train of bickering between fans of each league is resting at a depot as their teams have started their seasons respectively. After last year’s fairytale story Lady Victory has Coach Tim Hankinson ready to embark on another mythical run as the blue and red started their season last week with a suitable draw in the Golden City. Now, Indy Eleven returns to the Mike for the first time in 2017 and look to extend their home unbeaten streak to twenty-one matches.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR INDY ELEVEN:
Crossing and finishing (on both sides of the ball):
One positive aspects of Indy Eleven’s style last year was supplying the attack from wide areas. More specifically crosses. Last week Don Smart and Gerardo Torrado struggled to supply Justin Braun and Ben Speas with successful crosses. That being said, the strength of the Eleven’s starting lineup was geared more for patterns of play and through balls in the final third. But the Eleven only completed two successful through balls into the eighteen. If this continues, the Eleven need to supplement their attack with more crosses to keep the back line honest and stretched to open up those gaps for through balls.
Against the New York Cosmos, Puerto Rico FC generated total 19 crosses and will look to add more this weekend against Indy Eleven. This will be Indy’s first big test against a team that likes to generate width in the attack. They will have to pressure and shutdown former Eleven player Walter Ramirez and Jairo Puerto if they want to be successful. Eyes will be on Indy’s back line.
A strong back line starts with the forwards defending:
This weekend the Eleven will most likely be without Colin Falvey due to injury. Therefore, it is up to Daniel Keller, Lovell Palmer, or Kwame Watson- Siriboe to organize the back line to enhance the communication with keeper Jon Busch. The Eleven only had one misfortune last weekend when the team was stretched both vertically and horizontally, leaving Kyler Bekker unmarked in the box. Puerto Rico was not afraid to attack the defending champions New York Cosmos last weekend and had their way with open crosses, running at the Cosmos back line, and were allowed to shot at will (granted the Cosmos were without four players that were on international duty).
If the Eleven want to be successful against Puerto Rico this weekend it will take the entire team to be in harmony to defend. The Eleven do not need to go all out and pressure Puerto Rico like Barcelona. Rather, squeeze PRFC in areas of the field that allow the Eleven to recover the ball in positive areas of the field. As Coach Hankinson has mentioned in his coaching philosophy, the defense and attack have to work together in unison. With that, look for the Eleven to pressure Puerto Rico in these areas and force PRFC to play the long ball, where they were ineffective last weekend.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Tanner Thompson: A big concern this off-season was, how was Tim Hankinson going to find a replacement for Dylan Mares after he signed for The Miami FC? Who was going to bring an aggressive high energy pace to the midfield? The answer was in fellow Indiana University soccer player and rookie Tanner Thompson. During the preseason and in the Eleven’s first league game Thompson has been the opposite of a timid and reactionary rookie. Thompson started as the number 10 (top of the diamond) in a position that was seen as a lock for Siniša Ubiparipović.
I know Thompson has only started one game but he brings a classic look to the modern game of soccer. First, the game has started to become structured in roles and responsibilities when it comes to the number 10 position. Thompson disregarded that in his first game (as seen on the heat and touch map) and brings a welcoming element of playing both ways, while going above his responsibilities as an attacking mid. Look for Tanner Thompson to do the same at home against PRFC.
The bad news is, Marco Franco did not make the first NASL team of the week. The good news is, Marco Franco did not make the NASL team of the week and he can continue to be Indy Eleven’s deadly secret. Understandably, the United States National team is in the midst of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But if the USSF, MLS, or Liga MX are looking for a young outside back his name is, Marco Franco. Indy Eleven is happy to have him and the Marco Franco Fan Club will continue to grow as the season goes on.
Last weekend, Franco was solid against the Deltas winning 8 of his 12 duals, completing 19 of his 25 passes, while accumulating 56 touches. The heat map clearly indicates what Tim Hankinson is looking for in an outside back, as Franco pushed into the attack as a winger last Saturday. Franco only attempted one cross and it was deemed successful. If he can complement his counterpart Nemanja Vukovic in the attack, opponents will have a difficult time comprehending where Indy Eleven will strike next.
The maestro for Puerto Rico last week against the New York Cosmos, Yuma led PRFC in touches (62) and successful passes (36). In addition the center midfielder was not afraid to get his feet dirty on the defensive side of the ball winning 3 of the 4 tackles he was involved in, 8 of 14 duals, and 3 interceptions. The former Rayo OKC and La Liga 2 star will look to follow up last week’s NASL team of the week with another performance in Indianapolis. Therefore, look for the Eleven’s Brad Ring and whoever starts at the ten position to shutdown Yuma.
PROJECTED LINE-UP V. PRFC:
This will be Luis Guardia’s first game of 2017 as a center referee.
Play-by-play announcer Greg Rakestraw (1070 The Fan) and color commentator Brad Hauter (Depauw Men’s soccer head coach and host of Coop Dreams) returns for their fourth season.
Trevor Spangenberg (goalkeeper for Puerto Rico FC) is from Valparaiso, Indiana. Spangenberg went on to play for Missouri State and was named All-Missouri Valley Conference his senior year. Played one game, totaling 22 minutes for Chivas USA in 2014.