There is something special about your first time. Of course I am talking about Indy's upcoming contest against the NASL expansion team known as Rayo OKC (1-1-1). Indy has never traveled to Oklahoma City, but I am also referring to the Eleven's position (4th) in the league and several other firsts.
Rayo OKC will play host to an undefeated team wearing checkers on Saturday night. The first ever meeting between these two clubs will mark the first time that Head Coach Alan Marcina will face his former boss Tim Hankinson and the Indy Eleven. The two were paired for San Antonio's inaugural season, but the pairing on Saturday will see them both on different sides of the halfway-line.
This will be the first time Erick Norales will watch the boys from the bench but he wont be available for Hankinson's squad. The former Indy captain has traded his checkers for a sash and he now calls Oklahoma his home.
Omar Gordon has joined Indy on loan from Montego Bay United and, if he takes the field, this will be the first time the 24 year old midfielder will play in the NASL or in a league outside of his native Jamaica. Five professional seasons of development in the Jamaican Premier League have culminated in a deep playoff run for Montego Bay and have earned Gordon the league's Golden Boot with 20 goals.
Gordon is new to Indy and his former club is in the final but he has no questions about what he wants to do in 2016.
"I am just here for two reasons and my two reasons are goals and championships. That is what I used back home and I know I can bring that to the table...Coach Hankinson knows that's what I am good at, scoring goals and that's what I am here for."
The matter of fact nature in his statements shouldn't be confused for hubris. It felt more like the blue collar mentality of someone willing to do what it takes to generate success for their team. After all the hard work and all the goals he scored for MBU, Gordon will not be able to lace up for the chance to win in Jamaica. His loan deal with Indy will make that impossible, but that doesn't seem to bother Gordon.
"That's my job. I actually told them before the last three games, 'Guys I'm going to work extra hard to put you in the final so you have to do it from there."
There was no regret in his voice. He is all Indy now and he is available for selection on Saturday which will be the first time that no one but Hankinson knows how the team will line up.
Indy did a lot of things right at home a few weeks ago against the New York Cosmos, but their victory provided many questions while simultaneously answering others. We saw Hankinson tinker with the formation for the first time and prove his adaptability, but injuries and personnel might of forced his hand a bit.
Will Hankinson go back to the 4-2-3-1
A greater selection of players at his disposal ought to muddy the waters in spite of stellar performances by all who took the field at Carroll Stadium just before the bye week. This is the first time the starting line-up wont be so obvious or easy to predict. We have already seen Hank dip into his bag of tricks once. There is no reason to think we wont always be guessing from here on out.
Dylan Mares did well in the absence of Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Justin Braun did well when he was partnered up top with the stoppage time hero named Eamon Zayed.
Hankinson knows why Zayed had been on an island during the teams first two games and it had everything to do with service from attacking wing players as well as effort in the center of the pitch. Add Gordon to the mix and we may see the midfield formation that the white-haired coach has wanted all along.
Hankinson has described Gordon as an upgraded Duke Lacroix. Every bit as fast, with more polish and a desire to defend. This is no knock on Duke who I believe to be vastly improved from his first year, but perhaps Gordon is simply better. Gordon is fit. I asked him. He has just come off of a fantastic season and he has allegedly scored more goals than was reported by anyone else.
He told me 20 and without hesitation! I decided not to fact check so I would have the exclusive. 19 is still a lot even though it may be the actual number.
The formation will be based on the health of Ubiparipovic and Hankinson's faith in him. The middle man that was tapped to be the distributor in the attack has yet to really provide much going forward. We have not seen Ubi at 100% for whatever reason but he will be coming back from a hamstring injury and can go if needed. The coach has noticed huge sections of game time where the #10 is not active enough and they have had conversations about it.
Ubiparipovic may be on a short leash if he does indeed get the start, but look for Gordon to start on the left. He is a goal scorer that likes to get inside and put the ball on his right foot.
The 4-4-2 may make an appearance and that would mean another start for Mares. Jair Reinoso is still not considered fit enough to start, but he is a lock to come on in relief.
The opening half will be important to watch. Indy will want to score first, but they will need to prove they can. Late winners and equalizers show guts and character although Hankinson has stated he wants this team to impose it's will on the opponent.
I have no doubt that heart and determination have put the Eleven with 5 points and no losses, but the goal is a championship. There will be no championship for a team that refuses to score until the 89th minute week in and week out.
This is the first time there has been real pressure on this team and the first time there have been real expectations. The defense has stepped up and answered the call but we need to see how this team goes forward for the first time...as favorites.
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