Indy Eleven at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Saturday, April 2, 2015 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Al Lang Stadium – St. Petersburg, Fla.
NASL Spring Season Game #1
TV: ONE World Sports
ONLINE: Streaming video via OneWorldSports.com
WATCH PARTIES: “HQ” location at Union Jack Pub in Broad Ripple
- Click here for full listing of watch parties across the Hoosier State
The wait is over.
After six long months, Indy Eleven will begin their third season of play away to Tampa Bay as the start of the 2016 NASL season begins. After an offseason packed with changes, the “Boys in Blue” have a different look about them, though the goal remains the same – to qualify for The Championship and lift the famed Soccer Bowl trophy in November.
It’s a lengthy goal on a road filled with twists and turns, but the path begins with a big step on Saturday against a talented Rowdies squad.
The bad news for “Indiana’s Team” is that the club is away from Michael A. Carroll Stadium to start the year and will face a hostile environment from the get-go. The decent news is that the “Boys in Blue” have been able to gain a point from each of their two visits to Al Lang Stadium. The good news is that this test is followed by two straight home games, albeit against stiff competition against last year’s Championship finalists in Ottawa Fury FC and the New York Cosmos, in that order.
2015 Overview vs. Tampa Bay: 1W-2D-0L
IND 2 : 2 TBR – May 30, 2015 – A game that had a little bit of everything – goals, cautions, sending offs, a storm delay and late match drama – the “Boys in Blue” earned a hard-fought point as Kyle Hyland’s 98th minute equalizer finished unhinging the Rowdies in a late-night affair at “The Mike.” Dylan Mares opened the scoring in the 21st minute but the visitors found an equalizer just before half. Maicon Santos would send the Rowdies ahead with two unanswered in the 68th minute, but was sent off four minutes later for a rash reaction to a scuffle between Cory Miller and defender Robert Hernandez. Just before full time, Rowdies defender Stefan Antonijevic received a second yellow and was sent off, making it an 11-v-9 affair for what would be seven-plus minutes of added time. It was in the final minute of all things extra that Hyland found the equalizer, rifling home a dipping effort off the underside of the crossbar to end a spectacular encounter that will live on in Carroll Stadium lore. The game would end up being the beginning of a Rowdies downslide that saw the club go from the cusp of the Spring Season title to a mid-season firing of coach Thomas Rongen early in the Fall campaign.
IND 2 : 0 TBR – August 19, 2015 – The lone decided game between the two came at Carroll Stadium in the sweltering August heat thanks to goals from Dane Richards and Erick Norales. A scoreless first half coupled with a pair of cautions meant the second half left it all on the table, and the “Boys in Blue” took advantage. The Jamaican Richards opened his account in an Indy Eleven shirt, beating Matt Pickens low to his left, while then-captain Norales sealed the deal with a peach of a free kick over the wall in the 70th minute. Left stunned, the Rowdies would not respond and the three points meant that “Indiana’s Team” would snap a five-game winless streak.
TBR 1 : 1 IND – September 30, 2015 – The second of two draws with Tampa Bay came in the final game of September as Jaime Frias would earn his first goal – and only – goal of the season to secure a point on the road. After a scoreless first half despite plenty of chances, Long Tan opened the scoring at Al Lang Stadium in the 63rd minute, only for the defender Frias to swoop in four minutes later with an equalizer that would decide the match. The best chance for either team to earn the full points came for Don Smart in stoppage time, but Pickens was there to deny a tight angle.
New faces, same challenge
With many unfamiliar faces on the 2016 roster, “Indiana’s Team” takes on a fresh look under new head coach Tim Hankinson. Aware of the challenges ahead, Hankinson & Co. feel that the team they have assembled are more than capable of challenging for a place in the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament.
Under the leadership of players brought from all realms of North American soccer – from MLS to the NASL to the USL – this year’s squad faces high expectations under Hankinson, who won the NASL’s regular season title with the San Antonio Scorpions during their 2012 expansion season. Bottom line, Hankinson knows how to get things going, and quickly, and nothing less will be expected.
Preseason difficulties stay in the preseason
After battling what seemed to be an abundance of preseason injuries, the Eleven are almost completely healed of their wounds from February and March.
Going 2W-4D-3L during their nine game preseason slate, Coach Hankinson emphasized that the concepts sinking into his players’ brains take more time than just a month or two to settle, and that with an entire new group comes a gelling period that isn’t easily put on a timetable. Momentum is on their side, however, after a 1-0 win over Butler University compounded a 0-0 draw with the University of Louisville to cap off a defensively staunch early era. If the need is to grind out results until the goals come, the fact that the “Boys in Blue” let in more than a goal just once in those nine preseason exhibitions is a great sign.
Who to Watch, Indy Eleven edition: MF Nicki Paterson
Paterson comes to the Circle City as one of three to convert from expansion mate Ottawa Fury FC to the Eleven in the offseason. A human metronome, Paterson will bring a stability to the center of the park that will be necessary in the possession style Hankinson wants his charges to evolve towards.
Though Paterson was one of many fighting a nagging injury, the now fully healthy Scotsman is relishing the opportunity to fight in Indianapolis and to earn a consistent place in Hankinson’s starting XI. Starting seven of nine games for the Fury while tacking on two goals, Paterson’s 2015 was brought to an early end by a knee injury. Now the true No. 8 has the perfect chance to prove why all his rehabilitation to return was worth it. While his possession game is key, it might be his tenacity on the defensive side of the ball against a dangerous Rowdies midfield that will be more important on Saturday night.
Who to Watch, Tampa Bay Rowdies edition: F Georgi Hristov
While newcomer Tommy Heinemann is getting a lot of the ink down on the Gulf Coast, it’s the Bulgarian baller that we’ll focus on. Starting in 22 of 28 games for the Rowdies last season while tacking on an impressive 11 combined goals and assists, Hristov is one of the strongest attacking threats being thrown at the fast-gelling Indy Eleven defense.
Assisting in last season’s 2-2 draw in May, Hristov has a history of performing well against “Indiana’s Team.” The 2013 NASL Golden Ball (League MVP) winner will have all eyes on jump-starting his 2016 run in the Rowdies home opener on Saturday.
Match-up to Mark: Indy F Eamon Zayed v. Tampa Bay Center Backs
Indy’s new target man and true No. 9, Eamon Zayed’s early reputation has been as much about the Irish accent as it has the goal scoring, though there has been plenty of both. Zayed poked home three goals during the preseason slate to back up his reputation as a true goalscorer, and Coach Hankinson is ecstatic about the possibilities for the Irishman as he embarks on his 2016 campaign. With an eye for goal and ability in space, Zayed is a tough task to mark when in and around the area, and if he can bring in whoever will be filling the winger roles for Indy on Saturday night it will go a long way in unlocking the Rowdies backline, especially the men in the middle.