- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,813
- Final Score: 2-2 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Torrado, Smart, Thompson, Speas, Goldsmith, Zayed
- Substitutions: Ubiparipovic 58' (Speas); Junior 75' (Thompson)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Lomeli, Ables
- Goals: Zayed 20' (assist Speas); Miller 65' (assist Vukovic)
- Bookings: Goldsmith 88' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: Two
Going into this game, the Indy Eleven had been eliminated from post-season play and North Carolina FC had already solidified their place in the post-season. All that remained to be decided was NCFC's seeding. Win or draw and they would be the 3rd seed and avoid a semi-final matchup with Miami FC, the first team in NASL 2.0 to ever win the double, having won both the Spring Season and the Fall Season by clinching on Saturday night against Edmonton FC. San Francisco, the 2nd seed in the Championship, has looked strong lately, going 7W-7D-2L in the Fall Season, but given their preference, nobody is eager to face Miami.
With a mindset of get points, but definitely don't lose, NCFC came out of the gates and scored in the 4th minute on a goal by Schuler. Schuler was reasonably well defended by Miller, who was a late addition to the starting lineup due to a pre-game injury to Keller. However, Schuler put his shot under Miller's legs and Busch's outstretched arms into the side netting. Exactly how the road team looking to avoid a matchup with Miami needed to start. Put the struggling Indy Eleven team down and watch the fight drain out of them.
|NASL/Opta Stats Goal Replay|
However, the starting lineup for the Indy Eleven included David Goldsmith and Tanner Thompson, and their youthful exuberance, and potentially their desire to one last time show their abilities to try and make a roster next year (here or elsewhere) put themselves into dangerous attacking positions. Coupled with a final game from Torrado and an inspired effort by Franco and the Eleven gave themselves a number of chances to even the score, which they did in the 20th minute. Interestingly to me was that the play that scored the goal for the Eleven was basically duplicated seconds beforehand.
|NASL telecast screen capture - Goldsmith assist to the assist|
This team, even with its limited budget compared to the New York and Miamis of the world, has ability and it reared its beautiful head periodically at times this year. The team underachieved all season, but have found a good stretch of play in the final game of the year in a game that meant nothing to them except for pride. The Eleven even found a 2nd goal in the 65th minute by Cory Miller, surprisingly not with his head. After Thompson was taken down not far from the 18-yard line, Vukovic put a ball over everybody that Miller ran onto and powered past Robinson, who had come into the game in the 32nd minute for an injured Sylvestre.
Yet, like much of this season, for as much good play that was displayed by the Eleven, it all ended with a thud in the 89th minute. Moments away from being able to finish the season on a positive note, the Eleven gave up a set-piece goal and gave NCFC the draw and the 3rd seed.
That's just the way this season went. The balls and plays that went their way in 2016 were nowhere to be found this season, injuries were rampant, and moments of brilliance were undone by unnecessary mistakes. With so many questions standing before them this off-season, from most of the players not being under contract, a coach who's not under contract, questions about the status of the league, no further progress of a more appropriate stadium, to General Manager duties being performed by Coach Hankinson and President Belskus (who is not a "soccer guy"), every single player sat down at a table in the West End and signed autographs for fans after the game. On a night where the end of the game temperatures were in the 30s and the guys had just lost a win in the closing minutes, they stayed and signed. That speaks volumes to me of their character.
Coach indicated afterwards that there are a lot of decisions to be made and they all start with a domino of the league's lawsuit. Once that domino falls, decisions about his future will be made. Decisions about player's futures will be made. In back-to-back games, he has indicated that much like when he first arrived, the roster is going to get an overhaul. Many of the guys we watched this year will not be back next year. Those that will return will be greeted by a strong, dedicated fan base, already itching to get back to cheering for their club.
In the words of sports fans for ages, "there's always next year."