BY: ERIK ALBERS
A successful team is usually defined by the wins at home and the ability to steal points away. This year Indy Eleven have been “somewhat” a successful team. They were able to extend their home unbeaten streak to a NASL modern era record of 20 games, but for some reason the players and the fans that follow them were left feeling shorted and frustrated that the team again walked away with another draw.
This week Indy welcomed the San Francisco Deltas for the first time to Carrol Stadium, to which many thought was going to be a cold and wet day. But to the relief of everyone that showed up to the game ready to brave some adverse weather, Saturday’s dreary forecast actually turned out to be a nice Spring day with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds with no rain in sight.
Coming in to this weekend’s match against the Deltas, Indy was given a much-needed bye week. Let us not argue the necessity of a bye for teams of a league consisting of only 8 teams, but instead thank the NASL gods for the much needed rest for Indy’s ailments. With that said, Indy still had some key injuries to deal with.
Indy’s defense, which had seen plenty of injuries, had started to get back to a somewhat normal looking lineup. Jon Busch was back from the pinched nerve in his neck and looked lively diving for balls this week in practice as well as pre-game on Saturday at The Mike showing no effect of the aforementioned injury. Indy also deployed a much more stable center back pairing again with Colin Falvey and Lovel Palmer getting the start. The ability of Falvey to lead and communicate along with Palmer’s physical presence would be needed during the game when facing the Deltas’ one-man-wrecking-crew of a striker Thom Heinemann.
Our midfield, on the other hand, continued to face diversity with both of our starting wingers out this week. Ben Speas is still on the comeback trail from his surgery, while Don Smart is ailing with an injury picked up during their visit to Puerto Rico. Smart is expected to still be out a few more weeks, but I was able to see him running laps around the field prior to the game. I expect he may be back sooner than later… and it could not come any quicker.
With that said, our midfield seemed to be at times an experiment on where to place Gerardo Torrado. Arguably the best passer on our team, with the Opta numbers to back that claim, Torrado was placed out wide at the left mid position to fill in for Speas. Trying to create from that side, Torrado tended to give away easy balls which led to dangerous counter attacks for the Deltas. I think Torrado is better utilized when he is in the middle of the field where he is able to pivot the ball and be the link from the defense to the attacking midfielders. With Vuko running up your back from the left back position, he would have been more effective inching towards the middle of the field, which appeared to be the plan as the game crept along. The heat map for Torrado shows less of a focus on the wing than the middle of the field in the second half. With that, the chances and linking play from Torrado, Ubi, and Craig Henderson began to produce results.
Here is how the two sides would line up
Would the change in wing play, and a defense trying to catch its breath, be able to handle the Deltas?
How it played out
The early parts of the game on Saturday were defined by two things that tended to stand out amongst the others. The first being the sloppy midfield play by Indy, which tended to give away easy balls on the wings of both Torrado and Henderson, and in turn allowed easy advancement to Indy’s defensive 1/3rd by the Deltas. The second was the referees’ propensity to swallow the whistle. Both teams were trading hard tackles without threat of a foul being called. It reminded me of watching Pacers Knicks playoff games in the 90’s with the Davis brothers and Anthony Mason taking out anyone that encroached on their goal.
As the first half inched toward halftime, the linking play by Indy on the right side began to get a few crosses in to the box, but wasn’t able to threaten the goalkeeper Peiser too much. The Deltas, on the other hand, had twice as many chances as Indy. The Mares-like play of Kyle Bekker (man I still wish we had Mares), the ever-present threat of Heinemann, and the advancing play of the left back Kenny Teijsse really began to push the ball towards the box. Unfortunately for the Deltas, of the shots that actually made it on goal, the majority were just dribblers straight at Busch.
The only fouls of the day tended to be Yellows distributed to Indy players. In the 44’, Palmer was booked when he inadvertently kicked Heinemann in the chest. Palmer had is back to Heinemann trying to clear the ball when the forward decided it would be a good time to run through Palmer and chest the ball. Two more yellows would be given out to Ring and Braun for tugging at the jerseys of a Delta player after giving the ball away while Franco and Vuko were out of position. The game had the potential of these professional fouls becoming a frequent occurrence when you had left and right midfielders, that aren’t known for their attacking prowess, playing on the wings inviting Indy’s backs forward.
The second half started without any changes. The play, however, began to produce more chances for both teams. In the 57’ things began to heat up for Indy. Torrado advanced the ball to the left topside of the Deltas box. He then sent in one of the more beautiful crosses that I have seen this year. With the outside of his right foot, he was able to curve the ball to the back post, just over the reach of the defender, directly to the head of Zayed. Peiser though was on his game. He didn’t need to move left to right that much, but his quick reactions saved two Zayed headers that were sure goals for lesser keepers.
One of the more amusing moments of the match came after a Heinemann shot was forced wide of goal by Ring, resulting in the BYB leading chants of “shut up teen wolf” in reply to the Deltas’ forward dramatic plea to the ref for a corner kick. Google Thomas Heinemann for reference.
The best shot on goal by far for the Deltas was by Bekker in the 75’. The long curling shot from way out to the upper left of the goal would have easily gone in if not for the outstretched hand of Busch pushing it over the bar. Busch had to come from one side of the other and somehow still was able to reach up and bat the ball away. Not bad for someone who is less than 6 feet tall. This shot and save surely made the highlight reel.
Another header by Zayed from a classic Vuko cross in the 77’ that had Peiser showcasing his cat-like reflexes, and a last-minute shot by Braun in the 93’ that glanced off the crossbar weren’t enough to push the home side past the Deltas. The game ended in another draw. It feels as if Oprah is handing out points to anyone and everyone that shows up against Indy. 4 games in and Indy has 4 points and is sitting in the back half of the NASL table. Next up is an away game to Jacksonville and a chance to close the gap on the unsuspected league leaders in a state where Indy hasn’t fared well in the past.
PHOTO BY: MATT SCHLOTZHAUER