Expansion NASL club Indy Eleven exorcised nearly two months worth of demons Wednesday night, brushing aside USL PRO side Dayton Dutch Lions 5-2 in front of 9,181 fans at Michael A. Carroll Stadium to earn a historic first US Open Cup win in club history.
Blake Smith, on loan from Montreal Impact, turned in a virtuoso performance for the home team, bagging a hat trick and recording assists on a pair of goals by former Indiana University standouts Mike Ambersley and Dylan Mares. To its credit, Dayton responded to a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 deficit with a valiant comeback attempt, finding the net twice within eleven second-half minutes through Aaron Schoenfeld and Matt Walker.
With the resounding victory, Indy Eleven advances to the Fourth Round, where they will meet the Columbus Crew in Akron, Ohio on June 17th.
“We get to face Columbus, a high quality opponent, in the next round,” said Eleven coach Juergen Sommer. “That will be a good test for our athletes to see where we are. We’re pleased.”
Having delighted the Indy Eleven faithful with its most significant result of the season last Saturday, a 1-1 draw on the road against the New York Cosmos, the Hoosier club sustained its newfound momentum in its US Open Cup debut against the Dutch Lions.
After an early scare, the Eleven bossed possession and camped out in the attacking third throughout most of the first half, jumping out to a comfortable 3-0 halftime advantage.
“Blake Smith was fantastic tonight,” Sommer. “I wish we could have saved a few [goals] for Saturday, but I’m really happy for the guys.
“I felt that going into last week, you could see it kind of building in preparation and training before New York.”
Playing a team from a lower division for the first time in its history, Indy made full use of its wide array of attacking weapons, but, as in weeks past, looked shaky at the back; the mixture unsurprisingly added up to a scoring feast.
The first of many goals on the night came in the 26th minute, as Smith froze the retreating Dayton defense just outside the top of the box before curling a spectacular left-footed shot beyond Dutch Lions goalkeeper Bradley Stuver and into the top-left corner.
Only four minutes later, the Impact loanee and the Eleven had their second. Ben Spencer, another on-loan attacker, sprung the offside trap and showed off vision beyond his years to find Smith, who deftly cut in from the left and slotted into the far corner with his right boot. The man of the hour, who tormented the Dutch Lions’ defense all night, set aside scoring duties to turn provider for Ambersley in the 43rd minute to give the hosts a glossy 3-0 lead.
By the time the halftime whistle sounded, Indy had scored more goals than it had managed in any other match in 2014. Picking up where they left off, the suddenly jelling squad proceeded to double that previous high (two) within seconds of the restart. Smith again unlocked the defense, this time setting Mares up for his first goal in an Eleven shirt.
Instead of capitulating, though, the Dutch Lions regrouped and fought their way back into the contest. After Schoenfeld converted a 66th minute penalty to deny keeper Kristian Nicht his first shutout at Indy Eleven, Matt Walker fired past the German from the middle of the box in the 76th minute, temporarily sparking doubt about the NASL club’s ability to hang on to a massive lead.
Ultimately, Smith capped his remarkable night with a cool left-footed finish on a one-on-one with Stuver. The midfielder’s third goal, made possible by a tremendous through ball by Don Smart, prompted a two-backflip celebration Smith called his “trademark” after the match.
“It’s up there,” Smith said when asked how his performance ranks with other moments in his professional career. “Obviously I came from the MLS and scored some goals there, but to be loaned out here to get some more games and confidence was a good opportunity for me, so I took it with excitement.
“To come out here and help a team that has yet to get a victory, I’d rank this pretty high. It was very important, very special.”
FULL MATCH REPLAY