Songs will be written about this team, and this performance, in a game that none who saw will ever forget. The most significant game in Indy Eleven history did not disappoint as the hosts rose to the occasion yet again and did so in front of 9,341 loyal fans.
The Indy Eleven defeated the Carolina Railhawks by a score of 4-1 on Saturday night but that wasn't the victory that sent the Brickyard Battalion into a frenzy and leaping over barricades. All four of those goals were needed in order to challenge the New York Cosmos for the Spring Season. Anything less would have been admirable but it would not have been enough to dethrone the Cosmos and or to prevent their second straight Spring title.
When the smoke cleared and the crowds settled, the boys in blue found themselves claiming the top spot in the NASL table. The Eleven are equal on points with New York (18) as well as goals for (15). The difference in the 2016 Spring Sprint will be the result of a head-to-head match played at Carroll Stadium in week 3. Indy Defeated the New York Cosmos 2-1 in thrilling fashion and that outcome sealed New York's fate on Saturday. It also propelled this Indy team to their first ever playoff berth.
The Indy Eleven are the best in the NASL after 10 matches played...and they are undefeated. What makes this team so special?
"It's the commitment they have to look at each other as equals where they're not asking any one to lift the load for themselves. They are all equally lifting. The ability to commit as a team for each other has really helped this team...That doesn't mean we always play great, but whether we go through a rough patch or not in a game, this team continues to push on." -Tim Hankinson
The word of the week is "buzzing" and that is how I describe the atmosphere before, during and after this match. Celebrations and cheers could be heard all around as post-game interviews were briefly interrupted by joy or hugs as well as emotion. It's hard to contain all the excitement for a group, a team and family like the one present here in Indianapolis.
"We just thought maybe it was meant to be and something special was going to happen. And we believed. We believed from Tuesday until the start of the game tonight. That goal at halftime was absolutely massive because we came in at halftime completely energized. We were buzzing. We were tired...but that goal gave us a new energy and we came out firing again in the second half." -Eamon Zayed
Big Z came out firing for sure and got on the end of three goals and was the beneficiary of three different well placed assists. Mr. Hat Trick strikes again in an epic match, but he was very quick to recognize his teammates knowing that none of this is possible without help.
"It was a whole team effort of 11 and then even the subs that came on...obviously Duke with the final assist. Look there was 11 man of the matches out there...Everyone put in an absolute shift. Especially the two midfielders Gorka and Nicki and Dylan put in an exceptional shift. We needed to press them. We needed to take risks and the strikers, myself, Omar and Justin we needed to stay up top a little more and that meant the midfielders had to do more work than usual. Special mention to them, but it was a whole team effort." -Zayed
That pressure and those risks made for an exciting soccer game. Indy truly played team defense and controlled almost all area's of the pitch. Players were getting forward in attack making incredible efforts to track back and snuff out any Carolina possession. Carolina had dangerous moments, but they were never truly in the game on a competitive level. It was over 90 degrees at the time of kickoff but the heat never factored negatively for Indy. The visitors never looked comfortable. They often looked slow and drained.
Coach Hankinson has more up his sleeves than anyone thought or could have known. In-game adjustments throughout the match and a willingness to go for it should earn him mountains of respect among the supporters of this team. We know the team lined up with somewhat of a 4-4-2 but it was much more like a 4-3-3 in attack. There were bodies flying in all directions and Indy's movement off the ball was too much for Carolina. We saw a return to a more traditional 4-4-2 after the break but players like Nemanja Vukovic and Marco Franco were never denied access to the Indy attack. This team was like a hungry dog off-leash and with very sharp teeth.
Indy is a team that has struggled to find that bite in games, but that was not the case on Saturday. Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed combined for six shots on goal although 5 belonged to Zayed. Zayed finished three. Braun completed 31 of 37 passes. Most of which were in the opposition's half. Zayed had 30 touches on the ball and that is the most he has had since a Minnesota match that also turned out to be a goal fest. I said in my preview that a key for this game would be to get the ball to the forwards at all costs.
Forwards are only as good as the service to them. Four goals required four assists. Never forget.
I would like to extend a thank you to Coach Hankinson for taking my advice and reading my blog.
Indy Eleven had the game well in hand at 3-1 when team captain Colin Falvey subbed out due to injury in the second half. The silver-haired fox tactician had a choice to make and it seemed to come without hesitation. Hankinson inserted Sinisa Ubiparipovic in the 76th minute to go with three in the back for an aggressive shot at the title and giving Indy yet another look on the night.
3-4-3 means we are doing this and we are doing it now. It doesn't mean lets see how we do and good luck in the fall. Coach Hankinson was patient but poised to strike and talked to his team about their strategy at the half in preparation for a push down the stretch.
"Lets balance the game. It's a long 45. We will take more risks as the game goes on." -Hankinson
4-1 doesn't sound like a risk. It sounds like a team got it done in a championship game. Cosmos could have tied last week to put it out of reach, but they didn't. Indy Eleven took the field ready to play and to claim their place in the history books. They knew the score and they went after it. Indy has raised the bar yet again.
I part with a final question for the Railhawks. At this point in the season and In Eamon Zayed's career...How do you lose him on the far post? He now leads the league in goals scored with six and has a seventh in all 11 competitions for Indy Eleven this season. Kleberson is the all-time club leader with 8 goals in 21 matches played, but I have a feeling that wont last much longer.
"There are strikers and there are goal scorers. Eamon is a goal scorer." -Hank
Thank you. A lot of thank yous to Peter Wilt to Ersal Ozdemir to the team and to my fellow fans. This was an amazing game and I can't wait to tell the story "I was there" over and over again. The pitch invasion. The goals. The smoke and the emotion.
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