The beautiful game eluded the Indy Eleven and Atlanta Silverbacks on Saturday night. In fact, the match got quite ugly — especially for the home team.
It all started with a punch in the gut from the visitors, who scored the first goal of the night less than five minutes into the match as defender Mike Randolph blazed down the sideline and toward the box before releasing a pass inside the box to his oncoming teammate Mike Randolph, who found the back of the net with one touch.
In just over 15 minutes, the Silverbacks scored again as midfielder Pablo Cruz struck a long-distance shot across the goal from outside the box.
The Eleven refused to roll over, despite its deficit.
At one point, Atlanta's defense swarmed on an attacking Brad Ring, who'd managed to make a penetrating run from his position at right back down into the Silverback's box. From this reporter's angle it looked like a whistle-worthy take-down, but referee Robert Sibiga declined to cry foul, allowing Atlanta to get away with the hit.
By the end of the evening, the Silverbacks wracked up 16 fouls to Indy's five.
Forward Don Smart, who had his first start of the season Saturday, did manage to draw a foul in the Silverback's penalty area just two minutes before half-time. Indy's Brazilian superstar Kléberson drove the resulting penalty kick low, into the left corner, just past the fingertips of Atlanta keeper Joe Nasco.
With a 1-2 score when the players returned to the field following the half, the home crowd reassured itself that the uneven situation could be righted in their favor. But before the echo of Sibiga's starting whistle had faded from the stadium, the Silverbacks once again eviscerated the defense and the Eleven faced a 1-3 score.
Indy continued to pressure offensively and, during a scrum in front of Atlanta's goal, Sibiga awarded another penalty kick to Indy. Again, Kléberson converted the opportunity into a point and Indy re-gained a fighting chance to equalize and — with 35 minutes left to play — maybe even win. Alas, this fantasy was not long-lived as Indy's challenges began to multiply.
Midfielder Sergio Peña, who joined the team July 15, received a straight red card for poor sportsmanship after he lightly kicked at a player engaged in high theatrics aimed at garnering undue sympathy from the official, the option to replace him did not exist. Indy went down to 10 men on the field with 25 minutes left.
Coach Sommer said after the game he did not believe the play warranted a yellow card, much less a red. The call was one of many coming from Sibiga throughout the match to garner the crowd's distain.
Next, a midair collision between the heads of Indy defenders Erick Norales and Fijiro Okiomah grounded both players for the duration of the game. Head Coach Juergen Sommer voiced continued concern over Norales's condition following the game. Replacing Okiomah with Chris Estridge resulted in the team hitting the league-mandated limit of three substitutions for one game (the team's newest addition, Jermaine Johnson, a former member of the Jamaica National Team, replaced Don Smart in the 62nd minute and Dylan Mares came on for Victor Pineda in the 73rd).
Though Indy managed to set up a couple more dangerous attacks in the second half (even after they were pared down to nine players on the field), no goals came as a result. Atlanta, on the other hand, managed to slot one more home with seven minutes left in the game.
The official attendance for Saturday's game was 10,285.
Indy Eleven was tallied two wins and two losses in the fall season, which began July 12. The team fought to four draws and dropped five losses in the spring season. 2014 marks Indy Eleven's inaugural season in the North American Soccer League.
Indy Eleven will play its next home game at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 6., against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The game will be broadcast across Central Indiana on MyINDY-TV 23.