After every game in 2018, 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" down Atlanta United 2, 2-0.
Indy Eleven returned to winning ways last Saturday after they defeated Atlanta United 2, 2-0, in a victory that snapped a four game winless skid. “Boys in Blue” midfielder Matt Watson and defender Carlyle Mitchell scored the game’s two goals and their first goals of season. Watson chased down a misguided pass and rounded Atlanta’s keeper, tucking home the goal into an open net in the 30th minute. Mitchell headed home defender Ayoze’s corner kick in the 55th minute to secure the three points.
The victory was Indy Eleven’s first since defeating Louisville City FC, 1-0, on May 5. The win shifts “Indiana’s Team” back into playoff contention. The “Boys in Blue” sit at 10th in the Eastern Conference and two places off a playoff position. Indy is level on points with 8th place Bethlehem Steel FC who are ahead on goal differential, along with 9th place Tampa Bay Rowdies..
The injury bug is slowly inching out of the Indy Eleven camp. Two experienced players were able to return to action in the victory against Atlanta United 2 last Saturday night. Indy Eleven midfielder Matt Watson started and captained the “Boys in Blue” for the first time since Week 7 against Charlotte Independence. Watson’s impact was immediately felt after he scored the first goal of the game against Atlanta United 2. The veteran midfielder’s experience allowed him to read a poor back pass, pick it off, and score. The Englishman’s performance also saw him named to USL’s Team of the Week for Week 13.
“He wasn’t training for three weeks and came back in and did that,” Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie said. “He made a big difference for us [Saturday night].”
In addition to Watson’s return, forward Eugene Starikov made his first appearance since Week Three against FC Cincinnati. Starikov was subbed on in the 73rd minute for forward Justin Braun against Atlanta United 2. The 29-year-old brings back the depth at forward that Coach Rennie possessed at the start of the season.
“It was good to get him back in the lineup,” Rennie said. “He’s a key player for us and I’m sure it’ll help us a lot to get him back going forward.”
At the start of Indy Eleven’s inaugural season in the USL, first year head coach Martin Rennie had the luxury of a deep squad. Two games in, that luxury dissipated. As a result, Rennie hasn’t been able to start the same lineup two games in a row in 2018.
With absences plaguing his squad, Rennie has relied on a steadfast defense and squeezed midfield to get results. The Scotsman’s philosophy worked to full effect Saturday night in a 2-0 win against Atlanta United 2, the first in four games.
Atlanta United 2 controlled 60 percent possession and generated seven shots, but were only able to place one on target. The condensed defense and midfield forced Atlanta to move the ball in their defensive half, and ultimately make the mistake that led to Indy Eleven’s first goal on the evening.
“Once we started putting pressure on them, they started giving away balls, and we’re pretty good at counter attacking,” said captain Matt Watson. “I think we’re always better when we win the ball high and once we started doing that I think we created more chances.”
The pressure Rennie has preached to his squad led to the two goals scored against Atlanta. A poor back pass in the midfield was capitalized upon by Watson. A high press resulting in a series of corner kicks led to the second goal from defender Carlyle Mitchell.
The return of key players, such as Watson and Eugene Starikov, to Rennie’s squad and the ability of others, such as Seth Moses and Juan Guerra, to step up in their absences bodes well for games ahead.
“We set up our defensive unit really well which created the first chance for us to score,” Rennie said. “I also think we’ve had some key players coming back and that always makes a difference.”