Looking back at Indy Eleven’s loss to Riverhounds SC and what the future holds this season.
Indy Eleven started the season with a struggle on the offensive side of the ball. The team has been strong defensively, but received little support from the final third. As the season has progressed, Martin Rennie made changes in the lineup to deliver more of a punch. However, recent weeks have demonstrated the limited nature of the new formation. Defensive mistakes, brought about by a lack of coverage, have cost the Eleven valuable points against the top teams. As the season winds down, and the USL Cup playoff picture becomes clearer, Indy have lacked the capability to keep pace with the top teams in the East.
The final scoreline is deceptive, as Indy were never serious contenders in this match. Let’s look at what we learned from a 3-2 defeat against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and what the road ahead will hold for the Eleven this season.
4-3-3 Makes Indy Vulnerable
Indy fans can’t blame Rennie for making changes to the lineup. Indy started the season as an anemic offensive team, despite a large depth of veteran talent in the final third. The Eleven needed to break out of their shell and a formation change seemed to solve that problem. However, it has led the team to expose their back-line to increased pressure, which doomed the Eleven in this match.
Pittsburgh ran wild against the Eleven, with their attackers finding plenty of space against Indy’s defense. The first goal came from a series of passes into the Eleven’s box, with no Indy defender clearing the Riverhound’s passes. The ball bounced it’s way to Ben Zemanski, who was able to get a hard shot off without much of a challenge. Owain Fon Williams had no chance against the effort on goal and Pittsburgh took a lead early in the 2nd half that they wouldn’t relinquish. Minutes later, the Riverhounds struck on a counter-attack that Indy looked incapable of defending and added a penalty kick to finish off the Eleven in the closing minutes.
In recent matches, Indy have looked fluid on the ball. Their passing, connecting play, and ability to score quickly have served them well against some of the weaker teams in the league. At times, the Eleven have played some of the most beautiful soccer in USL, and have the highlight packages to show for it. But poor results against Atlanta, Penn FC, and now Pittsburgh, have shown that this system is not a consistent winning formula in USL. As much as fans like entertaining soccer to watch, nothing is less entertaining than a loss. Considering the Eleven’s position on the table, it may be time for ugly soccer to show it’s face in the Circle City again.
Difficult Road Ahead
While even winnable games have been difficult recently, Indy don’t have an easier road ahead of them. This week will see the Eleven play Tampa Bay at home, only to turn around and travel to Cincinnati on Saturday. Those matches will be followed by a home match against Bethlehem Steel, and the final weekend against Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest rivals Louisville City, on the road, to complete the regular season. Let’s also not forget that, barring a stunning series of events, the Eleven will most likely qualify for a road playoff match. As things stand today, that would mean another trip to Pittsburgh, and another battle against one of USL’s best.
Their current run of form should have Eleven fans nervous. Indy has the talent to compete with the best in the East and could very well win all four final matches. The Eleven could make a deep run in the playoffs and shock the world. They could also, however, slip out of the playoffs and regret their missed opportunity at making history. How their season ends will depend on their consistency,
Formation issues are a problem, but they are also a symptom of a greater issue. Indy have struggled to change their game plan when it doesn’t work as designed. The Eleven have generally seemed lost when they are well scouted. In matches against Pittsburgh, Charleston, Tampa Bay, and Mississippi Brilla, the opposition sat back and seemed to know what the Eleven was going to try to do. As those matches wore on, Indy didn’t adapt, but stuck with their original plan and came out of those matches with a negative result. It has played out repeatedly over the past few months and the Eleven will need to find some flexibility.
At this point in the season, there aren’t many ways they can surprise their opponents. The rosters are set, teams have a defined style, and everyone has played each other at least once. That’s why it’s so important for Martin Rennie and the coaching staff to have alternative game plans. Changing a formation, making a substitution, or even switching from direct play to short passes can make the difference between a win and a loss. And at this time of year, Indy can’t afford to have many more matches turn into losses.