Friendly Recap: Indy Eleven 1-1 FC Cincinnati

Return to preseason action sees a draw with high league competition.

FC Cincinnati’s undefeated preseason continued on Saturday with a 1-1 friendly draw against Indy Eleven at the University of Indianapolis’ Key Stadium.

It had been nearly two weeks since FCC last took to a pitch to face outside opposition, when they downed Denmark’s HB Køge to win the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic. And after nearly a fortnight of training against only one another, the desire to test themselves once again was high among both the squad and coaching staff.

Originally billed as a closed-door scrimmage — mostly clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60’s greeted FCC and several dozen intuitive Eleven supporters — the friendly presented coach John Harkes and his staff another opportunity to finalize their depth charts and plot a course for the quickly approaching season. For the players, it was one more valuable chance to work themselves into the coaching staff’s plans and solidify their places in the squad.

Harkes opted to yet again try another formation, this time lining up a 4-2-3-1. A first start of the preseason was handed to goalkeeper Dallas Jaye, standing in for Mitch Hilidebrandt who had picked up a slight knock in training during the week. Ross Tomaselli joined Kenney Walker in a double pivot in midfield, the former showing well as the deeper option protecting a familiar back four of Pat McMahon, Austin Berry, Harrison Delbridge and Tyler Polak. In attack, a three man attacking trio of Andrew Wiedeman, Corben Bone, and Jimmy McLaughlin supported Sean Okoli up top.

And after a tepid opening where neither side troubled the other’s goal, FC Cincinnati’s slowly took control of what proved to be a surprisingly physical affair. But despite the physicality, FCC looked the better of the sides for much of the opening 45 minutes.

The first solid chance of the match came on the quarter hour. Bone found Okoli with a short service from the wing, but the forward was unable to keep his effort under the bar — though an offside flag would have nullified it regardless. Ten minutes later Bone was involved again, as he cleverly laid off a McLaughlin cross to a trailing Wiedeman, but Indy were able to block the first time effort.

Indy found their best effort of the half on 33 minutes when a headed ball across Cincinnati’s box fell to Eleven frontman Wojciech Wojcik. But Jaye was able to make a quick reflex save to deny Wojcyk’s point blank effort.

FCC were afforded two more solid chances before the half. The first came when Wiedeman was sternly denied a 1v1 look on goal by veteran Indy goalkeeper Jon Busch and the second a wicked dipping effort from distance by Walker the went just over the bar.

But just as has been the case with all four of FC Cincinnati’s preseason matches, we were made to wait for the second half before we would see any goals.

With an eye on rotating and evaluating his squad, Harkes made a double substitution by bringing on midfielder Antoine Hoppenot for Bone and Luke Spencer for Okoli in the 56th. Omar Mohamed replaced McLaughlin moments later.

Fresh legs appeared to help, as the breakthrough itself came in the 64th minute.

Substitute Luke Spencer dispossessed an Indy defender just outside the box, cut inside and buried a a low near post effort in Indianapolis’ goal. It was his third preseason goal in four appearances off the bench, giving coach Harkes something to think about ahead of the season opener at month’s end. The goal capped a great stretch for FC Cincinnati, including a sequence of 30-plus passes several minutes before Spencer’s opener.

The goal seemed to snap awake the Eleven, as they quickly turned the match around in the moments after the goal. Midfielder Brad Ring forced Dallas Jaye into a fine stretching save after his run from midfield was rewarded with a ball dropped to the top of the box in the 70th minute. Ten minutes later, it was Dragan Stojkov again calling Jaye — who will leave for international duty with Guam on Tuesday — into action. A third chance came shortly after, when Duke Lacroix’s spinning effort went high and wide after Justin Braun neatly worked the ball inside.

Further substitutions from FCC soon followed in the 74th minute when Paul Nicholson came on to replace Walker in midfield, Omar Cummings spelling Wiedeman. The substitution allowed former Cincinnati State and University of Cincinnati standout Cummings to make his club debut after being slowly walked back into the team following knee surgery in the offseason. Evan Lee replaced Berry at center back three minutes later.

Despite the barrage of chances, it looked like Jaye’s fine goalkeeping might be enough to escape Indianapolis with a victory. But the Eleven had different plans, and they found their equalizer in the 85th minute through Eamon Zayed. Indy broke down the left flank and Lacroix’s low drive cross was redirected into Jaye’s net.

Winger Justin Braun nearly delivered an Indy winner moments before the final whistle, but Jaye stood him up again to preserve the point.

Admittedly, the draw felt a bit unfair given how the team performed for much of the match. Coach Harkes agreed.

“What we’ve shown already is that we’re capable of competing against various different styles of play, formations and adversity,” explained coach Harkes after the match. “I was very proud of the boys, the way we dictated the pace, the tempo and the possession. Overall the defensive line and shape was excellent. Our ball possession and breaking pressure was fantastic. We managed the game very well”

What would Harkes be looking to improve upon after the game?

“I’d like to see us reward ourselves a little bit more with possession with purpose. So in that final third when we’re keeping the ball, can we have that little penetrating pass that splits the game and challenging the Jon Busch’s [goal].”

The team will look to work on that final pass, and closing out the final moments of the game, as close out their preseason match will be this coming in week in Cincinnati, as they travel to Xavier University for a 7pm friendly on Friday, March 18th. There will be no charge for admission, so be sure to come out to support the team during their first fixture in the city. If you can’t make it to Xavier, you can follow along live at @fccincinnati on Twitter and for halftime and full time updates on Facebook.