Roster additions provide Indy Eleven depth
Screaming into the void, Indy Eleven fans saw a desperate need for a spark. The talk of USL Championship in the East has been the abundance of games in hand that Indy Eleven have held onto. Scheduling nonsense aside, Indy Eleven saw a shadow creeping over the hill of the games they would have to make up late in the season and now that the shadow has arrived, they have begun to make the needed moves to compensate for that.
The biggest criticism from fans on Indy Eleven’s midfield, mainly directed central given how much movement the wing-backs have, has been the lack of creativity. It’s no secret that Martin Rennie’s favorite adjective when he’s building a roster and building a midfield is “holding”, but what has come from that has been at times a stagnant and stuck-in-sand ball movement.
Enter Drew Conner & Nico Perea
Many saw Drew Conner’s performance, his second appearance and first start as a member of Indiana’s team, where his headstrong mentality gave Indy Eleven two goals, one coming from that head of his.
What many saw offensively was amazing backed up by his play covering for the other moving pieces of the team. His positioning on this heat map is not only fantastic to see but fits more into what, tactically, Martin Rennie wants to play with. A midfielder who can come up and shadow outside the box, provide a goal-scoring chance, but isn’t afraid to sit back and sweep behind a booming wing-back will only make this team better.
Drew’s play showed a quality missing piece for this team. His movement upfront, while captivating, as well as what many Saint Louis FC supporters explained would be his mindset can’t be overshadowed by the play in Indy Eleven’s own him. The sweeping line behind there, namely on the left side which was the side Ayoze is on, shows his ability to move forward while also having the clear vision to support others moving forward and protecting the defense.
The argument could be made that it was “first start” kind of game. Charlotte couldn’t have much to look on with Conner as an Indy Eleven player and his time with Chicago Fire in MLS was not as clear and easy to look upon as many others could be.
Conner’s performance, his arrival, along with the other pieces that have arrived signal Rennie’s desire to not only shake things up a bit but also to provide some spark for a team in desperate need to kick things up a notch late into the season.
One of those other additions is midfielder Nico Perea, who was signed after a trial and appearance with Eleven during their friendly against Detroit City. He played a similar role as Conner’s when he was with Rio Grande Valley FC and that indicates Coach Rennie may have noticed a need for more support centrally and defensively when Ayoze or Neveal Hackshaw roam forward.
Dane Kelly: Breaking Free
With just a small window, folks are able to see life after one of Indy Eleven’s top signings in the offseason, Thomas Enevoldsen, moved back to the West Coast. For many, it raised the level of pressure and eyes on the other big signing and the league’s all-time league leader in goals, Dane Kelly. Many wondered what Kelly would be able to do without Enevoldsen and whether or not he has been held back.
A quick comparison of the last game where Kelly and Enevoldsen started together (against Loudoun United) and a peak without Enevoldsen in the lineup tells a major narrative:
Dane Kelly hasn’t truly been in for a large amount of ‘full 90s’ this season for Indy Eleven but comparing both Saint Louis and Charlotte Independence games, comparing touch maps and heat map, you can see that with Enevoldsen on the field or in the lineup Kelly is put in a position where he isn’t forced to either play the ball more than he’s comfortable and he’s able to focus on his positioning more.
With players like Tyler Pasher, Conner, and others around him, Kelly feels and looks more comfortable on the ball and the look of relief on his face when he secured his first goal since the Swope Park Rangers game early in the season. Whether it holds on to be true and we see a dramatic, yet realistic swing of form from the league leader in goals, the Jamaican seems more comfortable being able to play his style than he has in games past.
Ten games in 36 days
With as many games in a small number of days, it’s put up or shut up time for Indy. Hovering around high quality of play, Martin Rennie seems determined to maintain the performance of what’s made this team great while sparking a high-level offense. In the little time he played, Gabriel Rodrigues, who came in alongside Christian Novoa, showed his abilities and more importantly backed up the scouting work done by the team.
It’s refreshing that while many teams hovering around the playoff lines are trying to make that big key move that Indy Eleven, who aren’t exactly worried about missing the playoffs, aren’t willing to settle for what they’ve done and know they can do better.
Whether that translates into anything come playoff time is a completely different thing but for now, Indiana’s team seems poised to increase the goal total and challenge teams for the top of the Eastern Conference.