Indy Eleven Draw in Season Opener

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Indy Eleven opened up their 2016 North American Soccer League campaign with a nil-nil draw on the road Saturday evening against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium.

New manager Tim Hankison’s squad turned in a sloppy, uneven performance in the middle third and attacking third, but ultimately did enough in the defensive third of the pitch to escape with a road point. Jon Busch, who led Major League Soccer in saves just two short years ago, debuted in net for the Eleven and — along with the help of a revamped back line — showed why the club made a wise choice to acquire his services ahead of the 2016 season.

The “Boys in Blue” came out in Hankinson’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation but struggled to find their groove early, getting out-possessed by the Rowdies 40 percent to 60 percent and putting zero shots on frame in the first half. The Eleven also failed to attempt a shot from inside the box in the first 45 minutes, with their only two attempts coming from distance. Indy’s best chance before the break came on Scottish holding midfielder Nicki Paterson’s near-magical tally from thirty yards out at the 45+1′ mark, but it sailed just over the crossbar.

Things didn’t improve much in the second half for the Eleven, but they did muster up a decent scoring chance in the 78th minute. Forward Eamon Zayed uncorked a shot on frame but it was right at Tampa Bay ‘keeper Matt Pickens. The best opportunity of the match for either team occurred in the 52nd minute when Rowdies forward Tom Heinemann found himself wide open just to the left of the penalty spot and blasted a rocket toward the far side netting, but Busch dove to his left and made a stellar save.

On the night Tampa Bay out-shot Indy 12 to six, and put three shots on target compared to Indy’s one. The Rowdies were also able to maintain the 60 percent to 40 percent possession edge they held at halftime.

The struggles in the Eleven attack were evident; however, there were a few positives on the defensive side of the ball. The Eleven kept a compact shape and got plenty of help from their defensive midfielders. The entire team did an excellent job of immediately getting back behind the ball when possession was lost. Indy conceded space on the flanks, which Tampa Bay took advantage of, but for the most part, real estate was hard to come by in the middle of the pitch for Rowdies players.

The Eleven will look to establish some continuity in the attack on the training ground this week, as their link-up play between the midfielders and forwards was the most glaring thing out-of-sync. While no metric or eye test would conclude that the Eleven deserved a win tonight, earning a point on the road in the season opener with such a new roster is absolutely a positive outcome. The goalkeeping and defense look vastly improved from last season, and the midfield and forwards have plenty of time to gel in the coming weeks.

Indy Eleven return to Indianapolis next weekend to take on Ottawa Fury FC in their home opener.