After a disappointing home opener for Indy Eleven against FC Cincinnati, which found the home team falling 0-1, Indy would have to go on the road this past weekend against a familiar foe to try and rectify last weeks shortcomings. Week 4’s matchup was against North Carolina FC. A team that Indy’s fans know very well. Well sort of know (insert Railhawk joke here).
Both teams’ rosters have seen an overhaul this year. Indy appears to have assembled the better squad, but games aren’t played on paper. Coming in to this game, unfortunately, Indy was missing a few key players in key positions. Reiner Ferreira was out due to an injury obtained during last week’s game that saw him on crutches by half time. Jack McInerney was also unavailable due to a 1 game suspension for playing the wrong sport at Lucas Oil Stadium. And as of yet to see any playing action in the regular season, Kevin Venegas was still sidelined with an injury that is forcing Coach Martin Rennie to get creative when filling in the right back position.
Due to these circumstances, Rennie had to get creative. He slid Karl Ouimette over from right back to center back to replace Ferreira. To fill the void at right back left by Ouimette, Brad “Legend” Ring got the call for his first start of the season. I wouldn’t have minded Seth Moses as an option in this spot either as Ring, to my recollection, has never filled this role for Indy. And up top, a familiar face once again was chosen to lead the team in to the opposing team’s half. Justin Braun made his first start after last year succumbing to a season ending injury. With the changes in place, Rennie had the team lining up in a 4-1-4-1 with Braun the lone striker up top. Soony Saad, whom the USL stats page had lined up next to Braun in a flat 4-4-2 configuration, quickly fell back in line with the other midfielders. The signing of the year, Nico Matern, was the team’s lone holding midfielder bolstering the defense at the back.
As for NCFC, they had a few players that could hurt you at any moment. The ever present Austin da Luz has been a pillar in the midfield for NCFC and a thorn in the side of opponents over the past several years. The lone striker up top, Daniel Rios, is a Chivas Guadalajara product that has produced multiple goals in various levels in Mexico. The latter would wreak havoc for Indy’s defense all game long.
Here is how the two sides would line up
How it played out
The game kicked off with rain and a temperature of 40 degrees. Although it wasn’t the best weather the team could ask for, the pitch at Sahlen’s Stadium (WakeMed Park) is one of the best in the US. Even with all of the rain, the field held up and played rather well. The weather mostly affected fans as the generously announced attendance of 3, 169 was well under NCFC’s average by almost 20%.
It was clear early on that Indy was looking to work through Pasher out wide. First chance came in the 2nd minute when a turnover in the midfield was picked up by Matern who quickly sent a straight ball on the ground to a streaking Pasher up the left side. Pasher, with his speed, was able to get a cross in that nearly found the feet of oncoming Indy players. Indy continued to disrupt and take back the ball whenever NCFC got too far up the midfield, and with Nathan Lewis and others providing dangerous passes either directly or from a cross, it was only a matter of time before Indy would get a quality shot on goal. I counted no less than 4 dangerous opportunities for Indy within the first 10 minutes.
And in the 15th minute, off of a bobbled attempt to pass it to the other center back, Futty Danso coughed up the ball. Braun was able to pounce on the ball and dribble forward. With Braun, Lewis, and Saad drawing in all 4 defenders, that left Braun to push it out wide to an open Pasher. With all the time in the world, Pasher was able to smash home a left footed shot to the far post past the goalie that was pushed up to cut off the angle. 1-0 to the good guys.
In the 20th minute, an inadvertent elbow connected to the side of Lewis’ head. It was a scary moment as he was kept still for several minutes as play was stopped. He did eventually sit up and was helped to the sideline, but was immediately subbed off as Zach Steinberger came in to replace the active winger. He will likely be kept out for at least the next game if any concussion was found.
Play continued with only a few looks on goal from either team after that. The best opportunities came from NCFC’s forward Daniel Rios who not once but twice hit the cross bar. The first in the 30th minute from a curling shot from outside the 18 yard box. The second shot came in extra time of the first half off of a corner kick. At half though, the score remained 1-0 in favor of Indy.
The second half was all NCFC, with possession for the home team nearing 70 percent. It appears to be a tactic for Rennie’s teams to bunker down and hold on to a lead once they have it. The good thing for Indy is that the battered back line was solid throughout the match up until added time. In the 92nd minute, Rios was taken down from behind by Ouimette and given the penalty. The former Deltas player, Kyle Bekker, stepped up to take the shot. With a tie seemingly in hand for NCFC, Owain Fon Williams was able to get a hand on the shot and save Indy from leaving with a tie. Williams is as expected. A quality keeper with ability to come up with game saving plays. I doubt this will be the last time that he faces a penalty in the USL. In fact, with the aggressive and physical nature of the USL, he is sure to face many more.
Game over. Indy wins!
Even though Indy escaped with 3 points on the road, they didn’t come away squeaky clean. Mitchell was subbed out late in the game with a knock to one of his legs, and Ouimette was shown a red card for rolling around with one of the opposing players. Both may be absent for next week’s home matchup against Nashville leaving a question mark as to who will lineup on the back line alongside Brad Rusin. Will Ring slide over and fill in at center back while Moses takes on the right back roll? Rennie will have his work cut out for him on Saturday. One thing is for sure though; we will get a great look as to how good Indy’s depth really is this year.