Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Indy Eleven vs RailHawks - 02.04

- Opponent: Carolina RailHawks
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,524
- Final Score: 1-1 T
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Frias, Ring, Smart, Mares, Melgares, Rugg, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Stojkov 66' (Smart), Pena 74' (Mares), Brown 84' (Melgares)
- Unused: Cardona, Dawson, Miller, Hyland
- Goals: Own Goal 6'
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: 1

As I left the stadium, I kept thinking that sometimes a tie is a win and sometimes a tie is a loss. With an early goal, a dominant performance, and a chance to end the day at the top of the table, a late equalizing goal by Carolina completely felt like a loss.  I was thinking I would start this recap by quoting the line from Rosie Perez's character in White Men Can't Jump about wins, ties, and losses, but then I remembered that I already did that.  Last season.  Against Fort Lauderdale.  Some things have definitely changed with this team, but some things have obviously stayed the same.

What I further realized in my post about that article is how similar it felt to this game against Carolina:
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 Saturday's perpetuation of the league winless undefeated 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% 54% to 49% 46% 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 RailHawks at the end of the game when they had their man advantage after the Johnson red card tried to get the equalizer. 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 entire team play as cohesive as a unit as I witnessed last night.
Despite not putting the ball in the goal for the first time all season only once, 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 second half.
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.

Unlike that game last August, I can't look past the fact that it feels like the team gave this game away with one of those defensive lapses that plagued this team through much of last season. Four games in and three ties, but this one felt like it could have easily been a 3-0 win. I expressed some concern about Indy's scoring in last week's recap and nothing has changed for me after the Carolina game.  It felt like the majority of the second half was played in the RailHawks' defensive end with the Eleven dominating the possession and making good decisions. Mares should have had a PK seconds into the 2nd half off a 20 yard shot from Don Smart that the goalkeeper Gilstrap bobbled.  Wojcik had a good header attempt in the 57th minute.  How they didn't manage to get a goal in the 77th minute when Rugg, Ring, and Stojkov all had a shot on goal within a 10 second span from inside Carolina's box with the goalkeeper out of position is completely beyond me.  While the goal this week is credited as an Own Goal against Carolina, it was good play between Wojcik and Rugg.  Mares was there if Scott hadn't put it into his own net so that's promising, but the team still needs to do more with the chances they are creating for themselves.  As we've seen over and over, there may just be one or two plays that separate a win from a tie or a tie from a loss.

Which brings us to this week's defensive breakdown.  Norales slowed down on the play allowing his man to save the ball from going out of bounds.  Ball goes backwards to an open player with Frias in a trailing position.  Cross comes in and Franco pinches in to cover the player making a run to the center of the box, makes a poor clearance with the ball dropping to his, now open, man.  Franco makes a run at the goal scorer Wagner, but in a manner that allowed Wagner to take a second touch and put the ball in a place that neither Franco nor Nicht nor Janicki can reach.

That's how a win becomes yet another "adage goal" tie.  I bet Doug Starnes (@GrassInTheSky1, Eleventh Heaven) never thought we (I) would get so much mileage out of that observation nor that it would seemingly continue into this season.

The positive to all this is that the team continues their undefeated streak and is still in the top portion of the table.  However, I can't decide if the bye week is a good thing or not.  On the one hand, it gives them an extra week to prepare for Jacksonville.  On the other hand, it also give them time to let the fire from being "a little pissed off" after the tie to die down.  I guess we'll see how the team responds in a couple weeks.


Congratulations Norales on being selected to this week's NASL Team of the Week!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions 02.03

- Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
- Location: San Antonio, Texas
- Attendance: 5,305
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Frias, Ring, Stojkov, Mares, Melgares, Rugg, Brown
- Substitutions: Smart 62' (Melgares), Wojcik 66' (Rugg), Pena 81' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Cardona, Dawson, Miller, Hyland
- Goals: Norales 64', Pena 89'
- Bookings: Mares 24' (Yellow), Ring 82' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

San Antonio coach Alen Marcina stated during the post game interview that "The better team lost." Flat out and without hesitation. I understand that when you are the reigning Soccer Bowl Champion and you're starting your repeat bid by losing your first two games, you are frustrated, but I've been big on the "eyeball test" this season and I don't agree with Marcina. The Eleven were much better at maintaining possession this game than the previous two games and the stats reflected that change in mentality away from the long ball. I'll even stop riding Frias so hard if he can keep the long ball to a minimum like he did against San Antonio.  The rest of the stats don't agree with Marcina either:

Possession was in the favor of the Eleven, shots on target were about equal, attacks were in favor of the Eleven, and dangerous attacks went to the Scorpions, but just barely.  That pretty much agrees with what I felt I saw in the game.  If Marcina had stated that "the best offensive team lost," I might be inclined to almost agree with him as it seemed like the Scorpions were able to get much more dangerous opportunities around goal.  A team, though, is made up of offense AND defense and Indy's defense and goalie is keeping them in these games.

Case in point:
Janicki saving his own bacon since the ball bounced off him before being popped in the air by Nicht's save.
Janicki slipped to the ground a split second before this, but hustled to get a head on the ball to prevent the goal.  Flirting with that "adage" goal time frame too, I might add.

The Scorpions goal did result from one of those defensive breakdowns we Eleven fans have come to dread.  Want to see how it happened frame-by-frame (I do appreciate the ESPN3 feed for getting these screen captures this season)?
Cummings onside and unmarked.

Still onside and still unmarked as Norales shifted to the ball and Frias was chasing the play.

Onside, unmarked, and free to blast one into the side netting.
 It gets worse when you look at the close up inside the box:

Six defenders (7 when you include Nicht) in or around the 18-yard line and three Scorpions.  Yet, somehow there's a goal scored out of this.  Who's to blame?  Take your pick, but I don't recall there being that many horrible breakdowns like this.  It was just unfortunate that they managed to find the back of the net with it.

Back to my point about offensive struggles though. Through three games, the Eleven have scored 4 goals.  Let's look at those goals in a little more detail.  Against Atlanta, Don Smart scored a PK in the 90+ minute as a result of a boneheaded defensive penalty by Atlanta.  Against the Cosmos, Brian Brown scored a 25+ yard chip shot thanks to a boneheaded goalkeeper decision. Finally, against San Antonio, the Eleven scored a goal off of a set piece taken by Mares and finished by Norales and the now famous midfield blast from Pena and poor goalkeeping.  So four goals scored and three of them can be directly attributed to bonehead defending or goalkeeping and the final one was a set piece.  I said it in my first two recaps that sometimes you have to steal a point to stay in the chase.  This game, the Eleven stole two points with that miraculous blast to help their ascension up the standings into 2nd place.  A table, by the way, where Minnesota (arguably last year's best team all year) and San Antonio (last year's champions) are sitting in 10th and 11th place.  It's still early, but what a change from last year to this year.

Let me talk about Pena's goal.  Mostly just so that I can embed it here so we can all watch it again and again and again...

If we're honest with ourselves though, that was not the shot that we want the team to be taking, even sitting with a tie and time running out.  To me, it was like a quarterback calling an audible at the line for a Hail Mary when it's 4th and 1 that manages to find a receivers hands.  Or a basketball player who has missed their last 8 shots taking a three when down by 2 that manages to go in.  "No, no, no, no!" "Yes, yes, yes, yes!" As Sommer stated after the game, "He's done that a few times. Glad he finally hit the target that time."

My favorite part of the shot, besides watching Kempin dig himself out of the net, was Mares.  Mares, you say?  Yes Mares.  Wojcik had a perfect header back down to Pena who looked like he knew from the second it hit Woj's head that he was going to take a shot, but it was Mares' reaction that is starting to endear me to him.  Watch:
Wojcik preparing for the header.

That's right.  There are 10 Scorpions behind the ball when Pena receives it inside the center circle (and only four for the Eleven). No business taking that shot.

Mares' thought bubble - "He's going to shoot." He then takes off toward goal to get a shot on a potential rebound.

An 89th minute sprint towards goal put him ahead of his defender and in a position to get a rebound if needed.

Headed toward goal...
We all know it wasn't needed because Pena's shot drifted over Kempin's outstretched hands, but I approve of Mares' effort.

Like I've said, steal a tie (or two), steal a win and keep moving up the table. They don't always have to be perfect games to keep that unbeaten streak going.


Congratulations to Nicht, Norales, and Pena for making this week's Team of the Week!

Looking at the rest of the Team of the Week, does anybody want to guess which teams won last week?

Congratulations Pena on this week's Goal of the Week!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Cosmos - 02.02

- Opponent: New York Cosmos
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,524
- Final Score: 1-1 T
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Frias, Pena, Stojkov, Mares, Melgares, Rugg, Brown
- Substitutions: Hyland 70' (Frias injury), Ring 76' (Pena injury), Smart 82' (Brown)
- Unused: Kleberson, Dawson, Miller, Wojcik
- Goals: Brown 12'
- Bookings: Stojkov 48' (Yellow), Melgares 56' (Yellow)

Sunday was typical house/wife/three kids' stuff, Monday was normal work day duties, Monday night into Tuesday morning was sump pump trying to fill my basement with water, and Tuesday was a "I'm not as young as I used to be and can't stay up all night like when I was younger" exhaustion.  As a result, I'm just now getting to my Indy Eleven versus New York Cosmos recap.  So I'm feeling kinda Side 1, Track 1 today (careful with that link, some language) so this might be a little basic.  Not that you're starved for recaps of this game anyway.  By my count, there have already been at least six different game summaries for this game (hereherehereherehere, and here).  All of that doesn't include the 11 thoughts provided by Brad Hauter on Twitter on Sunday.  I'll give you some of my thoughts anyway.

I said last week that sometimes during the course of a season, a team has to steal a point, especially on the road, to stay in the race.  This week, both my live "eye test" and rewatch makes me think that sometimes during the course of a season, a team has to steal a point, even at home, to stay in the race. We all might like to feel that the Eleven let this game get away from them after having an early lead thanks to a spectacular shot by Brian Brown on a very poor decision by last year's Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Maurer, but this game never felt like it was the Eleven's to win.  The official Match Center stats after the game show a 2 to 1 possession for the Cosmos.  The NASL.com website currently shows that stat as 60 to 40, but that's only moderately better.  It's hard to score when you don't have the ball.

Frias.  There seems to be a lot of love for Frias this season, and I'm willing to admit that his defensive effort is better this season that last.  Better, but I'm not willing to say great because I can remember at least a few times where I thought he was out of position.  Better because he is making better recovery decisions.  Better because I don't find myself constantly frustrated with him.  Though Frias' transition from defense to offense still leaves something to be desired for me.  Frias loves the long ball outlet pass.

Though he's not the only one.  One game of bypassing the midfield could be said to be exploiting a suspected weakness of the opponent.  Back-to-back games using the trend of minimal possession and starting your offense with long balls from the defensive line 40 yards to the forwards?  That's bordering on being your identity.  Given that was what we saw for much of last season, I'm not optimistic that a possession style of play is what we are going to see out of this team.

Mares looks good this season so far and, right now, he may be the most notable exception to my possession comment.

This game was billed as 8 > 7.  Kleberson vs Raul.  World Cup winner and Real Madrid star.  Kleberson didn't play and Raul scores the Cosmos' game tying goal with a header in the 65th minute. At least for this game, 7 > 8. I tried to figure out, live and with the replay, on how a goal scorer like Raul can get open enough at the six yard line to get a header on goal.  What I saw was that he might have given Franco a little push in the back to give himself some space and then it becomes an easy header for a guy of his caliber.  The other thing that stood out was the same kind of thing that we've all noticed about Kleberson. Those guys, even at their age, have a vision of the field that is beyond most of the rest of the players on the field.  Their only challenge at this point in their careers is getting their bodies to cooperate with their brains, as Kleberson didn't play (likely because of the injuries to Pena and Frias that changed the substitution plan) and Raul was more than ready to come off the field in the 74th minute.  The ball came to him with plenty of space and he simply booted it out the sideline so that he could get off the field.  That's what happens when you're nearly 38 years old.

Do I really need to talk about the ref?  Even in the replay, I have to say that the yellow cards to Stojkov and Margares were soft yellows.  Not good.

During the broadcast, they reiterated that the Cosmos outshot the Eleven in all three games last season.  This season provided no change in that pattern as the Cosmos had a nearly 2 to 1 advantage in shots.  Four games getting out shot and out possessed and the Eleven still haven't lost to them. Well played, Eleven.  Well played.

One advantage to a "better late than never recap" is that I can congratulate Brian Brown for being picked for this week's NASL Team of the Week without it being an update after I've already posted. Congrats Brian as that was one hell of a chip shot goal.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Soccer Life - Brad Hauter

As the Indy Eleven get ready for the first home game in the 2015 Season, the on-air duo of Brad Hauter and Greg Rakestraw are slated  to provide the game commentary as they did last season.  I reached out to Brad as a fellow DePauw alum, and to my surprise, had an immediate response saying he would participate in this questionnaire.  I wasn't surprised that he agreed (because Brad seems like a good guy), but I'm often surprised at how quickly people are willing to help out and join in.

Brad makes no reference to it in his responses since it is a soccer questionnaire, but one of the things that I find fascinating about him is that he has ridden a lawnmower across the country to benefit Keep America Beautiful...twice.

Brad also has some other interesting tidbits about himself in his DePauw bio:
In the summer of 2003, he traveled across the country from San Francisco to New York on a lawn mower to help raise revenue and awareness for the Keep America Beautiful organization.  He previously completed a similar trip in 1999 and served as a spokesperson for the national organization from 1999-2008.

Hauter was the founder and director of "Off the Streets", a non-profit organization formed in Chicago to help the homeless and served as host and producer of Junk'd, a home makeover show with 1.5 million weekly viewers.

An author of a soccer coaching manual entitled The Invisible Game in 1994, Hauter has directed camps at various levels for 20 years. In September 2004, He published, Counter Terrorism, which is about a squirrel that teaches a boy a better way to live.
So with that lead-in as an introduction, here's the Soccer Life of Brad Hauter.
1.  Name:
Brad Hauter

2.  Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
- All of the above
Editor's Note: Brad took over as only the 3rd coach in the history of the DePauw men's soccer team after Page Cotton retired.  Brad is shown to have a 78-18-18 record as the DPU coach.

3.  Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
- Gomez – Rookie year with the Chicago Power we had an appearance at a restaurant and the veterans told me it was casual dress so I wore overalls.  Turned out it was coat and tie and so I picked up the nickname Gomer that morphed into Gomez

4.  Age started playing:
- 7th grade

5. First recollection of the game:
- My first coach was Mike Vogel, an Auschwitz survivor, so my first recollection is the stories he would tell that helped me appreciate the game on a very different level.

6. Highest level of play achieved:
- Pro
Editor's Note: Played professional soccer for 10 years for the Chicago Power, Illinois Thunder, Dayton Dynamo, and Rockford Raptors.

7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play
– Not sure…  1999 I believe

8. Position:
- GK

9. Jersey number:
- 20 or 1

10.   Most memorable moment(s):
- In goal for the Illinois Thunder, playing in Milwaukee before a sold out stadium of 17,000 I believe (Thanks to Peter Wilt), had a 2 on 0 breakaway coming to goal in the last 5 seconds of the game and had to make a save low far post to keep the win.  It looked in and the crowd was going crazy until they saw the ball sliding up the boards and the place went silent.  Best Silence ever!

11.   Least memorable moment(s):
- Getting kicked off a flight by Karl Heinz Granitza my rookie year because I was terrible the night before in Memphis.

12.  Favorite team:
- Indy Eleven – US – Denmark – Whoever is playing the Rangers

13.  Favorite player:
- Historical:  Granitza – Grew up watching him dominate the NASL and wound up as teammates later in life.  Really surreal moment.  He was 38 or 40 when we were teammates and yet he still led the league in scoring with a cannon of a left foot.  He was player coach and we went at it often in that capacity but had a great respect for one another where we are still friends today.  He got in a fight in a game and the other bench cleared and no one from our team went out.  I felt bad so I went out and helped him.  I got tossed and fined and he paid my fine.  He was fun to watch play.

- Current: So many great ones but really hard to not stand in awe of what Messi does.

14.  Indoor vs Outdoor:
- Indoor as a player as I loved the pace and being constantly involved.  Outdoor as a coach due to the tactics and strategy.

15.  Grass vs Turf:
- If the grass is perfect, then grass but if not, turf.  Hate having games decided by a surface.

16.  Coaching experience:
- College coach for 20 + years.  Assistant coach at the pro level for 3 years

17.  Refereeing experience:
- Youth leagues while in college

18.  Favorite World Cup moment(s):
- 1982 Semi-final between West Germany and France.  Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was out with a hamstring injury.  Game was tied 1-1 and France went up 3-1 in OT.  Rummenigge came in and scored a little flick and then Germany scored on a Bike in the second half of OT and Germany wound up winning on Pk’s…  Incredible

19.  Honors/Awards:
- Captain in college and pros, a few player of the week honors.

20.  Other sports played (and to what level):
- Club Hockey at DePauw and 1 year of Baseball at DePauw
Editor's Note: It's been said he also punted for the football team his senior year.

21.   Other Comments:

Monday, April 6, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Silverbacks - 02.01

- Opponent: Atlanta Silverbacks
- Location: Atlanta, Georgia
- Attendance: 4,711
- Final Score: 1-1 T
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Frias, Pena, Stojkov, Mares, Pineda, Wojcik, Rugg
- Substitutions: Melgares 62' (Pineda), Smart 71' (Stojkov), Brown 78' (Rugg)
- Unused: Dawson, Hyland, Miller, Ring
- Goals: Smart 90'+ (penalty kick)
- Bookings: Franco 14' (Yellow), Smart 82' (Yellow)

When I sat down to write my recaps of away games last season, they were usually based on very limited information since they were written from the @IndyElevenLive Twitter feed and possibly a highlight video.  I didn't have much of an "eyeball" test for the games.  This year, however, I'm hoping to have some more insightful things to say as the NASL has partnered with ESPN to show all of the games on ESPN3.com.  Using each home team's television feed, the games will be available for all to see.  This also means that you get the home team's commentators and in the case of Atlanta last night, the complete and inexplicable ability to pronounce Kristian Nicht's name.  Repeatedly.  I have much more faith in Brad Hauter and Greg Rakestraw doing a better job than the Atlanta crew.

All that being said, the combination of a full day of birthday parties (I have multiple kids all born in April), a week of a nagging sickness, some issues with the internet feed, and trying to get the kids to bed means that I missed parts of the game.  I haven't yet watched a replay of it, but what I want to discuss I think I can do without the benefit of a second viewing of the game.

When the Eleven decided to release or not pick up the option of several players at the end of last season, I wondered how the team would keep the momentum of the stellar run to finish the season with so many players looking for other teams.  Turned out that it was through  resigning some of those players and the addition of seven new players.  All of the signings pointed to a desire to build from the back as it took awhile to see any forwards added to the roster.  Presumably, the defensive lapses that often destroyed the Eleven's chances of winning games were a key factor in the releases and off-season signings.  Yet two-thirds of the team remain from last season in the hopes that there would remain enough consistency between Season 1 and Season 2 that there would some familiarity between the players.

Unfortunately, what I saw was some of the same struggles as last year.  The Eleven struggled to maintain possession, even though the numbers say the dominated this stat 57% to 43%.  Though my "eyeball test" says that some of that possession was near the end of the game with Atlanta ahead by a goal and hunkering down in a defensive shell to protect the win.  I felt like I saw much of the Eleven midfield being bypassed as the team tried long ball after long ball so I'm not sure about the possession stat.

With a team that looks to be built to not lose games by giving up bad goals, it was the same kind of defensive miscue from last season that gave Atlanta the lead.  This time is was the veteran Janicki with the miscue.  A player who was brought in to help solidify and correct those problems.  Nobody is perfect, but a veteran player needs to clear it out of the box better than he did on that goal.

A goal that occurred within the first 5 minutes after halftime.  The dreaded "adage goal" rears its ugly head again so early in the season.  The adage goal should have its own stat line for the Eleven.

There are personnel choices that I don't understand with the Eleven, but the most confusing to me is giving Don Smart only 20 to 30 minutes a game.  If ever there is a player that seems to have earned a starting position due to his play on the field, it would seem to be Don Smart.  I assume there is a reason for it, but it escapes me why his play, width, and energy isn't being utilized sooner rather than later in games.

Sometimes in a season, especially on the road, you have to steal a victory away from the jaws of defeat and this game completely exemplifies that statement.  A 93rd minute penalty kick goal is the only thing that saved this team from following the same script as last spring.  We've seen what this team can do with very similar personnel from the back half of last fall's season, so while we would like to see a win instead of a tie, at least it wasn't a loss.  After last year's Spring Season, maybe that's enough right now.

Congratulations Frias on being selected to this week's Team of the Week!