The Pitch Bitch, episode two

Jacksonville Armada FC at Indy Eleven Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski

The Jacksonville Armada’s Jack Blake (shown here pressuring Indy Eleven defender Marco Franco) deserves congratulations for his relentless attack in Indy Aug. 26. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Ruszkowski/Indy Eleven)

Jacksonville finds Indy’s soft spots

Hungry for revenge after Indy Eleven’s 2-0 win during their previous meeting on July 15, the Jacksonville Armada took to the field on Aug. 26 in Indianapolis with a weapon — in the form of Jack Blake — locked and loaded to unleash a hat trick before the hosts could respond with two goals of their own.

A beautiful Justin Braun through pass from the Indy midfield split Jacksonville’s defense as Ben Speas sprinted onto the ball, closed in on the goal from left side and eluded Jacksonville’s waiting keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell by slotting a smooth shot out the keeper’s reach into the far side of the net.

 

Indy’s second goal came in extra time when David Goldsmith, breathing down the weak side of his opponent’s goal, received a cross from Ben Speas streaming up the right flank about 40 yards away and, with one flawless flick of the head, brought the hosts within one goal of a draw.

Those goals marked uplifting moments in a performance that was otherwise defined by a handful of hopeful offensive sparks that failed to materialize in goals and a series of defensive lapses that ultimately left the hosts defeated 3-2.

Goal-fest

All constructive criticism aside, the Armada, in general, deserve credit for showing up ready to play. And both Patterson-Sewell and Blake, specifically, deserve congratulations for their individual performances. Patterson-Sewell absorbed several point-blank scorchers from Indy attackers throughout the match, while Blake began his bonanza at the 28th minute. He who broke to the center of the 18 and received a pass from Bryam Rebellón (who had shaken Daniel Keller in the upper right flank). Blake’s one-touch re-direct bounced off the inside of the left post and ricocheted off the right post into the net.

Jacksonville, 1. Indy, 0.

The crowd’s collective heart skips a beat. There’s still time to equalize, but we weren’t first on the board. Near the end of the first half, Blake’s free kick from about 30 yards out bends into the upper right corner of the net.

Jacksonville, 2. Indy, 0.

Tanner Thompson attacks Aramada by Matt Schlotzhauer

Tanner Thompson kept the Armada’s defense on its heels several times throughout the match. Promising chemistry seems to be building among Thompson, Speas, Goldsmith and Zayed, as well. (Photo courtesy of Matt Schlotzhauer/Indy Eleven)

In an effort to maintain mental toughness, Indy’s players were probably trying not to let thoughts cloud their minds of a game earlier this year in which the Armada beat them  4-1. Indeed, heads held high, the Eleven kept coming at Jacksonville. Throughout the first half, Tanner Thompson charged with impressive and explosive changes in speed and JAX had repeated troubles keeping him marked. In the first half’s stoppage time, Thompson again broke down the flank and launched a cross across the face of the goal about five yards out as Goldsmith again controls it and delivers a shot into Patterson-Sewell’s arms.

Still, at halftime, the visitors maintained a 2-0 lead. And at 62 minutes, Blake earned his hat trick off a free kick.

Though video cannot prove or disprove his observation, the Pitch Bitch’s husband and East Goal correspondent/season ticket holder Clyde Townsend reported that Bush had the kick’s trajectory within his sights, but that an unexpected deflection off a defender’s shoulder shifted it out of the keeper’s reach.

After entering the match as a second-half sub and contributing an assist on his team’s first goal, Braun fell to the ground requesting an immediate sub after what looked to be a fairly innocuous encounter with Blake, but proved to be more serious trouble with his ankle. The resulting medical response took several minutes and Braun was eventually removed on a stretcher. A bummer in the (hopefully temporary) loss of a great forward, but it provided several more minutes of stoppage time in which the Eleven’s offense swarmed the Armada’s goal. But no equalizers emerged.

Justin Braun down

The game was a painful affair in a very literal sense for Justin Braun. (Photo courtesy of Matt Schlotzhauer/Indy Eleven)

Despite the final score, the team’s attacking efforts offered the silver lining of this game. Especially considering proven assets such as Nemanja Vukovic (with his lethal freekicks) and lightning fast wingman Don Smart were both on the bench for the evening (Smart with an injury/Vuko listed as an uncalled substitute), the number of credible threats the team managed to generate engendered the Pitch Bitch’s continued faith in the squad they are building.

Get Miller back in the action

Many of Indy’s players have significant depth and ability to play on both ends of the field. But on the subject of positions, the Bitch is mystified by Coach Hankinson’s use of Daniel Keller on the back line. She likes Keller’s toughness and solid technical ability — but as a midfielder. He is not shining on the backline the way he does further up the field. An honest critique of his defense last night must include a note that his marking was at crucial times too lax and that possession was too often squandered to the opponents — in one case to three attackers who were poised to counter with a 3-1 advantage at the top of the 18.

In terms of ability to mark man-to-man, clear the ball from areas of immediate threat and deny ambitious attackers desirable position, Cory Miller has a proven edge. Last night marked his formal return to the roster after 10 months of nursing an ankle reconstruction. But he remained on the bench — even as Hankinson subbed defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe.

After the game, the Bitch found Miller on the field and remarked the team could have used him. She asked if he’d been given any indication on when he could expect playing time.

Cory Miller exits the field after pre-game warm-ups

Cory Miller returned to the roster, but the experienced defender remained on the bench during Jacksonville’s onslaught. Moving forward, perhaps Coach Hankinson will test Miller’s ability to stop the defensive leaks. (Photo by Rebecca Townsend)

Though he’s known as the Big Bald Assassin, Miller exhibits a stoic calm off the field. He smiled and says he aims not to obsess too much over playing time, that he just focuses on doing the best he can do.

Years ago, in a Q&A that followed Miller offering his personal testimony during an Indy Eleven Christian faith night, the Bitch asked him to cite one of his favorite passages of scripture.

Miller recalled the metaphor Jesus offered his disciples: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…”

As she prepared to leave the field Aug 26, the Bitch reminded Miller that the quality of his fruit was apparent — and that she hoped others would soon see his proven back-line anchoring abilities.

Parting shots

In addition to tighter tracking, the team can work to improve squandered possessions on the defensive half and sloppy clearances. The Pitch Bitch’s game notes include lines such as: “Who are you passing to?” and “Lapses on D leave incoming balls unchecked as they fall to an attacker’s feet just a few feet from the mouth of the goal.”

Coach Hankinson’s subs for the evening seemed to indicate his search for more offensive juice with Justin Braun, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Adrian Ables replacing Gerardo Torrado, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Éamon Zayed, respectively.

Hopefully, hindsight will prove that if he wants a winning scoreline, the place to start subbing is with the back line.

With the evening’s loss, Indy Eleven dropped to the bottom of the North American Soccer League’s eight-place table. The team has accumulated just four points in the fall season. By comparison, league leader, Miami FC, has 12 points (and three former Indy players: University of New Mexico product Blake Smith, attacking great and Indiana native Dylan Mares and the solid Jamaican defender Lovell Palmer).

Indy’s next home game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2 when the San Francisco Deltas visit.

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