If you ever watched the movie "Little Giants" (or have ever heard the quote) you know that it's been said football is "80% mental and 40% physical." While math has never been a strong suit of mine, attending the Indy Eleven - New York Cosmos game illustrated to me that soccer might be 90% mental and 50% physical. That's not to say that soccer is a more challenging and demanding game than the American football counterpart, but rather to illustrate how clubs can easily play themselves out of a game.
Indy Eleven and New York Cosmos have met six times before Saturday's clash on the campus of IUPUI. All six matches had high points and low points but the common thing was that all six matches were draws. That being said, whether it was the faint smell of beer in the air or wine from Indy Eleven's "Wine and Cheese tasting" night, the build up to the clash of titans was nothing short of monumental. It was clear, from the New York Cosmos fans who had staked claim to a section of the stands (and lit a smoke bomb off before the game) as well as by the supporter's sections for Indy Eleven. Results were coming, whether we liked it or not.
Tim Hankinson, either adjusting for the Cosmos or seeing the difficulty the team was having moving the ball up on the wings or in the middle, left the ever popular 4-2-3-1 formation which saw Duke Lacroix, Ubiparipovic, and former Sacramento Republic star Justin Braun line up behind Eamon Zayed in favor of a more classic 4-4-2 which saw Braun slot in beside Zayed.
Remember before when I said that the game might be more mental than physical? The first half was Indy Eleven heavy. Even though (statistically) the first half possession percentage favored the visiting team, Indy Eleven had played the best 45 minutes of soccer in three years that didn't finish with a goal. They were confident, they were cool. They moved the ball up smoother without having the issues the 4-2-3-1 presented.
The change in formation (and the choice of substitutes) based on the statistics from the North American Soccer League's website show that the average position that Eleven played against the Cosmos allowed for better ball movement as well as more chances on goal.
Average Position stat taken from nasl.com
Heat map via NASL.com (from Cosmos game)
Heat map via NASL.com (From Ottawa game)
The star of the game (outside of the composure of the Irish Chuck Norris, Eamon Zayed) had to have been Justin Braun. Braun had been playing on the right side of the 4-2-3-1 and played well, but at times looked like he had been a dog stuck on his chain. Saturday, having the ability to roam up top, he looked confident, calm, cool, and composed. Summed up, his first half performance was simply put:
First half is the reason you sign a player like @justinbraun17. Guy has been great.— Brian Cook (@SoccerwithBrian) April 17, 2016
Going into the break, it seemed like Indy Eleven was not only going to win, but win in style. The Cosmos looked like they had been run down and their age showing. Fortunately, for the visiting Cosmos fans, their team wasn't done:
Here's Niko Kranjčar's first #NYCosmos goal. Calm and collected from the spot.— New York Cosmos (@NYCosmos) April 17, 2016
1-0 Cosmos! #ForeverGreen #INDvNYC pic.twitter.com/DEy9z2upzU
New York came out swinging. They were done feeling out what Indy was doing and wanted to start throwing haymakers. They came out and closed down on allowing Indy easy passage and build up on the offensive side of the ball. This is where mentally, Indy struggled. They didn't have an easy first half but New York had absorbed so much even if Tim Hankinson cooled them off, Indy Eleven out and got outplayed by the Cosmos drawing fouls and cards and helping build up their attack.
Indy Eleven would soon get their chances back though, as Eamon Zayed let everyone know he was still on the pitch:
Anyone else planning on looping this continuously until our next game in two weeks? https://t.co/IXcp801gf3— Indy Eleven Live (@IndyElevenLive) April 17, 2016
Saturday was the first sign of a new era for this young Indy Eleven franchise. Tim Hankinson has done wonders since coming in and questions and slowing being answered as to what will come from the roster this season. Regardless, Saturday Night at The Mike was special. And we all celebrated with you, coach.
One of the best scenes from last night. Hankinson super excited with @The_BYB in the background. @IndyEleven https://t.co/MMeUPODm2x— Permanent Relegation (@prpodcastshow) April 17, 2016