The Riverhounds get two bites at the apple this week, facing Indy Eleven at home in a US Open Cup match this Wednesday in addition to a Saturday match in USL Championship league play on the road at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indy Eleven, since joining USL from NASL, have proven to be a tough out for the Hounds. Last season, the Hounds drew them 0-0 and 2-2 before finally finding a win over the newcomers, 3-2, towards the end of the season.
Expect both the Hounds and Indy to use a great deal of lineup depth in these two matches. It’s awfully hard to tell, though, how exactly Bob Lilley and Indy coach Martin Rennie will approach these games. Do they put up their best teams in the midweek clash, considering a loss would eliminate them from Open Cup competition? Or do they field a reserve squad midweek and put their regular starters on for the Saturday game, knowing how tight the race in the Eastern Conference is? The only certainty in either lineup is probably Joe Greenspan – he earned a pair of yellows last Saturday against Charlotte Independence and will be suspended on Saturday. That would incline me to believe he will almost certainly start on Wednesday at lovely Highmark Stadium on the southern shores of the Monongahela River.
Tactics and Personnel
Against their last opponent, Nashville SC, Indy played a flat 4-4-2 that featured a great degree of fluidity and positional freedom – players were passing and moving, dropping and filling seamlessly and with ease, and without exposing big defensive gaps, either. Their Nashville opponents pressed and played a physical game, and the match featured a lot of bad passes and unsecured first touches. The artificial turf at Lucas Oil Stadium looked excessively bouncy, and the result was a pretty sloppy game by both sides that ultimately ended in a 0-0 draw.
As a fellow independent USL team without direct ties to an MLS club, there are a lot of similarities between the Riverhounds and Indy. Both teams are constructed with a lot of USL veterans for 2019: and while the Hounds added the bulk of their vets in 2018, Indy did their recycling of USL lifers at the start of 2019. Indy Eleven added solid defender Neveal Hackshaw from Charleston Battery, Ilija Illic from Louisville City, and striker Thomas Enevoldsen from Orange County SC. Then they looted everything that wasn’t nailed down from FC Cincinnati – taking goalkeeper Evan Newton, centerback Paddy Barrett, and midfielders Tyler Gibson and Kenney Walker. Add to that some foreign transfers and recent NCAA grads, and Indy have 15 new players out of an overall lineup of 22 players.
Sometimes a team with that many new players struggles to gel quickly to start the season, but that wasn’t a problem for Indy. They’ve jumped out to a solid 5-2-3 record (W-L-D) that has Indy Eleven sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Dane Kelly and Enevoldsen have started every game up top at striker; Kelly, who was with DC United in 2018 but only saw one game of MLS action, has four goals for Indy, to lead the team.
Barrett is a hulking mass of man-meat clogging up the middle, and his fellow backliner Hackshaw has muscles riding atop his muscles. If the two of them both start, the battle to watch will be on corner kicks and crosses-into-the-box, as Hounds beefcakes Steeven Dos Santos and Neco Brett try to gain advantage. In other words, this game could be as much an 18-yard-box sumo wrestling match as it is a game of soccer.
The last guy you might want to watch is midfielder Tyler Gibson, because he’s good, but also because he’s got a hell of a story. He’s played every minute this season for Martin Rennie at midfield after missing some time in 2018 due to injury for FC Cincinnati. He bosses the midfield and he’s good, but that’s besides the point.
He’s also an interesting hard luck story. He attended the 2015 MLS combine but went unsigned and spent the 2015 season in NASL with the San Antonio Scorpions who folded at seasons end. In 2016 he moved on to Rayo OKC, who had such serious financial issues that a minority owner came and repossessed the turf field midseason. That team also folded, and Gibson moved on to play for the San Francisco Deltas, playing in 30 matches for them. The Deltas were the best team in NASL in 2017, running all the to the NASL championship – winning the ‘Soccer Bowl Trophy’. And then the team folded. And shortly thereafter, the entire NASL folded.
So in 2018 Gibson went to FC Cincinnati, where he played a little before injury threw his season off the tracks. At seasons end, all of the players that hadn’t already signed for the 2019 move to MLS were told that their jobs were a big maybe, including Gibson. That’s when Gibson, Walker, Barrett, and Newton decamped for Indianapolis.
In short, Tyler Gibson is on his fifth soccer team in five years, and every single team he’s played on before now has either folded, or been promoted only to dump him by the wayside. This guy isn’t a pro soccer player so much as he is a Greek tragedy in cleats.
Last Week’s Lineup
— Indy Eleven (@IndyEleven) May 25, 2019
Indy Eleven’s last lineup:
Evan Newton; Paddy Barrett, Karl Ouimette, Neveal Hackshaw, Ayoze; Tyler Gibson, Kenney Walker, Lucas Farias, Do-heon Kim; Thomas Enevoldsen, Dane Kelly
Match Information Game 1
Date: Wednesday, May 29
Time: 7 p.m. EST
Location: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Live Updates: Follow #PITvIND and #USOC2019
Match Information Game 2
Date: Saturday, June 1
Time: 7 p.m. EST
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
Live Updates: Follow #INDvPIT, @RiverhoundsSC and @soccer_rabbi
Featured image from Indy Eleven via twitter