Friday, December 4, 2015

Indy Eleven begin the changes for 2016

I'm not a journalist and I write here because I love the Eleven (as evidenced by my stress-relieving creation of an Indy Eleven bandanna because that seemed like a natural and enjoyable way to spend a bit of time in the off season...see the end of this article for said bandanna concept).  Since I'm not a journalist, I'm not obligated to meet any strict deadline nor rush to get something out the door and into the interwebs. As a result, I decided to wait to write down my thoughts on the coach and player changes until two things happened despite all of the rumors swirling around for both: 1) the official announcement from the team about the coach and 2) the official announcement from the team about which players were staying or leaving.  Luckily, those two things happened in back-to-back days.

I wanted to wait because I felt that those two pieces together would provide a much more coherent picture on where the Front Office (FO) and ownership want to go with this team in 2016 than each piece individually.  Now that the team has officially announced Tim Hankinson as the new Head Coach and released the list of the returning players, a vision for the future is starting to gel in my mind of where I think the team is going.  First, let me reiterate some of those details first.

Here's the list of player movements (including Games Played, Games Started, and Minutes for a discussion below):

  • Franco (27, 26, 2377)
  • Janicki (20, 16, 1495)
  • Miller (20, 19, 1746)
  • Mares (21, 17, 1548)
  • Smart (25, 11, 1219)
  • Stojkov (21, 18, 1393)
  • Lacroix (18, 7, 846)
  • Wojcik (21, 12, 1148)
On-going Contract Discussions
  • Ring (21, 16, 1379)
  • Cardona (10, 10, 900)
Contract Expired
  • Hyland (18, 17, 1550)
  • Keller (15, 11, 946)
Options Not Picked Up
  • Dawson (0, 0, 0)
  • Nicht (20, 20, 1800)
  • McKinney (2, 1, 103)
  • Norales (25, 25, 2135)
  • Ceballos (12, 6, 583)
  • Cuevas (1, 1, 56)
  • Kleberson (1, 0, 7)
  • Pineda (20, 17, 1467)
Loan Agreements Expired
  • Frías (12, 12, 1040)
  • Pena (12, 10, 844)
  • Richards (15, 13, 1033)
  • Steinberger (12, 11, 965)
  • Brown (24, 15, 1410)
  • Rugg (19, 13, 1271)
New Coach Hankinson is certainly well traveled.  He's coached in the amateur system in the United States at universities, MLS, NASL, Brazil, India, Iceland, Guatamala, and most recently in Jamaica with Montego Bay FC.  I'm not sure I got them all correct so I apologize to Tim, but here is his team's records at each location (chronologically, oldest to newest):
  • 1979 Oglethorpe
  • 1980 - 1981 Alabama A&M 37W-4D-5L
  • 1982 - 1983 DePaul 0W-1D-15L
  • 1985 - 1990 Syracuse 69W-18D-40L
  • 1990 - 1991 UMF Tindastoll
  • 1992 - 1994 Charleston Battery 22W-12L
  • 1994 - 1995 Raleigh Flyers  14W-6L
  • 1998 - 2000 Tampa Bay Mutiny 42W-50L-4D
  • 2001 - 2004 Colorado Rapids 39W-30D-45L
  • 2007 - 2008 Fort Lewis College 33W-4D-8L
  • 2009 - 2010 Salgaocar SC 8W-9D-9L
  • 2012 - 2013 San Antonio Scorpions 20W-11D-18L
  • 2015 Montego Bay FC 7W-4D-2L
"Whoopty do. What does it all mean Basil?"

First off, Hankinson does bounce around, but while he's at a team, he tends to get good results. That's a good sign for a team that has struggled to get consistent good results the past two years. When the initial rumor came out about Hankinson being the next Eleven manager, the word that I remember being used to describe the hiring was "underwhelming." After research and conversations with the man by others, there seems to be a growing opinion among many of the supporters that maybe this could be a successful hire. I think that Tim Regan being retained as an assistant on Coach Hankinson's staff could be an ideal move to both shake-up the team while also maintaining some consistency.

Consistency.  The Eleven's biggest problem this past season.

So what about the roster moves?  Hankinson has repeatedly said in the interviews that I have heard the last two days that the team needs experience and game changers and "warriors." He also wants players that build the attack from the back and defend from the front. In other words, the defense needs to help get the attack going, but the forwards are going to be expected to be the first line of defense.  So keeping Mares, Miller, Stojkov, Smart, and Janicki fit one or all of those characteristics. I had all the guys that were re-signed as priorities or as legit possibilities in my 11/11 post describing the Eleven's off-season To Do List. So it's good to see that my thinking was correct.

It's not much of a surprise to see Kleberson not retained given the significant portion of the budget that he was using and only managed 7 minutes of playing time this year. The Eleven put a lot of their eggs in that basket and it came back to bite them so there wasn't much chance they were going to continue that trend once his 2-year contract expired. The other players released means that they didn't think those guys fit into those characteristics or, I suspect in a couple cases, were also because of money and loans expiring.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the roster moves to me was all of the international players that were shown as not returning; Nicht, Norales, Pena, Brown, Ceballos. Only Stojkov remains. It makes me wonder if we see any Jamaicans from Hankinson's recent stint in Montego Bay that he liked and think would be a good fit here in Indy.

The one player that I had as one that I would like to see back and wasn't included in the re-signing or continuing contract discussions was Kyle Hyland. I hope that he finds his way back into the roster, because I think he falls under that "warrior" label that Hankinson wants in this team. I personally think Jon Dawson might also find his way back into the squad. He was released after the first season as well and as long as he wants to come back (which I think he does from this interview), he's looking to get better and work his way into a starter role, but could return as a back-up who is familiar with the re-signed players and assistant coach.

Back when Sommer was relieved of his duties, I evaluated the success of teams in conjunction with the amount of the team that was retained from the previous year. What I found was that there was some connection. It wasn't a hard rule, but the team's that retained the players who played the most minutes, that had the most consistency from year-to-year, started the next season with more success. If you look at the breakdown of the players, there is a definite pattern to who is returning and who aren't returning. The ones who played in the most games are likely the ones who were re-signed. The ones with fewer games, aren't returning. While the team is still early in the player signing process, right now, they are only retaining 34% of last year's roster. If Ring and Cardona do get signed that moves up to 41%. Including Hyland would push it to just under 47%. Returning almost half of the team's minutes from this season to next would be consistent, but on the lower end, with the teams that were successful to start the 2015 Spring Season.

Given the multitude of factors that go into the selection of a team, I do not envy the task that these three men did and are doing. There are so many external factors that can completely derail a season and turn a great season into a good season and turn a good season into a mediocre one. What would have happened with a healthy Kleberson orchestrating the offense? Or even a healthy Mares for the entire season? We all want the team to be successful, from the supporters to the players to the front office and owner and even the sponsors, but it takes a lot to achieve the team goals. It was said on Twitter that the above black and white photo made it look very somber. I replied that these three men hold the livelihood of a couple dozen men in their hands. It is somber.

Today it is somber because we have to watch a lot of really good guys try to find new jobs. Guys that we have grown to like over the past few months or past two years. Guys that just didn't gel on the field the way that we had all hoped. So today the business of soccer takes precedence and we get to celebrate the ones that we will get to cheer for next year and wish the best of luck to the ones that, hopefully, find new teams to continue that dream of playing professional soccer.

Today, we get to see a glimpse of what a new coach envisions for the Eleven and imagine what puzzle pieces will be added in the upcoming months. Today, we started down the path to next year. And next year, the Eleven are going to win it all.


Bandanna concept: Simple, but I think attractive.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Indy Eleven 2015 Goals

Soccer teams need to have goals. No, I'm not talking about the "make the playoffs" or "win the Championship" variety of goals, though those are good to have too. I'm talking about the "put the ball in the opponent's goal" type of goals. Defense may win championships (and the two stingiest defenses in the NASL played for the Championship on Sunday as proof), but scoring goals is good too. If you never let the other team score, you can have a string of "undefeated" results, but if you don't score, you'll never go on a "winning streak" either. Goals are good.

The Indy Eleven goal scoring was not what it needed to be this year. Indy Eleven didn't score in 7 league games, but were also held scoreless in the U.S. Open Cup game versus Louisville FC and the international friendly against Monarcas Morelia. That means that in about 25% of the games this year, the Eleven went home without gathering at the corner flag or ripping off their shirts or jumping into the stands in celebration.

In the entirety of the NASL, 453 goals were scored by the 11 teams. That comes out to an average of 41.18 goals per team with Minnesota United as the high with 54 goals scored and Atlanta Silverbacks on the low end with 31. Thirty games for each team means that, on average, the teams scored 1.37 goals per game.

How did the Eleven compare to those numbers?  The Eleven were below average in total goals, scoring 36 goals for the season putting them in 8th place. That comes out to 1.2 goals per game. The Eleven also gave up 48 goals on the year putting them in 8th place. Coincidentally (or not), the Eleven finished the combined table in a tie for...wait for it...8th place. It was only because of a poorer goal differential that pushed them to finish officially in 9th place.

The Eleven had a -12 goal differential, which was second worst in the league, ahead of only Jacksonville with -13.  The 7-goal onslaught by Fort Lauderdale in the 7-1 loss in late August didn't help this statistic, but they would still be one of the worst in the league even if that had been a "reasonable" defeat. Though a 3-1 defeat in that game would have meant that the Eleven would have finished tied with Atlanta, but with a better goal differential moving them up a spot in the table.

The Eleven were in the lower half of the league in goals scored and goals allowed and goal differential. That's how you finish in the lower half of the table.

Sidenote: Amazingly, the Indy Eleven's stats for 2014 were quite similar. 35 goals scored for 7th place; 46 goals against for 8th place; and a -11 goal differential for 8th place. The Eleven finished tied for 8th place, but the negative goal differential pushed them to officially finish in 9th place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Let's look at some of the specifics of the Eleven goals though. Who scored? How many different players scored? What position on the field were the shots taken? How many were of the Penalty Kick variety?

Throughout the season, I saw a couple of other teams that created a Goal Scoring graphic and I hoped that the Eleven would do the same thing. If they did and I missed it, I apologize for duplicating their effort, but here was a graphic I created showing every single goal scored by the Eleven and its approximate location on the field, highlighting the goals that were scored from outside the 18-yard box in a different color.

The Eleven's 36 goals came from 15 different players plus 1 Own Goal that came in the April game against Carolina on a deflected cross from Charlie Rugg. It's in the graphic, but I'll duplicate it here. Goals were scored by:

  • McKinney (1)
  • Frias (1)
  • Ring (1)
  • Norales (3)
  • Mares (5)
  • Smart (3)
  • Brown (5)
  • Ceballos (2)
  • Lacroix (2)
  • Hyland (1)
  • Wojcik (2)
  • Pena (2)
  • Richards (3)
  • Steinberger (2)
  • Pineda (2)
Brown and Mares were the team's leading scorers with 5 goals each, meaning those two players accounted for 28% of the team's scoring. Here's hoping they both are back next season.

It's interesting to see some of the clusters.  Mares scored 4 of his 5 goals from the PK spot or left and all of his goals came from inside the box. All of Smart's goals were from straight out. Richards liked the right side of the field. Two of Norales' three goals came from headers at the 6-yard line. Pena, unsurprisingly, has the largest distance between his goals though it helps when one is from the center circle.

Counting all those red dots on my graphic shows that the Eleven scored 12 of their 36 goals from outside the 18-yard box. 33% of their goals came from long distance strikes. I don't know what is typical, but that seems like a significant percentage of a team's goals. If you count Steinbergers' first goal against Jacksonville where he chipped the goalkeeper from the 18-yard line and hustled to finish the attempt in front of a retreating defender at the goal line, that number gets even a little higher.

I saw this photo recently linked on Reddit (thanks for letting me use it Yazbremski):

Considering that two of those twelve goals from outside the box were in the running for the NASL Goal of the Year, that might be a fairly accurate assessment. They didn't score a lot, but they certainly had some dramatic goals this year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Indy Eleven Off-season To Do List

I think enough time has passed from Indy Eleven's final game of the year that I'm able to sit down and objectively evaluate where the team goes in the off-season before the start of their third season next year.  There are a lot of unknowns going into the off-season, some of which may be a concern and others that are just normal change of roster issues. Jacksonville has already gotten down to the business of releasing players, Atlanta still doesn't have a local owner and is run by the league, and Puerto Rico, Miami, and now Oklahoma are all set to join the league. Those are big issues for other teams, but let's look at what I see for the Indy Eleven.


There will a push for a stadium again as evidence by a November 7th article in the Indianapolis Business Journal. Given that it will be like 2014 and will be a short session in the Indiana Legislature (i.e. non-budgetary session), I don't expect it to get enough traction to move it to being passed. So Indianapolis is looking at closer to 2019 before a game would be played in a new stadium if it got passed in 2017. Though the team still feel that a stadium will help them (and a potential NWSL team) succeed in a way that isn't possible in the current situation with Carroll Stadium, I'm becoming more and more convinced that it doesn't happen until Mr. Ozdemir and maybe other investors lays down at least half of whatever is the final dollar amount and even that might not be enough and that includes the hotel backstops.

The current argument is that it won't be paid by taxpayers, but I don't think it matters to most. At a minimum, it feels like a taxpayer subsidy for a rich owner and many people have issue with that even if it doesn't directly affect them. Given that there are groups of Indy Eleven fans that are hesitant about the process doesn't bode well in a short session. Keeping the attendance strong this year will help to a point, but the downward trend from last year could be used to point to a decreased interest in the team. The team is still well above the league average so that helps their case even if season ticket sales were down from season 1 to season 2.

Given the short legislative session and the unlikely chance that it goes anywhere, I almost hope that the team takes a measured approach to the marketing of any bills and spends the money where it will be better utilized.

On a sidenote, I'm not convinced that a stadium has to come before a NWSL team. I think Indianapolis would definitely support a NWSL team even if games take place in Carroll Stadium. Can you imagine what the Indiana Eleven's marketing group could do with a Lauren Holiday backed team in Indianapolis and the potential to see USWNT players on a regular basis? Oh to dream...


At this point, Regan still has the title of "interim head coach" and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the player decisions listed below are contingent and delayed until a determination of who will be the next coach is finalized. My gut tells me that Regan gets the job because Wilt seems to like him and if he didn't have faith in his abilities, then he would likely have been gone with Sommer. Even though Regan had a very tumultuous and uneven job interview thanks to poor results and constantly having to try and find lineups that worked due to a long string of injuries, I still have this feeling that Wilt sees promise and a future with Regan.  When the initial change was made, I kept hearing that the players love Regan, but I don't know whether that changed when he went from "assistant" to "head" or if the players still want to play hard for him.

I don't follow the available coaches enough to give any kind of educated guess on who Wilt might select if Regan isn't hired without the "interim" tag. Though there were a few NASL coach firings this year, including Thomas Rongen, so maybe one of those guys gets a look. Bob Bradley just signed with French club Le Havre, so I don't think Wilt could convince him to come here (even if he could afford him, which is doubtful) despite their past history.  My gut says it's Regan anyway.


I've already talked about Wilt's involvement with an investor's group trying to get an NASL team to Chicago so I won't go into a lot of detail here. What I will say is that this development might be just as important as finding (retaining) a coach and whatever roster moves happen during the off-season. Wilt's involvement with the Indy Eleven gave it immediate credibility, just as his name is giving credibility to the Chicago group. I don't doubt Wilt's loyalty to the Indy Eleven, but I do wonder about his ability to objectively work for both the Eleven and a competing NASL team. I also wonder if he does go to Chicago, are there any of the front office staff who go with him? Tom Dunmore also seems to like Indianapolis, but he's also worked with Peter before and familiarity with your staff is a valuable asset in starting teams if Peter moves. I don't want to go into this much more because it could be a complete non-issue, but the article's statement that "both an ownership or upper level management role may be in play" does have me somewhat concerned.


So with all of those off-season issues, what team do we see next year, right? I've seen comments from others saying that they need to blow up the entire team and start over; that only a few players should remain. I'm completely against that mentality. When Sommer was fired, I did a post that included a graph of the Spring Table at that point in comparison to the amount of the roster retained from the previous season. I've updated that table here to incorporate the full table results:
So the four teams in the Championship are New York Cosmos, Ottawa Fury FC, Minnesota United, and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Those are the four most successful teams over the course of the entirety of the 2015 season. Those are also the only four teams with positive goal differentials. In ranking how many players returned from last year, those teams are 3rd, 1st, 5th, and 9th, respectively.  So three of the Championship teams are in the top half of the minutes retained from last year (all of this doesn't get into mid-season acquisitions), with Fort Lauderdale being the lone anomaly having retained only 28% of their 2014 roster.

There are a lot of factors that go into a winning season, but familiarity and consistency are key components of teams that win. Let's look at Ottawa for a minute, shall we?  They were the most consistent team in the Fall Season and it isn't even an argument. They lost once in the Fall Season. Let me state that again. The Ottawa Fury lost once in the Fall Season. They had a 12-game unbeaten streak to end the Fall Season and had a 12-game unbeaten streak before that loss, losing just four times over the course of the 2015 season. You know what sticks out to me. Consistency.

GK - Peiser started 29 games and "earned NASL records with a 648-minute shutout streak, 14 total shutouts, 15 league wins, and equaled the Modern Era’s lowest goals against average at 0.76."
Defense - "Falvey, Rafael Alves, and Ryan Richter have started all 30 games, while Mason Trafford has made 25 appearances."

Think of the last time you saw the Eleven start the same lineup in back-to-back games. Without going into my notes, I know that it didn't happen very often. There was absolutely no consistency in lineups between week to week. Injuries were the biggest part of that, a couple red cards added to it, but another factor were new players that needed to be added because of the injuries. It just seemed like there were no chances for the team to really get in sync with each other. Practice time is one thing, but it's another thing to have game time reps together. With that in mind, I think that a good chunk of the team should stick around, but a break down of who I think leaves, should definitely stay, and who might go either way is below.  The team retained 13 players from last season and I would expect that a similar number is retained this year. I'm hopeful that the team sees the core players as valuable enough to bring back given the flashes that we saw from this team. There is talent on this team and I think consistency would go a long way next year.

  1. Nicht - Kristian has been a valuable member of the team, from being the team's first signing to his stint with Montreal that helped bring some publicity to the Indy Eleven, to his final game, but the rumors are that he is moving on. Like Wilt and Dunmore above, Nicht seems to really like Indianapolis and has frequented the other sports teams in town, but I think that these rumors are true. I think he's gone.
  2. Kleberson - It was nice to see him get in a few minutes in the final game of the season after his achilles injury with a shot on goal that reminded us why he was added to the team, but I think his salary is killing the budget. Reports have been that he accounts for 25% of the player budget and that can't continue. There have also been rumors that he might stay on as a player/coach with reduced salary. That would be the only way I see him still here next year.
  3. Frias - on loan and I don't think the loan gets renewed.
  4. Rugg - on loan and his productivity was poor this year for one reason or another. Charlie had zero goals and one assist in 1271 minutes. That's not the kind of production the team needs from one of the four players officially listed as "forward."
  5. Woj - Similar to Rugg. Not a lot of production out of Woj, but I do like his hold-up play so I kind of hope I'm wrong here.
  6. Richards -  on loan, but there was a tweet about the Eleven buying him outright so I might be wrong about this one.
    Source: Indy Eleven planning to buy Dane Richards outright from #RBNY.
    — MLS Transfers (@MLSTransfers) October 29, 2015
  7. Steinberger - I think he might be gone, but it will depend on whether Houston saw enough progress this season to bring him back into the Dynamo fold full-time. 
  8. Brown - I think this will also will depend on whether Harbour View FC saw enough progress this season.
Priorities to re-sign:
  1. Mares - For me, he was the best player this season for the Eleven and his absence was critical. If you remember, Mares was one of the players that was released and re-signed between season 1 and season 2, but I hope that doesn't happen again. Re-sign him and re-sign him now. Though I'm guessing there could be some others who have seen his play improve too and he might find other pastures.
  2. Smart - His defense has improved and his play at the end of the season was fantastic as he got more playing time.
  3. Miller - The defense needs a physical presence and Miller provides that in spades. Did he ever miss a defensive header?
  4. Janicki - I was critical of Janicki at times, but he has veteran experience and it's nice to be able to have him as a sub considering how Miller and Norales play.
  5. Franco - The team's leader in minutes and starts and was consistently solid in the backline.
  6. Norales - I think the team needs to retain this consistency in defense, but I'm also fearful that his play has opened other people's eyes to his value.
  7. Hyland - Solid. 
  8. Ring - Solid. You always need players like Hyland and Ring who just do their job. It may not always be flashy (though they both did give us a couple of doozies to remember), but you know what to expect from them. I want them back.
  9. Lacroix - His speed can change games. I'm not sure he's ready as a starter just yet, but he's just a rookie and we saw how much Mares improved between season 1 and season 2.
  10. Cardona - I think he's back and I love his athleticism in goal.
  1. Dawson - Jon was another player that was released and re-signed between season 1 and season 2 and given my expectation for Nicht's departure, the team will be looking for another goalie to back-up Cardona. I like Jon (friend of the site), but at some point I have to wonder if he wants to go some place and actually play a game. In the Eleven's two seasons, Jon is one of only 4 players to have never logged a minute of action (Sprenkel, Wey, & Rozo were the others). 
  2. Stojkov - Work horse. Shown ability to play both sides of the field and in multiple positions if needed. I think he might stay, but I just don't know.
  3. Pineda - The team signed him directly off of his loan from his 2014 loan with the Chicago Fire so I can see him coming back, but I just don't know for sure with him either.
  4. Pena - I think, despite the injury, he has shown plenty of ability. Wouldn't be surprised if he finds somewhere else next year. 
  5. Cuevas - Not enough data to give a good impression on whether he should stay or go. Given the effort to get him on the team and his past association with the U.S. National teams, I think he might be retained.
  6. Ceballos - I love his pace and vision, but this may also come down to what happens with Kleberson and/or Steinberger. The presence or departure may factor into Ceballos' future as an Eleven.
  7. Keller - Young, but did a solid effort. Think he could be a good one to remain.
  8. McKinney - Just not enough data to give a good impression on whether he should stay or go.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Indy Eleven vs RailHawks - 02.30

- Opponent: Carolina RailHawks
- Location: Cary, North Carolina
- Attendance: 7.232
- Final Score: 3-1 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Janicki, Norales, Frias, Pena, Steinberger, Ceballos, Smart, Mares, Brown
- Substitutions: Lacroix 73' (Steinberger), Ring 73' (Ceballos), Kleberson 83' (Pena)
- Unused: Dawson, McKinney, Miller, Wojcik
- Goals: Ceballos 24'
- Bookings: Pena 33' (Yellow), Mares 90' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

A little over a month ago, I started a recap of the Edmonton game like this:
I saw something on Twitter recently that I didn't favorite so will never be able to find again, but in essence it went like this (paraphrasing for this topic):
1) Start Microsoft Word
2) Find Indy Eleven recap templates
3) Open "Indy Eleven lose due to defensive and adage goal" article.
For some reason, it still applies to this week's game against Carolina. After 30 games, "you are what you are" and the Indy Eleven is an inconsistent team. Two weeks in a row, they basically dominated two of the better teams in the league. Then they go on the road against one of the worst teams in the league and they, themselves, get dominated. Down by 2 goals within the first 16-minutes and I'm sure there were a large contingent of fans that checked out at that point. They may have still been watching, but this team hasn't shown that they can overcome that kind of deficit.

So let's look at the highlights:

Under siege from the beginning and a goal in the first 10 minutes on a cross where the back post went completely, and inexplicably, unmarked. Two Carolina players went to the back post, from the opposite side of the field, through a group of Indy Eleven defenders and nobody went with them. It's impossible to blame one guy for that goal because that's just poor team defense.

The second wasn't much better.

You know what? Why don't we just put this game to bed after pointing out a couple good spots of the game?

There was a Dawson sighting on the bench in something other than street clothes. Makes me continue to wonder about the potential departure of Nicht and what the future GK role will look like next season. Also finding his way onto the field for the first time this season was player/coach Kleberson. Good for him. An achilles injury is a difficult one and he worked hard to get back. It also makes me wonder about his role next year.

[Sidenote: I plan on discussing all of this in an upcoming post...]

As far as I know, Frias didn't get an official credit for an assist on Ceballos' goal, but he should get credit for a well left-footed strike that just barely stayed out after hitting the underside of the crossbar. He had an equally well struck ball in the 62nd minute that nearly fooled Gilstrap. Started right and then bent back left and Gilstrap just managed to keep his body in front of it.

"You are what you are" and the Eleven finish as the 9th place team in the Fall and the Combined tables.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chicago Sting - Peter Wilt's involved

Earlier today, an article came out from Empire of Soccer indicating that a group wants to bring a team to NASL from Chicago using the old Chicago Sting moniker.  This part isn't much of a surprise as there have been a lot of rumors about future NASL teams, including Chicago.  What came as a surprise to me, and seemingly a few others, was that:
Helping to lead the Sting’s resurrection effort is a name that is very familiar to the Chicago soccer scene — Peter Wilt. Wilt currently serves as the President of Indy Eleven. Much as he did with Indy prior to their arrival in NASL, he has taken on an unpaid consulting role with Club 9 Sports in their efforts to rebuild the Sting, helping in their search for further investors to the potential franchise group.
However, the group hopes to be up and running by 2017, and aim to secure their full roster of investors by early next year. Wilt’s future role with the organization is up in the air, but both an ownership or upper level management role may be in play. 
Provided there is validity to the article and the statements, as I indicated to another fan shortly after we read the article, the fact that he's an "unpaid consultant" for a potential Indy Eleven opponent make me think he's already gone. It's just a matter of when. I can only assume that his current boss, Ersal Ozdemir, was previously made aware of Wilt's unpaid role with Club 9 Sports and approved Wilt's efforts.

What does that mean for the Eleven?  As of right now, maybe nothing. Wilt is still the President/GM of the Indy Eleven and I don't think that helping a search for investors negatively affects his ability with the Eleven. At least in the near, near term. Though, selfishly, I wonder if when he's finding investors for another NASL franchise if he can also find investors to help pay for an Indy Eleven stadium, because I don't see that happening going the current legislative route.

My biggest concern is whether there is a potential conflict of interest in having any kind of stake in competing NASL teams even if Peter is staying with the Eleven through the 2016 season and moving to the Sting for their inaugural 2017 season.  Can Peter remain objective enough in his role with the Eleven, while also looking forward to fielding a successful team in Chicago? Would he send a player to Indy or keep them in his back pocket for the inaugural Chicago Sting roster? How would 2016 Fall Season Eleven roster moves be affected with his impending departure while also considering the potential 2017 Fall Season Sting roster?

I would hope he's objective from what I know of Peter, but the Eleven won't be the shiny penny. They'll be the penny that has underperformed, with a new coach (even if it becomes Regan), in a City/State that isn't overly enthusiastic about building a stadium, with a much smaller potential fan base. Shiny penny might win out.

Of course, this is also a league where:
At one time Traffic [Sports USA] owned three clubs and indirectly owned the largest stake in a fourth until Minnesota was divested. With the recent divestiture of Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Traffic only holds interests in Carolina.
That being said, I don't see Wilt maintaining positions at two competing teams unless one of those teams has a realistic chance of moving "up" to MLS or "down" to USL (quotes are for division designations and not necessarily better/worse). In some ways, I'm not surprised by Peter's involvement in the Chicago Sting's investment group because of his history with the region. Though it seemed like he has embraced Indianapolis and Indiana as a whole. The guy knows more about the history of the state than most long-time residents.

While I don't know any of the details beyond what I read in the article and the little bit that I know of Peter from my personal interactions with him, it still disappoints me to find out that the potential exists for him to be leaving the Eleven after only a few years. I have always had the impression that his embracing of the city meant he might be here for an extended period of time. I think the Eleven will be fine after his departure, but I think his name recognition has facilitated many of the initial aspects with this team. Though considering how the Chicago Fire have fared since his departure, you have to wonder.

My last comment is that this is just one more thing in a long list of events where Indianapolis residents are made to feel like they are second fiddle to Chicago...and it sucks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 02.29

- Opponent: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9.213
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Janicki, Norales, Frias, Ceballos, Pena, Steinberger, Smart, Brown, Mares
- Substitutions: Lacroix 68' (Ceballos), Ring 74' (Mares), Miller 85' (Norales)
- Unused: Cardona, Miller, Wojcik
- Goals: Smart 19' (assist Ceballos), Brown 43' (assist Mares)
- Bookings: Smart 29' (Yellow), Steinberger 34' (Yellow), Nicht 90' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

If ever there was a game that the fans wanted to see duplicated, it was the Minnesota game from last week.  With the exception of a couple changes to the starting lineup due to injuries to Keller and Lacroix, the game followed a similar script. The Eleven didn't win the "official" possession battle, but were the clear winners of the "meaningful possession," particularly in the first half where they gave themselves a 2 - 0 halftime advantage. The team seemed to take their foot off the gas a little during the second half and defended a bit more, but they continued to press and move the ball well. It was only with one of the rare Norales miscues that Fort Lauderdale scrapped back a goal to make it an interesting final 30 minutes.

It took 50 starts, but Nicht obtained his first yellow card as an Indy Eleven for some time wasting at the end of the game. Given that it came at the end of a victory, I'm sure he's okay with it. There were comments made about this being his 50th start and some rumors that this game might be his final home game as an Eleven. Whether this is because he will be going to another team, or more likely because of retirement, he will finish the season as one of the most capped players for the Eleven. Norales and Mares are both closing in on the 50 game mark and Smart bypassed that milestone a few games ago having played in 54 games for the Eleven. If it truly was Nicht's final home game as an Eleven player and the team knows it, it would have been nice if the team let the fans know beforehand so that the fans could have given the first ever player signed by the team a proper send off. I expect we'll know relatively soon whether the rumors were true and what other players might be joining him.

Like I stated for my thoughts on the Minnesota game, this is the type of play that the team has shown in flashes throughout the season. It's just a shame that the best played games of the season come at the end after they've been eliminated from the playoffs. It also shows what a winning streak can do to the table. With the exception of the top three teams, the rest of the league is very compact in the standings and every point makes a difference. If the Eleven can extend the win streak to three against Carolina on Friday, the Eleven will have gone from 11th place in week 27 to 6th place just three weeks later.

What could have been? That's the question to ponder during the off-season, but it's nice to enjoy a win streak right now.


Congrats to Brian Brown for making this week's Team of the Week

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Indy Eleven vs United - 02.28

- Opponent: Minnesota United
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9.085
- Final Score: 3-1 W
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Janicki, Norales, Keller, Steinberger, Pena, Smart, Lacroix, Brown, Mares
- Substitutions: Miller 45' (Norales), Ring 71' (Mares), Ceballos 86' (Brown)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Wojcik
- Goals: Mares 39' (assist Keller), Brown 55' (assist Smart), Ring 82' (assist Lacroix)
- Bookings: Ring 89' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

Injuries coming into the game included Richards (out - ankle), Cuevas (out - leg), Hyland (out - abductor), McKinney (out - ankle), Pineda (out - rib), Stojkov (out - shoulder). Injuries are what has kept this team from performing at a consistent level this entire season. This team has shown glimpses of the form we saw against Minnesota and it makes me optimistic for next season. Though that depends on what guys come back and who find other pastures (or retire?).

I love Ring and Hyland, but Pena brings a different, more physical, presence in the back than those guys are able to do with his defensive midfielder role.  I keep wondering how this season would have gone with a healthy Pena and Mares, who could be spelled by Ring and others. Pena's physical presence allowing Mares to make plays? If only...

I need to give props to Keller for playing a very good game at left back having not played that position for the Eleven this year. He was generally in the correct places, covered well, and made timely runs forward (see below).  Well done.

It's a shame that what was likely the best and most complete team performance by the Eleven came on the same night as they were officially eliminated from contention of making the playoffs. The team played well on both sides of the ball and except for the late goal by Minnesota, played fairly mistake free soccer. The defensive covering was good all night, limiting Minnesota to only a few decent chances, and giving the offense plenty of opportunities to score for the Eleven. While Mares and Keller are the ones who found themselves in the stat book on the first goal, it was created long before Dylan put it in the back of the net. I liked doing it so much for the Scorpions recap that I thought I would pictorially describe the goals for this game.

Let's start with Mares' 38th minute goal.
The entire sequence was started by Norales clear back at the Eleven's own 18-yard box. Norales won a ball back from Minnesota and immediately looked up field where he found Brown, Smart, and Steinberger available on his side of the field.

Norales sends the ball forward to this group with Mares and Lacroix nearby in the center of the field.

Brown perfectly holds the ball while the other four players begin their attacking runs.

Brown passes back to Smart and then immediately begins his own run towards the goal. Smart finds some space, but with a defender near him, he passes towards the center of the field to Mares. Lacroix begins to get wide to give Mares some additional options, while Keller begins to trail the play unguarded.

Once Mares gets the ball, Brown and Steinberger continue their runs towards goal occupying three defenders. To me, here is the key to this entire play and I don't know if it was because Keller was talking to Lacroix or not, but Lacroix changed his run from going wide to a more central run.

That decision by Lacroix meant that the Minnesota defender had to honor the run by Lacroix, which allowed Mares to send the ball out wide to an open and unguarded Keller.

Now that the defender is backtracking, Keller's slight touch to get the ball over the defender's leg meant that he was alone forcing Ndjock to move to cover the near post. Minutes before all of this, Brad Hauter commented that one of the great things about Minnesota's Ramirez is that he floats around to the pockets of empty space. Mares did this exact same thing by holding back around 13 yards out from goal.

Keller drops it off into that pocket towards Mares and Ndjock's body is sending him the wrong direction because of Keller's run. Mares opens his hips perfectly as the ball comes back across his body and the Eleven found themselves on the board first.

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever. My man John Keats said that."

The second goal was scored in a different way, but in very similar fashion.

Once again, a defensive takeaway started this sequence. Pena steals the ball and immediately looks up field, just like for the first goal. Pena finds Steinberger and the counter is off and running.
Steinberger turns with plenty of space in front of him and Mares, Smart, and Brown (not shown) all take off for the goal.

The defense starts to close on Steinberger and he lays off a perfect leading pass for Smart.

Smart, with his head up, catches up to the ball and one times it back across the goal to Brown.

Brown one times it back across the goal as Ndjock has all of his momentum, once again, going in the wrong direction to be able to make the save.

Now for the third goal, just because it's just as cool to see it in screen capture form as it was to see it live and in the replays.

That's what you call the "Upper 90!"
The only thing missing from the game was the Eleven's inability to keep a clean sheet on Kristian Nicht bobblehead night.


A few guys to congratulate after this game as Mares and Brown were selected to the Team of the Week and Brad Ring's late goal was nominated and selected as Play of the Week! Congratulations guys!

Plays of the Week:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Indy Eleven vs United - 02.28 Preview

I don't normally do previews, but I wanted to point out something with the upcoming game against the Minnesota United.  This week's Monday Musings by the team included a road map for the Eleven to have a chance to make the Playoffs. There's a lot that needs to happen. I'm not optimistic. Contingent on all of that is that the Eleven win out.

1 yr and 6 days separates Minnesota United's Fall Season trips to Indianapolis. Last year resulted in a rushing of the fields by the Eleven fans as the team picked up their first home game. While the Eleven have a few more home wins this year, they are currently on a 5 game winless streak (LLDDL). Minnesota, however, is on an 11 game undefeated streak (DWWWDWWDWWW), with two players on the current Team of the Week, including the reigning Player of the Week.

Minnesota has scored 35 goals this season in 17 games (2.06 goal/gm avg with +60% of those on the road), while Indy has 17 goals in 17 games (10 goals at home).

Minnesota currently sits 2nd in both the Fall and Combined tables. Indy is 11th and 10th, respectively.

Minnesota has beaten the Eleven twice this year already, by a combined 4-1 score.

To say the Eleven have a hard climb ahead of them on Saturday is an understatement. I might argue that a win this year by the Eleven might feel just as improbable and just as deserving of an on-field gathering of the fans (though I'm not suggesting it).

So I wanted to remind myself of the 2014 Standings:

Minnesota finished the 2014 Fall Season with 30+ goals, the Eleven with just over 20. Minnesota was near the top of the table, Indy in the middle/bottom. Similar situations. So a win on Saturday isn't unprecedented.

I also just wanted to post this again:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 02.27

- Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10.090
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Stojkov, Miller, Norales, Frias, Pena, Ceballos, Pineda, Richards, Lacroix, Brown
- Substitutions: Smart 14' (Richards), Mares 63' (Stojkov), Wojcik 83' (Pineda)
- Unused: Nicht, Janicki, Keller
- Goals: Mares 69' (assist Ceballos)
- Bookings: Pena 56' (yellow), Miller 72' (yellow)
- Adage goals: None

How many games have the Eleven played from behind in the Fall?
- Thirteen. 13 of the 17 games they have played in the fall required a come from behind effort.

What was the record of those games?
- 1W - 9L - 3D

Last game they led?
- September 5th versus Jacksonville; six games ago.

Goals scored since that game?
- Three. I don't need to tell you that's not good.

Last year's problem was defensive mistakes. This year's problem is a lack of offense, untimely defensive mistakes, and routinely playing from behind. Which is disheartening because I think there is plenty of talent.

Normally after my second viewing of a game, I have a different opinion of how the referee did during the game than I do from my seats in the stands. This game was not one of those games. The Eleven is a small team, but San Antonio frequently manhandled the Eleven players and the ref did nothing to curtail the physical play. During the telecast, Brad Hauter indicated during one of the early, uncalled, challenges that it lets the players know how the ref is going to call the game. Which is true, but there's a difference between letting the teams play and not calling an obvious PK (see below).

My final general observation before I get into some details is that I can't remember the last time that a team started using delay tactics after they scored a goal in the 19th minute. The Scorpions were in game management, at least to some level, from the moment they scored their goal. They knew of the Eleven's difficulty scoring and slowed the game down as much as possible and frequently as possible.

There was a Chris Estridge sighting and he was gracious enough to sign my (his) jersey that I won late last year with his Twitter contest.

Now for the details.  Injuries continue to plague this team as Franco (toe), Hyland (foot), and Ring (out) were all out, as was Rugg (sports hernia surgery). Cuevas. Kleberson... To add to the unavailable was Steinberger who was recalled back to the Dynamo for a friendly against Liga MX Santos Laguna. That meant that the Eleven had less than the allowed players suited for the game. Hence, you see this kind of lineup, where Dragan Stojkov plays right fullback. Rakestraw and Hauter called him a great utilitarian player, but he wants to push forward and it ended up hurting the team later in the game. There were at least a few times where he was knocked down by the offensive ends endline. That's a long way to run for a full back during a counter. It's one thing when a full back is that far forward for the occasional set play, but completely different during the normal run of play.

Case in point during the Scorpion's first goal. Counter-attack and Stojkov gets caught on the wrong side of his man meaning he's chasing the play. Despite that, the Eleven had numbers back and even after watching it several times, I'm still not sure how the Scorpions scored.
Brad Hauter: "This isn't good."

(2)Dragan behind but tracking back. (1)Miller shifting over to cover Dragan's player. The two other Scorpion players defended by three Indy Eleven players with (6)Cardona in a good position.

(2) Dragan nearly gets back, (1)Miller drops back towards the middle to help there, and (2)Gentile puts one between all three and kisses it off the post for his first goal of the season.

Now about that PK that wasn't called:
There are two players holding Brian Brown from getting to the ball.

All three players end up in a pile well inside the 18-yard box.

Under the category of "not the way you want to start the second half, but fortunate to come away unscathed," here's how the Eleven managed to keep it 0-1.

6(+1) Eleven vs 4 Scorpions and nobody is in a position that should have prevented a goal.
(2)Dragan (again, playing right back), tracks back to defend Scorpions (2), thereby leaving Scorpions (3) and (4) wide open behind him as four Indy Eleven players trail behind.

(2)Dragan steals the ball, thereby preventing an absolutely easy goal from either of the two Scorpion players who had nothing but free space between them and Cardona.

Well done Dragan!

This is a microcosm of the offensive problems of this season and it comes from strange sources.
Cory Miller starts a run down the far side from the ball. The Eleven CENTER BACK who is not known for his offensive prowess (I love Cory, but that's the truth) is set to make a 70-yard run to put himself in a position for the equalizer.

He realizes the Scorpions have no idea that he is there and calls for the ball.

Don Smart sends a ball his way, but not in way that makes it easy to head or put easily on frame so he one times it back to Brian Brown. As I said at the time and Brad Hauter said during the telecast, "I don't mind that from Cory Miller..." He dropped the ball off to a forward, a player who was signed to score goals, not defend them.

"Settle it and one time it Brian!"

Wait, where are you going Brian!?

He went from having a decent attempt on goal towards a mass of humanity at the PK spot.

Drops it off to Pineda who also has nowhere to go in the bumblebee swarm that was creating. Pineda promptly loses the ball and the Scorpions are off on a counter with one of the Eleven center backs at the opponent's 18-yard box.

How this didn't become a goal for the Scorpions is a mystery to me.

Now for the good news.
Duke Lacroix picked up the ball on a turnover from Hassli and heads towards goal.

Continues all the way across the field, and finds himself in the 18 with a group around him and an open Ceballos at the 6-yard line.

Pass into Ceballos and that bumblebee swarm forms again...

Ceballos chips the nest...



Oh, how I've missed seeing Dylan on the field.

Is anybody else disappointed that we haven't been able to see Ceballos, Steinberger, and Mares on the field at the same time? Yet? The idea makes me simultaneously giddy and sad for what could have been this fall.

Some more Cory Miller love:
Drop kick by Fernandes

Cory Miller - "You take this back!!"

Miller's header finds its way all the way back to the 18-yard after heading it from nearly half field.
Finally to the gut punch:
Defense looks ok, but there's a Scorpion making a run from the center circle.

Me from my seat in the stands: "GET THE MAN COMING DOWN THE MIDDLE." I do have the advantage of seeing the entire field from my seat in the stands so I'm helped out there. I also have the advantage of knowing where the Eleven players have made mistakes in the past.

Still coming down the middle unmarked.

Gut punch...and likely nail in the coffin of making the playoffs.

How about some pretty photos?

Why do other players even bother trying to win a header against Cory? 

The guy who is already low to the ground gets lower.

A cramp on a goalkeeper on a cool night near the 90th minute with a 2-1 lead?
Faker, faker, faker!