Indy Eleven Continues to Gel, Expects Progress Saturday at Tampa Bay
by: Clark Boinis, indyeleven.com
With last Saturday’s season opener at Loudoun United FC in the rearview mirror, Indy Eleven’s 2022 USL Championship campaign is officially underway. After five months of retooling, preparation, and anticipation, the first full 34-game season since 2019 for the Boys in Blue has launched, albeit not in the fashion they had hoped after dropping a tight 0-1 result in the season opener.
Despite the disappointing defeat in frigid conditions at Loudoun, Indy Eleven head coach Mark Lowry saw many positives to build upon heading into this Saturday’s tilt at the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“When you really kind of strip the game apart, you take away their penalty and the goal, they really didn’t have any shots on us. Elliot [Panicco] had one save to make all game,” said Lowry. “It was a game of few chances because of the conditions — which were terrible for the guys to play in to be honest. But the effort was superb and our organization defensively was fantastic.”
Generating more chances and shots on goal has been Lowry’s focus for the team in practice this week. Although the conditions can be blamed for much of the tempo concerns last Saturday, Lowry knows that his team’s offensive effort must match the effort displayed on the defensive side of the ball.
“[Offense is] what we want to work on this week; when we win the ball back, make sure we connect on a few passes and build our game from the back,” said Lowry. “We had 14-15 crosses going into their box, and we didn’t create anything on the end of those crosses, and the couple of chances we did have we didn’t do a good enough job connecting with it. Early on the season, guys aren’t fully sharp in front of the goal, so we’re not worried about it.”
The team is also just beginning to figure out its identity. With 12 of the 15 players who saw the field making their Indy Eleven debuts last Saturday, the team still has some kinks to work out as it begins to gel as a unit. Veteran defender Mechack Jerome, one of those dozen debutants and a longtime fixture in Lowry’s squads throughout his career, believes the team is indeed starting to come closer together.
“We’re starting to understand each other so well and each game we’re going to improve that more,” said Jerome. “I think we’re going to put everything together for the next game and it’s going to be a good game [against Tampa].”
Jerome was excited to play for Indy for the first time and also believes that there are positives to take from last weekend.
“I felt comfortable. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the tie or the win, but I think we’re going in the right direction now,” said Jerome of the team’s performance. “We’re going to keep fighting for that first win of the season. I’m proud of the effort from the guys last week.”
Goalkeeper Elliot Panicco, whom Indy Eleven acquired via loan from Major League Soccer side Nashville SC, also made his debut for the club after arriving in the Circle City just nine days prior to the season opener. Despite limited time with the squad, Panicco also sees progress being made following last week’s result.
“The first thing to note is there were a lot of good things that have been worked on through preseason that we were able to do, but there were some other things we found we can improve upon,” said Panicco. “[We need to] make simple changes to try and keep possession a little bit more and move the ball more quickly. There are positives on both ends about what we did and what we can work upon and we’ll be implementing them this weekend.”
In addition, Panicco and the team were grateful for all of the Indy Eleven fans that made it to Segra Field in Northern Virginia last weekend. Dozens of the Eleven’s faithful braved a wind chill in the single digits throughout the match to show out, and Panicco said they had an impact on the squad.
“[They gave] us great confidence. I was surprised to see them; I’ve never had such great support from a fan group,” said Panicco of the Indy fans. “That was just another thing that helped us push on and try to win the game despite the conditions and the situation. It’s really a huge benefit to have your fans at home, but in this case, to have your fans away that are going to be there no matter what is just as special.”
The presence of the Brickyard Battalion in Loudoun was also noticed by Lowry, who is used to being at clubs with outstanding fan support.
“I know we get great away support, but that just makes me more excited to get back home. When the seven, eight, nine thousand of them are screaming and singing and chanting for the boys, I believe we can make ‘The Mike’ a real fortress,” said Lowry. “I’ve done it in the past with teams I’ve been at with great home records and I expect to do it here as well. The fans are a big part of making Carroll Stadium a horrible place for opposing teams to come.”
Before that first home opportunity on April 2nd against LA Galaxy II, the Boys in Blue must first tackle two more huge away bouts, starting Saturday at Tampa Bay and followed by the first of two rivalry clashes against Louisville City FC next Saturday, March 26th. Fans can watch both of those contests via streaming video on ESPN+ and follow the action via the @IndyElevenLive Twitter feed, presented by Central Indiana Honda Dealers.