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The 18 – Better Late than Never for Eleven

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/24/19, 12:21PM EDT

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Winning streak continues despite less-than-clinical attack; Asante hitting top gear for Phoenix

If there’s one number that stands out more than any other regarding Indy Eleven’s current eight-game undefeated streak, it’s the number nine.

That’s how many goals the Eleven have scored since May 1, when the current run that has moved the side up to second place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference began with a 0-0 draw against the first-place Tampa Bay Rowdies.

The other number? That would be 81, which is the length of time that Indy has led in the five victories it has taken in that span, and a figure that is bolstered by the 59 minutes it led Memphis 901 FC in the only emphatic result during its current run.

In addition to that victory at AutoZone Park, Indy has scored game-winning goals in the 84th minute (Tyler Pasher vs. Charleston Battery, 5/18), the 81st minute (Tyler Pasher vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, 6/1), the 89th minute (Tyler Pasher at Loudoun United FC, 6/15) and the 84th minute (Alioune Diakite vs. ATL UTD 2, 6/22 – Pasher only recorded the assist on this one).

It’s not been for a lack of chances. In fact, according to Opta, the Eleven have recorded 94 chances created since May 1, sixth-most in the league. If the side could start putting away chances more regularly as it did in its 3-0 win against Memphis on June 8, it would certainly be appreciated by Head Coach Martin Rennie.

“You know, tonight we had chances early on in the game to score, a couple of them were really good chances and that’s happened quite a lot,” said Rennie after his side’s late win against Atlanta. “That would be a big step if we take those chances early in the game, I think it would make life a lot easier on all of us, including me as a coach. We are on a good path, we are winning games, but we could have a little bit more clinical finishing earlier in the game.”

Still, if your defense is only going to give up two goals in the same span, then Indy’s attack has got that little extra leeway to find its feet as it moves within sight of top spot in the standings.

Here’s this week’s 18

1. Inarguably the most surprising number currently for Indy this season is Dane Kelly’s four goals, which have come on a conversion rate of 8.9 percent, well below his career average. Kelly is goalless during Indy’s eight-game undefeated run while averaging a fraction over three shots per game and on Saturday he had chances that you would expect a goalscorer of his quality to put away. The good news is that Kelly is putting himself in the right positions to succeed, the better news for Indy will be when he breaks a 731-minute scoreless streak, which could spark something bigger for the Jamaican.

2. Indy continues a busy week with a visit from Birmingham Legion FC on Wednesday night before its first meeting with regional rival Louisville City FC this season. With an undefeated record at Lucas Oil Stadium so far this season, the Eleven are aiming to take maximum points before a bye week to start the month of July. “We’re excited to get nine points quickly,” said Indy goalkeeper Jordan Farr. “We’re not going for ties. We’re going for wins. We’re wanting to play good, quality football. We’re a confident bunch and need to play better in the first half. The main thing is we have a good team spirit and a solid defensive mentality.”

3. You want a contrast to Indy’s total minutes led number of 81 over its eight-game undefeated streak? Just look at the only team with a longer current winning streak in the league in Phoenix Rising FC, which has held the lead for 473 minutes over its current seven-game streak that continued Saturday night with a 4-1 win on the road against OKC Energy FC. Remarkably, Phoenix has led two games during its run longer than Indy has over the duration of its current undefeated streak, with Phoenix having held a lead for 84 minutes against Orange County SC on June 15, and for 83 minutes against Reno 1868 FC on June 18.

4. The man at the middle of it all, as you might have guess, has been the Ghanaian genius Solomon Asante, whose pair of goals against Energy FC put him on the doorstep of a piece of Championship history. Asante has scored in six consecutive games for Phoenix as it returns home to face the Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday night, tying the league record set two seasons ago by then Reno 1868 FC forward Dane Kelly.

5. Asante has scored seven goals and provided four assists over the past six games for Phoenix, while Adam Jahn has been almost as impressive with six goals and three assists over the same span. While we asked how Phoenix might handle the absence of Jamaican internationals Junior Flemmings and Kevon Lambert to international duty at the Concacaf Gold Cup, the 5-foot-2 dynamo has taken the weight on his shoulders and summoned the sort of play that has him on course to challenge Emmanuel Ledesma’s totals of 16 goals and 16 assists in the regular season a year ago for FC Cincinnati.

6. One notable streak that came to arguably a surprising end on Saturday night was El Paso Locomotive FC’s nine-game undefeated run. Surprising, because it also marked the first road victory of the season for Las Vegas Lights FC. A late first-half goal by Preston Tabort Etaka gave Las Vegas the lead on the visitor’s only shot on goal of the game, and then bent but didn’t break as El Paso held 74.7 percent of possession but only registered 10 shots overall and four shots on goal as the hosts were unable to break down a disciplined defensive display.

7. It might have only been a couple of games, but it is interesting to see how much calmer Lights FC looks defensively with the experience of Dejan Jakovic in the center of the back line. The former Canadian international, who joined Las Vegas on loan from Los Angeles FC recently, didn’t do anything that would immediately jump out of the box score – that position was reserved for Javan Torre, who won 9 of 13 duels and went 4 of 4 on aerials – but just made sure everything and everyone was in its right place to help keep Locomotive FC’s Jerome Kiesewetter off the scoreboard.

8. After going seven games with only a point to show for it from its previous away games this season, Lights FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda was happy with the growth his side had shown. “That's how you play on the road,” said Wynalda. “It's not going to be pretty, it's not going to be about possession. You have to play smart and you have to play as a group, that's why we got the win tonight. We get out of here with the three points that we needed, and the confidence to go into the next two games before we take a break. Now is the time when this team needs to get some momentum and get back to Cashman and keep racking up points that get us up on the table.”

9. Locomotive FC, which welcomed its second-biggest crowd of the season of 8,117 to Southwest University Park, has now suffered all three of its defeats this season on home turf, but Head Coach Mark Lowry and his side didn’t think they could have done much more to try and break down a tightly-packed Lights FC defense. “Whenever a team plays like that at the back it's hard to break down,” Lowry told the El Paso Times. “It takes time, naturally. There's not much more we could have done, though, at the end of the day. Not much more we could have done. We threw everything at it, it wasn't going in.”

10. There were two ways you could look at Saturday night’s scintillating 3-3 draw between Nashville SC and Ottawa Fury FC at First Tennessee Park. The first, that it was a disappointing night for the hosts as NSC was unable to hold onto a second-half lead after Cameron Lancaster had again come on to find the net as a second-half substitute. With Indy Eleven and the Tampa Bay Rowdies both taking victory, it meant the lead in the Eastern Conference slid a little bit further away from Nashville as it approaches its midway point of the season against the New York Red Bulls II.

11. To take that view, though, would be harsh on a Nashville side as it has regularly over its current seven-game undefeated streak played a tremendous game. Instead, from my perspective, it was a sign of how far Fury FC has come since the first meeting between the clubs early in the season at TD Place. Back on April 6 in Ottawa’s home opener, Nashville put in a comprehensive display to come away with a three-goal victory. Fury FC couldn’t return the favor on Saturday night, but with its undefeated streak now at nine games Ottawa showed it can take a punch and throw back just as hard with the conference’s heavyweights.

12. From Christiano Francois’ remarkable strike early in the second half to Wal Fall’s almost-as-impressive equalizer with nine minutes to go, Ottawa rebounded impressively from its drab scoreless outing against Memphis 901 FC the previous weekend and showed just what it is capable of. “The best word to describe what happened tonight is ‘character,’” said Fury FC Head Coach Nikola Popovic. “We showed that we are a team that will fight until the end, that is difficult to beat. Perhaps we can run out of time, but we will always fight until the end.”

13. It took one-third of the season to arrive, but the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC side we expected to see this campaign after its tremendous 2018 appears to have finally arrived, and not a minute too late. The final score in Saturday’s 3-0 win against the New York Red Bulls II might not have been the perfect barometer for the way the game played out on a gloriously sunny evening at Highmark Stadium, but the flurry of goals in a 20-minute span around halftime that put the game away for the Hounds showed off how dangerous the side can be in both open play and from set pieces.

14. One-third of the Hounds’ goals this season have now come in their past two outings and with what look like on paper to be three winnable games up next, the time to make a move up the standings seems to be at hand for Bob Lilley’s side. “We've done a good job of finding outlets and getting in behind teams early,” said Lilley. “If they are going to take that much risk then we have to get our outlets and be aggressive, trying to create those chances.  We didn't create a lot in the first half, but I thought we found the right balls and found some balls in the box.”

15. Another team we thought we’d see near the top of the standings this season is also on the charge after Sacramento Republic FC piled on the problems for Tulsa Roughnecks FC with a 6-0 win that saw Villyan Bijev celebrate his 100th regular-season appearance in the Championship with two assists and both Cameron Iwasa and Stefano Bonomo score twice in a club-record league victory at Papa Murphy’s Park.

16. Republic FC had notched six goals in a game twice before in club history, defeating Orange County SC 6-1 in its inaugural season on August 17, 2014 on the road, and downing Rio Grande Valley FC 6-2 on June 22, 2017 at Papa Murphy’s Park. With its next two outings seeing Sacramento square off with its biggest rivals in the league – away at Reno 1868 FC next Saturday night before a home date with Fresno FC on July 3 – Head Coach Simon Elliott’s side seems to be rounding into perfect form for two big tests.

17. The Foxes sit two points ahead of Sacramento going into this week after they finally held onto a late lead on Friday night in a 3-2 victory against San Antonio FC. It had been a minor bugaboo for Fresno over the past month, during which time it had dropped points from a winning position after conceding late equalizers to Tacoma Defiance (5/26, 90th minute), OKC Energy FC (6/8, 79th minute) and the Portland Timbers 2 (6/16, 92nd minute). Those results are currently the difference between Fresno sitting in fifth place and one point behind Phoenix Rising FC – which has only dropped two points from a winning position this season – in second.

18. The side that leads the league in points dropped from a winning position this season? That would be the Charlotte Independence, which let another lead slide on Saturday night against Louisville City FC in a 1-1 draw at Slugger Field. The Independence have now seen 19 points slip out of their grasp over the current campaign, and while no-one is likely to be perfect in this category – the only team not to have dropped a point from a winning position this season is Birmingham Legion FC, which has only scored the opening goal in a game twice in 15 games – it’s an indicator of how much better Charlotte could have fared this season that they’re not at least 10 points better off, and in the Eastern Conference’s playoff positions right now as a result. 

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