With only five matches left in the USL regular season, Indy Eleven have gone from a presumptive playoff team with home-field advantage in the first round to a team scrapping for points in fear of dropping below the redline. In their last five matches, Indianapolis have only six points. Those points came by way of 3 draws and a win. That little stumble has them in 5th place in the Eastern Conference on 45 points, putting them into the danger zone of missing the playoffs altogether.
With 7th, 8th, and 9th place teams Ottawa, North Carolina, and New York on 41 points, and Nashville at 39 points, a few more losses and Indy could find themselves on the outside of the playoffs when the season ends on October 13. On top of that, they face a number of tough opponents to end the year – 3rd-place Pittsburgh (away), Tampa Bay (at home), top-ranked FC Cincinnati (away), 6th-place Bethlehem (at home), and then a final match away to 2nd-place Louisville.
Playing desperate teams is never fun.
Tactics and Formation
In their last match 10 days ago versus Penn FC in Harrisburg, Indianapolis played a cautious and counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation. They generally kept seven players back deep while having their front three attackers stay upfield even when the opponent had possession. This had the effect of keeping Penn FC’s defenders from joining the attack.
Take a look at last games average-position map. Indy Eleven are in green.
Those attackers (#99, #9, and #10) like to play centrally – the wings also like to switch sides – and that can create opportunities on the break.
Penn out-possessed Indy 65% to 35%. Indy preferred to win the ball back deep in their territory, fire a long ground pass up to a midfielder and then move that ball up to one of the three forwards. It created only a handful of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 breaking opportunities, and on this night Eugene Starikov (#9), Ben Speas (#10), and Jack McInerney (#99) didn’t ultimately connect.
Even though this didn’t work for Indy last week, I imagine they’ll employ it tonight against Pittsburgh again anyways. The Hounds aren’t a high-scoring team, so it makes sense for Indy Eleven to spend 70 minutes saying ‘come at me bro’, then trying to strike quickly on the counter if they can get a few Hounds pulled out of the midfield and exposed.
Ayotze Garcia was played in the midfield last week after being a left back for Indy’s first clash with the Hounds. He’s experienced and clever in attack. Nico Matern was employed last week at defensive midfielder. Matern is very good at clogging up the lane and winning duels, as he came out on top 9 of 13 times when contesting 50-50 balls against a Penn FC foe. Striker Ben Speas is a classic MLS-USL tweener – in baseball he’d be referred to as a ‘Quad A’ guy – very good at the USL level, but maybe not quite good enough to make a difference at the highest domestic echelon. He was a useful cog for Columbus Crew from 2012 to 2015 but was moved along at the end of that year.
Indy Eleven’s last five matches have gone draw, draw, draw, win, loss. They haven’t played in 10 days, though, so expect a well-rested team that will start all of the first team players.