BY: ERIK ALBERS

The month of May, in and around Indy, is all geared towards that little race that takes place in Speedway on the last Sunday of the month.  Everywhere you go, you can find black and white checkered flags hung up to celebrate the Indianapolis 500.  Everywhere, that is, except for the jerseys of the Indy Eleven players.  Gone are the checkers of one of the more recognizable jerseys in lower division soccer.  This past Saturday, Indy Eleven debuted their new sleek racing striped Adidas Jerseys. #3stripedlife

The jerseys that the team wore weren’t the only changes for the evening match between Indy Eleven and FC Edmonton.  We already knew that Ben Speas, Don Smart, Nemanja Vukovic, Adrian Ables, and Anthony Manning were going to miss this match.  The first three named are starters and an integral part of the attack for Indy.  As the lineups were released, it was a surprise to not see Marco Franco’s name at right back.  You can now add Franco’s name to the long list of players finding a home on the injured list.

On a bit of good roster news, Indy added two new players.  Jason Plumhoff and Brandon Poltronieri were added to the team late in the week.  Both bring NASL experience and should be able to slot right in when called upon as they did late in this game.

Not to be outdone, FC Edmonton has had a bit of a rough go this year in the NASL too.  Coming in to the match, the Eddies were sitting at the bottom of the table with a league leading 4 losses.  And with an away game at Miami last week, then back home to Edmonton, before then travelling midweek to Ottawa, the legs of the visitors were sure to be heavy.

Here is how the two sides would line up

Indy’s 4-4-2 diamond was sure to transform and evolve as the game progressed.  Edmonton’s formation on paper was a variant of a 4-1-4-1.  And at times, it would collapse into the park-the-bus routine (9-0-1), while looking for the off chance counter attack to get in the one goal to steal the game from the home team.  All jokes aside, Edmonton is one of the better defensively known NASL teams.  They are usually hard to score on.

How it played out

Early in the first half, it was clear that Edmonton was implementing a strategy that they have used time and time again.  Hold strong at the back and dump long balls to the opponents final third in order to test Indy’s back line.  With the early pressure, Indy was implanting the bend but don’t break strategy.  When the midfield was caught out and long balls came over top, it was back line that were stepping out and fouling or clearing balls.

It didn’t take long for Edmonton to get a good look.  In the 9’, the Eddies sent in a ball from a free kick that found the head of Abdoulaye Diakite who placed the clean look just over the right corner of the net.  It was a dangerous header from one of the more talented defensive backs in the NASL.  Last year’s young player of the year was a threat all night in the air and a pest on the back line.   He was instrumental in keeping Indy’s two forward wrecking crew, Zayed and Braun, off of the scoreboard.

Feeling the pressure to score the three points on the night, fouling was plentiful in the first half.  Indy and Edmonton each had their fair share of opportunities from both free kicks and corners, but neither would be able to produce anything from them.   With Indy desperately missing Vuko, it was up to the rookie Tanner Thompson to step up and deliver on dead ball situations.  Although his free kicks weren’t up to par with Vuko’s veteran left foot, his creativity in the midfield was good to see.  But when everything was direct and geared toward the middle on attack, chances tended to fizzle out and didn’t produce much on goal.

At the half, Coach Hankinson mentioned that Indy’s play and build up was too slow.   This allowed Edmonton to get back in to defensive shape too easily.  Quick counters were what Indy was missing, which will come back, but not until we get our starting wing players back.

Of note: Brad Ring’s lowered shoulder plowing of an Edmonton player earned him a yellow card that would come back to haunt him later.

In the second half, play on the field quickened as Indy and Edmonton traded end to end action.  In the 59’, one of the better chances of the night came after an outlet kick of the Edmonton’s keeper was headed half the length of the field, back to their own half, by Colin Falvey.  The ever ready Braun, without breaking stride, was able to outjump the stationary defender, heading the ball free towards the right corner of the box.  He then quickly sent it in the keeper’s direction.  At the same time, Diakite was quick to clean up his teammate’s mistake.  He was able to get a boot to Braun’s shot causing a deflection that nearly beat the keeper Chris Konopka to the top of the net.  But for the second home game in a row, the quick reaction of an opposing keeper was able to tap the ball over the bar and out of play.

That seemed to spark something in Indy.  They began to play more creatively, while continuing to pound the middle/top of the box.  Indy would often play the ball to a holding player, which in turn would drop it off for an oncoming teammate.  Again though, nothing came to fruition, but it was good to see the uptick in offensive play.

The crowd though could sense that another draw was imminent.  Edmonton on the other hand, was not willing to just see this one through to a draw.  Being last in the table, a draw doesn’t do much.  In the 74’ Sabri Khattab was given all the space in the world to bring the ball up to the top of the box.  He then let loose a beautiful curling kick that was sure to be in the left corner of the net if not for an even prettier diving block by the spry Jon Busch.  That save cost Edmonton 2 points.

The game would play out much like it did in the first leading to a 0-0 draw.  With Edmonton’s travel of late and Indy’s Brad Ring receiving a second yellow resulting in a red card, both teams probably were satisfied with the point.  Indy is now 0-6-0.  I guess the silver lining is that Indy was able to push its home unbeaten streak now to 21 games.  Not bad considering the injury issues and the positional manipulation forced upon Tim Hankinson.  It’s also noteworthy to give praise the back line for the job that they put in on Saturday.  A clean sheet with no solid chances from within the box is a solid outing for any back line.

Next up is an away trip to Miami.  Might we see Indy’s unbeaten season come to an end?  I’ll save my predictions for later on in the week after I see an updated injury report.  How will this midfield look with the absence of Brad Ring as well?  Let’s see what Tim Hankinson will pull out of his hat for this one.

PHOTO BY: MATT SCHLOTZHAUER

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