Indy Eleven will head to Florida...again. The second of 4 trips to the sunshine state this spring. It seems like everyone in Indiana heads to Florida in the spring and this team is no different. Indy will not host any of the 4 Florida teams until the Fall Season. That is fine with me because it leaves the tastiest matchups at home when the Eleven will welcome Minnesota United and Carolina Railhawks. Both of those teams are ahead of Indy in the standings but the individual outcomes could change all of that.
I am getting too far ahead, but the point is that the schedule continues to be favorable and the stars are still aligning. Take care of this game and the ones that come later become even tastier.
The monkey in the wrench is that Ft Lauderdale Strikers might have just woken themselves up and perhaps they are now aware of the competition going on around them. That was not the case until just 6 days ago when the Strikers disrupted Carolina, put up 3 goals and handed the Railhawks just their second loss of the season. Carolina had won their first four but has now dropped their last two. No doubt that they viewed FTL as an opportunity to bounce back, but that was clearly not to be.
That eruption of a performance is curious but it does show that no team is untouchable and no victory is a sure thing. The Strikers had scored 2 goals in their first 4 matches and yet they showed great prowess during 90 minutes vs the league leaders in Carolina. A first half barrage of goals put the home team out of the match as the third goal found the net in the 38th minute.
Ft. Lauderdale do give up goals and they give them up at home. The Strikers have allowed 1 goal apiece to Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay while defending Lockhart Stadium. Those teams aren't exactly barn stormers. The Florida teams are all lower half of the table and Indy averages more goals per game than any of them.
There is also negative aura surrounding Ft. Lauderdale as it pertains to their fans and attendance at home. They are the leagues worst and their 2 home matches drew a combined 2,200 fans in support. It's got to be hard for pros to get motivated while playing in a ghost town, but it is where they will find themselves on Saturday night. The real advantage here will be that instructions from Jon Busch, Colin Falvey and Tim Hankinson will carry throughout the stadium. I wouldn't be surprised to hear some of that come through during the broadcast.
Defense is going to be a key factor for Indy. They have relied on it all season and it should not stop due to heat and humidity. Indy have only 1 cleansheet this season, but it was also on the road in Florida and the Strikers have been blanked twice. It is important to consider that the outburst against Carolina wasn't a fluke, but Indy has not conceded more than 1 goal since they lost 3-0 to Ottawa while training in Arizona. That's a consistently stingy pattern.
The Indy Eleven are comfortable in defense and they are also very confident when the opposition out possesses them. It's common for this team to manage a game by keeping everything in front and not committing too many mistakes going forward. The Eleven are counter-punchers by nature.
Formation and players
I keep guessing and I am getting better about understanding Hankinson, but I don't doubt he will outsmart me once again. Sinisa Ubiparipovic has been played outside of his natural central position for reasons that only Coach Hankinson will understand. It hasn't bitten him, but it hasn't really been all that effective either. Could we see Sinisa on the left side of a 4-4-2 once again? Yes.
Brad Ring has been doing the dirty work for Indy and he has taken a beating while doing it. Being subbed out early the last two matches is an indicator that something keeps getting aggravated and he may need time to heal. Ring is unlikely to be available due to an MCL sprain, but the team injury report says he might be good to go by the time Minnesota comes to town. Ubiparipovic will start in the middle if Ring is sitting-maybe. And then Dylan Mares might come in and play on the right-maybe. Or Spanish midfielder Gorka Larrea could make his first start for the Eleven-not as likely.
Omar Gordon is a guaranteed starter in all games going forward. Where is he best suited? He says he plays best on the left and while he ends up there, he has yet to be deployed there initially. I could be missing something but he seems to be more dangerous on the left as well, but he shows improvement every week and he wants at the goal.
Justin or Jair
Justin Braun made a great case for himself last week as far as work-rate is concerned. I am actually amazed that he has not put one in the net by now and that may be why he takes a seat on Saturday. He wants it and his hold up play has been really solid, but he is in that dark place that goal-scorers go when they stop scoring goals.
Jair Reinoso is favored as an attacking option, but Hankinson does not like the idea of starting players knowing they will have to sub out due to fitness. This is the one thing we can count on. Hankinson will avoid going into a game knowing he already has to burn 1 sub. Sinisa Ubiparipovic is the only exception to this rule, but the head coach really feels he needs what Ubi can bring with creativity. Ubiparipovic has subbed out of all 4 of his appearances, however, one was due to an injury sustained in the second half against Ottawa.
Many will be shocked to know that I would be just fine with a 1-1 draw. There will be pressure on the home side to repeat a performance like they had against Carolina, but that wont be the same for Indy. Going on the road is tough in this league and that is why I was so disappointed that FC Edmonton was let off the hook.
I expect the Strikers to be buzzing off of their win and to assume they can defeat another top tier team on their home turf. Composure will be a key for the Eleven and that shouldn't be an issue. The more points Indy takes home the better and the more exciting it will make the final push in Spring.
This Indy Eleven version 3.0 team is that best professional soccer that the city of Indianapolis has ever known (aside from Inter vs Chelsea in 2013 ICC). They have the potential and the desire to show the fans something different.
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