Indy Eleven Spring Season: First and Last Impressions Shine

In psychology, there is a well-known phenomenon called the “serial position effect.” In essence, it states that the first and last items in a list are much more likely to be remembered than those that have the misfortune of being suspended somewhere in the middle.

Of course, the concept is not absolute—and many of the most iconic incidents and games in World Cup history have proven as much time and again.

For example, the unforgettable, inspirational moment of the 2010 World Cup from a United States perspective—the one that inspired spine-tingling commentary and a YouTube montage of explosive celebrations in bars across the country—came not in the Round of 16 match that saw Stars and Stripes eliminated, but in the penultimate match against Algeria, where the U.S. secured progress from the group stage in stoppage time thanks to a Landon Donovan rebound (yes, that one).

The same exception also painfully applies to fellow Group G resident Ghana, the U.S.’s eventual conquistador in 2010 and sworn nemesis of late. When those same Black Stars went on to miss out on an historic semifinal berth by mere inches in the next round, the match was (and still is) remembered not for the penalty shootout won by Uruguay, but for the prior penalty miss by Asamoah Gyan that somehow cruelly justified the goal-line handball by Luis Suarez that preceded it.

For Indy Eleven, though, who can now reflect on a Spring Season that wedged heaping doses of on-field misery between encouraging leaps forward to open and close the campaign, the theory might come in handy.

It seems long ago now, but the start for the Eleven, the first professional soccer club to call Indianapolis home since 2004, was auspicious enough. Riding the coattails of the contagious energy of 11,048 people at Michael A. Carroll Stadium, as well as maximizing an opportunity against the infamously road-inept Carolina RailHawks, Indy began its inaugural campaign in rollicking style, striking first and taking a 1-0 advantage into halftime.

The lead didn’t last long after the restart, though; Zach Schilawski equalized for Carolina in the 50th minute and ushered in a temporary calm over the refurbished venue.

While no one—not the players, coaches, or the devoted fans—could have known at the time, when Schilawski’s shot hit the back of the net, Indy Eleven was relinquishing a lead that would turn out to be its last in all NASL contests for the nine-game Spring Season. In all, only those seven minutes, or 0.8 percent of the season, would ultimately be spent in front; in sharp contrast, 438 minutes, or 54.1 percent, would see the Circle City side on the wrong side of the score line.

Celebrations for opposing teams, including this one by Ottawa Fury FC during their 4-2 win at Carroll Stadium, were a common sight in a Spring Season that saw Indy Eleven concede 20 goals.

Celebrations for opposing teams, including this one by Ottawa Fury FC during their 4-2 win at Carroll Stadium, were a common sight in a Spring Season that saw Indy Eleven concede 20 goals.

Yet somehow, despite the amazing imbalance on plain display in those statistics, the final, most lasting images of the Spring Season—transmitted from Atlanta Silverbacks Park, the site of last year’s Soccer Bowl—suggest a team not in crisis at all, but rather one with roving bands of staunch supporters and a spirited crop of players to match.

After bringing up the rear of the NASL standings for much of the spring, Indy Eleven ended on an undisputed high. The away side could not quite muster the league win that has escaped its grasp until now, nor could it blaze a path out of last place, but Indy nevertheless rallied from a 3-1 halftime deficit to draw the Silverbacks 3-3 in a penalty-filled Saturday night encounter.

A headline along the lines of “Two-Goal Comeback Earns Draw, Delights Indy Eleven Faithful” would only begin to tell the tale of what was a stirring, unpredictable evening of soccer in the Peach Tree State.

After conceding two penalties in the first half, Indy Eleven earned two for its own cause in the second frame. Kléberson, whose impact on the Indy Eleven era has been stunted by injury, not only made his first appearance in a month (albeit as a 79th minute substitute), but converted an 88th minute penalty to give the game its final score line.

Tireless forward Mike Ambersley, whom Silverbacks coach Eric Wynalda took pains to compliment in his post-match interview, also excelled, scoring two goals on the night to bring his season scoring total up to five. With the double, the former Hoosier standout climbed into a tie for most goals in the NASL this spring.

Forward Mike Ambersley has been singled out by players and coaches alike this spring, praised for his indefatigable motor.

Forward Mike Ambersley has been singled out by players and coaches alike this spring, praised for his indefatigable motor.

Remarkably, or perhaps unsurprisingly, considering Atlanta’s questionable defensive record this spring, Indy found a late equalizer despite playing the last 25 minutes with ten men. Fejiro Okiomah, filling in at center back alongside Erick Norales, earned a straight red card—the first in Indy Eleven history—in the 65th minute for hauling down Silverbacks forward Jaime Chavez as Chavez appeared to have a clear path to goal.

The most telling sights and sounds of the evening, though, may have played out not on the field, but in the visiting supporters section. It was there that members of Slaughterhouse-19, one of the most vocal offshoots of the Brickyard Battalion, huddled together throughout the muggy Georgia evening, cheering, singing, and generally making it impossible to ignore that they had trekked eight hours from Indy—even if Atlanta is, by a slim margin over Minnesota United FC, the nearest rival in the NASL.

Those who had traveled had done so of their own accord, and their commitment did not go unnoticed; after the game concluded and the Indy Eleven players shook off the exhausting effects of the heat and humidity, both groups united on the field for a series of pictures that seemed to epitomize the quickly strengthening bond between Indy player and fan.

Through the hardships endured this spring—the consecutive 3-2 road defeats at Fort Lauderdale and Minnesota, the subsequent setbacks at Carroll to Edmonton and Ottawa, the last-second home loss to San Antonio—Head Coach Juergen Sommer has insisted that despite the competitive nature of the NASL, there are no moral victories.

In the coldest, most calculated sense, Sommer is spot on. Four points from the Spring Season—only half the total managed by FC Edmonton, the closest team in the NASL standings—means Indy Eleven will require a superlative run of results in the Fall Season to have a legitimate chance of making “The Championship,” the four-team playoff that will determine the 2014 champion. To that end, only an outright title or a stellar finish, well north of the midtable clubs that ended the spring above Indy, would conceivably suffice.

But if ever a specific moment felt like a moral victory in the past two months, the bookends to an otherwise troubling debut season seem to fit the bill. Neither the first match nor the last of the Spring Season ended in triumph, but both gave the club and its supporters a boost from which to take genuine encouragement—and a reminder that the best may be yet to come.

And thus, with a perfect record of sellouts in the NASL to boot, the most enduring Spring Season memories might—even after a much rougher start than anyone expected—still be positive ones.

 

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