This past Saturday was a momentous day for the city of Indianapolis. It marked the beginning of a new era, the era of the Indy Eleven. For those of you who have missed the steady build up to Saturday, the addition of a 5th sports franchise was built over a 2 year period that started with a simple idea that has finally come to fruition. The Eleven has had a brilliant marketing and social media campaign as they built up the excitement of this new team. From the selection of a name and colors to the signing of all the key players, the fans were involved in every step. So when it came to opening day I expected nothing less. The stadium was filled to capacity, just over 11,000 for those of you who can appreciate the number of fans and the team name. From the moment that you entered the parking lots, you could feel the excitement building. There was an excitement in the air, today was going to be a special day. As the stadium slowly filled, you could look around and see almost everyone in attendance was donning the Blue, Red and White of the 11. There were scarves and jersey's all around. And make no mistake, the Carolina Railhawks were facing a home field advantage.
When the time finally came for the game to start, after a few short but fitting politician speeches and all the pomp and circumstance that comes with an inaugural game, there was a nervousness that surrounded the field. This was new for everyone, and most had no clue what to expect. I don't say that to sleight the fans or players, but no one knew if this was going to be a year where the 11 could win the league, or if we were looking at a long slow climb to the top over a number of years. With a packed house, and the previously mentioned pomp and circumstance, it was easy to tell early on that the boys in blue had some nerves. Not that it wasn't to be expected, but there were some nervy moments early on as the 11 had trouble getting the weight right on their passes, and a solid save from Goalkeeper Nicht avoided early trouble. But after 43 long minutes, that magical moment happened. Good high pressure forced a turnover that sprung striker Micheal Ambersly who coolly slotted home a shot to put the 11 ahead. The crowd, who for many were seeing their first professional soccer game ever, roared in response. Though some did not fully understand the finer details of the game, they all knew what the ball in the back of the net meant.
Though the 11 conceded an early second half goal, Indy looked like the suppieror side in the second half and everyone could tell. The energy continued to build to a crescendo by the time the final whistle rang. The crowd, in true Hoosier fashion, broke out a chant of "Air ball" after a very poorly taken Carolina corner. A chant of 'He's a flopper', normally only reserved for the likes of the Miami Heat, broke out after a Carolina player rolled on the turf for a solid 2 minutes (seriously, you got the foul, let's move on... 2-3 minutes is a little ridiculous when you get right back up and keep playing). The Brickyard Battalion was loud and proud all game leading a number of chants from the endline across from where I was seated... and I could still make out a number of them (to attest that they were singing their hearts out). And the energy was not only matched by the men on the field, but exceeded. Overcoming an early struggle with wanting to pass too frequently in front of goal, the 2nd half saw a number of near misses and quality possession. The last 30 minutes the ball rarely forayed into the Railhawks attacking 3rd.
While the 11 failed to obtain that go ahead goal in the 2nd half, Saturday should be considered a success for all involved in the opening ceremonies. The crowd as a whole showed tremendous support of their new club. With all the season tickets already sold, I doubt the sell out from Saturday will be the last. The players played hard, which is what we ask for more than anything else in this state. While the performance was not perfect, the 11 showed signs of brilliance and showed that they should have no trouble competing in this league for the foreseeable future.
The best moment of Saturday was sharing in the moment with my father. He had never been to a professional soccer game, and despite attending a number of games of mine and my sister's over the years, he was no soccer fan. While he watched the game and the ceremonies he was impressed by the game and the support from the fans. And as we walked to the car after the game he lamented how much he hated ties, but before we climbed in to leave he turned to me and said "That was really fun, I want to do that again". And that is why I fully believe the chant that rang out from the Brickyard Battalion at the end of the game. "I Believe That We Will Win". While last night might not have been that result, and winning may not be a result that we see very frequently this year. We will win in the future, because of nights like last night where the tension was palpable down the stretch. Where the fans eyes were glued to the pitch. We will win because the players left their hearts on the field. We will win, because everyone in that stadium believes that. We will win because their are too many people too invested in the 11 not to win. So until then, go, support the 11. Don the colors. Cheer loud. And believe, because this is our team. And the beautiful game is now a part of our city.
Thanks for reading,
-T.O. signing out