INDIANAPOLIS – Goals by the young forward duo of Nick Moon and Jeremy Rafanello were enough for Indy Eleven to fend off a late surge by Sporting Kansas City II, lifting Indiana’s Team to a pivotal 2-1 win at Lucas Oil Stadium that pushed it back into first place in the Group E standings.
“I think we played well especially really up until the last 10 minutes in which we dropped a bit and they scored a great goal,” Indy Eleven Head Coach Martin Rennie said. “Before that, I thought we were well on top – we created good chances and had a lot of shots, especially in the first half. It’s exciting to see two young players both playing up front together, both scoring goals.”
With the victory, Indy Eleven (7W-4L-1D, 22 pts.) repossessed the top spot in the four-team group, overtaking Louisville City FC (20 pts.) and setting up another fight for first between the two rivals one week from tonight in the Circle City. The result also put some more distance between Indy and Saint Louis FC (18 pts.), the group’s other contender for one of its two playoff berths. With the loss, Sporting Kansas City II (4W-7L-1D, 13 pts.) saw a dent put in its hopes for postseason qualification, now seven points away from being above the red line with just four matches remaining.
The opening of the contest proved to be an emotional rollercoaster for Indiana’s Team, starting with the dip of seeing defender and captain Paddy Barrett receive the first of the game’s eventual seven yellow cards just three minutes in. However, the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd would be on a high soon after, courtesy of Moon’s second goal of the season in the sixth minute. The play began with a long service over the backline by midfielder Ayoze, who made his return felt instantly after missing the squad’s last two contests. From there it was all Moon, who maneuvered his way through a pair of SKC II defenders and saw his left-footed strike go between the legs of goalkeeper Brooks Thompson to give Indy the early 1-0 advantage.
Ayoze seemed to be at the heart of Indy’s most dangerous chances – and Sporting’s mounting frustrations – in the first 45 minutes, suffering fouls to set up numerous free kicks in the final third, one of which he nearly converted on in the 36th minute. Three minutes later, his short layoff set up Rafanello to cut inside and unleash a 30-yard blast that just missed wide left. Meanwhile, the Indy backline – minus stalwart left-back Neveal Hackshaw – proved formidable against the young SKC attack, limiting the visitors to just one shot and a late corner kick in the opening stanza.
The second half began with the visitors’ aggression boiling over, with SKCII shown three cautions in a span of six minutes just prior to the hour mark. That feistiness also had positive gains, the urgency to set the tone for the rest of the half resulting in captain Dillon Serna’s first true test of Eleven goalkeeper Evan Newton on a hard left-footed strike from outside the box. A few minutes later, a cross from Camden Riley set up a solid header opportunity for Dominik Resetar, which was pushed high and wide.
Indiana’s Team kept its foot on the gas, too, driven by forward Andrew Carleton. The 20-year-old playmaker had a couple dangerous looks a minute apart, including one in the 57th minute set up by his dummy and a well-weighted through ball by Rafanello that forced Thompson into a tough save off his line.
It would be Rafanello that would give the match a deserved second goal in the 63rd minute, set up by defender Carl Haworth’s cross from the right flank that bounced inside the Sporting six-yard box, making its way past a sliding Moon and three SKCII defenders. Waiting on the other end was Rafanello, whose tough first-time finish gave Indy a 2-0 lead and opened the account of the New Jersey native, making him the ninth Indy player to tally in 2020.
Now down two goals, the visitors continued to attack in hopes of keeping their playoff aspirations alive in earnest. A moment of hope came in the 88th minute, when substitute Tyler Freeman’s right-footed free kick drove into the upper-left corner of Newton’s goal, setting up an energetic finish. In the second of three minutes of stoppage time, Sporting KC II thought it had its equalizer off another set piece opportunity, but while Daniel Barbir successfully put his header into the Indy Eleven goal, the finish was waived off after he was whistled for shoving Barrett to gain space at the left post.