Next Match – LIPAFC – Louisville City vs Indy Eleven – 05/29/2021
My fellow fans, it is once again time for the first installment in 2021 of the Louisville Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest. Who doesn’t love the LIPAFC!? This Saturday, the likes of the Brickyard Battalion and Slaughterhouse-19 will hop into their cars and make the journey south to Lynn Family Stadium to watch their beloved team fail to beat LouCity, as is tradition. Despite losing a few key pieces from last season (Tyler Pasher, Evan Newton, and Tyler Gibson), they have recruited several new players who have kept them as expected playoff contenders. Indy enters the 14th LIPAFC (of the modern era, that is) with two wins (BHM and SKC2) and one loss (Tulsa).
Indy’s offensive output hasn’t quite fired on all cylinder yet this season with only three goals in three games and averaging 0.73 xG per match. These goals coming off 40 total shots (10.7/match), which puts them in the middle of the pack for the USL. Missing five “big chances” never helps (6th highest in the league). One might expect a bit more out of a team rocking a back three formation, however, they had to replace their main goal-scoring threat in the offseason. It can take time for these new members to fully gel. On the other end, they have done a respectable job on defense maintaining a clean sheet in two out of their three matches with an average xG against of only 0.33.
There are a lot of quality players one can talk about on this Indy Eleven team such as Hackshaw or Ayoze but let’s turn our focus on the new kids on the block. First up is Manuel Arteaga. The Venezuelan attacker leads his team in goals (two) and shots (15). It’s a tough ask to fill the void of Pasher but Martin Rennie has selected him to step up to that challenge. Next, you have Gordon Wild. The German has been one of those fringe players who bounce between MLS and USL. He has two assists to his name putting him as the leader for his team and tied for first in the league. And finally, you have Nicky Law. This player has played in various levels in the English system and provides his team with some always welcomed veteran experience. He currently sits tied for second in the leader for chances created with 11 and has averaged a player rating of 7.18 in the first three matches.
For a more in-depth perspective on the Indy Eleven, I partnered with Drew who runs the Indy Eleven website The Game Beckons. He has been reporting on Indy for a long time and has many interesting posts covering their successes and failures over the years, as well as a comprehensive summary of his evaluations of an Indy Eleven stadium. Be sure to check out his posts on Indy's 2021 performances (BHM, Tulsa, SKC2). Below are his thoughts on Indy and the upcoming LIPAFC match:
When it comes to Louisville City, everybody basically knows what to expect. There's never a rebuild, it's just a reload from one season to the next. Even Louisville's interim coach came from within, as Cruz was an assistant before Hackworth's oddly timed departure. The expectation of not just a Championship Final appearance, but a Championship Final win. That expectation is no different in Indianapolis. The results, unfortunately, have not matched those of Louisville. Indy's had a bad habit of having a rough patch in each season, but with the shortened 2020 season, there was literally no time for a rough patch and no time to recover from it. As a result, Louisville City made its 6th straight semifinal appearance, and Indy was left out of the playoffs and searching for answers. Answers that started with some dramatic changes to the roster.
Indy did what really hasn't been done in the USL and really tapped into the transfer market. As a result, Indy saw Pasher, Newton, Penn, and Jennings all transferred to MLS squads, Gibson head to Louisville, Guitar drafted by the Chicago Fire, and some other key components released. All that movement left Indy without the leading scorer and the starting goalkeeper for the past two years. All that movement also provided Indy with some additional cash from the transfers that they wouldn't have had otherwise with the hopes that they can bring some guys in to the squad to get them over the hump.
If Louisville fans have been paying attention, I don't really need to mention some of the guys that Indy kept, but I'm going to anyway because they deserve it. Neveal Hackshaw and Ayoze continue to hold down the left side of the field and for my money, may be the best combination in the USL. Hackshaw is a back-to-back All-League selection defender and has been capped with Trinidad and Tobago. Ayoze is as amazing at 35 as he has been his entire career and has one of the finest touches in all of soccer, not just in the USL. Ouimette also has international experience with Canada and has been a rock in the defense for the entire four years of Martin Rennie's tenure. Farr has shown a ton of promise as Newton's backup the past two years when he's made his appearances, so fans feel confident in his ability moving forward.
So that's the majority of the defense returning. Which leads me to the new guys in the attack. The talent is there, and it's just a matter of how well they gel together, but these guys all have seen success and championships despite their overall young ages. Arteaga (26 years old) has already been a pro for 10 years in Venezuela. Vassell (23 years old) was with LAFC when they won their Supporter's Shield and has also seen time with the Jamaican National Team, scoring 6 goals in 17 appearances. Wild (26 years old) has averaged a goal every 150 minutes in his time in the USL. Hamilton (25 years old) has been on two MLS Cup-winning teams. Cammy Smith (25 years old) has over 250 appearances in the top tiers of Scottish and Irish soccer. One of the elder statesmen of the new guys is Nicky Law (33 years old) who has over 550 appearances in teams in England and the Scottish Premier League.
Not all the guys came into the season completely healthy, but it seems like they are nearing full health and fitness. As a result, Martin Rennie pulled out a wrinkle in his tactics that Indy fans haven't seen much in his tenure, which was a 3-4-3 lineup. The team that Louisville fans have been accustomed to seeing play a more defensive and counter style of play from Indy was high pressing and attacking from all three of the forwards in Hamilton, Arteaga, and Wild. As a result, both Arteaga and Hamilton made it onto the scoreboard, with assists on both goals coming from Wild, which helped put him on the USL Team of the Week. All three guys were a menace to SKCII. The question for Indy fans will be whether that was a one-off tactical adjustment based on the opponent or will this be something that we see more often moving forward (no pun intended), including against Louisville this weekend.
Indy lost some very key cogs of last year's roster, but missing the playoffs will force a team to re-evaluate and adjust. Indy did that and I think they brought on some guys that should be able to challenge again for the top of the table, and hopefully get them over the hump. I think Saturday's game against Louisville is going to be a good barometer for both teams on where they are in the conference. Should be a fun environment for the fans in attendance.
Louisville City has been given the edge in this match by FiveThirtyEight with a 46% chance to win. It’s still early in the season and anyone’s match to win. There is more growing to be done, and it’s not an outrageous thought that Indy is still ramping up compared to Louisville who has maintained the majority of their roster. Capacity will still be limited at the stadium but expect it to sound louder than the 7,500+ that will be in attendance.