Visiting soccer squad North Carolina FC sliced through home team Indy Eleven’s defense, starting from midfield, three minutes and 47 seconds into the last game of the season at Michael Carroll Stadium.
The 40-degree afternoon took on an extra chill as a collective shudder shook the spines of the faithful. How ugly was this match going to get?
Thankfully for the fans: not too ugly or gut wrenching due to the team’s continued, cool-headed pressure. A connecting pass from Gerardo Torrado at the top of Indy’s 18 to David Goldsmith in the midfield, who turned and dished it out immediately to Ben Speas in the left-side channel, set up Speas’ perfect pass, feeding a hungry Zayed, on point for a one-touch equalizer at the far-side of the net. The definition of beautiful penetration.
Indy’s starting 11 worked well together to control several viable North Carolina threats and launch many promising attacks of their own. Don Smart was unlucky to have a first-half shot from inside soar high over the goal. (Delivered with perhaps too much power when a heavy dose of finesse was needed to tame the unruly ball, Smart’s opportunity was enabled by a ricochet off the Carolina keeper, who deflected a Zayed shot well set up by midfielder Tanner Thompson — a standout player from Indiana University.) Indeed, when we look at the whole field, the players deserve credit for playing tough defense as a unit — as well as aggressive on the attack. Everyone was involved in all aspects of the game. And while there certainly were errors, they were overshadowed by positive examples of connective chemistry and organized support.
Back-line defenders, for example, coordinated the play that pushed Indy Eleven to a 2-1 advantage 20 minutes into the second half.
The Vukovic/Miller freekick/cross/weakside run/one-touch to far-side netting combination that pushed Indy to a 2-1 lead elated the stands — and illustrated one of the most beautiful aspects of being able to watch the development of professional soccer: an international player from Montenegro (Vuko) connecting with a young man who grew up less than 30 miles from the stadium (Miller) to develop goal-scoring chemistry. Long-paying will be dividends of exposing a local audience to the concepts of international cooperation and the possibilities found by individuals who commit themselves to disciplined training.
The thrill lasted up until the final minutes of the game. But fate held a consolation prize for the visitors (the No. 3 occupant of the NASL’s eight-seat ranking table while Indy is No. 8), who were able to see a corner kick (perhaps deflected off an Indy player’s attempted head clearance) find the back of the net to equalize.
Minutes later, the ref blew the whistle marking the conclusion of both the match and Indy Eleven’s fourth season on the field.
What does the future hold?
We know that Gerardo Torrado and Sinisa Ubiparipovic are retiring. But beyond that, this is where the business-side of the operation gets busy sharpening their pencils, negotiating the additions and subtractions to the roster, all while a tremendous amount of uncertainty swirls through the U.S. soccer community in terms of league structure and team development. [The inability of the U.S. Men’s National Team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the North American Soccer League’s suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation lead the narrative underscoring unrest and dissatisfaction with the status quo at the men’s pro level.]
We also know that despite insults from outsiders — and those who would judge our local attempts at a professional game as no more than gussied up amateurism — Indiana has seen — and played — some great games. Our future progress may happen in fits and starts; it undoubtedly has been hampered by our politicians’ inability to be early adapters when it comes to enabling the construction of a soccer-specific stadium that will allow Indianapolis to host world-class matches as part of the city’s sports-centered development strategy. But our progress is inevitable.
For four seasons, thousands of fans have continued to pack the stands and support the team, through good times and bad. Typically, we don’t see business ignore the willingness of so many people to pull out their wallets, which provides hope that despite league drama, Indy will persevere.
Plus, local love of the game continues to inspire new generations to become best friends with their soccer balls. Somewhere at this very moment in Indiana, a kid is working on individual footskills, others are juggling in a group, or taking each other on in cocky displays of creativity and speed. This is Indiana soccer at the grassroots, a deep-seeded passion that has driven us for generations and will continue to power us in the years ahead: the willingness to work to be the very best we can be — as individuals and as teammates. This combination leads the Pitch Bitch to posit that future success for Indiana soccer at all levels is pre-ordained, an inevitability that no amount of greed or ego will ever upend.
(Photos by Rebecca Townsend, who apologizes for the exposure and graininess, but hopes her humble equipment captured enough of the game’s spirit to convey the story.)
Thanks to the Indy Eleven media team for this Scoring Summary:
NCFC – Billy Schuler (Danny Barrow 4’)
IND – Eamon Zayed (Ben Speas 20’)
IND – Cory Miller (Nemanja Vukovic 65’)
NCFC – Billy Schuler (Lance Laing 89’)
NCFC – Danny Barrow 19’
IND – David Goldsmith 88’
Indy Eleven lineup (4-1-3-2, L–>R): Jon Busch (GK); Nemanja Vukovic, Cory Miller, Colin Falvey, Marco Franco; Gerardo Torrado © , Ben Speas (Sinisa Ubiparipovic 58’), Tanner Thompson (Paulo Junior 75’), Don Smart; Eamon Zayed, David Goldsmith
IND bench: Keith Cardona (GK); Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Cory Miller, Christian Lomeli, Adrian Ables
North Carolina FC lineup (4-5-1, L->R): Brian Sylvestre (GK) (Macklin Robinson 32’); Paul Black, Connor Tobin, James Marcelin, Kareem Moses; Austin Da Luz (Lance Laing 79’), Tiyi Shipalane, Bolu Akinyode, Daniel Barrow (Nazmi Albadawi 64’), Marcel Kandziora; Billy Schuler
NCFC bench: Saeed Robinson, Jonathan Glenn, Brad Ruhaak, D.J. Taylor