It might be a long shot. Let's call it 5000-1 odds, but its out there. Indy Eleven could saunter out of Carroll Stadium with three points and sole possession of first place in the NASL Spring Season. More than a few things would need to fall the right way but this is a new time for Indy and one the team has never known. Mathematically, this is Indy's first chance at first since opening day of 2016. Or 2015. Or 2014.
It would be a short lived reign at the top because Carolina Railhawks and FC Edmonton would play on Sunday. Unless those teams manage a double forfeit or they both manage to defeat each other, one of the two would retake the lead from Indy 24 hours later...but only If New York Cosmos fail to win, because somehow the NYC team three losses is also one win out of first.
It's really tight at the top.
But still, Indy Eleven are actually in the title chase. Fans everywhere take note. As far as the standings and title chases go, this is the most significant regular season game in Indy Eleven history. This type of opportunity would have long been evaporated in years past, but so many things have gone right that its hard not to dream a little.
Make no mistake. There have been significant games in Indy Eleven's past. The opening day draw at home with Carolina Railhawks comes to mind. The 5-2 drubbing of some Dutch Lions (who aren't really that Dutch) in the US Open Cup. The first ever NASL road victory over Carolina Railhawks and...You guessed it...One of the most significant games in Indy Eleven history was at Carroll Stadium when the boys in blue rewarded the Indy faithful while wearing pink socks in October.
I know I'll never forget that day and the image of Peter Wilt with his own pink socks intentionally pulled up over his pant legs.
Coincidentally, that game was also against Minnesota United and that is who Indy Eleven will face on Saturday. 2014 is now a long way into the past for this club and I doubt that the Loons will have any concerns about points dropped so long ago. That Minnesota team went on as points champions, but disappointed themselves in the post-season. That game didn't mean much to them.
This one will.
This game achieves more drama due to the fact that Minnesota will also be trying to make their own claims at the pole position in the NASL. They are league leaders but tied on points (13) with Carolina Railhawks. A win for Minnesota would give them some breathing room and help to keep pace with the teams that will play on Sunday. Indy Eleven have a game in hand on Carolina, but not on Minnesota.
I feel like the name of this post should be "I talk about the Railhawks a lot in my Minnesota preview"
This is the first time that Indy gets to face a top tier opponent while being considered in the top tier themselves. The home team will wish they had more than 10 points, but they are undefeated heading into the clash this weekend. A win here would here would go a long way to silence critics and cement the arrival of a new contender.
The Indy Eleven have a chance to be masters of their domain if...they beat MNU by 3 goals.
It won't be easy, but playing to a friendly crowd has to help. The schedule finds Indy at home again against the leagues elite. Indy will have hosted Carolina, Minnesota, Edmonton and New York before the spring is out. All of those teams are ahead of Indy right now and its hard to imagine a more favorable schedule.
It gets trickier from there and here are some numbers with no mention of the Carolina Railhawks. Minnesota possesses a league leading goals per game scoring average (1.83). They also have an extremely stingy defense having only allowed four goals in their first six matches. Minnesota have this league locked down with four shutouts, but they are susceptible on the road. Minnesota gave up multiples to Ottawa and Carolina while away from the comfort of NSC Stadium.
Indy's defense is just as stout and it is the glue holding this season together, but Indy has once again had problems finding the back of the net. That may be where my daydreams turn into crazy ideas, because Indy has only scored once in their last two matches. They average one per game but it just isn't this team's specialty. Its hard to win by three if you don't score more than two.
You know who has three goals?
Indy's defense! Half of the Eleven's tallies have come from the back four. The rock solid unit in front of Jon Busch is putting on a clinic week in and week out. Jon Busch is pretty good too. He went beast mode last week in tribute to his father and recorded his second shutout with an inspiring performance.
What will happen?
It doesn't have to be a win, but that would surely help to keep within striking distance of the top spot. The team that has promised championships has a legit chance to stay in the hunt. Although they may not be league leaders come Sunday or Saturday, it important that this team doesn't lose at home.
Jair Reinoso and Eamon Zayed need to go and get the ball at all costs and the midfield needs to get it to help them. Come from behind performances against Ottawa and NYC are also in the rear view. The team cannot rest on the success of the past and it must focus on the success of right now.
Gorka Larrea impressed many people with his one touch passing and efficiency, but he didn't really look to get the ball going forward. There is a disconnect from the middle of the park to the final 3rd. There has been since training camp started, so Larrea and his 90% passing accuracy are not to blame, but turning some energy toward the attack would do some good.
Everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction, defending all areas of the pitch and closing down on the opposition earlier so that Indy doesn't find themselves continually playing it out of the back. Possession will be hard to come by in this one and Minnesota will be happy to see the majority of the ball.
Indy is not typically the aggressor. They are calculated and wait on the counter-punch. That won't get it done on Saturday. Waiting on haymakers is why The Eleven have so many draws in this young season.
Minnesota will bring their potent offense like they do every year and they will want to unleash on a team that doesn't play hard to the ball and loves to keep everything in front. If Indy plays like they did against NYC, then they have a chance at first place,but if they play like they have in recent games, this will be frustrating to watch. Especially with fist place so close.
Lineup Notes and educated guesses.
- Brad Ring is still unavailable due to injury.
- Sinisa Ubiparipovic was limited in training Friday and I don't expect him on Saturday.
- Dylan Mares will start (probably centrally)
- Gorka Larrea will start
- Don Smart will start (on the right?)
- Eamon Zayed will start
There is a trialist in town and he was seen training on Friday. Might possibly be an international spot. I was told he will not play on Saturday and is unsigned at this time.
"So you're tellin' me there's a chance" - LLoyd Christmas