Monday, January 8, 2024

The McAuley era has begun in Indy

I said most of what I wanted to say yesterday about the new coaching hire, even before I knew who the Indy Eleven were pegging to be the new person leading the team. Today, the club announced that Sean McAuley would be taking the reigns on the sideline for the men's first team for the 2024 season. While I hope that I'm wrong, my opinion yesterday wasn't swayed by today's announcement. McAuley has minimal experience as a first-team head coach/manager, with short stints as caretaker/interim manager at Sheffield Wednesday in 2006 and again in 2009, and at Minnesota United for a bit this past season. He was the head coach of Sheffield Wednesday's Academy coach for 6 years, so there's at least that. He was at Sheffield at the same time as inaugural season player Jermaine Johnson, who was with the Sheffield first-team from 2007-2014 before joining Indy midseason.

None of that is enough for me to know how he's going to coach since he's only ever been an assistant at first-team level teams. What's his style, on and off the pitch? 

He has been on staff with Caleb Porter at Portland from 2012 - 2017, then on James O'Connor's staff at Orlando City in 2018 - 2020, before moving to Adrian Heath's staff at Minnesota. So it's not like he hasn't been around a high-level atmosphere, but there are still a lot of unknowns for me. 

After the announcement, the club posted the following about McAuley's mentality.

"I don't buy into the "it's going to take two or three years to turn anything around." As soon as we start the first training session, we'll be working towards winning the championship. It's that simple." - Sean McAuley

I don't think there has been a coach that has come to this club that didn't think the exact same thing. For whatever you thought of them and their style of play, Martin Rennie and Mark Lowry weren't short on confidence on their own ability to coach. Yet, something seems to always happen with this club, and we fall right back to my concerns from yesterday. 

I want to be wrong. I also have concerns. Those don't have to be mutually exclusive thoughts. I'm going to support him as much as possible, but I'm curious to see what happens if things don't start out the way he hopes; from his perspective and from the club's perspective.

Now that he has his own team, let's see what kind of players he and the front office bring in to, hopefully, fill in around the existing 12 players on the roster, so that we can start to see what kind of tactics he is planning to start with this season.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Will it even matter?

Indy Eleven posted on Friday that "A new era starts soon." with an image that implies that an announcement of the new coach will happen in the coming day(s). Since Mark Lowry and the team "parted ways" on November 28th, the club has signed one new player (Aedan Stanley) and the schedule has been released (first game in Oakland on March 9th), as well as the club announcing a  partnership with Grand Park as the club & Ersal's company Keystone Group will take over the operation and management of the facility, a partnership with CareSource, and a partnership to produce a new Indy Eleven-themed beer with Metazoa Taproom. In a vacuum, that's a lot of things going on with the club/team.

However, while Indy fans have waited (more or less) patiently, all the teams around them have been announcing player signings because they already have a coach in place and are building towards the season in a non-rushing fashion. The season has the same feeling to me as the transition from Tim Hankinson in 2017 to Martin Rennie in 2018. Hankinson was announced as leaving on November 28th, 2017. When Rennie was announced on January 16th, 2018, there were just a few weeks to put together a team to his liking before spring training began. As I previously mentioned in my article about Lowry's departure (ironically also occurring on November 28th), Rennie completely cleaned house of the 2017 roster, returning just three players; Ring, Braun, & Speas. Of that Rennie 2018 thrown-together-late roster, only 8 players survived to continue with Rennie in the 2019 season; Speas, Ouimette, Farr, Ayoze, Starikov, Pasher, Watson, & Matern. Rennie also released several players that were in contract to be in Indy during the 2018 season, leaving them struggling to find teams at the last minute. Turnover was a major part of those early Rennie days, and I can only hope that the new 2024 season coach does not follow that same pattern with the 12 players that are currently signed to the roster.

More to the point of this article, though, will it even matter? Will it even matter who is announced as the new coach?

I don't know who the incoming coach is going to be, despite some rumors and some guesses. However, I don't know that it will even matter. I fully expect this club, for the men's first team, to be in this exact same position in a year or two. 

Hankinson was a good coach whose second season was derailed by injuries. Though to be fair, he might have also lost the locker room a bit.

Rennie was a good coach whose teams account for 1/2 of Indy's playoff appearances, and seemingly had reached a point where he had enough. Spectacularly.

Lowry was an excellent coach, with proven success in the USL. For a number of factors, his first season in 2022 didn't go as planned. Indy struggled in the early part of the 2023 season, predominantly due to injuries and suspensions, but as players became healthy, Indy finished the last 17 games of the season (i.e., the second half of the season) with a 8W-5D-4L record, with a +8 goal differential in that span. The four losses were to Louisville, Memphis, New Mexico, and RGV (3 or the 4 were playoff teams, without RGV just narrowly missing). In the second half of the season, Indy averaged 1.70 points per game, getting points nearly 60% of the time. The 3-nil win late in the season at home against Detroit looked like the best Indy had played all season, and looked exactly like how a Mark Lowry team typically wants to play. They followed up that performance a couple of games later with a dominating performance in the first half of the San Antonio game with some of the most fluid, beautiful soccer before the game went off the rails after Asante's second yellow card put the team down a man. 

The team, and the way they were playing at the end of the year, was exactly what I expected to see from a Mark Lowry coached team. The team made progress throughout the year and managed to make the playoffs despite the early season injuries and suspensions. The team looked like it was building towards something sustainable, with a historically winning coach who, every indication to me during the seasons, liked being in Indianapolis.

Yet, we find ourselves in the early weeks of January, still waiting for the official announcement of a new coach so that we can then hear about new players, and then begin thinking how the season is going to progress. New players that history has told us time after time are going to take time to gel together. So the 2024 season could likely be marginal, and bad at worst, and given the late roster build, will likely start off rough. Maybe Indy makes the playoffs. Maybe they don't. Either way, the coach almost always gets a pass for the first season because they "inherited" some of the roster, despite the fact that the players that this coach will be inheriting from the 2023 season are some of the best players in the league. So unless things go absolutely horribly with a missed playoffs and losing the locker room, the new coach will get a second season to bring in some other players, and success at that point will be unknown. 

Either way, will it even matter?

Martin Rennie is the longest tenured coach for Indy with 99 official games (+1 friendly), which was 3 seasons + 8 games of the fourth season, but really only amounted to 2.75 seasons of actual games due to the shortened 2020 season. Hankinson coached 70 games across all competitions (2 seasons), Lowry coached 72 games (2 seasons). The history of this club has shown that two seasons of failure (or less) and they're definitely headed somewhere else and two-ish seasons of success and they're probably still headed somewhere else, because that has been the club's method of operation. I can't envision the club hiring a coach that will suddenly have full control over roster selection capable of having immediate success, who will then also stick around for very long. I think Lowry might have been that guy in 2024 and beyond, but that ship has sailed, with reports out that he is headed to Salt Lake City to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, Real Salt Lake's MLS Next Pro team. 

Every single one of those three coaches had some level of success during their tenure and yet they, or the club, felt like it wasn't a good fit to continue any further. I have thoughts and theories about why (I described one of those imaginary scenarios in my article about Lowry's departure, but I can imagine more), and all of those thoughts and theories lead me to wonder if it will even matter who the next coach is when it's finally announced. I just don't see the coaching carrousel trend changing here in Indy in the foreseeable future. 

Whomever gets announced soon, I think the "new era" is going to continue to look significantly like the "past eras."

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Parted Ways - Mark Lowry

In the summer of 2021, I wrote an article about how Indy Eleven "mutually parted ways" with Martin Rennie after an odd on-air rant after a game. Twelve hours later, and the club and Rennie went different directions. Today, the club announced that they "parted ways" with Mark Lowry, who joined the club just over two years ago. Not sure if there was anything to the different phrasing by not including the "mutually" part, but it stands out to me as interesting if nothing else.

I think the last time I was this surprised about a front office move was the off-season before the aforementioned Martin Rennie joined the club. That off-season was full of surprises as the 2017 team led by Tim Hankinson transitioned to the 2018 team led by Martin Rennie, in a new league (NASL to USL), and in a new stadium (Carroll to Lucas Oil), much of that announced extremely last minute as the club tried to extract itself from the dying NASL. The 2018 team had no resemblance to the 2017 team, returning just Ring, Braun, & Speas, after Rennie decided that he couldn't see any place on his team or in the club for any of the 2017 players who had just a season before made it to the NASL's Soccer Bowl before being beaten by the Cosmos in penalty kicks. Rennie couldn't see a place for a ball-hawking forward like Eamon Zayed or a goalkeeping legend like Jon Busch. Hell, it was seemingly only because of a near fan-uprising that he kept club legend Ring around. That off-season was weird as hell.

Today's surprise departure of Lowry takes a close second in my opinion. 

There was absolutely nothing from my perspective that would have made me guess this was going to happen. Lowry seemed to genuinely convey to me during conversations that Indy was the place he wanted to be to keep moving Indy forward, and to be a part of the first games at Eleven Park. It seemed like such a given to me, after getting the team back to the playoffs this year, that I barely wrote anything about the coaching situation in my end-of-year off-season article

Could I have misread the situation? Definitely.

Do I think there is something else going on? Definitely. 

The following is a scenario that I can envision happening to lead us to watching yet another coach, this one highly successful in this league, walk away from the club after signing nine core pieces of the 2023 roster.

Martin Rennie "mutually parted" Indy, in part, because of the poor turf at Carroll stadium. Despite a new turf being installed in 2020, the team that Mark Lowry put together still found that field to be less than ideal in the way that it played. Lowry found late in the season that with some pregame effort, this new version of the turf could be massaged enough to play in a more predictable way, thereby allowing the team's preferred style of play to shine. That level of field maintenance takes time, and time is money. Part of the theory behind artificial turf fields is that they are supposed to be low maintenance. I'm guessing, and I stress guessing, that Lowry requested more budget next year for the field maintenance.

That, by itself, wouldn't have been enough to "part ways," mutually or otherwise.

However, and I don't remember if this was said to me on- or off-record, so I could get in trouble here for saying something that I shouldn't, but many of the clubs' groups had their budgets frozen for at least the last month of the season. Lowry likely had one of the highest paid rosters in the USL Championship this past year, but that money was focused on the core group of players. As the team found out, that created a depth of skill problem when suspensions or injuries sidelined some of those core players. I'm guessing, and I stress guessing, that Lowry requested more budget next year to bring in some other players to have a higher level of depth than what the team had this year. That additional depth was going to come with a cost.

Ersal and/or Stremlaw said no. Lowry said that he didn't think he can get the team any higher without that money for stadium and player help. "Then we have reached an impasse." 

Ways parted.

There's an oversimplification in that scenario, and I honestly don't know if any of that scenario is true. Can I see all of it, and more, happening? Definitely. 

As I stated today on X (formerly known as), whatever happened on the field, Mark Lowry was the first coach from this club to remember my name at press conferences after games and answer all my questions, on- or off-record. The last game of the season, he asked Ian Gilmour if I was there. He was conscientious of me being a grassroots, fan perspective of covering the team. On multiple occasions, he would honestly answer questions for me that he didn't have to answer. Questions that I wouldn't have bothered asking his predecessors because I knew they would just answer them in general coach-speak terms. He knew that he could trust me with the information and answered my questions openly, knowing that if he said "this part is off-record," that it would be, which gave me the confidence to try and find out more about the way his coaching mind works. 

I honestly think that Mark Lowry was the right man for the job to get Indy to higher level. The club and even fans think that Indy need to get back to the successes the team used to have. That is not this club. Actually, I should be more specific and say that is not the men's first team. The Academy and the women's side have been successful. The men's first team is, and has been, an average to below average performing team for nearly the entirely of its history. 

  • The team has now had 4 permanent coaches and 2 interim coaches in 10 seasons of action. 
  • The team has made the playoffs just 4 times in those 10 seasons.
  • The team has just 4 seasons with a positive goal differential and two of those have just barely made it to that threshold (2016 - +21; 2019 - +20; 2020 - +2; 2023 - +3).
  • In the team's time in the USL-C, they have finished 7th (2018), 3rd (2019), 3rd (out of 4 teams in their group due to the 2020 pandemic arrangement), 12th (2021), 9th (2022), and 6th (2023) in their conference.
  • The team has made it to one league final (2016 NASL season, which had just 11 teams in the league and 4 of them made the playoffs).
  • The team has made it to one conference final (2019 USL season, which imploded in the final minutes to Louisville).
  • The team has 1 piece of hardware; a "spring season" championship because the NASL was kooky-dooks and split the season into two parts, that Indy won on the third tiebreaker. 
Look, I love the team, the players, and those limited successes, but this is not a team that can be described as being a consistent on-field beacon of light. 

Assistant Coach Gabe Zapponi was brought to Indy as one of "Lowry's guys." Don't be surprised if he departs too. Jerome, Rebellon, Velasquez, to name a few, are guys that Lowry has taken with him from place to place. Don't be surprised if none of them return to Indy. Nobody knows what player contracts look like, but a caveat that I would want in my own contract with a team would be that it was contingent upon the manager in charge. King was in El Paso with Lowry and then Lowry brought King back here to Indy. Did he know Lowry was on the way out? Would he have re-signed if he knew Lowry wasn't going to be here? I think Lindley wants to be here close to family. Same for Quinn, whose wife's family is from Ohio. Did the rest of the guys that re-signed want to be here or to play for Lowry? The guys that haven't signed yet? I have no idea where they will fall now that Lowry is onto a different team. As a result, announcements for returning players might not happen again until the new coach is hired, whenever that might happen. 

As I already said, I honestly think that Mark Lowry had the ability to get Indy beyond just the occasional good season and turn Indy into a perennial contender. Whatever happened between when the announcement of the first group of players returning and today's announcement of Lowry's departure, Indy took a step backwards today.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

An In-Depth Look at Eleven Park

Okay, you're about to figure out that the title of this article was probably my first click-bait title ever. It's also supposed to be funny because I doubt anybody outside of the club or the design team is going to have any kind of in-depth look at Eleven Park until the team releases an article in the IBJ.

It's the Indy Eleven off-season and so content on this site tends to slow way down. I have the idea of an article in the works, but it is still trying to get off the ground at this point. Instead, you get this look at the Eleven Park in a way many of us probably haven't done to date.

There hasn't been any substantial news from the club regarding the stadium design since the ceremonial groundbreaking at the end of May, so let's remind ourselves what the current, publicized, version of Eleven Park looks like from the architectural renderings from that time.







I can't wait to be in one of those seats (or hopefully on the sidelines with my press credentials, assuming guys like me are still provided credentials in the new stadium) for that first game in 2025. 

Let me start the rest of this by saying that my day job is an engineer and that I work with architects, so I understand the constraints they are under. There's normally a need to do things in great detail, quickly, and under budget. Normally, you can only get one or two of those done to the level you want, but rarely do you get all three. So you have to develop the occasional shortcut to give yourself a fighting chance at getting close to achieving all three goals. I believe that is what I observed when I recently, for unknown reasons other than maybe needing a stadium news fix, I started zooming into the image files. I began to notice the shortcuts.

Let's start by looking at the full development view looking west, and let's specifically focus in on the part of the image I've highlighted below.


Match Report for a game against FC Cincinnati. A team that played their last game in the USL in 2018. Trust me, this is the least weird use of a graphic in this post...

How about we move to the Street View image?

Three of the same guy with a lightsaber just hanging out in the plaza. He's not the only one waiting to take part in the Clone Wars, but he's the one I saw the most. 

Staying with that image, but moving to the right side of the image.

What The absolute F!! Zooming in further makes it look like the creepy panda-esque soccer ball is wearing a NYCFC hat, but I could only find an image where the creepy panda was wearing a NY Red Bulls hat. Either way, we're starting to see a pattern of using MLS team images as filler in the Indy Eleven graphics.



Moving to the Balcony View creates a plethora of stock images being used in unfortunate ways.

For crying out loud... In the graphics of a $1B development, we immortalized Indy losing to Charleston in the 24th minute by a score of 1-nil. The good news is that based on other contextual clues, Indy did go on to win that game 4-1 in front of 10,272 fans with a goal from Cochran, a brace Pinho, and Own Goal getting in on the action. But still... All the available screen shots that could have been used for a fuzzy small piece of a larger image and that's what made the cut?

Looking out towards the stadium:

Save the children! They're everywhere! Seriously, they're scattered throughout the image in various forms, all just as creepy and unnerving as the next.

What if we look down at the fans that are sitting immediately below us?

Wright-Phillips. We've already seen a panda soccer ball that might have originated from a New York Red Bulls image, but modified to NYCFC colors. So let's assume that a #29 Wright-Phillips is Shaun Wright-Phillips. Don't recall him ever playing for Indy. Or even playing against Indy... 

What more can we find standing on the balcony overlooking the plaza? Let's look to the far left.

What do you know, Indy Eleven has some NYCFC fans in the crowd. Somebody at Populous is clearly a fan of New York City.

Getting inside the stadium doesn't make anything any better. Given the proximity to the virtual camera, I think Populous was just getting rushed for time at this point. You get quantity not quality. Can't always get both.

She's not the only one seeing herself...

And the Clone Wars are in full effect just around the corner from our vantage point.

Identical Septuplets?

The absolute horror movie of this in-depth look at Eleven Park occurs in the lower left corner of the image with one of the clones and the person with her.

It's one thing to be in touch with your friends, but it's quite another to have your limbs going through each other's.

Eventually, Indy Eleven will release more information on the stadium now that demolition of the buildings is nearly complete and the site work will be able to begin in earnest. Until then, I might play a bit more of this weird game of Where's Waldo to see what else I can find lurking in the details of these images. I'm nearly sure I found a few more NYCFC flags, but who knows what else I'll find.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Indy Eleven 2023 Recap & 2024 Off-Season Outlook

Is simply making the playoffs considered a successful season? That depends significantly on who you ask and your perspective. If you've haven't made the playoffs since the 2019 season, it's at least a successful step in the right direction. When that playoff appearance ends in a 5-nil drubbing on the road, some of the shine is taken off the achievement.

So I clearly have mixed feelings about the 2023 Indy Eleven season, but maybe that's because a team like Louisville, who had a drastically down year for them, still finished ahead of Indy and still played in the Eastern Conference finals for like the hundredth season in a row. So the "why can't it ever be us?" and "will it ever be us?" thoughts are rampant in my brain and I don't think I'm the only Indy Eleven who is thinking this way. Indy was playing some really good football down the stretch as injuries and suspensions slowed down. Then they seemed to lose their way for a couple games when Quinn became unavailable due to his season ending injury before the New Mexico game. Wins against Detroit and Tulsa, and one of the best halves of soccer they played all season in San Antonio before finishing with a draw after an Asante red card, and Indy looked like they had the chance to do something special in the playoffs. Missing Asante, and then Blake, for the playoff game meant Indy's season-long trend of trying to field their best team but being undone by injuries and suspensions once again reared its head to similar results as the early part of the season. Indy had, on paper, one of the most talented rosters in the entire league, but a 5-nil loss to end the season feels like the team underachieved. When the roster began taking shape during this past preseason, Indy looked like they had a very solid core, but might struggle with young and inexperienced depth. Lowry and the club struggled all season to find the players and the on-field group to provide consistent results. With the exception of the 6-game undefeated streak in August/September, when most of the guys were healthy and not suspended, Indy looked like a team that could win the league one game and looked like a team that might not make the playoffs the next game.  

Last season, Coach Lowry guaranteed that Indy would be a playoff team in 2023. The team made good on that guarantee, but it still feels like the team underachieved. 

Looking to 2024

Stadium

Let's start with "American Soccer's Greatest Dive Bar." Indy continued to play at Carroll Stadium this season, which has the same issues it has always had. It's starting to show its age, it's not ideally suited for professional soccer, it's branded with another team's logo, and it has a significant lack of amenities that most fans have come to expect from other sporting venues in this city and around the country. Concessions continue to be run out of cargo containers, and from my experience seem to have a very minimal amount of items sold from them. Most of the concession effort is accomplished through a rotating string of food trucks from the area. That isn't necessarily a bad way to accomplish concession, but I don't think I've ever seen the club provide a list of what trucks will be at each game. That's something that I would recommend the club provide, even if it is just a social media post a couple days before the game, so that fans/families know what to expect and/or be excited about seeing (for me, it's the Ben's Pretzel truck). 

The stadium does have a relatively new turf, which was replaced during June of 2022, but the team doesn't always have the best opinion of it. After the Detroit victory at the end of the season, Lowry was happy about the turf for that game, but had a poor opinion of it from the previous game, stating "the turf was so bad last week. I don't know what happened. It was so bad. Today though. It got brushed. Me and Gabe got here early and did some work on it. It made the difference." He expanded, wanting this next part to be "on record":
"The field conditions are not the same for both teams. It's not. Conditions are different for each team based on each team's style of play. So it's not the same for both teams. For example, we went to Detroit to start the season, the third game, I think it was super windy. It suited us better, because we keep on the floor, they like to go long and their balls get caught [in the wind], so we beat them. We like to play on the floor. If the field surface isn't great, then it affects us more than the other team. It's not the same for both teams. It's based on style. The turf played great tonight. We saw some goals and great action. That's the reality."
 
Indy had a better record on the road than they did at home, despite everybody's desire to make The Mike a fortress. Indy had an 8W-4D-5L record on the road and a 5W-6D-6L record at home. With all of that in mind, I fully expect that the team will be brushing the turf a lot more next season because "keeping the ball on the floor" isn't going to change next season (more on that in a minute). Indy, if the schedule goes as planned, will have another season and a half on the Carroll Stadium turf because Eleven Park has started moving forward. 


Indy announced in June of 2022 that the location for Eleven Park would be at the old Diamond Chain site near the convergence of South Street, West Street, and Kentucky Avenue next to the White River. In February 2023, new renderings were released showing the updated vision for the Eleven Park development including the stadium, residences, offices, hotel, parking, and even a 4,000 seat music venue. 

On the last day of May 2023, the club held a ceremonial groundbreaking on the site to publicly kick-off the process of converting the historical site into the Eleven Park development. As has been the trend of the club when it comes to the stadium, there had been nothing conveyed to the public about the stadium until this past week when it was announced that the "The Metropolitan Development Commission on Wednesday gave preliminary approval for the creation of a new downtown taxing district to support the Indy Eleven’s proposed soccer stadium." 

That doesn't mean that the site has been without activity since the groundbreaking ceremony. If you recall, here is generally what the site looked like in November of 2022.   

Diamond Chain Site (Google Maps - 2022)

Below are some photos of what the site looks like as of this past Friday... The building that was all the way to the left in the Street View has been demolished for a few months. The southern and western portions of the main building have been reduced to just a small sliver, leaving just the easternmost section by West Street and several large piles of debris waiting to be salvaged or sent to the landfill.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about the status of the design of the stadium or the initial components of Phase 1 (stadium, parking, and Tower 1). I've heard rumors, but nothing that I can or should convey at this point.  

Photo: Patrick Cummings

Photo: Patrick Cummings

Photo: Patrick Cummings

Photo: Patrick Cummings


Coach
Photo: Don Thompson Photography
I'm not sure there's much to say here. Unless Coach Lowry goes to a different team, making the playoffs this year likely saves Indy fans from going through another team rebuild with a new coach and new players. For good or bad, his results here in Indy don't exactly lead to a ton of teams trying to steal him from Indy, regardless of his successes in the past. I also have the feeling that Lowry now sees Indy as the challenge that is going to show his coaching chops. With the injuries, suspensions, and general depth or field concerns, Lowry was forced to dig deep into his bag of tricks that weren't his normal tactics to try and find ways to get results. It also doesn't hurt that there is a stadium coming that will likely be the best stadium in the USL when it is finished in 2025. There's a feeling that players and Coach want to be around when the stadium opens. Much like coaches at universities use their facilities to entice teenagers to come play football/basketball in Division 1 sports, the Eleven Park development is a facility that will draw top players to the team.

When Lowry left El Paso, it was a surprise to their fans, but they had been going through a run of successes without the final payoff. Without the same level of success here, I think Lowry intends to be here for at least the next couple of seasons.

Players

The 2022 season was the first season under Coach Lowry. As I've discussed over the years in these season end reviews, it seems like the majority of the player contracts for Indy Eleven have the appearance of 2 year contracts or 1 year contracts with a 2nd year option. The existing contracts, loans, and trades that happened this year make it another year where it could be difficult to accurately determine who will be returning next year. However, the all the roster movement also meant that Lowry brought in or released the players that he thought would make the team better. Moving forward will likely be this core, while also bringing in depth at all positions.

Based on my own opinions, here are what players from this year's roster that I can envision being somewhere else and who might be returning (not including the Academy players as they seem to fall under an even larger variable than the 1st team players):

Gone:

  1. Fjeldberg - Transferred to Colorado Springs. for King. No matter how positive an opinion Lowry has/had of Fjeldberg, there's almost no way that I can envision Jonas being loaned to RGV one season and then transferred in a second season and then find his way back to Indy. 
  2. Taghvai-Najib - loaned at the end of the season and I don't recall him even making an appearance on any gameday roster. Signed for depth at the end of the season and still didn't see the bench. Historically, that never bodes well for a player returning the next season.
  3. Tejada - Transferred to Colorado Springs. 
  4. Torres - Alann was released from the team early in the season and I hesitated even including him in this list, but have done so for completeness. Also, something mysterious happened around his departure because I can't find him on any team this year after he was released and club staff refused to provide me with any information on what happened, neither on or off record.
  5. Walker - Already released in September.

Possibly Gone:

  1. Chapman-Page - loan expired, but he could be resigned. Hard to say. He was very effective in his time here, but you just never know with loans. 
  2. Molina - this is one of those times when I really don't know what might happen. He could just as easily be in the returning list.
  3. Reveno - loaned from NE Revolution in August. Historically, not many of those kinds of transactions have persisted into the next season.
  4. Rissi - loaned to Miami for Chapman-Page, so in theory he could have been coming back to Indy, but I think Rissi's play that prompted the loan was because Lowry and the players had started to lose confidence in Rissi. I would be surprised if he returns.
  5. Robledo - loaned from FC Cincinnati. This could depend on whether FCC think the loan was effective enough to bring him back into their fold full-time or try a loan with a different team.
  6. Trilk - After Oettl went out injured, Trilk proved in the second half of the season that he is a #1 capable goalkeeper in this league. Goalkeepers are a different breed so I could be surprised, but a third season in Indy as the #2 wouldn't be good for his further development or his personal goals and he might be seeking a place where he can be the #1 from the start. He wouldn't be the first keeper to return to the team knowing they weren't going to be the #1 so I could be wrong on this one.

Probably Returning:

  1. Asante - Solo has reached that age and stage in his career where he will likely never reach the same level of goal scoring and assist proficiency that he had during his time in Phoenix, but his vision, first touch, and set piece ability is enough to keep him around. 
  2. Blake - His presence in the midfield for the playoff game would have helped just like it did the rest of the year. I think he'll be back.
  3. Boudadi - Younes is dynamic up the wing forcing teams to deal with his pace and effort. If history is any indication, a player that accounted for as many minutes as Boudadi usually returns the next season.
  4. Dambrot - When healthy, Robby provided the same as Boudadi but on the opposite side. Lowry likes his wingers to get involved in the offense and Dambrot is an eager participant in that part of the field. 
  5. Diz Pe - Diz learned to control his emotions as the season progressed keeping teams from provoking him into bad decisions and he became the rock in the defense. At 6'-3", he's a great presence in the air on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. 
  6. Guenzatti - Sebastian played in every single game for the Eleven this year; all 34 regular season games, the 2 U.S. Open Cup games, and the playoff game. Guenzatti was the team's leading scorer and Lowry brought Guenzatti to Indy because he thought Seb could be a double digit scorer again despite some down seasons in Tampa.  
  7. Jerome - Mechack is a "Lowry guy". As I indicated in last year's recap, Jerome had a few more uncharacteristic errors than I saw from him when I watched him in ELP, but he played really well down the stretch of the season. Unless something drastic happens, he'll be back.
  8. King - Played for Lowry in ELP. Traded Fjeldberg to get King to Indy. Lowry will want to keep him around in 2024.
  9. Lindley - A local guy who was a cornerstone of the roster this year. Cam wants to be in Indy closer to family and Lowry wants him in the Indy midfield. There aren't guarantees in the business of soccer, but Lindley returning next season might be close.
  10. Martinez - Provided pace up top and showed a flexibility in where he could play. He could slide into the "Possibly Gone" category, but I think he returns for next season.
  11. Oettl - Until his injury, Yannik was the clear #1 for Lowry. I don't see that changing next year.
  12. Pinho - He left Indy to be closer to family in Brazil. However those issues were resolved, Pinho seemed to be glad to be back in Indy. I'm surprised he didn't get more minutes, but I still think he returns next season.
  13. Quinn - The other player in USL Championship history to have at least 50 goals and 50 assists besides Asante, and Indy's second leading scorer this year behind Guenzatti, Aodhan was a key component of the Indy midfield. He has also started setting roots here with a young family and that will make him want to stick around. Lowry would be crazy to not keep him.
  14. Rebellon - I continue to have concerns about his ability to stay healthy, but he's another "Lowry guy." 
  15. Vazquez - Until his injury, he was nearly a guaranteed starter. Whether his returning next year will be as a starter, or much needed depth may depend on the rest of the roster, but I think he also returns. 
  16. Velasquez - A midseason addition to the roster can often be a hit-or-miss on whether they return the next season. Velasquez played for Lowry in ELP. As such, he might not yet be a "Lowry guy," but getting him here this year could be the start of that designation.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the beginning, making the playoffs makes the year feel like a better campaign than last year's season. Losing as badly as they did in that playoff game makes it feel like 2 steps forward, but 1 step back. For now, I'm clinging to the fact that I believe Lowry is a really good coach with really good players at his disposal. The returning players and whatever gets added during the offseason need to stay healthy (which is difficult to project) and available for selection (which is easier if you don't make bad decisions on the field that get you multiple yellow cards or red cards). If that happens, and the team isn't constantly being forced to find a new combination of players, I think there were several games that get better results to match their good performances. Indy was just 4 points behind playoff-hosting Memphis in the table. It's not difficult to fathom just a few games going differently to place Indy in the playoff-hosting line and things being different.

I'm not a huge fan of using the turf at Carroll Stadium as an excuse, particularly given the new age of that turf, but now that Lowry knows with some regular housekeeping of the field throughout the season the field will play better, that should be one more excuse to remove from the list.

Announced attendance remains high, and despite some changes in the renewal benefits for season ticket members, I think attendance is going to continue to remain high. That continues to be something that Indy can't claim as being a concern. 

Indy's season hashtag was #It'sTime. It turned out not to be (at least for the men's 1st team), but the club has found success in other areas (women's and Academy) this year. Expectations were high this year, and I don't see any reason why they should be just as high next year with another year under everyone's belt with Lowry's system and more players who he think fit that system. Can success breed more success? Guess we'll see.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Charleston Battery - 10.35 (Playoffs)

Summary

- Opponent: Charleston Battery
- Location: Patriots Point
- Attendance: 2,972
- Final Score: 5-0 L

- Starting XI: Trilk, Boudadi, Jerome, Diz Pe, Dambrot, Lindley, Robledo, King, Velasquez, Martinez, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution: Molina 64' (Robledo); Pinho 64' (Velasquez); Vazquez 64' (Dambrot)

- Unused: Oettl, Chapman-Page, Reveno 

- Scoring Summary:
CHS – Ycaza 12’ (assist Rodriguez)
CHS - Williams 37' (assist Markanich)
CHS - Rodriguez 40' (Barajas)
CHS - Barajas 47' (Rodriguez)
CHS - Markanich 63' (Williams)

- Bookings:
CHS - Williams 16’ (Yellow)
IND - Boudadi 57' (Yellow)
IND - Vazquez 72' (Yellow)
IND - Diz Pe 76' (Yellow)
IND - Lindley 83' (Yellow)
CHS - Ycaza 90' (Yellow)

- Referee: Jeremy Scheer
- Adage goals: Two

Thoughts and Opinions

When this game started, I was walking around the National Mall in Washington D.C. with the family, but let my phone continue to keep me notified of what was going on in the game. I continued on with my vacation knowing that there wasn't going to be a home match in the second week of the playoffs after all the other high seeds in the Eastern Conference lost on Saturday. Despite knowing the result of the game,  I went ahead and actually watched the game now that I'm back, because, apparently, I'm a glutton for punishment after watching Purdue (football) lose to Nebraska on one screen and Purdue (men's basketball) lose to Arkansas in a scrimmage for charity in overtime to Arkansas. 

Before I watched the game, with full knowledge of the final score, I thought about what I might see. I wondered how Indy, one of the stingiest defenses in the entire league, could concede five goals in a playoff game. Indy hadn't conceded more than 3 in a game this season, even during the rough up-and-down stretch through the majority of the middle of the season. What I saw ran the gamut of issues.
  1. Charleston's first goal was a set piece corner kick.
  2. The second goal happened when Diz Pe was dispossessed 30 to 40-yards from goal, which led to a shot from outside the box that Trilk let bounce off his hands into the bottom right of the goal. Trilk nearly allowed a similar goal earlier in the game, but Diz cleared the ball off the line while being fouled.
  3. Just a few minutes later, 5 Indy defenders tracked 3 CHS attackers, but leaving the 4th attacker wide open in the middle of the box for an open header past Trilk. 
  4. Immediately after halftime, on a recycled corner kick, Charleston out-hustled the Indy defenders for yet another middle of the box shot through 5 Indy defenders that parted like the Red Sea.
  5. Finally, a cross past Diz went mere feet past Trilk across the goal mouth to an on-rushing Ycaza who beat Boudadi to the ball. 
Indy couldn't defend. When Indy had the ball, CHS defended in numbers and defended quickly, rarely giving Indy time nor space to effectively accomplish much. Indy couldn't attack. Indy managed just a single shot on target, a shot from Macca King that went straight to Muse. A shot that happened from just outside the box in the 19th minute. Not a single shot on target the rest of the game. Not even a 66th minute breakaway where Martinez seemed to be ahead of everybody, but Segbers overtook Martinez and prevented a shot. 

As good as Indy looked the week before during large stretches in San Antonio, they looked just as badly during large stretches in Charleston. When Indy lost Quinn with 6 games to go in the season, Indy took a few games to settle into not having him available. Indy went into this game without Asante due to his red card suspension in the San Antonio game, and Blake who had an ankle injury. As a result, Indy started both King and Robledo. Robledo had only started a dozen games before this one and had only played a total of 48 minutes in the past three games combined. Similarly, King had also only played just 48 minutes in a substitute role in the past two games combined after having not played for the preceding ten games. I appreciate Macca, but the midfield looked completely different than it has when Indy has looked its best. 

Indy struggled this year, with injuries and suspensions derailing any momentum that they managed to get going. It's probably fitting that two more (one injury and one suspension) factored into their performance against Charleston. As promising as this season looked coming into it, and as good as the team looked at times throughout the season, it's a bit disheartening to think that the team has such an issue with depth that just one or two players can have Indy go from looking like they did in the first half against San Antonio to a team that gets clobbered by 5-nil in the first weekend of the playoffs. It's something I'll likely discuss in my end-of-season recap, but not here.
 
As I thought about the game during my vacation, my pessimistic nature (and being a long-time Cubs fan) kicked in and Indy fans should have known that things wouldn't go well for the men's 1st team. The club isn't at a point where fans should realistically think that it's possible for the club to win an USL W League championship and win (or even make a run in) the USL Championship in the same season. We're just not there as a club where that seems feasible. Maybe some day.


The Game Beckons Game Ball

I don't really want to finish the season without awarding the Game Beckons Game Ball, but does any player really deserve it when the team gets beaten by 5 goals and only manages one shot on target in 90 minutes of action? After arguing with myself that there had to be at least one good performance by one of the players, I just couldn't rationalize it in that kind of loss in that kind of game.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Indy Eleven vs San Antonio -10.34

Summary

- Opponent: San Antonio FC
- Location: Toyota Field
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 3-3 D

- Starting XI: Trilk, Boudadi, Vazquez, Diz Pe, Dambrot, Blake, Lindley, Asante, Velasquez, Martinez, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution: Robledo 59' (Velasquez); King 59' (Lindley); Pinho 77' (Martinez); Reveno 77' (Boudadi); Chapman-Page 85' (Diz Pe)

- Unused: Crawford, Molina 

- Scoring Summary:
IND – Blake 9’ (assist Lindley)
IND - Guenzatti 37' (unassisted)
SA - Patino 45'+4' (penalty kick)
IND - Diz Pe 54' (assist Lindley)
SA - Oluwaseyi 58' (unassisted)
SA - Taintor 88' (unassisted)

- Bookings:
SA - Taintor 8’ (Yellow)
IND - Lindley 24' (Yellow)
IND - Martinez 36' (Yellow)
IND - Boudadi 45'+2' (Yellow)
IND - Asante 45'+3'; 61' (Yellow, Yellow, RED)
IND - Diz Pe 67' (Yellow)
SA – Lamar Batista 74' (Yellow)
IND - King 90'+8' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elijio Arreguin
- Adage goals: Two

Thoughts and Opinions

The USL Championship is going to USL Championship. By that, I mean that things never really seem to go as expected. Coming into the weekend, the top of the table was set. Pittsburgh couldn't be caught for first. Tampa Bay couldn't be caught for second. Charleston couldn't be caught for third. However, spots 3 through 8 were unsettled. 

A Memphis draw would have given them 53 points and they would hold the tiebreaker over Louisville even if LOU won, giving MEM 4th place. A LOU draw would give them 51 points and would hold the tiebreaker over Indy if Indy were to win and get themselves to 51 points. If Indy drew and BHM won, they would be even on points, but Indy would take 6th due to the second tiebreaker. BHM would get 7th, and Detroit and Miami were battling it out for the 8th spot against Pittsburgh and Sacramento, respectively. So MEM, LOU, and IND just needed to draw their games and playoff positions would have been more or less set, with the exception of the Detroit and Miami battle.

However...

MEM started the weekend's proceedings on Friday by floundering to a 4-1 defeat against New Mexico United in Isotopes Park in Albuquerque. That meant that the draw that LOU likely would have been working towards at home against TBR flipped on its head because a LOU win meant that they would leapfrog MEM and finish fourth to be able to host a playoff game. Knowing that LOU were going to be going all out against TBR meant that they would make themselves susceptible to a loss against a TBR team who didn't have anything to gain from the game, but also wouldn't want to roll over and let LOU win. So Indy went from considering a draw against San Antonio as fine to thinking that a win in Texas and a TBR win in Kentucky would mean that Indy would finish in 5th. Finishing there doesn't help Indy host a playoff game, but it does feel nice to finish ahead of the consistent winners of Louisville.

With the exception of the psychological advantage of finishing higher up the table than your rival, I kind of preferred Indy finishing in 6th. A 5th place finish would mean a return trip to the potentially atrocious field in Memphis that they saw last time Indy played against MEM. A 6th place finish means a trip to CHS, a team that Indy had success against this season. Admittedly, the first win (a 4-nil victory in CHS) was helped out by the 1st minute red card showed to Archer, but Indy found ways to score in that game. Indy has a 4W-2D-2L record against CHS since entering the USL, and a 3W-1D-0L record since the pandemic. Coming into the game, I was okay with a 6th place finish. 

So what could have been a ho-hum weekend at the top of the table turned into an absolute dog fight after Memphis' loss. As Indy were getting started, they would have already known that BHM had lost to CHS so there wasn't anybody behind them that could supplant their position in 6th even with a loss. So a move up the table was definitely possible if they wanted to go all out. They would have also been able to see that LOU v TBR was at halftime with a 3-1 score in TBR's favor after TBR scored in about 30 seconds after the starting whistle, and LOU was throwing the kitchen sink at TBR to get the win after going down early, getting gifted an Own Goal, giving up a penalty kick that was missed, and then conceding two goals from Jennings in rapid succession. Indy would have known that a move up the table was possible.

Whatever they knew coming into the game or whatever team they would have preferred to play, Indy came out against San Antonio and found an early goal in the 9th minute on a long cross from Lindley that ran through most of the 18-yard box before finding Blake who put the ball passed Marsman. Indy looked like a team that was wanting to win this game, results in the table be damned. San Antonio had their own chances early, finishing the half with 7 corners and 6 shots (3 on frame) to Indy's 1 and 9 (4 on frame), respectively. Yet Indy is setup perfectly to play on a a field like Toyota Field which has a natural turf surface, and Indy consistently, and easily, moved their possession style through the San Antonio midfield in the first half. San Antonio nicked a stoppage time penalty kick goal when Boudadi was charged with bringing down Bailone, who looked to me like he did as much of the pulling down as Boudadi did. Either way, the teams went into the halftime locker with Indy still up a goal to find that Louisville had lost to Tampa Bay. 

Then, as the USL Championship is want to do, the game descended into Crazy Town. Diz Pe scored a goal to give Indy their third goal on the night. Five minutes later, San Antonio found another goal on a scramble situation when Trilk had one of his rare mistakes on the night and was unable to collect the initial shot cleanly. A few minutes after that, Asante picked up a second yellow card on a fairly light call after getting his first yellow in stoppage time of the first half due to arguing the penalty kick call, forcing Indy to finish the game down a man. Now up a man and down a goal, it was a frenetic finish to the final 30 minutes as San Antonio fought for an equalizer, which they managed to do in the 88th minute. Indy closed out the remaining 2 minutes + TEN MINUTES of stoppage time (originally shown as 5 minutes) to see the game, somehow, finish in a 3-3 draw.

It's the kind of draw that feels like a loss that feels like a win. Let me explain. Indy should have won this game. Until Asante's untimely dismissal from the game, Indy controlled the midfield and looked like the team that we all expected them to be when the roster was announced so many months ago. So when San Antonio found their equalizer, it felt like a loss. Yet, by not picking up all three points, Indy drop back down to the position on the table where they have spent 8 of the last 9 weeks of the season, 6th place. That means they head to Charleston and not Memphis. Again, I don't know the team's preferred location, but I think going to Charleston is a better situation for Indy than Memphis.

Indy will be on the road to start the playoffs. With this season, just about anything can happen and likely will, but Indy are playing good soccer right now and will be doing so on another grass field in Charleston, where their style of play works well. Tonight's game followed much of this season's frustration of results that didn't match performance, but I don't think the result was necessarily a bad thing for Indy. With the obvious exception of losing Asante, who has been playing really well in recent weeks. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball
I don't normally like to give the GBGB to the same player in back-to-back games, but Trilk deserves it again tonight. San Antonio put 8 shots on target, many of them from close range, and Trilk made 5 saves. Down a man and trying to maintain the slim lead, there were moments where it felt like Trilk was on the wrong side of a firing squad and he made some spectacular reaction saves to keep Indy in the game. Feels strange to give the GBGB to a goalkeeper when the opposition scores three goals, but if it hadn't been for Trilk, it would have been worse.