Indy Eleven and Nashville square off tomorrow! I caught up with Brian Cook of BGN Written to catch up before the game in Indianapolis.
For Club and Country: Indy and Nashville entered the year as the two favorites in the East. Nashville fans are slightly (though not extremely) disappointed with their season to date, how are Indy fans feeling their own season is living up to expectations?
Brian Cook: I think fans are inching towards the disappointing area. Generally, the reaction has been that the defense and goalkeeping have surpassed all expectations and the midfield has met those expectations. The attack has been hit or miss but that was always kind of expected when you bring in big names that will demand a lot of attention. As the season has gone on I think the team has started to figure out how to make this tactic work and what has to be done if someone like Kelly is heavily marked or having an off night.
FCAC: Indy made a ton of big-name signings in the offseason (hence the expectations), so how have the likes of Dane Kelly and Thomas Enevoldsen performed offensively, and Neveal Hackshaw on D?
BK: When the signings of Dane Kelly and Thomas Enevoldsen came across, you can go back on my timeline and see my reaction. Fans were obviously thrilled with the big name signings and despite my nervousness, I was happy to see the team go after these big names that commanded big amounts of respect within USL Championship. I think out of those three, Hackshaw has been impressive. His ability to move from basically the defense to being a borderline winger and back to the defense has been jaw-dropping at times. Dane Kelly and Thomas Enevoldsen have obviously done what they could attack wise
FCAC: The 3-4-3 system was still a work in progress last we saw these two teams meet up in preseason. How has it been working out offensively and defensively for the Eleven?
BK: So the 3-4-3… or 3-5-2… or 3-4-1-2… Whatever the statistics show at the end of the game as been fairly successful defensively as the season has gone on. When you look at the St. Louis game at the beginning of the season to even the Charleston game you see that the team has fixed those positioning issues that allowed St. Louis to get three points. The 3-4-3’s success very much depends on the transition from each phase and that’s always been the issue offensively. When the team wins it’s possession there are usually a few moments of a “okay, who’s going up, who’s staying back.” and often that leads to a lot of long balls.
The long balls have oddly been a major point of this formation and it has actually been a fairly successful stat. I think the biggest struggle for this formation to make sure those needing to be involved in the attack get involved and that’s often led to either Enevoldsen falling right behind Kelly or a player like Tyler Pasher, who’s been a rising star, helping out with playmaking and holdup play. This formation gets even better when Eugene Starikov and Ilija Illic return from injury.
FCAC: Lucas Oil was an extremely tough turf/stadium situation for Nashville to deal with last year. In what ways does Indy work to exploit its home-field advantage?
BK: Indy’s passing always seems more confident and strong at Lucas Oil Stadium. They always seem more confident. This year they have struggled to score at home while defensively they’ve shut the door on a lot of teams. Obviously, the football lines play into things visually but Martin Rennie likes to be strong defensively and let that dictate the attack and counters.
FCAC: Aside from the big-name stars mentioned above, who are a couple of players to watch for Indy who might have a major impact on the outcome of the game?
BK: The biggest one and one I will mention until my face turns blue is Tyler Pasher. His speed and vision have helped build strong attacks and I think his ability to hold up the ball at times and let Enevoldsen and Kelly get into better positions will be the tipping point offensively.
Kenney Walker is the team’s leading assister and his role could be crucial. He’s been working his way back into good form. The midfield has been a place that generally lacked a lot of quality offensively and if Walker gets back into the form he should make a major impact Saturday and going forward.
FCAC: Any specific predictions for the game (including a final score)?
BK: This game as a whole feels like a slugfest between two sides that have a lot to prove. As an old school boxing match, it should be haymaker after haymaker after haymaker. There will be goals. Normally I’m one to throw myself cautiously towards predictions. That being said, a draw is almost certain. It’s difficult to throw Indy behind Nashville because they just put up a great result against a Charleston team who was undefeated in their last 5 away matches and had scored in their last five games.
Let’s go with a 1-1 draw. I think Indy looks to exploit Nashville’s conditioning with having played earlier this week early but Indy still has a lot to prove that they can consistently back up what they have done on paper.
Many thanks to Brian for his help! Follow his work on BGN Written and on Twitter at @soccerwithbrian