After Saturday night’s assault and battery of Philadelphia Union II, one might be tempted to believe that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are an unstoppable force, intent on driving over every team in the league like a Tuffy Shallenberger Construction Inc. steamroller, mercilessly flattening any and all opposition like a pancake.
And while that is a possibility, Indy Eleven are a far cry from Philly 2. The Junior Unioneers had an average age of 18 1/2 years old. They were shorthanded by five regular players who had been called up to the Senior team. And they started multiple players with fewer than ten career professional starts. Indy Eleven are the categorical opposite of all of that – they are older, experienced, and operating with their full complement of players.
The Hounds can get a good sense of their own progress by this match. Considering that it’s still early in the USL season, and that Indy are in Group E while the Hounds are in Group F, this game is of less importance than other matches. But considering Pittsburgh and Indianapolis are likely participants for the USL Playoffs, it would be nice to show who’s boss sooner than later.
The best players on Indy Eleven are also some of the best players in USL.
Defender Paddy Barrett was a lynchpin player for the stellar 2018 FC Cincinnati team that finished 23-3-8. They were knocked out in the playoffs early by NYRB II that year, but if you watched how Cincy totally dominated USL East opponents that year, you’ll remember how good the burly and physical Barrett could be in possession, in duels, and defending set-pieces.
Fellow defender Neveal Hackshaw was a first-teamer on the 2019 USL Team of the Year. The Trinidad and Tobago international can play left-back or center-back: he’s fast, he’s physical, and he can serve in a ball well from just about anywhere. At just 24 years old, he is still developing, and might not yet have found his top gear.
Midfielder Ilija Ilić is a forward facilitator who can really help a team in possession and with that mythic ‘final ball’. In 2018 he was second in all of USL in Assists Per 90 minutes with 0.57; he was also second in Goals + Assists per 90 with 1.14. He was a rotation midfielder that year though, and finished with a modest 1,661 minutes in 28 matches. His 2019 season was cut short by injury. Ilić is a dangerous attacking midfielder, and Indy is deep enough in midfield that he can be a starter or relief option for Martin Rennie.
Here’s Ilić last week holding… holding… holding the ball, drawing defenders attention, then laying it off beautifully to Paddy Barrett to blast it home from long range.
Barrett from Ilic to give Indy the 2-1 lead.
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) July 22, 2020
You really don’t want to let him do this to you.
Finally, Indy striker Tyler Pasher is a talented finisher that the Hounds will need to contain. The Canadian had 11 goals in 2019 for Indy, and currently leads USL for goals with 4. Pasher was with the Riverhound in 2015, and started in defense in the infamous ‘Miracle on Mon’ game, subbing off at halftime as the club went down 3-0. The rest is literally history.
In addition to those talented returning players, Indy have added former Atlanta United prodigy Andrew Carleton, who is on loan. Carleton is regarded as fantastically talented – he’s had some real eye-popping skill moments with ATL2 and the USMNT U23 team. But he also famously missed an MLS game against Toronto FC last year because he forgot his passport. I also find it strange for an MLS2 team to loan a player to another USL team – I suspect this might be a polite and cost-effective way of giving Carleton the boot. Carleton has something to prove at this point – the 20-year-old is moving beyond the ‘talented player in development’ phase of his career and into the ‘uh-oh Freddie Adu’ phase of his career. He wasn’t called up to the USMNT U20 World Cup team in 2019, meaning the number of US players who have passed him by is long, and getting longer.
Last year, Martin Rennie’s team played some 4-4-2 and some 4-3-3 and some 5-3-2; Bob Lilley is similar in his ability to tweak the formation while maintaining the core formula. Indy defend well, they create width, and they counter-attack very well.
Here’s Indy winning a midfield ball and getting upfield against SKC II last week with deadly efficiency:
Pasher scoops up the rebound and finishes, 1-0 to Indy Eleven.
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) July 22, 2020
This is the kind of goal you don’t expect Bob Lilley’s men to give up. But it is the kind of goal Indy like to score – catching your players over-committing in attack. Midfielder Robbie Mertz and central defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele will be critical to clogging the lanes and marking the individuals before this kind of counter-blitzkrieg develops.
If Indy rolls out a 3-4-3 again like last week, the best option for the Hounds might be to strike from wide – getting in behind the wings and creating 3 on 3 or 4 on 3 counter attacks with fast counterattacks or high-press turnovers can be a winning strategy with a team that plays only 3 defenders supplemented with wingbacks.
This game might be a bit of a defense stalemate for the first 75 minutes, as Lilley will want to see what Indy’s plan is, and Indy play it safe on the road. I warned you.
Last Week’s Indy Eleven Lineup
GK Evan Newton
D Paddy Barrett
D Neveal Hackshaw
D Karl Ouimette
M Carl Haworth
M Tyler Gibson
M Drew Conner
M Ayoze Garcia
RW Nick Moon
ST Tyler Pasher
LW Andrew Carleton
Date: Wednesday, July 22
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Online at pittsburghsoccernow.com . Twitter at @pghsoccernow @RiverhoundsSC and #PITvIND