Indy Eleven returned to winning ways with an emphatic 4-1 home win over previously unbeaten Hartford Athletic. Both teams entered this game top of their respective group standings, but goals from Nick Moon, Tyler Pasher, Matt Watson and Drew Conner saw Indy take all three points. Hartford striker Alex Dixon had tied the game up for Hartford early in the second half in an otherwise rough outing for the visitors.
The Eleven had a solid foundation to their lineup, starting goalkeeper Evan Newton, who is the USL Championship career leader in shutouts. Trinidad & Tobago national team defender Neveal Hackshaw anchored the backline in a 3-4-3 system, while MLS veteran Conner paired with Tyler Gibson in central midfield. Star man Pasher featured in a front three and was currently the league’s leading goal scorer with 5 goals in 5 games. Pasher was a week removed from downing Hartford’s Group F rivals Pittsburgh Riverhounds with a spectacular winning goal.
Hartford coach Radhi Jaidi would have been well aware of the challenge ahead if his team was to maintain their perfect start to the season, given the last time Indy had lost a game in their own stadium was July 4, 2017. The Eleven were riding a streak of 27 games undefeated at home in league play, and it would take an excellent performance from Hartford to end that run.
Harry Swartz and Dixon returned to the starting lineup for Hartford, with Dixon joining leading goal scorer Ever Guzman up front in a 3-5-2. Kevin Politz was benched after struggling in Hartford’s last game, a 3-2 comeback win over Philadelphia Union II, with Alex Davey recalled in his place.
Indy struck early and took the lead with a 4th minute goal, Pasher received the ball central and played a pass out wide left. Macaulay King collected the pass and curled a pinpoint one touch cross into the penalty area where an unmarked Moon had found a pocket of space between Sam Strong and wingback Swartz to head home.
After a tough start, Hartford carved out their first chance of the game in the 10th minute, when Tyreke Johnson found space against King before whipping in a cross, only for Guzman to be whistled for a foul on Hackshaw as he headed over the bar.
Indy defender Karl Ouimette launched a ball forward to Conner, and Hartford defensive pair Davey and Strong were involved in a brutal clash of heads while challenging for the header. Both men were left bloodied and in need of treatment, while the game was delayed to clean blood off the turf.
Davey was bandaged up and returned to action, while Strong left the game as a result of his injuries and was replaced by Alex Lara.
There was another delay due to a clash of heads when Swartz and Conner Antley went up for a high ball near the sideline. Both players left the field for treatment but returned to action at the hydration break.
The expansive 3-4-3 system of Indy caused some problems for Hartford, with Indy building out of the back and having the better of possession. The long spells of possession also allowed the Eleven to make runs creating overloads and tough situations for Hartford.
One example is when the Indy back three spread wide in possession, always creating an open man against the press of Hartford’s two forwards. The Hartford wongback’s could not press as they were matched up against the wide player in Indy’s midfield four.
Indy often dropped a center midfielder into the back line during the build, and the video below shows left sided central defender Hackshaw using this as a trigger to move forward, this means Hartford wingback Swartz is now caught marking a wide midfielder (Antley) and outnumbered 2v1 by Hackshaw. If the left winger Moon chose to check deep, this would create further overload on the flank in Indy’s favor.
King was fouled by Swartz in the process of playing a slick one touch pass out to Antley who overhit his cross out for a goal kick, Hartford wingback Swartz received a yellow card for the foul.
Hartford came forward in the 35th minute and Daniel Barrera teed up Arthur Rogers on the edge of the penalty area. Rogers hit a powerful shot that was saved by Newton before Johnson fired the rebound wide.
Pasher robbed Rogers of possession and drove forward before creating space against Conor McGlynn with a scissor move before shooting high over the bar.
Indy won a short range free kick courtesy of a sweeping end to end move. Newton split the Hartford press with a pass to Conner who turned upfield and chipped a pass to Pasher, the lively forward cut inside and was tripped by Davey. Pasher took the free kick himself but lifted his shot high and wide.
Pasher was played in behind soon after by Conner but chipped a weak shot directly into the hands of Hartford goalkeeper Parfait Mandanda.
A slick Indy move during stoppage time ended in Ilija Ilic playing in Pasher, who was fouled by Davey, the Hartford defender received a yellow card for the challenge. The free kick was taken short by Indy and resulted in a long range shot from Antley that was saved by Mandanda.
Halftime arrived and Indy went into the locker room with a well deserved lead. Their ability to possess and also the wide 3-4-3 shape was causing a number of matchup issues out wide that coach Jaidi would be looking to solve during the intermission.
Indy showed good ability to both keep the ball and break Hartford’s lines, playing forward passes with quality to advance up the field.
A sign of Indy’s positive intent was on display when Mitchell Osmond carried the ball out of the back, and rather than play a lateral pass to Ouimette, waved the defender to move higher up the field, before breaking the lines with a pass forward beyond the Hartford front press.
Hartford flew out of the gate in the second half, and were level within a minute of the restart. Antley lost the ball after pushing forward and was slow to recover, allowing Hartford wingback Swartz space to drive forward and play in Dixon who produced a neat finish through the legs of Osmond and into the net past a wrongfooted Newton.
The goal showed one vulnerability of Indy’s otherwise very successful system. When Antley was caught high and did not recover, Hartford wingback Swartz had room to pick up the ball and drive forward. When striker Dixon occupied the nearest defender, nobody could press Swartz allowing him to advance and play the pass for the assist.
Indy responded immediately and won a free kick out wide when Gibson was fouled by Barrera. Indy worked a clever free kick routine where Pasher ran over the ball as if he was looking to be played in behind, before walking back to the ball and whipping a cross to a wide open Hackshaw at the back post only for the defender to miss the target with his header.
Indy came again in the 50th minute and Moon exchanged passes with Pasher on the edge of the area before firing a shot over the bar.
Pasher was on the attack a minute later and this time restored his team’s lead, racing in behind to collect an Ilic through ball and blasting a shot into the roof of the net past a helpless Mandanda. The goal moved Pasher into second place on the all-time list of Indy Eleven scorers with 19 goals, trailing only Eamon Zayed (26).
Pasher celebrated the goal by pointing to his teammate Ilic who had provided such a good pass for the assist.
The Eleven were establishing themselves as the better team, and Moon played in King and his low cross was lifted over the bar by Ilic.
Hartford were starting to creak under the pressure and a sweeping end to end move saw Conner release Pasher in on goal only for the striker to send his shot just wide of the goalpost.
Left midfielder Antley drove into the penalty area in the 60th minute and found space against Swartz before squaring to Pasher who fired his shot over the bar.
Hartford won a corner when McGlynn played a ball in behind for Guzman, and Ouimette stepped over to knock the ball behind. Johnson’s corner was headed clear at the near post by Moon, before a second cross was diverted off target by Guzman.
Barrera released Dixon in behind with a chipped pass, but the striker’s attempted finish floated harmlessly into the hands of Newton. Indy counter attacked immediately and won a corner at the other end when Conner’s pass to Pasher was diverted behind by a sliding Matheus Silva. Pasher took the corner but his cross was punched clear by DR Congo national team goalkeeper Mandanda.
Indy won a corner when a clever dummy by Pasher beat Lara before his low cross was cleared behind by Davey. The inswinging corner was headed clear by Silva at the back post.
Indy coach Martin Rennie made his first change in the 71st minute, replacing goal scorer Moon with Watson.
A long range shot from Ilic was deflected behind by Davey for a corner. The first two corners were knocked behind by Hartford, before Mandanda claimed Pasher’s cross from the third attempt.
Hartford coach Jaidi made a triple substitution in the 79th minute as his team looked to push for an equalizer. Mads Jorgensen, Gabriel Torres and Dre Deas all came on in place of Rogers, Johnson and Dixon.
Hartford’s task became even tougher as Indy extended their lead in the 81st minute. Ouimette lifted a ball forward over the top of the defense and midfielder Conner raced in behind, taking a touch before driving home a good finish past Mandanda.
Indy made a double substitution immediately after the goal, introducing Felicien Dumas and Jeremy Rafanello in place of King and Ilic.
Torres put in a cross that was headed clear by Ouimette, McGlynn picked up the clearance and drove a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Minutes later, Swartz put in a cross from the other flank, and Antley beat Torres to the ball and headed behind for a corner. Jorgensen’s driven corner cleared everybody before being worked clear by Ouimette.
The game was ended as a contest in the 87th minute, when another long ball forward by Ouimette released Watson in behind to beat Mandanda and make the score 4-1.
Coach Rennie made his final substitution by withdrawing the impressive duo Conner and Pasher to a well deserved ovation, and replacing them with Cam Lindley and Andrew Carleton.
As well as scoring his 6th goal in as many games, Pasher had shown quality on the ball throughout the game, beating defenders and finding passes when not creating chances for himself.
Hartford defender Silva received a late yellow card for a foul on Atlanta United loanee Carleton, and the clock ticked down on an emphatic win for the home team.
Group E leaders Indy bounced back from a 1-0 defeat at Saint Louis FC last time out and moved their record to 5-1 with this impressive win. Pasher established himself as the league’s premier scoring threat with his 6th goal in as many games, doubling the total of the next highest scorer at this stage of the season.
This result was also the 28th consecutive home game without defeat for the Eleven, tying for the second longest mark in league history.
Hartford will have been disappointed with the result, but did still hold a three point lead at the top of Group F, with a home game against Loudoun United to coe this weekend.
Coach Jaidi has a number of options if he is looking to shuffle his lineup, and Hartford have already seen 7 different players score a goal at this stage of the season. The Athletic defense will be looking for an uptick in performance against a skilled Loudoun front line, having now shipped 6 goals in their previous 2 games.
4’ IND Nick Moon (Macauley King) 1-0
46’ HAR Alex Dixon (Harry Swartz) 1-1
51’ IND Tyler Pasher (Ilija Ilic) 2-1
81’ IND Drew Conner (Karl Ouimette) 3-1
87’ IND Matt Watson (Karl Ouimette) 4-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#23 F Tyler Pasher (Indy Eleven) – A performance full of skil and attacking threat from the league’s leading scorer. Pasher beat defenders off the dribble and created space for himself all night as the driving force of the Indy attack.
3: F Tyler Pasher – Man of the Match.
2: CM Drew Conner – Impressive performance from the playmaker, who kept possession and provided the front three with quality service all game, capped his performance with a goal that moved the score out to 3-1.
1: RM Macauley King – Impressive performance on both ends from the right midfielder, providing a pinpoint assist for Mon’s opener.
3: CF Alex Dixon – Pulled Hartford back into the game with a neat finish just after halftime, worked hard with little service in a tough game for his team.
2: LM Tyreke Johnson – Worked hard on both ends, providing shots and crosses in the sporadic attacks Hartford did manage over the course of the game.
1: RM Harry Swartz – The high energy wingback was a welcome return to the starting lineup, and set up Dixon for Hartford’s goal to cap a typical hard working performance.
IND: Newton, Hackshaw, Osmond, Ouimette, Antley, Conner (Lindley), Gibson, King (Dumas), Moon (Watson), Ilic (Rafanello), Pasher (Carleton).
HAR: Mandanda, Silva, Davey, Strong (Lara), Johnson (Torres), McGlynn, Barrera, Rogers (Jorgensen), Swartz, Dixon (Deas), Guzman.
HIGHLIGHTS (from USL website)