Saturday, April 6, 2024

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City - 11.05

Summary

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Lynn Family Stadium
- Attendance: 11,330
- Final Score: 5-3 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Diz Pe, O'Brien, J., Barbir, Stanley, Schneider, Blake, Lindley (C), Williams, Martinez, Guenzatti

- Substitution: Gibson 62' (Schneider); Ikoba 62' (Williams); Collier 79' (Guenzatti)

- Unused: Sulte, Barbir, King, Wootton

- Scoring Summary:
LOU -  16' Harris (assist Morris)
IND - 34' Blake (Penalty Kick)
LOU - 41' Wilson (assist Harris)
LOU - 50' Wynder (assist Serrano)
IND - 59' Blake (assist Guenzatti)
LOU - 62' Harris (assist Perez)
LOU - 71' Harris (assist Serrano)
IND - 82' Own Goal (McCabe)

- Bookings:
IND - Martinez 32' (Yellow)
IND - Boudadi 40' (Yellow)
IND - Oettl 71' (Yellow)
LOU - Las 77' (Yellow)
LOU - Serrano 87' (Yellow)
LOU - Gonzales 90'+6' (Yellow)

- Referee: Jeremy Scheer
- Adage goals: Three

Thoughts and Opinions

Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Football Contest

Columbia Broadcasting System

LIPAFC on CBS

The USL Championship made its national television debut with Indy Eleven and Louisville City FC in a game with one of the longest rivalry names in probably all of soccer. Both teams have players who have played on both sides of the rivalry with, amazingly to me, both starting the game on the bench. Tyler Gibson has been a mainstay in the midfield of both teams and Dylan Mares made a stop in El Paso between his time in Indy and his time now in Louisville. Louisville has started their season in much the same way that Louisville has started most of their seasons. Louisville came into the game undefeated, with three wins and a +8 goal differential. Indy has had inconsistent results in their first four games with a 1W-1D-2L record and a -1 GD.

It took just over 15 minutes for Louisville to cash in on the pressure that they were putting on Indy, showing the two different forms the teams are in for the early part of the season. It took just under another 15 minutes for Louisville to nearly double that advantage when Davila rocketed a ball off Oettl's right post before closing the entire goal and finding Stanley for a clearance.

The first thirty minutes was all Louisville. Just after the 30-minute mark, though, Indy found a way into the game as Boudadi attacked up the wings and found himself clipped inside the box for an awarded penalty kick. Indy's surprising offensive threat this season, Jack Blake, stepped up and put the firmly down the middle of the goal as Las dove to his left. It was against the run of play, but Indy needed it.

Then they threw it right back away because Indy had no answer for Wilson Harris. Harris found another ball up the left side of the field, and placed a ball through the center of the 18-yard box, where an on-rushing Wilson found the ball coming right to him and calmly slotted his first goal of his career over a late-arriving Stanley and out of the reach of a diving Oettl. The teams finished the half with a deserved lead for Louisville. Going into the locker room, Louisville had to feel like they left goals on the field and Indy had to be scratching their head on how the hell they were going to slow down Harris, who was running rampant against one of Indy's best defenders in Boudadi.

What happened after halftime was that Louisville put their foot on Indy's throat and scored a third goal within 5-minutes of the second stanza's whistle. I don't want to say that it was over at that point, but it kind of was semantics at that point. Indy found another goal through Blake in the 59th minute and then promptly gave it right back in the 62nd minute. Harris added another one 9-minutes later for good measure. Indy found a third goal in the 82nd from a Niall McCabe own goal to help with the goal differential. With 10 minutes worth of stoppage time that gave both teams opportunities to add to the EIGHT goal outing, both teams looked like they were tired as shots drifted wide and the game mercifully came to an end for Eleven fans. 

Indy returns to Carroll Stadium next weekend to play Charleston, with questions to answer on how they're going to get their next victory against yet another top of the table team.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Another game where his ability to score is the only thing that kept this game close for Indy. In the loss, Blake continues to show that he is unafraid to take shots at goal, and is finding the back of it frequently. The GBGB once again goes to Blake.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Indy Eleven vs Detroit City - 11.04

Summary

- Opponent: Detroit City FC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 9,044
- Final Score: 1-2 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Diz Pe, Barbir, Stanley, Gibson (C), Blake, Lindley, Williams, Ikoba, Guenzatti

- Substitution: Schneider 60' (Lindley); Martinez 60' (Ikoba); Collier ' (Gibson)

- Unused: Crawford, Ivetic, King, McCoy, O'Brien, J., O'Brien,E.

- Scoring Summary:
IND -  24' Guenzatti (assist Boudadi)
DET - 55' Coote (assist Rodriguez)
DET - 88' Rodriguez (assist Matthews)

- Bookings:
IND - Boudadi 15' (Yellow)
DET - Diop 42' (Yellow)
IND - Diz Pe 87' (Yellow)
DET - Carroll 90' (Yellow)

- Referee: Velimir Stefanovic
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

In the "early, doesn't mean much at this point of the season" table, both Indy and Detroit come into this game in playoff positions. Detroit second from the top, with Indy second from the bottom (of the playoff positions). Yeah, literally means nothing at this point in the season, other than to say that Detroit has started the season strongly, with 2-1 wins against both Colorado Switchbacks and Loudoun United. Detroit came into Carroll Stadium as Indy's first Eastern Conference opponent, having played three Western Conference teams to start the season, covering the full house results; 1W-1D-1L. 

In the early minutes of the game, it proceeded just as the previous three games. Detroit holding possession, while Indy attacked quickly every time they had the opportunity. The other consistent them in the early part of the game was the appearance of the Indy Eleven training staff as both Diz Pe and Williams needed attention because they were hit in the face with stray Detroit limbs. Despite all the limbs and running up and down the field, the first shot on target didn't happen until the 23rd minute. That shot was from Detroit. Less than a minute later, Boudadi tracked down a ball in the corner, proceeded to nutmeg his defender, before getting a ball to Guenzatti in the middle of the box that Seba proceeded to put in the opposite corner of the goal to start the scoring and open his account for the season. 

It's only Ikoba's second game for Indy after only being here for a short time, but he doesn't seem to have fully grasped what his role is supposed to be yet. Getting the start tonight to get him some minutes, but he didn't seem fully in sync with what his teammates wanted from him. A couple times in the first half, I noticed Guenzatti trying to tell Ikoba where he wanted him to be, but Ikoba didn't listen. I'm sure he'll get there, but he looked green tonight in the first half. 

Half Heatmap
The first half finished with Indy leading 1-nil, playing the way they want to play. Detroit held the advantage in possession, shots, and basically any of the stats that typically get reviewed to see how the two teams compare. Except for the score. The first half was, once again, played predominantly in the middle of the pitch, but was also played more on the wings than the game last week against Sacramento. Boudadi and Stanley are unafraid to make the runs up the sideline, and Boudadi was highly effective in doing so, with long field switches from the midfielders Blake and Lindley. 

The second half started well for Indy with a near goal by Diz Pe on a header from a set piece that he put perfectly down and away from the keeper, but Steinwascher got down low and fast to get a hand to it to parry the ball away from goal. Much like Indy's earlier goal in the first half that happened shortly after a Detroit attempt, DCFC went down the field and had an attempt of their own. Indy fans were happy to see that Detroit weren't able to convert on their chance. The next five minutes were a back-and-forth affair as both team had chances, but the score remained the same. With the way the opening 10 minutes of the second half proceeded, the game looked like it was going to have multiple goals left in it. At which point, DCFC pulled back level with a goal of their own by working through Indy's box. 

At which point, the game became wide open as both teams tried to find the winner. Possession became a premium despite there being plenty of time for both teams to play their game. Indy's tends to be direct anyway, but the goal spurred DCFC to also play a bit more direct trying to catch Indy disorganized defensively with players spread out so much. 

When Coach McAuley subbed out Gibson for Collier in the 75th minute, after already pulling Lindley in the Lindley in the 60th minute, it was clear that play through the midfield was going to be bypassed more and more as Indy chased the winner. "Just looking for a change of shape," was how McAuley explained it when asked. Taking Gibson out as the midfield backstop was a bold move, a clear indication of Coach's intentions for games at home, and one that I worried would come back to hurt Indy. While their absence wasn't the deciding factor, when Detroit knocked in a second goal in the 88th minute from a corner kick scramble, it felt like a game where Indy might have let a team hang around after not converting their own chances. Indy's early season struggles of not being as clinical around the goal as they can be with the talent up front turned a draw into a loss and a 0W-1D-1L early homestand for the team.

The Detroit contingent that made the trek from Michigan down to The Mike went home with smiling faces, as their team has now started the season on a 3-game win streak, and sit 2nd in the table tied with Louisville on points, but behind on the tiebreakers. Again, it's too early to really talk about it at all, but the draw would have kept Indy on the right side of the playoff line. The way the early part of this season is going in the Eastern Conference, not giving up points late could be a big deal as the season progresses. These are the kinds of games that Indy is going to want to get points from if they want to be in the hunt at the end of the season.

Indy travel to play an undefeated Louisville City on Saturday, in a stadium where it's never easy to win, and Louisville is coming off a 5-nil thumping of Birmingham. Indy will need to regroup quickly, because following Louisville is Charleston, the current 3rd place team in the table. Games aren't getting easier as Indy learns to play with each other in McAuley's system. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball
It was good to see Guenzatti open his account this season, but so much of Indy's offense seemed to have Boudadi stamped onto it as he made run after run up the right side. His nutmeg and pass to Guenzatti got the team started tonight. Even in the loss, I thought Boudadi deserved the game's GBGB.

Additional Photographs - Don Thompson Photography







Saturday, March 23, 2024

Indy Eleven vs Sacramento Republic - 11.03

Summary

- Opponent: Sacramento Republic FC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 8,451
- Final Score: 1-1 D

- Starting XI: Oettl, O'Brien, J., Chapman-Page, Barbir, Stanley, Gibson (C), Blake, Lindley, Williams, Schneider, Guenzatti

- Substitution: Boudadi 60' (O'Brien, J); Diz Pe 60' (Chapman-Page); Ikoba 61' (Gibson)

- Unused: Crawford, Henderlong, Ivetic, King, McCoy

- Scoring Summary:
SAC -  31' Own Goal (Chapman-Page)
IND - 35' Williams (assist Schneider)

- Bookings:
IND - Diz Pe 71' (Yellow)
IND - Schneider 79' (Yellow)
SAC - Timmer 83' (Yellow)

- Referee: Joshua Encarnación
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

FIRST HOME GAME OF SEASON! Tonight's game signifies the earliest home opener in the history of the club. There have been games in March, but the previous two times that has occurred was when the team was playing in the environmentally controlled environment of Lucas Oil Stadium. Today's fans didn't have the same protections from the temperatures and the early wind as those games in 2018 and 2019. Indy has a good record the home openers, albeit not high on the winning side of things as Indy has a 2W-6D-2L record leading up to this game:

  • 2014 - April 12 - 1-1 D (Carolina Railhawks) - Carroll Stadium
  • 2015 - April 11 - 1-1 D (New York Cosmos) - Carroll Stadium
  • 2016 - April 9 - 1-1 D (Ottawa Fury FC) - Carroll Stadium
  • 2017 - April 1 - 3-3 D (Puerto Rico FC) - Carroll Stadium
  • 2018 - March 31 - 0-1 L (Cincinnati) - Lucas Oil Stadium
  • 2019 - March 30 - 1-0 W (Hartford Athletic) - Lucas Oil Stadium
  • 2020 - July 11 (Fuck COVID) - 2-0 W (Saint Louis FC) - Lucas Oil Stadium
  • 2021 - May 8 - 0-2 L (FC Tulsa) - Lucas Oil Stadium
  • 2022 - April 2 - 1-1 D (LA Galaxy II) - Carroll Stadium
  • 2023 - April 1 - 0-0 D (Las Vegas Lights) - Carroll Stadium
  • 2024 - March 23 - (Sacramento) - Carroll Stadium

If you notice there are a few more players listed in the lineup graphic, it's because the league has started a new "youth initiative" that allows the home team the option of including two additional players beyond the normal 18, as long as those players are Academy players. Indy's frequent signing of Academy players helps them with this new rule change. You might not see the players get much action, but Crawford and McCoy get the opportunity to see the game play out from field level in lieu of in the stands with the fans. Cayden had that chance a few times last year when Oettl was out with injury, but McCoy was announced just yesterday and already found himself getting a chance to be on the bench.

Indy gave up an early chance from Sacramento that found the back of the goal, but was deemed to be offside, which was fortunate because the build-up from Sacramento was very good leading to the shot. Much of the time to that point had been played in Sacramento's half due to Indy's desire to press all touches by the Sacramento defenders or goalkeeper as soon as possible. 

Photo Credit: Don Thompson Photography
In the 12th minute, Oettl's long goal kicks weren't helped by being in a larger stadium than Memphis' small pitch. The 17th minute started a prolonged stretch of play for Sacramento in and around Indy's box, which nearly led to a goal from a free kick that was saved nearly off the line by Stanley. The corner kick was caught by Oettl with much more conviction than the punch that led to the free kick. 

Oettl did the same thing in the 29th minute by punting his second goal kick directly out of bounds. Indy's new tactics are not using a play-from-the-back mentality, but Oettl's current trend of putting the ball into the other team's hands may need to be rethought. Shortly after this kick, SAC had their own spell of possession in Indy's half, which lead to a cross that bounced off Chapman-Page and into the team's own goal. All the effort Indy had in SAC's half undone by a bad touch. 

Luckily for Indy fans, the amount of time that they spent chasing the game was minimal as Indy found the equalizer within minutes through a goal from Williams. Schneider put a ball to Williams' right foot that allowed him to spin around his defender. Once past the defender, Williams neatly tucked the ball under Vitiello and deflecting off the far post into the goal. 

Halftime Heatmap
The game's second goal sent the game into a much more open affair as the teams looked to get themselves back ahead before the halftime whistle. After two minutes of stoppage time, the teams went into the locker rooms with the same differential as they did 45-minutes prior. A very even affair, with similar possession totals and shot totals, spent predominantly in the middle of the pitch. The halftime talks were probably very positive in both locker rooms. Both teams played the way they wanted to play, with both teams getting rewarded with a goal. The second half had the appearance that it was going to be an individual moment of brilliance or a mistake that could separate the two teams.

The second half continued much like the first half. Possession stayed centered around the center circle of the pitch, but started shifting slightly more towards Sacramento's offensive side for a bit, but by the end of the game, the heat map looked like exactly what you would expect for a game where the advantage swung widely between both teams. Williams pushed a shot just wide in the 56th minute that rattled the endline ad display right next to the goal, but couldn't find it's way in like his earlier attempt. Guenzatti put a header off the crossbar in the 63rd minute shortly after Indy made their first substitutions in the 60th minute. 

Full time - Average Position
Beyond that though, there was a lot of play between the 18-yard lines, but the shots on target didn't change much from their halftime totals until the end. In addition to Indy's near chances in the second half, Sacramento did have a chance on a shot in the 87th minute that squeaked agonizingly close to the left post that would have wrapped up the victory for the visitors. Those were really the only chances on goal for the second half.

The game finished with a draw, which was probably a fair result for both teams. Both teams played they wanted to play, both succeeded in getting a goal from their efforts, and both go home with a point for their efforts. I was asked a couple times what I think of the way the team is playing. My response is that it's a drastically different style from what we've seen the past two years with Lowry, and maybe this style is more suited to this league, on fields that aren't ideal. That being said, I know the majority of this group are capable of playing a style of soccer that has more possession, and I think that is what is missing with this team. The long pass percentage for this game hovered around the 20% mark every time I checked throughout the game, finishing at 18.8%, which is fine. What I would like to see is that every so often, even if that long pass is attempted, that there be a split second or two delay to make sure that the long pass that is about to be attempted has any chance at all at being a positive play. I've seen a number of plays from this team in the first three games where the ball is blasted forward (from a variety of players, but maybe a bit heavier on the defenders group) and it's been in a place that literally no Indy Eleven play could reach or make a play. All that does is give the ball immediately back to the opposition without having Indy in a position to properly attack or defend. Some of those long passes could stand to have the guys put their foot on the ball and make a shorter, possession-style, pass, so that it doesn't feel like wasted action. Maybe we'll get there as the season progresses. The guys are still working towards using a new style, integrating new players, and learning what Coach McAuley expects and wants to see. 

Indy fans get to see the team in action again next Saturday when Indy finally plays a team in the Eastern Conference, when Detroit City come to town. The two teams played each other during the preseason, so there will be a bit of a familiarity between what each wants to do.
 
The Game Beckons Game Ball
Tonight's a little more difficult to pick a winner of the GBGB. Many nights, I let my eye test sway me one way or the other. Using that as my basis tonight, the player that I kept noticing, and not just because of the new hairdo, was Guenzatti. He was really active in the midfield and going forward. He was unfortunate to not have his 63rd minute header not be a game-winner. Williams could get it for his equalizing finish, but Guenzatti edges him just slightly for tonight's GBGB. I have a feeling this won't be the last time both of these players are discussed in this segment.

Additional Photographs - Don Thompson Photography






Saturday, March 16, 2024

Indy Eleven vs Memphis 901 FC - 11.02

Summary

- Opponent: Memphis 901 FC
- Location: AutoZone Park
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 2-1 W

- Starting XI: Oettl, O'Brien, J., Chapman-Page, Barbir, Stanley, Gibson (C), Blake, Lindley, Williams, Martinez, Guenzatti

- Substitution: Henderlong 63' (Martinez); King 72' (Chapman-Page); Collier 72' (Guenzatti); O'Brien, E. 90'+2' (Gibson)

- Unused: Sulte, Klein, Molina

- Scoring Summary:
IND -  26' Blake (penalty kick)
IND - Martinez 42' (assist Stanley)
MEM - Cissoko 90'+1' (unassisted)

- Bookings:
IND - Chapman-Page 8' (Yellow)
MEM - Jimenez 15', 45'+1' (Yellow, Yellow, RED)
MEM - Tulu 25' (Yellow)
IND - Barbir 35' (Yellow)
IND - Martinez 57' (Yellow)
IND - O'Brien, E. 90'+3' (Yellow)
MEM - Cissoko 90'+4' (Yellow)
MEM - Ward 90'+7' (RED)

- Referee: Sergii Demianchuk
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

Allow this to be my first, but probably not last, complaint about soccer on a baseball field. Yeah, yeah, I know there are some, including Lowry last year, who have stated that there are actually advantages of playing on that kind of field. I'm not one of them. I'm also writing this before the game even starts because I don't care about the result to know that I don't like watching games on a field intended for baseball. The only advantage of this game from last year's field debacle in Memphis is that the field actually looked playable. 

It's probably going to be Indy's tactic most of the time this year, but early in this game on this field, Indy was playing a lot of Route 1 balls, trying to get the ball up to Martinez, Guenzatti, and Williams. When Indy was awarded a penalty kick in the 25th minute, Indy was at 30% long balls (finished the game at 25%). The ball to Blake required a perfect touch from Blake, which he was able to do, and forced Tulu into making a decision that was a split second late, catching Blake and not the ball. For his effort, Blake stepped up to take the penalty kick and promptly roofed it in a place and at a pace that was impossible for Deric to stop. It might be a different way to play than many of these players used last year, but Blake's penalty kick put Indy up relatively early in the first half. 

As the half closed, the game turned into Indy's to lose. Stanley made a run from his left back position to put the ball into a dangerous location in the box that Deric misjudged and fell to Martinez, who ultimately had to head the ball into the goal from within 3-feet of the goal line. Indy's tactic to concede possession, and get the ball to the midfield and forwards as much as possible, was much more successful in this game than it was last week in Oakland. With a two goal lead, Indy further benefitted when former Louisville City player Oscar Jimenez picked up his second yellow card in the first minute of stoppage time. Down a man and down two goals, Memphis found themselves in a difficult situation going into the halftime locker room. 

At the halftime whistle, Indy trailed in time of possession (37% to 63%) and in shots (8 to 6), but led in shots on target (4 to 0), and most importantly, led in goals (2 to 0) and men on the field (11 to 10). Indy's long ball percentage at halftime was 28%, which would have been unheard of last season, was enough to put them ahead at the break. It's only two games into the 2024, but it's clear that the tactics from McAuley's squad are going to be widely different than those of Lowry. If it remains effective as the season progresses, who am I to judge. 

Oh wait, I can judge. It's kind of what I can do with this site. 

Oettl Distribution
As I did with preseason results, I don't put a ton of stock in early results until I see a much larger sample size, but the game plan seems simple. Concede possession if needed, make strong defensive decisions that could include just blasting the ball back up the field, and get the ball into the opponent's box as much as possible to give the team a chance to make a play. Playing out of the back looks to be a secondary thought. While nearly every player on this roster has the ability to play the ball in tight quarters and keep the ball on the ground, playing out of the back isn't going to be the focus. I'll blame it on the field size, but Oettl's clearances and corner kicks in this game wasn't spectacular, and we know he can play short, so maybe playing long from him isn't always the best plan.

Even with the man advantage, Indy pulled the possession differential back some, but Memphis still finished the game with a 58% to 42% advantage. The man advantage didn't change the tactics. Indy didn't start resorting to keep-away using the touch that we know they have the ability to do. The game still remained with Indy conceding possession, despite having one less defender to deal with from Memphis. Eventually, all that possession and effort allowed Memphis to get a late corner kick. That corner kick forced a scramble in the box that led to a Memphis goal to rob Oettl of a clean sheet. 

Indy managed to see out the last of the 6-minutes of stoppage time, but playing 11v10 for the entirety of the second half, Indy should have put the game further out of reach. Am I nit-picking in a 2-1 win on the road? Maybe, but Indy did not close out this game in a confident fashion. They did not get another shot on target in the second half, finishing the game with the same number of shots they had at halftime. With a man advantage, and this team, that should have happened.  

Indy get the win by getting a couple of timely first half goals, and then hanging on in the end against a undermanned Memphis team that played harder than Indy in the second half. The team returns home next week against Sacramento Republic for Indy's third game against a Western Conference opponent to start the season, as well as Indy's earliest home game in the club's history. 
 
The Game Beckons Game Ball
Right now, there's a clear focal point for the team and that is Jack Blake. I thought Williams did some good hold-up play up top, but for a team that needs to midfield to do both offensive and defensive work while often having the ball bypass them, Blake stood out again for me. So for the second game in as many weeks, Blake gets the GBGB.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Indy Eleven vs Oakland Roots - 11.01

Summary

- Opponent: Oakland Roots SC
- Location: Pioneer Stadium
- Attendance: 5,146
- Final Score: 2-1 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Chapman-Page, Diz Pe, Stanley, Gibson (C), Blake, Lindley, Williams, Henderlong, Guenzatti

- Substitution: Collier 66' (Henderlong); O'Brien, J. (75' (Boudadi); Molina 86' (Gibson)

- Unused: Sulte, O'Brien, E., Sanchez

- Scoring Summary:
OAK –  3’ Cedeno (unassisted)
IND - Blake 43' (assist Boudadi)
OAK - Tamacas 50' (assist Donasiyano)

- Bookings:
IND - Blake 24’ (Yellow)
IND - Henderlong 25' (Yellow)
IND - Chapman-Page 41' (Yellow)
IND - Collier 70' (Yellow)
OAK - Njie 89' (Yellow)
OAK - Donasiyano 90'+8' (Yellow)
IND - Lindley 90'+8' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elton García
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

When I first started this site, I had intentions and goals of talking about soccer. World soccer. National soccer. Local soccer. Not having any team in the world that I cared about meant that talking about world soccer fell to the wayside fairly quickly. I did talk about the US National Teams for a bit, but even that trickled away and eventually stopped. Leaving this site to almost exclusively be about Indy Eleven. Game recaps, discussions about the stadium, and the regular changing of the head coach. Then the USL W League started and I had even more to talk about. More recaps and Championship winning teams to be excited about watching. The stadium finally settled on a location, which allowed for a few recent articles (A history of the site, a look at the groundbreaking from my perspective, and a fun In-Depth Look), but the site hasn't seem to change much in my past couple of visits past it so those have slowed down. I had an auction for The (Mini) LIPAFC Barrels that I created. After getting approval from Peter Wilt, I discussed whether Indy's first season could have been different based on players that the club was in discussions to sign, but weren't able to do so for one reason or another.

All that to say that I have learned over the years (like the men's team, this is now my 11th season covering the team) that I really need the break during the off-season. From March 12, 2023 to my annual season recap on November 6th, I wrote 57 articles. That's an average of 1.7 articles per week, but during those summer months when the women are in action, there were times when it felt like I was writing 3 or 4 a week. While it's nowhere near John Morrisey level of work at USL Tactics, I'm no longer at an age where I can grind that like, particularly since this isn't my day job and I want to have a life with my wife and kids too. So when the team crashed out of the playoffs in a 5-nil beat-down from Charleston, I moved closer to my hibernation mode. I did my season recap, but have generally been radio silent since that article. 
Consciousness is greatly diminished. This varies by species, but many hibernating animals are completely oblivious to their surroundings and are nearly impossible to wake up. If you were to wake up a hibernating animal midwinter, you would be effectively killing it. It would use up so much energy warming itself up in order to awaken that it would have no chance of making it to spring even if it could re-enter hibernation. - How Hibernation Works

I managed to awaken my consciousness long enough to write an article about the departure of Mark Lowry. I had an off-the-record conversation with Mark that will never see the light of day, and two articles around the hiring of current head coach Sean McAuley  (Will it even Matter? and the begin of the McAuley era), and watched Indy's Undrafted series. Beyond that, I've mostly done other things. I've worked on the novel I've been writing. I've watched college basketball. I've watched Taylor Swift learn to love football. I wonder what my life will be like when Indy Eleven officially take the field as part of the USL Super League, thereby providing club games year-round since they league is intending to be on the international schedule.

I avoided discussing Indy's off-season because I take very little stock in the results of those games, winning or losing. It's notable that Indy outscored their opponents 18-2, but there are a number of factors that can lead to that. So I tend to not value those results, and only managed to attend one of the preseason games since "closed" games were truly "closed" games this year, even to the media. 

Tonight/this morning though, my hibernation came to an end as Indy was officially back in league action against Oakland, a club that came to Indy last year and handed Indy a 3-nil defeat. Within 3-minutes of the start, I was looking to get my hibernation restarted as Indy conceded an early goal to begin the season in a negative fashion. Indy seemed to settle in after watching their league play begin with an immediate play-from-behind mode. McAuley's immediate pressing and desire to keep the ball in the offensive end became clear.

However, around the 24th minute, the match took at weird turn as Blake and Henderlong saw yellow cards shown to them in rapid succession, and it was announced that Guenzatti also received one, though that one didn't show up on the Match Center. Blake received his card for unnecessarily chirping at the referee, while Henderlong received his for a late tackle. Chapman-Page added to the yellow total in the closing minutes of the first half with a professional, but very necessary, foul as Rodriguez would have had acres of space in front of him on a counter if he had made it passed Chapman-Page. If the first game is going to be any indication, Indy isn't going to be in the running for any "fair play" tiebreakers as the season progresses.

Halftime Heatmap
Indy put significant pressure on Oakland after going down early, and finally found their break-through in the 43rd minute, when Blake first-timed a first-touch cross from Boudadi. The shot from near the penalty spot was low and through traffic that Blanchette couldn't stop to give Indy the equalizer in the 43rd minute. Indy finished the half with a nearly 60/40 advantage in possession, 16 crosses, a 13 to 1 advantage in shots (4 to 1 on target), with possession weighted heavily in Oakland's end of the field including in Blanchette' box. Indy was on the wrong side of the yellow card battle, but the equalizer had been coming and put Indy in a good position going into the halftime locker room. 

Then they put it all that good work behind them by quickly giving up a 2nd goal to Oakland in the 50th minute as Oakland worked their way through the Indy defense. Boudadi helped keep Tamacas onside, who worked his way through the line and had his choice of shots before sending it to Oettl's right side and out of his reach to put Indy back in playing-from-behind mode. The goal seemed to finally settle Oakland as they gained a better foothold on the game and the second half wasn't as one-sided as the first half felt. 

Fulltime Heatmap
In the end, Indy's inability to start quickly in each of the two halves and the preseason goal scoring that didn't follow the team westward were what ultimately doomed them to an early season loss, and perpetuating their struggles against the Western Conference teams. Last year's "results didn't match the performance" mantra has continued into a new season, at least to start, as the fulltime heatmap still shows the bulk of the game being played in Oakland's half. Whether it persists further into the season will be a discussion as we move forward, but for the Indy fans that stayed up past midnight Eastern Time, the new coach, new players, new sponsors, and new jerseys looked like the old 2023 frustrations. The team did finish with a 19% long ball rate, which is 7% points higher than last year's average of 12%, which may be the main indicator of McAuley's tactics versus Lowry's preferred play-from-the-back, possession-based style the past couple of years. The loss also brings Indy's opening match record to 3W-5D-3L. In Indy's previous two times where they started a season with an opening game loss, they made the playoffs once and missed the playoffs once, so it's not time to worry just yet. 

Indy return to action next weekend in the garbage field known as AutoZone Park so we'll see how McAuley's preferred style of play works within the confines of a baseball-housed pitch. For now, Indy ends the first weekend of league play at the bottom of the table with some things to figure out on how to start halves better.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
In a game that went the way it did, Jack Blake's continued run-of-form from a goal scoring perspective from the preseason is enough tonight to give him the GBGB. There were some other good performances despite the result, but in the season opening, Blake's late half equalizer gives him the nod.

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."