Pitch Bitch, episode 7: Indy Eleven 2018 season opener shatters attendance record

FC Cincinnati Scores

An unchecked Emmanuel Ledesma (near the Honda sign in the background) launched the perfect cross to forward Emery Welshman, who deserves credit for clearing two Indy defenders and an outstretched Fon Williams as he delivered his header into the net.

If you must lose, Indy, at least be killed by a beautiful goal. There is no shame in that.

By Rebecca Townsend

Photos by Clyde Townsend

Indianapolis, Indiana (April 2, 2018) — Indy Eleven lost its home opener to FC Cincinnati 0-1 on Saturday night.

Victory is usually delicious — and claiming it in the first match between American soccer squads playing in Lucas Oil Stadium would have been tasty indeed. But that honor will go to the Queen City, Indy’s neighbor to the southeast — one of a slate of regional rivals gained with the offseason change to the United Soccer League.

The top two tiers of 70,000-seat Lucas Oil were shrouded behind curtains. Below, a crowd of 17,535 stuffed the lower-tier seats surrounding the field, suggesting that Indy Eleven’s previous record of 11,048 people, which packed the team’s previous home at IUPUI’s Michael Carroll Stadium, was capped by the capacity of stadium, not by the limits of the local market.

Over 1,000 of Saturday’s spectators were Cincinnati folk of various manner, decked out in orange and blue —many armed with loud instruments, uncouth language and banners featuring evocative satirical symbolism involving Indiana’s former governor/current U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Brad Ring stoicism

Cincinnati fans heckle former governor Pence and Indy’s Brad Ring as the stoic veteran considers throw-in options.

In Indy’s North American Soccer League years, the closest opposing team was probably North Carolina. Now at home in the United Soccer League, Indy game nights promise much more drama with teams such as FC Cincinnati, Louisville City FC and Saint Louis FC arriving with caravans of fans in tow, thrilled at the chance to party in Indy. The Pitch Bitch is here to help grow that party. More on that later on, but first: time to hash out the nitty gritty of the game.

WTF Pasher

Though the caption to this particular photo is essentially, “WTF, Pasher?”, Tyler Pasher wasted no time making his presence felt on the field Saturday as he served Indy attackers with SO MANY opportunities to score. Continued efforts on Pasher’s part should yield positive results.

The first name that comes to mind — and to the Pitch Bitch’s game notes: Tyler Pasher, a defender with great foot skills, capable of dribbling at great speed into enemy territory, shaking off defenders to his left and right before striking a lovely cross “into the mixer” of the 18-yard box where goal scorers lurk ready to strike. He first delivered just such a play about three minutes into the match — and continued to both bring the ball up field himself and share with this teammates in ways that satisfied the Bitch that he is certain to be part of many goal-scoring combinations to come.

Note to far-side runners when Pasher is breaking down the flank: Make sure one of you remains — or breaks — truly wide. On at least one occasion during the match, a Pasher cross overshot two runners streaming to the goal centrally. Perhaps instead of stacking up runs where two Indy guys are running in one top of each other in front of the goal, one guy can fade further toward the far sideline and collect Pasher’s lovely dish instead of watching it roll out of bounds.

In terms of constructive criticism for Pasher (a native of Elmira, Canada, who will turn 24 later this month): Young man, please do not attempt to dribble off the goal box when there is an FCC player standing there willing and able to stick you. That could have been a goal. You know what else could have been a goal? That awesome cross you made to McInerney’s head and was unlucky to be rejected by fate — in the form of the post. Keep up the good work, sir. The Bitch predicts it will pay off.

Other defensive issues noted, but not associated with any names in particular: 1) Stabbing at balls when no other defensive buffer was in place aside from the keeper. 2) Allowing attackers to turn on goal when a more aggressive approach could have slowed them. The first instance is a case of too much aggression. The second, not enough.

When a defender finds himself the last field player back — and an attacker is salivating for a goal because he is facing his defender, ready to shake that last obstacle before opening a shot —the trick for the D is to keep dancing, remaining an obnoxious obstacle, the D that can’t be shook. Of course, attackers sometimes get a little too cocky, or aggressive, or so dangerous that one must step in — and, at times, take them out. But taking an attacker out is a calculated risk, whereas stabbing at a ball, missing and leaving your keeper in a one-on-one situation is just sloppy. Talented attackers know how to exploit such weakness with devastating effects. (Luckily for Indy, the Cincy shot that resulted from this particular play amounted to nothing thanks to Owain Fon Williams.)  On the flip side, not closing down the space on an attacker receiving the ball with their back to your goal, allowing them time to turn toward the goal without feeling a defender breathing down their neck, that’s a critical lack of aggression.

Now to some observations on defenders Reiner Ferreira and Karl Ouimette, who were teammates on the 2017 NASL championship-winning San Francisco Deltas.

Another head on attack for IndyThe second of a pair of credible aerial threats from Indy, this one featuring left back Reiner Ferreira, a product of Brazilian and Portuguese soccer leagues before claiming the 2017 NASL championship with the San Francisco Deltas.

Ferreira delivered a version of so-called professional foul when he took out an FCC player attempting to dust him down the sideline in a rush on the Indy goal. Ferreira may have thought the hard tackle of his opponent necessary so as to avoid possibly leaving Fon Williams in a one-on-one, but the move resulted in consequent injury and Ferreira ended up watching from the sideline with his left foot in a boot as Brad Ring stepped in to play his position. Did his tackle prevent a goal? Maybe. Was it worth it? Let’s see how long this boot stays on.

When it comes to fouls, Ouimette is one to watch. Some of his antics can hardly be mistaken as necessary roughness. (The Bitch witnessed Saturday the use of a choke hold on an opposing players in an attempt to gain position during an incoming corner kick.) Time will tell whether this level of aggression will become a problem in terms of penalties called against Indy.

The problem cropped copy

Cincy’s Welshman, shown here a step ahead of Ouimette, will get a threatening header on this incoming free kick. He will get a head on this ball — and Fon Williams will save it. But a few minutes later, he will be in a similar position, a step ahead of Mitchell and behind Ferreira, and will meet a Ledesma cross, using his head to make it a goal.

The defense generally did a good job with mobility and pressing into aggressive attacks — attacks that made credible threats on goal, attacks that could have easily altered the score line.

“Could have” can either be an inspiration or a curse moving forward. It will be a matter of the relative patience, cooperation and ambition of the Indy team. What kind of team will they be? Will players seek self improvement or sow discord? The roster is stacked with talented, experienced players, many of whom did not see playing time Saturday. Indy head coach Martin Rennie’s weekly roster-writing chores can’t be easy. And checking egos to keep a collective eye on team victories can’t be easy either, but humility will be rewarded. The meek shall and inherit the earth and the selfless players will succeed if they allow the pure joy of expressing their talent to drive their performances, even if their efforts are only used to lift teammates to higher levels in practice.

Looking at the plays leading up to FCC’s goal, here are some things that could have gone differently.

A minute or so before Emery Welshman’s header gave Cincinnati its game-winning goal, Indy forward Eugene Starikov (previously a member of the New York Cosmos) was on the attack, positioned in the midfield. While most of the action was unfolding in front of him and to his left, Indy fullback Ouimette sprang into action to offer an overlapping pass option down the open right flank. Starikov began dribbling to avoid defense in front of him, but then was shut down from behind. He was able to disrupt Cincy’s efforts to counter at that point, but as Indy tried to re-establish its attack, Pasher tried to dribble into midfield defense instead of using his open drop pass.

Ouimette’s cardio-intensive effort was wasted, leaving the poor Indy defender to haul ass to help shut down Cincy’s counter-attacking shot, which was indeed repelled just in time for Ouimette to clear it out of danger. But by this time, Cincy’s goal-scoring juju was churning. Cincy sent the ball out to its left flank, where it was crossed immediately back to Ledesma on the right. Indy was not able to pressure Ledesma quickly enough to prevent his beautiful service to Welshman’s head. Though Ouimette and Carlyle Mitchell were around Welshman inside the 18-yard box, he slipped their grasp — and he deserves credit for an outstanding goal.

If you must lose, Indy, at least be killed by a beautiful goal. There is no shame in that.

Watson on the attack

Captain Matt Watson, a UK native and a 12-year veteran of the MLS, USL and NASL, offered tenacious pressure from the midfield Saturday. But Cincy keeper Evan Newton met no challenge he could not conquer on Saturday.

Indy midfielder Matt Watson responded to the FCC goal with a shot of his own,  forcing Cincy keeper Evan Newton into action. But Newton was on point, rejecting that and all further attempts of the evening —including a Jack McInerney penalty shot, awarded around the 38th minute.

The Pitch Bitch appreciated the play of starting midfielders Zach Steinberger, a graduate of Butler University, and Nico Matern, a 6-foot Buxtehude, Germany native, who played for Indiana Wesleyan and earned National Christian College Athletic Association All-Team honors. Steinberger exhibited indefatigable hustle in trying to open attacking options through the midfield and Matern carried himself with an air of composure as he worked to neutralize Cincy attacks.

The only constructive criticism for Matern involves a beautifully placed ground pass that he launched from the Indy midfield with the hope of covering maybe 30 yards and avoiding several Cincy players before hitting his attacking teammate  ready to take off on the opposing flank. The idea is laudable because ground passes are great when they make it. But while Matern’s pass was on the correct trajectory across the turf, it was all but impossible to put enough speed on a pass that far. The inevitable interception could have been avoided with a well-timed chip over midfield chaos into the path of the breaking runner.

No one wants to watch a long-ball game, with long, high crosses bouncing back and forth between defensive thirds, but switching fields with a chippy cross is a great wave to upend an opponent’s defensive groove. It’s what Cincy did to Indy in the two plays before they scored.

The Bitch is excited to see the passing chemistry of the entire group grow as they learn to trust each other and anticipate the ebb and flow of their respective rhythms.

Last-minute substitutions Soony Saad, a product of the University of Michigan and the MLS franchise Sporting Kansas City, and returning Indy forward Justin Braun continued to tests Newton’s limits up until the match’s concluding moments.

Penalty stopped

Cincy keeper Evan Newton met every challenge presented to him Saturday, including Jack McInerney’s penalty kick.

Newton passed the test this time.

The Bitch would like to see what would happen in a Cincy rematch with Braun and Saad starting up top along with McInerney. Or perhaps a Braun, Saad, Speas combo up top.

To think about all the players yet to be featured, the gifts yet to be shared, the combinations and chemistry yet to be seen … Indy is just getting started.

Lucas Oil will be a good home for the season, even as the futbol faithful remain committed to a world-class grass field housed in a stadium befitting Indiana’s great soccer tradition.

Much talk will be had over the coming year on whether this team can survive, if owner Ersal Ozdemir will continue to bleed millions of dollars a year if a stadium deal does not materialize.

The Pitch Bitch knows the market is here to be had — that the capacity to grow this team — and the women’s team that we desperately need for the health both the men’s and women’s sport —is just beginning to be coaxed from its dormant state and into a vibrant economy. Solid commitment, work ethic and refusal to quit in the face of adversity can see this team capture the heart of the city and grow into a world-class legacy club.

One way or another, the soccer deal needs to be done in a way that makes Hoosiers proud, that builds on a powerful and honorable tradition we’ve grown here. Let no one and nothing stand in the way.

The Eleven travel to play North Carolina FC on April 7. The team’s next home game is April 14, when they will host Nashville SC at noon. All home games will be at Lucas Oil Stadium. People who believe that growing the professional game in Indiana is good for the state can put their money where their mouth is by purchasing tickets (which start at $15 for single games and $9 per game with a season ticket). Spread the word.

[The goal is scored in the 26th minute, the 38th minute of the video.]

USL game summary
Indy Eleven 0:1 FC Cincinnati
Saturday, March 31, 2018
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, IN

Scoring Summary:
CIN – Emery Welshman (Emmanuel Ledesma) 26’

Discipline Summary:

IND – Reiner Ferreira 41’
IND – Jack McInerney 45 + 4’
CIN – Dekel Keinan 54’
CIN – Forrest Lasso 74’

Indy Eleven lineup (1-4-4-2, L–>R):  Owain Fôn Williams (GK); Tyler Pasher, Reiner Ferreira (Ring 44’), Carlyle Mitchell, Karl Ouimette; Nico Marten, Matt Watson (C) (Braun 86’) Ben Speas (Saad 57’), Zach Steinberger; Eugene Starikov, Jack McInerney (Justin Braun 90+1’)

Indy Eleven bench: Ben Lungaard (GK); Brad Rusin; Brad Ring, Juan Guerra; Justin Braun, Soony Saad, Nathan Lewis 

FC Cincinnati  lineup (4-3-3, L–>R): Evan Newton Worra (GK); Blake Smith, Dekel Keinan, Forrest Lasso,  Justin Hoyte; Kenney Walker (Seymore 17’), Corben Bone, Richie Ryan, Lance Laing (Haber 65’); Emmanuel Ledesma, Emery Welshman (Konig 80’)

FC Cincinnati bench: Spencer Richey (GK); Matt Bahn

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