After every game in 2019, IndyEleven.com’s Drew Kamaski will give his three takeaways from the performance of the Boys in Blue. This week's edition comes after Indiana's Team's 1-2 defeat at Hartford Athletic in Week 19 USL Championship play.
After a spell rehabbing from injury, forward Ilija Ilic returned to the pitch for the first time since starting in Indy Eleven’s 2019 season opener at Saint Louis FC on March 9. The Serbian clocked in 30 minutes of play at Hartford Athletic last Saturday, coming on as a substitute for captain Matt Watson at the hour mark. He was able to create one chance during his time on the field, a skill the 28-year-old excelled at during back-to-back championship-winning runs with Louisville City FC.
Ilic’s ability to play the number 10 role, which saw him score 13 goals, 10 assists and create 54 chances last season, is a key reason head coach Martin Rennie sought after the striker during the offseason. His return to the pitch can only spell good things for Indy’s offense as he looks to emulate last season’s form in the latter half of 2019.
Ilic wasn’t the only one to return to the field in Saturday’s game. Goalkeeper Evan Newton returned to the starting XI for the first time since coming off the pitch in the 72nd minute at Memphis 901 FC on June 8. Newton spent a little over a month on the sideline after starting the season on the front foot, giving ‘keeper Jordan Farr a four-game stint between the sticks.
The 31-year-old recorded 12 starts before his late-match exit in Memphis, recording six clean sheets and allowing just eight goals. Newton is still on pace to top his 2018 numbers with FC Cincinnati, as he looks to earn a second USL Championship Golden Glove award in as many years – but this time with the Boys in Blue.
Saturday’s post-game stat sheet appeared to be stacked in Indy Eleven’s favor. The Boys in Blue dominated possession (62-38), played just shy of double the number of passes as Hartford and created a multitude more chances from corners (8 to 1), but couldn’t slip away with a win on a hot night in Connecticut.
Both teams racked up 12 shots, but perhaps the most telling stat from the game was shots on goal – Indiana’s Team was only able to land three on target, half the times Hartford tested Newton on the night. Defender Ayoze tucked away the only goal for Indy by way of a penalty in the 88th minute.
Despite the loss, the chances were there – which was a familiar refrain by Rennie during a frustrating month of May in which Indy notched one goal in four games (but still went undefeated). The Boys in Blue bounced back in June, scoring multiple goals four times in six contests (while again going undefeated). While Saturday’s result was disappointing, Rennie believes the squad can again build off it and move the attack forward.
“If we’d taken our chances better in the first half that might’ve made the difference,” Rennie said. “But I really do think this is something we can use as motivation and get back to doing what we do.”
Indy Eleven returns home this Saturday to close out its season series against another expansion side, Loudoun United FC, at Lucas Oil Stadium at 7:00 p.m. Tickets for the “Night of Champions” match celebrating Indiana Soccer club and IHSAA teams remain available for as little as $15 and can be purchased at indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100.