Monday, September 22, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 01.21

- Opponent: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Attendance: 3,112
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Miller, Okiomah, Kleberson (Captain), Corrado, Johnson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Jhulliam
- Substitutions: Mares 45' (Pena), Ambersley (Jhulliam 65'), Smart 77' (Kleberson)
- Goals: Frias 39' (assist Miller)
- Bookings: Kleberson 75' (Yellow), Frias 77' (Yellow)

Twenty-eight seconds.  TWENTY-EIGHT SECONDS!  That takes the "adage" goal to an entirely new and disheartening level.  Remember when we were kids playing pickup games with the neighborhood kids and would have to spot them a goal or two because they weren't as good as us, but we really wanted to play and that was the only way they would agree to it.  Yeah, the Eleven need to stop thinking they're playing against the little kids in the neighborhood.  It's not working out too well.

I don't know what else to say about this game that the IndyElevenLive Twitter feed didn't say in two succinct tweets.
Half Stats:
Shots - FTL 9 IND 5
Saves - FTL 0 IND 3
Corners - FTL 5 IND 5
Fouls - FTL 5 IND 6
Offside - FTL 2 IND 0

Final Stats:
Shots: FTL 14 IND 10
Saves: FTL 2 IND 5
Corners: FTL 7 IND 5
Fouls: FTL 10 IND 15
Offside: FTL 4 IND 1

There were some good moments in the game for the Eleven, but even the highlights video below (from the Indy Eleven YouTube channel) felt like it had a lot more Strikers highlights than Eleven highlights.  The Eleven were beaten and it started in less than 30 seconds from the opening whistle.

I need somebody else to confirm it for me, but I believe that with Jhulliam's addition to the starting lineup on Saturday in place of Ambersley, Coach Sommer has used the same starting eleven in back-to-back games only once; games #1 and #2, way back in April.  Ambersley's removal from the starting lineup also means that Nicht is the lone player to have started every single game this season.  However, Ambersley and Smart were substituted in during the second half, so their streak of consecutively played games remains active and remain as the only three players to have played in every single game.  I have to wonder if some consistency in the lineup would have helped this season.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 01.20

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,567
- Final Score: 1-1 T
- Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Miller, Okiomah, Corrado, Kleberson (Captain), Johnson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Jhulliam 77' (Ambersley), Smart 77' (Smith), Spencer 88' (Johnson)
- Goals: Pineda 16' (assist Pena)
- Bookings: Frias 70' (Yellow), Kleberson 82' (Yellow)

A win on each other's field with a goal differential of 0, maybe it's only fitting in this season that the rubber match ended in a tie.  The Eleven held an advantage in possession, attacks, shots on and off goal, and even a lead in the game for about 9 minutes.  Yet, from the stands, I never had the sense that one team or the other was dominant.

I saw some of the frustrating defensive lapses, but good recoveries.  I saw some shots on goal that would have been better served by an additional pass.  Basically, and this is only from my recollection of a game that happened nearly a week ago (no time this week to rewatch - partially because I was watching our other "Boys in Blue" on Monday night), I saw what we have come to expect from this team.  Good play undone by one or two moments.

Sometimes a guy hits a perfect free kick from 25 - 30 yards out that goes up and over the wall and into the side netting.  You can't fault Nicht for the effort.  That kick is what we've come to expect from Kleberson and Hlavaty delivered for the visitors on Saturday the same kind of magic touch.  Sometimes there's just not much you can do when that happens except shake your head that less than ten minutes can separate a great hustle goal by Pineda and what turned out to be the goal that kept the dreaded home winless streak alive.

The one reoccurring oddity that I noticed about this game was some heavy touches by the Eleven. Whatever frustrations I've had with the team this season, their foot skills has not been one of them. This team has been excellent at controlling the ball, but there were several occasions when the team was let down by their initial touch on the ball.  I don't remember them ever being significantly hurt by the touches, but there were more than I have come to expect.  In fact, Indy's goal followed from a bad touch by Johnson before Pena was able to recollect it and redistribute it back to Johnson.  

One last thought.  I'm constantly frustrated with Johnson because I think there are times when he holds the ball when he would be better served to make the extra pass, but the footwork clinic he put on around the 75 minute mark was a thing of beauty.  If every one of his additional touches amounted to the kind of cross he was able to serve into the box on that occasion, we would start to see 2, 3, or 4 goal scorelines.  His pace and strength coupled with a timely touch to a teammate?  Oh, I would love to see the possibilities.

Due to his first professional goal efforts, Pineda found his way to the Team of the Week.  Congrats!

Video highlights:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Silverbacks - 01.19

- Opponent: Atlanta Silverbacks
- Location: Atlanta, Georgia
- Attendance: 5,000
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Miller, Hyland, Okiomah, Kleberson (Captain), Johnson, Smith, Pena, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Corrado 17' (Hyland), Mares 71' (Kleberson), Smart 78' (Frias)
- Goals: Johnson 15' (assist Pena), Smith 37' (assist Ambersley)
- Bookings: Pineda 59' (Yellow), Ambersley 62' (Yellow), Frias 77' (Yellow)

Let's get the bad out of the way: 
  1. Another "adage" goal given by the team right before the end of the first half.  Boo adage goals! 
  2. Hyland, who has been playing some great soccer lately, goes out with an injury after just 17 minutes.  Turns out it was a groin injury and will be out for a bit.  Hopefully not too long. 
  3. The team lost most of the statistical categories.
Other than the injury to Hyland, I don't care about the rest.  Why?  Because a victory helps cure a lot of the ills and three points in a road game is a good thing.  There is probably a lot that can be said about a road win for a team that has struggled to get any kind of win, but there are just a few things that stand out to me as I look at the game.

First, and maybe foremost, the team scored first.  It was pointed out on Twitter during the game that there have only been three other times in the history of the team where they have scored first: April 12th vs Carolina, July 19th vs Tampa Bay, and July 27th vs Edmonton.  Their record now in those four games? 2-1-1.  7 points out of an available 12 when they score first.  That's a pretty good record when scoring first.  Unfortunately, it just hasn't happened enough this year as the team has consistently been playing from behind.  The other interesting facts about the team's "scoring first" games are that they 1) happened in the Eleven's very first game, 2) resulted in a loss, and 3) happened in the 93rd minute, all leads resulting in a total of 15 minutes that the team had led all season up to Saturday's game versus the Silverbacks.  The team held a league for 5 times longer in this game than they have the entirety of the rest of the season, even going up by two goals for the first time in team history.  That, to me, is a key component of Saturday's win. 

Another key component based on the highlights (see below for video) is that there didn't appear to be any significant defensive breakdowns.  The Atlanta goal was off a set piece and should have been marked better, but there were no obvious chances where it looked like the defense was drastically out of position.

I don't know where the difference originates with getting an early goal and solid defense, but I hope the team bottled it and brought it back with them in their luggage with the three points from the win. 

In the history of the team, there are only three players that have played in every single game: Nicht, Ambersley, and Smart.  Nicht is the only one of the three to play every single minute of every single game in the team's inaugural season.  However, there are three other players who have been on the field for the entirety of every game that they have played: Norales, Smith, and recent addition Miller.  Frias and Ambersley are also knocking on the door of having played every available minute, averaging 89.1 and 87.9 minutes/game, respectively.  So when they start a game, they finish the game.  What's interesting in this number's game is that with the exception of the three players who haven't played a single minute (backup keepers Dawson and Sprenkel, and new addition Jhulliam), fan favorite Don Smart averages the lowest minutes/game played at a paltry 33 minutes per game.  For a guy who averages just over a third of a game, the guy has certainly endeared himself to the Indy Eleven faithful.

Lastly, after Saturday's win there was a tweet (yeah, I don't remember who said it) that stated that the Indy Eleven home fans "deserve" a win.  I don't believe that is true.  I think the Eleven fans "deserve" a team that plays hard the entire game like we cheer the entire game.  We have that.  The team deserves a home win based on their continued effort.  The fan's reward will happen when that happens for the team.

Jermaine Johnson was recognized by the league for his constant badgering of the Atlanta defense by being announced as one of the league's Top Performers for Week 9 of the Fall Season.


Update:Congratulations Johnson and Okiomah for being selected to the Team of the Week!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lauren Holiday - FCKCvSRFC

I think she's one of the best playmakers in the World, but on Sunday Lauren Holiday showed that she also has the ability to dribble the ball in tight spaces with the best.  Don't believe me?  Watch this display that lead to FC Kansas City's second goal by Amy Rodriguez in the NWSL Championship game.

For her two assist effort in the game, Holiday was awarded the game's MVP.  Which should go nicely with her league Golden Boot and MVP trophies from last year, as well as her back-to-back Best XI awards.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Cosmos - 01.18

- Opponent: New York Cosmos
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,659
- Final Score: 2-2 T
- Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales, Hyland, Okiomah, Kleberson (Captain), Johnson, Smith, Mares, Pineda, Ambersley
- Substitutions: Spencer 61' (Mares), Smart 71' (Pineda), Pena 85' (Ambersley)
- Goals: Ambersley 61' (assist Pineda), Johnson 90+ (assist Smith)
- Bookings: Hyland 33' (Yellow)

"At least they didn't lose."

That was the general consensus and feeling as we exited the stadium and in subsequent discussions afterwards.  We know the feeling of having it slip away in the final seconds, but the team was able to flip the script and steal a win at home on this one.  A late stoppage goal by Johnson on what, if we're honest with ourselves, was a very poor decision by the Cosmos goalkeeper.  The Eleven managed to win the possession battle, but were on the losing side of most of the rest of the important statistical categories.

Before I get into the main part of my recap on how the Eleven found themselves fighting from behind yet again, I want to point out two key items: 

The first is the dreaded "adage" goals and this team continues to give them away in bunches.  The Cosmos' goals came in the first five minutes and in the last five minutes of the first half.  Only those in the locker room know exactly what they need to do differently to get it changed, but the team needs to start faster and finish stronger.  FLAT 12 Bierwerks unveiled the name of their Indy Eleven themed beer this weekend and the team could heed its namesake, The Full 90. 

Secondly, the Eleven officially had five offside penalties and two of those resulted in goals being taken away from the team.  I've been rough on the referees this season so I need to be fair and give credit where it is due.  Those were the correct calls.  While the crowd around us disagreed with me, we had ideal seats to be able to evaluate both calls and the assistant referee called both of those correctly.  Offsides is never an easy call to make, but for once in my career, I called out "offsides" even before the AR raised his flag.  The television replay confirmed what I saw in person.  The first one was close, but it was the correct call.  It's just unfortunate that goals were removed because of them.

Now for the main part of what I want to discuss and I apologize for the resolution of the below series of photos, but it's the best I could do with my television and my camera.  How does the Eleven continually find itself working from behind?  The two goals that Cosmos' scored are a microcosm of the team's problems.  If we look at the field right before the first goal, we see pretty good team defense.  Smith is back defending the ball held by Flores, with Frias marking the next nearest Cosmos player, Freeman, man-to-man.  The rest of the viewable screen is filled with five Indy Eleven field players, plus Nicht, and only two Cosmos players.  Mares, Kleberson, and Pineda are all back from their midfield positions, with Norales in a zone position, Okiomah marking man-to-man goalside near the penalty spot, and Kleberson marking man-to-man near the 18.  So it looks positive at that point.

Forward ahead four seconds and we see a drastically different position.  Smith and Flores have moved off screen as Flores went to the endline for a cross.  When that happened, Freeman didn't move and Frias pinched in towards goal.  Norales pinched in toward the six-yard line, Mares pinched in towards the center and the eighteen-yard line, and Kleberson pinched in towards the penalty spot.  Okiomah and Pineda didn't move much.  However, the Cosmos' Diosa did move and placed himself perfectly between the mass of flat-footed Eleven defenders for an easy goal and the team found themselves in the all too familiar position of being down a goal early.

The second goal had the same problems that have plagued them all season.  In the first screen capture, we see a streaking Cosmos player sandwiched between Hyland and Okiomah.  Given the way that Hyland has been playing of late and Okiomah's position, that's acceptable.  Though even in this first screen capture, we can see where this goes badly.  Norales is about ten yards behind the play and not moving quickly.  To his right is Frias who is jogging back towards goal watching Hyland and Okiomah defend.

Hyland and Okiomah have overtaken the Cosmos player, Mwanga, and have forced him to slow down.  At this point, Norales hasn't moved from his previous position and Frias has continued jogging back towards goal.  That means that your right back and one of your center backs are defending the ball, the other center back is standing twenty yards away, and the left back is jogging back. Stokkelien, however, begins to sprint towards the goal.

Between min 41:19 and 41:20, which I wasn't able to capture via photo, you can actually see Frias realize that the player streaking past him is an opponent and he tries to catch up.  I imagined a thought balloon above Frias that reads, "Oh NO!"

Hyland is guarding his player.  Norales is nowhere to be found.  Okiomah is out of position.  Frias can't catch up and even tries to grab Stokkelien.  Nicht is stuck in no-man's land between trying to guard his goal or come further off his line to overcome his defense's lapse.

Okiomah, Nicht, and Frias can't get to the ball and the Eleven give up yet another adage goal and go into halftime down two goals.

The good news is that the Cosmos gave up two very similar defensive lapses in the second half.  Pineda went endline for a cross that found Ambersley, who got behind his defender, and a slew of Cosmos defenders were caught ball watching.  Johnson's goal resulted from a poor defensive effort by Ayoze, leaving goalkeeper Zobeck in no-man's land, for a very cheeky chip shot finish to get his first goal as an Indy Eleven player.

I've said it before that I love the fight in this team and this game was no different.  To be down two goals at halftime and work themselves back into the game and a well deserved result out of it is a testament to the team's no quit attitude.  While the first home league win that we all want to see continues to elude this team, sometimes it's acceptable to be able to say "as least they didn't lose."