WESTFIELD — There were rumors of a sold-out sale for the Indy Eleven’s first foray into women’s play on Friday night, but the scene at Big park for the very first USL League W the game exceeded all expectations. Fans filled bleachers along the two touchlines above the pitch, with the Brickyard Battalion grouped into a few sections behind the home bench, waving flags, banging drums and singing carols throughout the game.
It was crowded. It was noisy. It was, by all accounts, pretty awesome.
“It was so much more than I expected,” said defender Karsyn Cherry, a Catholic senior from Lafayette Central and committed to Louisville, after the 3-1 win over Kings Hammer FC. “We couldn’t have asked for a better audience, a better support system… It was so much fun.”
“It was fantastic,” added coach Paul Dolinsky. “And not just the noise. That was the purpose behind the noise (of the Brickyard Battalion), and the flags, and the time they arrived here for warm-ups. It was done in a very professional way.”
How strong was it? It was so loud at pitch level that the players had difficulty hearing Dolinsky, who spent most of the half emphasizing the importance of being vocal and “playing to the sound”.
Pretty cool backdrop for the inaugural clash of the 44-team pre-professional league.
“It was really fun to see and experience tonight,” said BYU junior forward Rachel McCarthy, who helped the Cougars to the NCAA National Championship Game last fall.
McCarthy scored the first goals in Indy Eleven and USL W League history. She rebounded Gracie Bahr’s shot eight minutes after regulation, then redirected a pass from Maddy Williams into the back of the net nine minutes later.
“We had an idea of what we were getting, but I think my exact words in practice Thursday were ‘Wow, she can fly,'” Dolinsky said of McCarthy. “It was an incredibly good performance from him tonight, but both of those finishes were top notch.”
“My older sister, Robyn, was looking to play professionally and Paulie reached out to her,” McCarthy said of her journey to Indy Eleven. “I knew I wanted to play somewhere and when she decided she was going to play in Indiana, I was like why not? Why not come here if they take me? I’m glad they did. did because I wanted to play with my sister again. It was fun.
Adding to the intrigue of Friday’s proceedings: Indy Eleven’s first team game came after just a few practices and with an incomplete roster as a few players made it through to the finals.
Despite the misunderstanding, the team crumbled from the opening whistle, starting in a 3-4-3 formation before moving to a more familiar 4-3-3 for the second half, with a trio of Lady Victory FC teammates – Katie Soderstrom (Butler), Abby Isger (Butler) and Molly McLaughlin (Xavier) – lined up on the right side.
There’s room for improvement, McCarthy said, but it felt pretty comfortable early on and they quickly learned to play with each other.
“It was a little crazy, a little hectic at times, but these girls are super welcoming and really super playful,” Cherry added. They know what they’re doing and all I can do is learn from them.”
As for the importance of the league and this team, Dolinsky said: “It’s huge. It really is.”
“There are really good quality teams and players, and now we have another platform that gives players more opportunities to understand what it means to be a pro,” he continued. “Having a foot in the door already in Indianapolis is a great moment for our young girls growing up in the community to have something to look forward to.”
Cherry shines in her debut
The second-youngest player on the Indy Eleven roster (Noblesville and UNC-bound senior guard Nona Reason is battered by a few months), Cherry acquitted herself pretty well in her pro debut, playing 90 full minutes along the back line. It withstood a few early tests and only improved as the game progressed. “All I thought was connect the first pass. Don’t mess up the first touch,” Cherry laughed.
“Karsyn reacted very well,” added Dolinsky, who coaches him on the club circuit. “In the second half she was very, very important for us to come out from behind. She broke things defensively. She handled the situation very well.”
Indy Eleven travels to Michigan on Thursday to take on Flint City AFC.
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.