Saturday, August 30, 2014

Indy Eleven - 2nd addition in a week - Cory Miller

When Peter Wilt said that reinforcements were coming, I didn't know that they would come in rapid succession. The Eleven announced Thursday that they would be adding another defender, a local product from Zionsville, Cory Miller. Cory played his college ball at Olivet Nazarene University and has played professionally for the Carolina Railhawks and the Los Angeles Blues, as well as a tryout with the Portland Timbers in 2011.  I was able to find a few highlight videos of Miller online and he looks pretty good.  Like all highlight reels, they show only good plays, but it's still enough for me to give a basic review.

I like his highlights.  Beyond his obvious ability to use his 6'-2" height to get to headers, he tracks back, he holds his position well (see min 6:35 in the first video as my favorite moment of this), he has good foot skills (entirety of third video), and apparently attempts more bicycles as a defender than most forwards.

The parts that concern me are twofold: 1) a lot of long balls and 2) a lot of slide tackles.  I don't know when we might see Miller play in a game, but I hope that the long balls were a function of his previous teams and that he doesn't continue that trend with the Eleven.  Not with the midfield that the Eleven have available for him to use to move the ball forward.  Somebody also needs to tell him that the NASL refs seem to be prone to calling tackles and a bunch of his in the videos were really close to the box or in the box.  We've seen a lot of penalty kicks this season and I'm guessing Nicht is not in any mood to continue that trend.

It sounds like he's already been training with the team for the past few weeks, so hopefully they've started working out the kinks of incorporating a new player by the time he gets his first playing time.  Will that be tonight?  See you tonight at #TheMike to find out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Indy Eleven's newest addition - Jhulliam

This week's big announcement is that the Eleven have signed another player to the team.  A Brazilian named Jhulliam Bonfim Santos Pires.  Or more commonly known by the single name of Jhulliam as Brazilian players are wont to do.  Like a good chunk of the team's roster, it's not shocking that I didn't know much about him before joining the team. He moved around to eight different Brazilian clubs before his recent stop at the Moldovan first division team FC Sheriff Tiraspol.  Not exactly teams that I keep on my radar here in midwestern United States.  What I found out from Ben Simmons' article about Jhulliam is that he has the ability to score in bunches, but then can also disappear completely.  I'm hoping that he comes here to Indy and does the former.
During a recent conversation with family and friends about the signing, the question was asked "do we need a striker or a better defender" with the thought being that "it doesn't matter how many you score, if you can't stop the defense, you generally lose." I decided I would formalize my response to that question here.
I won't lie that it would be nice to have defenders that stay focused for ninety minutes.  I would love to be able to talk about a game that featured the amazing goal(s) that were scored, rather than the defensive lapse that let another game get away.  However, this team clearly needs a scorer too. The team has scored 22 goals in league play this season, one of which was an own goal, so 21 goals are credited to Indy Eleven players. Of those 21 goals, 13 have come from Kleberson or Ambersley.  That means that 62% of the scoring comes from just two players. Of those 13 goals from those two players, 7 have come from the penalty spot. So 7 of 21 goals have come from the uncontested variety. When 33% of your goals rely on there not being a defender and a goalkeeper guessing which way you are going to kick, that's not a good situation to be in.

Plus, Coach Sommer's desired lineup this year has been a 4-4-2. Before the addition of Jhulliam, the lineup consisted of 3 goalkeepers, 6 defenders, 10 midfielders, & 2 forwards. So there were 2 players for 2 forward positions on the field and one of them is rehabbing from knee surgery. That's also not good. As a result, you have Kleberson and Pena in the midfield continually blasting from long range, Smith not finding his perfect shot from the wings, Johnson consistently putting one touch too many to try and get closer to goal for his shots, and Smart (when in) trying to make runs on the wings.

The team needs more of an up top scoring threat so that teams can't focus just on Ambersley and Kleberson. Johnson has helped with that some due to his pace and footskills, but again, he is trying to do too much right now. Whether that's just his nature or because he doesn't yet trust the teammates around him, I don't know. What I do know is that you can't run a 4-4-2 with only one healthy forward on the roster. Hence, Jhulliam.

By my count though, that makes 8 international players on the roster (Johnson, Kleberson, Moore, Nicht, Norales, Pena, Jhulliam, Smart) and I thought the NASL only allowed 7 non-domestics on a roster. Which makes me wonder if somebody is getting cut or if Peter Wilt has figured out a way around the rule or if there is something that I'm missing. Of those eight players, Moore hasn't played in the past 8 games, which is the entirety of the Fall Season.  Injury related, or has he fallen out of favor like Mendes? However, Moore is on a 2-year deal from Southhampton FC, not that that seems to matter much.  In the official press release for Jhullium, Peter Wilt stated "and let our fans know the search for additional reinforcements to the roster will continue.”  I wonder if that also means more reductions as well.
For what it's worth, I still like our current players and think they have the talent and ability to win with the current roster, but I'm glad to see that the team is still trying to add other talented players with the intent to win more games this year even if any playoff spot has long since become a dream and not a reality.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Fury - 01.17

- Opponent: Ottawa Fury FC
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,250
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Frias, Norales, Hyland, Okiomah, Kleberson, Johnson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Smart 79' (Ambersley), Mares 90' (Pena)
- Goals: Smart 84'
- Bookings: Okiomah 49' (Yellow)
Close to two and a half hours was what it took for the skies to finally clear to the point where the Indy Eleven could take the field to get the game underway.  Two hours to twiddle the thumbs and take in the soggy sights of the campus of IUPUI.  Two hours to take another sellout crowd of 10,285 fans and dwindle them down to a very hearty, or crazy, thousand or so who stuck around to watch the Eleven dominate the Fury in nearly every single statistical category.  Attacks, dangerous attacks, possession, shots off target, shots on target.  All Indy Eleven advantages. 

The key place they didn't win?  The scoreboard.

Yet, the Eleven continued their trend of losing in the most heartbreaking ways.  Nicht provided a roar inducing save on a penalty kick in the 9th minute, leading to a scoreless first half.  A PK should have been given to the Eleven a short time later after Ambersley was dragged down, but it wasn't called.  Both teams settled down a bit after the initial flurry, with an unfortunate injury to Ottawa's Drew Beckie near the end of the half.  From the stands and the replays on the video board, there was a general consensus of an achilles injury.  Hopefully, a group of non-medical people sitting in the stands are all wrong and Beckie, at worst, broke his ankle.

After the half, the Eleven gave up a penalty kick in the 70th minute.  While I think that the BYB's chant of "the Yellow team sucks" throughout much of the game was fairly accurate, the referee called that one correctly.  Okiomah plowed through the defender and the PK was deserved.  So the Eleven, once again, found themselves playing from behind.  That was until the 84th minute, when second half sub Don Smart found the back of the net after being on field for 5 minutes. 

Is that an "adage" amount of time?  It is.  Why do I mention the "adage" time for a substitute?  Because the "adage" curse continues to haunt this team as it gave up a goal, officially, two minutes after Smart's tying goal.  Two and a half hours of waiting for the game to start, nearly two hours of game/halftime all lead to less than two minutes of defensive lapse and an all too familiar home loss.  My Twitter timeline perfectly summarizes the waning moments of the game.

ALL CAPS WORTHY EXCITEMENT.  Followed by absolute disbelief.

As usual, I can't complain about the team's fight.  As soon as Ottawas scored the PK, I had faith that an equalizer was possible.  This team never gives up and I didn't expect any different on Saturday.  What I didn't expect were so many long range blasts to try and get that equalizer.  It's like the team was thinking like a basketball team and were aware of some kind of invisible line on the field that would get them three points if they scored from outside that line that the rest of us couldn't see.  Several players took shots from distance, but Pena was the clear winner on number of shots from 25+ yards.

I think I must be one of Finish Line's "great ones" because I have a short memory and continually forget that this team will have a defensive lapse at some point in the game.  It's just a function of when and how much will it hurt them.  Those can be overcome if you're scoring on the offensive end as well, but the Eleven have had multiple goal games only twice out of the eight Fall Season games and have been outscored 2 to 1 in that time frame. 

My earlier recaps of the games have consistently stated that this is a young team learning to play together, but they've played 17 games together (mostly together minus injuries, red cards, national team call ups, and additions/subtractions).  So I don't know how they fix things.  Maybe that's why I'm writing this and not coaching the team.  Hopefully, Coach Sommer does know how to fix things and that elusive home win will snowball into more victories.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Indy Eleven vs United - 01.16

- Opponent: Minnesota United FC
- Location: Blaine, Minnesota
- Attendance: 5,420
- Final Score: 5-1 L
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Frias, Norales, Hyland, Okiomah, Smart, Kleberson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Mares 58' (Okiomah), Corrado 58' (Pineda), Estridge 67' (Hyland)
- Goals: Kleberson 71' (assist Ambersley)
- Bookings: Hyland 64' (Yellow)

I tried all week to think of a good way to write the recap of the Minnesota game.  I couldn't do it.  For the first time in this inaugural season, I feel glad that I didn't watch the entire game and suffer through it.  It was bad enough to follow the game through the @IndyElevenLive feed, but at least I could do other things at the same time.  I don't do very well watching games when my favorite team is getting pummeled, and a 5-1 loss seems to be the exact definition of getting pummeled.  Plus, the script didn't change from previous losses, just the extent of it.

Have yet another starting lineup? Check.

Give up the first goal so they play from behind?  Check.

Continue to fight?  Check.

Give up another goal?  Check. (Every single game that the Eleven have lost, they have surrendered at least two goals.)

Give up an "adage" goal.  Check and Check. (One goal right before halftime and then after the Loons scored in the 53rd minute, they scored again in the 58th minute.)

Win the possession battle. Check.  (Though I expect some of that was Minnesota letting the Eleven control the ball after getting out to such a big lead.)

Score a goal in the late stages of the game. Check.

Walk away with a loss.  Check.

I would like to look at the upcoming game against Ottawa as a way to exercise the loss demons and the apparent home field jinx due to the Fury's recent Fall Season struggles, but I'm torn.  If this was a 5-1 loss with a team full of veterans who were better prepared to shake off a rough outing, it would be one thing.  This, however, is still a young team learning to play and the beating they took in Minnesota might linger a bit longer, especially with the added pressure that we, the fans, continue to place on them to win at home. 

Was the Minnesota game an anomaly or a prediction of things to come?  I guess we'll have to see how a team that has added Pena, Pineda, and Johnson and won't have Ramirez, Mendes, Ring, and Spencer since the last time Indy and Ottawa played, pulls together after last week's loss.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 01.15

- Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
- Location: San Antonio, Texas
- Attendance: 7,847
- Final Score: 2-0 L
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Stone, Frias, Estridge, Hyland, Smart, Kleberson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Ring 46' (Stone), Mendes 66' (Pineda), Mares 74' (Ring)
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Pineda 33' (Yellow), Mares 82' (Yellow), Estridge 90' (Yellow)

Another game "watched" via Twitter because I'm a dad with kids who are gymnasts and have to choose where to spend my money.  They get it, NASLLive does not.  Welcome to fatherhood.

So what I "saw" was another game where the team gave up the first goal forcing them to play from behind.  Followed by another goal ten minutes later and the team had a half-time deficit of two goals. 

What I also saw was what I believe is the most lopsided possession of the entire year as the Eleven held 62% of the possession.  That may have been helped by the Scorpions losing a man to a red card in the 57th minute in a similar fashion to how the Eleven lost Johnson on Wednesday, but that is still very one-sided.  In much the same way that the Eleven were able to fight through their one-man disadvantage on Wednesday, the Scorpions were equally up to the task of keeping the Eleven from scoring.  So winning possession doesn't mean winning the game, but it's good to see they were seemingly able to control the play for large chunks of time.

So while not being able to get on the scoreboard for the second straight game, the team also lost Brad Ring to injury after playing less than 30 minutes in the second half.  The rest of the bad news is that the team heads to Minnesota, the Spring Season Champs who haven't lost their winning ways now that they're in the Fall Season.  The good news is that in two weeks they get to stay home and try their hand at beating Ottawa, who have had a rough Fall Season.

Hopefully, I'm just feeling a little pessimistic about the team's chances this weekend and the team finds their way home from Minnesota with another win.

Sidenote: I like the Scorpion's Toyota Field from the photos I've seen of the stadium.  They have taken a phased approach to their stadium, but it looks like what they have done is done really well.  Including the benches for the teams...  Think the team would rather be sitting in these instead of the benches at #TheMike?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 01.14

- Opponent: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,285
- Final Score: 0-0 T
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Stone, Frias, Estridge, Hyland, Smart, Kleberson, Johnson, Smith, Pena, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Mares 77' (Kleberson), Mendes 82' (Smart)
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Smart 17' (Yellow), Johnson 45', 58' (Yellow, Red), Pena 64' (Yellow)

You're going to have to take it on my word that I had started writing this post in my head prior to my reading the 11thHeaven guy's recent post on why the Eleven's tie on Wednesday is actually a win for the team.  That being said, Doug and the boys over there are good.  If you're looking for much better tactical analysis of the games than I provide, that's where you need to read.  Read me too though. 
This quote from White Men Can't Jump kept running through my head today about the game:
"Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs."
What one needs to extract from Wednesday's perpetuation of the league winless streak is that despite missing five guys with a combined 51 league starts for the Eleven (three of those with double digit starts) and playing the last thirty minutes of the game down a man, the Eleven looked to absolutely dominate the run of play.  The official stats show a 51% to 49% possession ratio, but that seems way off base from my seat in the stands and may have only equalized a bit due to some possession from the Strikers at the end of the game when they had their man advantage after the Johnson red card.  Missing so many key contributors to the team, the Eleven fielded a lineup that included a back four who had never played together in a game as a group as best I can remember.

I haven't seen the defense play as cohesive as a unit as I witnessed last night.  They covered for each other perfectly and Frias looked like a completely different player playing from center back than he has at left back.  Hyland played like a man who was trying to prove that his place on the bench the last 4 games was a mistake.  With the exception of the Strikers' Picault, Stone and Estridge showed that they have the speed to track down just about anybody in this league to help cover, all while going forward on multiple occasions for corner and free kicks.  I'm sure they played with a chip on their shoulder to prove us all wrong (and I was one of the doubters), but the effort that we have seen every week finally translated into a great defensive game.  Given the number of players that have seen time on the field this year, the number of lineups that Coach Sommer has utilized, and the fact that Norales has been one of the more consistent defenders on the team, I don't know how many more games we'll see these four play together, but I hope they get at least one more chance to prove that it wasn't a fluke.

The defense wasn't the only positive thing to come out of last night's tie.  Despite not putting the ball in the goal for the first time all season, they were really close the entire game and it was only because of some excellent goalkeeping that they didn't put a couple in during the first half.  We also learned that even at age 34, Jermaine Johnson still has some wheels to get up and down the field.  Also that he needs to figure out that the NASL referees are free with their cards and not always the most consistent bunch. 

It took a slow exit from the stadium after the game to appreciate how well the team played and that maybe I need to rethink how I see the results of the game.  "Sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose."  It may not have been the result that we all hoped to see, but maybe it was the result we needed to see.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Silverbacks - 01.13

- Opponent: Atlanta, Silverback
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,285
- Final Score: 4-2 L
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Frias, Norales, Okiomah, Ring, Smart, Kleberson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Johnson 62' (Smart), Mares 73' (Pineda), Estridge 82' (Okiomah)
- Goals: Kleberson (43', 55', both by PK)
- Bookings: Smart 48' (Yellow), PenaRing 65' (Red)

While the losses at home continue to increase at #TheMike, this one may be just as frustrating as the last minute heartbreak finishes.  I've now watched the game twice, once in person and once with the replay.  In both viewings, I saw absolutely brilliant run of play where the Eleven have held possession, worked their way up the field with great movement from the defenders through the midfield and into the forwards, and were able to get good looks on goal.  Then there were times when they look completely disconnected with each other. 

If you think about the things that can go badly for a team, they happened in this game.  Give up an early goal, get back within striking distance and give up another early goal after the half, lose a player to a questionable red card, lose two more players to injury...Check, check, check, check.  Everything that went well for this team in this game was more than wiped out by the bad.  Given that the team played the last 25 minutes down a man, and the last 10 minutes down at least two men, and three men for a bit, it's quite a feat that they still continued to hold possession for good chunks of that time.

So what are my takeaways from this game?

The Eleven have to stop giving up early goals.  The 11th Heaven guys' post on "adage" goals is being completely rewritten by the Eleven.  They just continue to dig themselves into holes.  It would be easy to blame Frias for the first goal for ball watching and losing sight of his man, but Atlanta's Randolph went through three separate defenders to get off the cross.  Those kinds of breakdowns have to stop.

The Eleven squandered too many chances in their offensive third.  There were shots 25 - 30 yards out when there was still space to push further up field and find a better option.  Or they took one touch too many trying to get the perfect shot.  Being down a goal or two, the team seemed to be making the wrong decisions trying to get the equalizing goal.

The red card was not the absolute back breaker that it could have been because the team still had good chances after it happened.  Obviously, working from a man down is never easy, but the team still had good run of play during that time.  Those are the types of calls that can turn a game, but the team did a good job of fighting through it.

Kleberson and Smart were fantastic.  Smart was rewarded for his effort with a starting position and his spark and play was good for all 62 minutes he was in the game.  I was disappointed to see him subbed off, but Johnson was a good replacement and provided some good things for being with the team for such a short time. 

There is a reason that Kleberson was on a World Cup winning squad.  He sees the field a step ahead of, seemingly, most of the players on the field, but he can only do so much.  He had great passes, he went forward, tracked back on defense, and took two really good penalty kicks.  I do think the team needs to work on some additional free kicks near the goal, just to keep the opposing teams honest in their defending.  At this point, it looks to be a given that within 30 yards, Kleberson is going to take every single free kick, which makes it easier for the opposing team to defend and relies entirely on whether Kleberson can get the ball up and over the wall or not.  Kleberson's free kicks have been a thing of beauty all season, but there was a free kick late in the game where Mares was wide open on the opposite side of the field and would have been a good opportunity to fake a shot by Kleberson and catch the other team off guard. 

This team never stops fighting.  I love that about this team.  I love that they never give up no matter how many goals they are behind, no matter how many guys they lose, no matter how much time is left.  I will always love this team for this.

A vocal group of 14 of the Atlanta supporters group (@AtlantaUltras) were tossed from the stadium after the Silverbacks scored the fourth goal.  Did they deserve it?  Technically, yes.  You can't have an open flame in a stadium by lighting a flare.  However, given that they traveled from Atlanta, seemed to have represented themselves well during 90% of the game (at least from my vantage point), the team reps might have done better to have asked them to get rid of the flare and read the stadium rules before making a return trip back to Indianapolis for future games. 

Finally, for the first time in this inaugural season, I'm not optimistic going into the next game.  A short week between games and so many players missing, or possibly missing, is creating a difficult scenario going into Wedneday's game.  Assuming that the three injuries going into the Silverback's game are still keeping Spencer, Stone, and Moore from playing, the injured list nearly doubles with the potential loss of Okiomah and Norales due to potential concussions.  Add in the loss of Pena due to the red card and Pineda to the U-23 National Team, and you have a drastically reduced roster.  In fact, if all of those players are indeed missing the game, that leaves just 15 players available for action, with 3 of them being goalkeepers, 1 being a player who has been with the team for less than a week, and only 3 players on the roster who are officially listed as defenders.  For a team that has struggled with defensive lapses, will be playing a game on short rest, after finishing a game with less than a full lineup, that's not exactly an ideal situation. 

The odds of the team finding their first home win against those kinds of odds seem insurmountable.  I don't know that they can pull out the win, but I fully expect them to fight for it.  That's what they do.

UPDATE: The red card issued to Pena in the 65th minute has been transferred to Brad Ring after review by league officials. Good for Pena, bad for Ring. Still bad for Coach Sommer's lineup problems as that is a mid- for mid- transfer meaning the team's lack of available potential defenders still exists.