The Indy Eleven are already the "Pride of The Midwest" as it is proudly sung in the West End, but pride will have a double meaning this Saturday at Carroll Stadium. Indy Eleven have a short history, but the proud tradition of "Indy Pride Night" continues in 2016 and this upcoming match will make it three years in a row.
"Bleep the Cosmos."
The community wins no matter the scoreline, but on to the "Glory" bit and to the match at hand. The aforementioned New York Cosmos are sitting idle this weekend with 18 points through their 10 games in Spring. The timing of their bye week should make them apprehensive due to the fact that they are now powerless in determining their own fate. The Cosmos have done enough so far to earn the Spring Championship and an automatic playoff berth, but will it be enough on Sunday afternoon when all teams have have played an equal 10 games?
Realistically, Indy has a chance and that means this coming Saturday is a championship game. I wont break down all the possible scenarios, but here is what you need to know. Indy Eleven will become the NASL champions of Spring if they score 4 goals (or more) and win by 3 goals (or more)
That means this Saturday is a Championship game. Let that sink in Coach Hankinson.
"We've made great strides...To find ourselves on the final day of spring-without defeat-with a chance to go at a cup is a remarkable run for us." -Indy Eleven Head Coach Tim Hankinson
This unbeaten run is indeed remarkable. There are no other currently undefeated professional teams to be found anywhere in the top tiers of American soccer. "Refuse to lose" should be this teams new motto, but wins have been hard to come by. Even though Indy Eleven are positioned well in second place, they have only 3 victories in league play this year. All the other top seven teams have four wins except for the Cosmos who have defeated six opponents this year.
The good news for Indy is plenty. Not only will they be playing for pride, but they will be playing in front of their inspiration and the best fans in the NASL. Indy Eleven have scored six goals in their last two home games while obviously winning both. They bested (then first place) Minnesota United to keep this upcoming match interesting and they defeated a pesky Louisville City to come from behind in the US Open Cup.
Carolina Railhawks come to town on a different kind of streak. They have not won a league game since April 23rd and having lost three out of their last five. Carolina have only been able to muster one goal in NASL competition since starting the season 4-0-0. This matchup looked a lot tastier a few weeks ago. There was potential for Indy to be playing the league leaders for the chance to go ahead in the standings. Instead, Indy find themselves facing yet another floundering foe, but scoring in bunches and convincing victories aren't really the Eleven's thing.
"Obviously the challenge of three and four goals is not our suit. It's not our style, but we have to keep growing as a team and we will look to make some adjustments and take the risks necessary to try and win the cup." -Coach Hankinson
This team can win and should win at home against a wounded animal like Carolina. The Eleven have shown the ability to attack in recent games, but efficiency is the real key. Indy Eleven will have chances, but they have to be focused and they have to make them count as they did against Minnesota. Players like Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun will have their work cut for them against a Carolina defense that hasn't really allowed many goals. But that is what we said about Minnesota before the boys unleashed and doubled the numbers in the loons goals allowed column.
The team looked loose and playful during training on Friday morning. I saw the positive type of banter and camaraderie that one might hope to see at this stage of season. I asked the coach about his philosophy for motivating the players and getting them prepared for a game like the one ahead.
"What I have felt this week is that they are pumped and I'm not going to need to add fuel to that. They are excited for this game. They are hungry for it and so I think my demeanor needs to be calm. It's going to be a testy night and it's important that the players use all their energy in the right direction."-Hank
Defense typically wins championships, but that's not going to be the case on Saturday. It's going to take heart and determination and it's going to take four goals with a three goal margin of victory. But it may end up as a two goal margin of victory. That would be a positive ending to spring as well. Being tied on points with the league leaders would an accomplishment for any team. Indy has spent the entire spring undefeated and have set a new club record for games without a loss, but there is another evolution to be had.
"We have learned this year how not to lose, but what we have not learned good enough is how to go out there and just win games. We've gotten the first part right and maybe tomorrow night we start showing that we've learned how to win too."-Coach
The lineup for Saturday's game is going to be a best available type of scenario. We will not see tactical changes to exploit matchups, but we will continue to see the 4-4-2 that we have seen since Indy faced New York and won 2-1 in week 3. Palmer is practicing but he in not available so Marco Franco will go once again as a worthy replacement. Don Smart is nursing injury so he will also be watching the action and wearing street clothes. There is no surprise in midfield but my projected starters are Omar Gordon, Gorka Larrea, Nicki Paterson and Dylan Mares.
Perhaps it is unfair but I place a lot of responsibility on the midfield's ability to get the ball to the forwards. Good decisions and getting crosses in dangerous areas is a key in all games, but 1-0 doesn't really get the job done in this case. Dropping points in both Jacksonville and Miami has left a lot of work to do. Efficiency is imperative.
Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with a draw or a win that falls short in the standings, but they don't write songs about falling short of championships.
There is a reason to play for glory. We were already proud.