Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Morelia - International Exhibition

- Opponent: Monarcas Morelia
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 6,450
- Final Score: 0-0
- Starting XI: Nicht, Frias, Norales, Janicki, Franco, Ring, Pineda, Stojkov, Melgares, Brown, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Cardona 45' (Nicht), Miller 45' (Norales), McKinney 45' (Franco), Keller 45' (Ring), Smart 45' (Pineda), Mares 45' (Stojkov), Lacroix 45' (Wojcik), Hyland 59' (Frias)
- Unused: Dawson
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Miller 82' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

I was unable to attend Indy Eleven's first international "friendly" due to family commitments, and it looks like I missed a good one from the highlight video.  From the video, it looks like it was well attended and an up-and-down affair with both teams getting good chances.  It's hard to tell how the game will translate to Sunday's upcoming match against the Cosmos with so many guys seeing playing time (poor Jon Dawson, the lone unused sub). Not being at the game I don't know for sure, but from the video it looks like the guys were truly enjoying the game. When guys are playing loose and with joy, and a couple wins in a row will help that, it makes playing a lot more fun.


Monday, June 29, 2015

American Woman

In Michael Jordan's biography, Driven From Within, once he made his decision to go to Nike, he was Nike thru and thru.  The book recalls an incident where a friend comes to his house wearing something other than Nike (I think it might have been Adidas) and Jordan makes the guy take them off and gives him Nike shoes to wear instead.  I don't have his fanaticism about my brands, but I'm finding that I lean more towards Adidas in my purchases.

Though I still like a good commercial when I see one.  And I like this one:

Women's World Cup - U.S. vs China

The United States won this game 1-0 thanks to a Carli Lloyd header in the 51st minute, but this game was really never in question.  The United States dominated from start to finish, thanks in large part to the spark created by the addition of Amy Rodriguez, Kelly O'Hara, and Morgan Brian into the starting lineup as a result of Rapinoe and Holiday having to sit due to yellow card accumulation.

A-Rod had a horrible shank that should have been a goal in the 2nd minute and a few offside calls against her because of her eagerness to push forward and push forward as fast and as hard as possible.  O'Hara was equally disruptive to the Chinese midfield and defense.  Brian had a few rough touches at times (something I've seen others accuse of Holiday), but overall, was very solid in her defensive midfield role, thereby allowing Lloyd to push forward. Heather O'Reilly was freed from the bench and played well too.

In a game that really never felt in doubt, more of a "when" the goal happens and not "if" the goal happens, I'm not going to talk about it much.  Except to say that this was the type of game that the U.S. needed to get some of their mojo back.  They looked impressive at all positions and with much more pace and effort than has been visible during the rest of the tournament.

With that in mind, how do they move forward against Germany?  Nearly everybody has said that Holiday is the team's best #10 and that Rapinoe is one of the most creative on the team. Yet the team looked markedly different with them watching from the stands. Markedly better.  So do you play your best players or the ones who are playing better together?  Or was the lineup against China the perfect one against that team, but won't be as effective against a team like Germany?

Tony DiCicco correctly stated during the broadcast that Carli Lloyd is a streaky goal scorer and is one of the most talented midfielders in the world when she's on a streak. How do you take her out? I don't know how you keep Rapinoe and Holiday out, but does O'Hara, Brian, and Rodriguez's efforts go unrewarded by sitting them back down on the bench?

Personally, I put Holiday back in for Brian and let O'Hara and A-Rod start against Germany.  Let them continue to press the German defense like they did against China. They're basically rested and hungry. By doing so, maybe they can release both Holiday and Lloyd together to not have to drop back so far to help the back four.  Then I rotate Press and Leroux (who is also hungry to play in Canada) in for Morgan or A-Rod and Rapinoe in for Heath.

I've been saying that a lot though. Use the team's depth and speed at the forward position (and no, Wambach is no longer included in that) and run the German defense ragged.  With the spectacular play from the United States' defense, release the midfield and forwards to attack, even against the number 1 in the world (and most offensive) team in the tournament.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Indy Eleven 2015 Spring Season - What If? Edition

With the break between the Spring and Fall NASL Seasons, and in between watching the Women's World Cup, I was thinking about how the Indy Eleven finished the Spring Season.  A draw and two wins in their final three games moved the Eleven from the bottom of the standings into fifth place by themselves.  With New York solidifying their place in the Championship, it's a very crowded table after that, especially with a 20 game Fall Season, for the final three spots in the Championship.  Only time will tell on whether the Eleven's good run of play and momentum will carry over into the Fall Season.  Their climb up the standings at the end of the season got me to thinking.

As a reminder, here's how the Spring Season concluded:
If you notice, there are six of the eleven teams with 3 wins and it was their draws, losses, and goal differential that determined where they all finished.  Which got me thinking, what if?

What if the Eleven didn't give up the late goal in the game against Carolina, which was the first peg in a 0W-3L-2T run in the middle of the season before finally getting another win against Fort Lauderdale.

Switching that one game from a tie to a win gained the team two more points and pushed them to third place all by themselves.  In essence, a swap of positions for Indy and Carolina.  Just one different game result and this is a completely different conversation with this team, even with a 1W-3L-1T record during that same period.

What if?

What if all of those late game goals from the Eleven or their opponents weren't conceded? What if Smart doesn't score the 90'+ PK against Atlanta?  What if Pena doesn't score from midfield in the 89th minute?  What if they didn't let Carolina score in the 85th minute?  What about the 88th minute goal conceded against Ottawa?  Or Hyland's 98th minute goal against Tampa Bay to salvage a tie? Or Pineda's 90'+ minute game winner against the Strikers?

Eighth place.  A swing of five places for the Eleven just by finishing games differently and Tampa Bay is celebrating winning the Spring Season and not the New York Cosmos. Obviously, that's just assuming the results for the Eleven and not any other team's similar difficulties, but it highlights a very important point.  Every game result, every minute of the game, every possession actually counts. We start to think that there are only a few key moments during games, but those key moments are created by working hard during every possession, whether that's on offense or defense.

Not directly shown on the hypothetical results, but I'm including in this What If? evaluation is the Ottawa Fury.  In a league like the NASL where Ottawa can go nearly 6 games without conceding a goal (a streak of 526 minutes and counting) and still finish the Spring Season in 9th place, it highlights that you have to win some games too.  Every game counts, but you can't win a Championship just be going "undefeated" by getting ties.  You have to win as well.  Sometimes that means you steal a tie on the road or win at home, but every point that you can get from the games gets you closer to playing for a Championship.

Every positive result matters when you're trying to win a Championship.

No "ands," "buts," or "what ifs?" about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Women's World Cup - U.S. vs Colombia

The sky is falling!

The sky is falling!

The sky is...wait, what?  They won? So why is everybody acting like they lost?

They only scored two goals? With a man advantage for the entirety of the second half?

Maybe it's because it's hard to get into any kind of damn rhythm when you keep getting fouled, but none of them are called and the only calls that were whistled were against the United States.  I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but does anybody else find it amazingly convenient that the only two American players coming into the game with yellow cards have such "horrendous" fouls that they both get booked IN THE FIRST HALF!  By a ref whose native country (France) could potentially see the United States in the semi-final...  I'm just saying.

22 to 12.  That was the fouls called count.  I watched the game and that was not how I saw the game. Just because a player falls, it doesn't mean they were fouled. Even my 7 year old asked why some fouls were called and others were not. Cards for the U.S. that looked exactly like non-calls for Colombia.  I'm just saying...

I'll agree that this is not the prettiest of soccer from the USWNT. I'm not sure why Heath, the right winger, spent so much time in the middle of the field. Colombia clogged the middle with numbers so the flanks were always open. That could have been attacked better. I'm starting to see people's point about set pieces when Wambach is in that they might not normally do with her out, but between her and Julie Johnston, they make a formidable pair in the air.

Cat Whitehill wanted to see a "statement" game out of the U.S. Her "statement" game apparently consisted of a 3-0 win or more. What I think she got was a gritty, grind-it-out and advance statement from the U.S. against a team that had some nice segments and possession, but ultimately never really tested the goal.  Everybody wants to see the U.S. score a lot of goals, but the way the defense and Solo are playing, it may not take a lot to win.

Let's talk about the goal scoring for a minute in this tournament.  The narrative today has been that the U.S. only scored 2 (one from the penalty spot, that could have been two (or more depending on your opinion of the Rapinoe fouls)), while France and Germany scored 3 and 4, respectively.  Guess what other teams scored multiple goals in the Round of 16; England (2).  Four games out of the 15 played had multiple goal scorelines.  So how did everybody look in the group stages? I think you have to throw out Germany's 10 goal effort against Thailand and everybody in Group C's effort against Ecuador as being anomalies. If you do that, high scorer in each group looks like this:
  • Group A was China with 3, 
  • Group B had Germany had an adjusted 7 or 8 and Norway 8 (who also put a 4-spot on Thailand), 
  • Group C had Cameroon with 9 and Switzerland with 11 (10 of which came against Ecuador)
  • Group D had 3 of the 4 teams with 4 goals (and Nigeria with 3)
  • Group E was Brazil and Korea with 4 goals
  • Group F was France with 6, England and Colombia with 4
The high scorers in the group have fared as follows in the Round of 16:
  • China - 1
  • Germany - 4
  • Norway - 1
  • Cameroon - 0
  • Switzerland - 0
  • Australia - 1
  • Sweden - 1
  • Brazil - 0
  • Korea - 0
  • France - 3
  • England - 2
  • Colombia - 0
Goals are hard to get as you progress in the World Cup and the U.S. hasn't allowed a goal since the 27th minute mark in the Australia game (the U.S.'s first game of the tournament).  Colombia had two shots on goal and I wouldn't say that either of those were very threatening.  Two goals by the U.S. was a good result for this stage of the tournament.

I'm not worried yet.  I was nervous during the game considering how how many dives the Colombia team was taking and that it could have resulted in other undeserved cards or a set piece near goal, but I'm not nervous yet for the long-term.  It's going to be interesting to see how the lineup gets changed for the game against China with Rapinoe and Holiday out, but this team's depth has always been a strong suit of this team.  It could be the perfect time to switch the tactics to include another forward and let them attack the China defense with abandon and clear out some of the space in what could be a crowded midfield again.  Though I think I said that before the Columbia game too.

The sky's not falling yet.  That's just the sound of high expectations.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Women's World Cup - U.S. vs Nigeria

Source: WWCGraphics
A 45th minute goal from Wambach is what ultimately gave the U.S. the win, but there were plenty of chances, especially in the first 15 minutes.  However, the USWNT's execution of the set pieces were not up to their normal standard.  For a team that handles set pieces as poorly as the Nigerian team against a team that plays them as well as the United States, there should have been more goals scored. I don't like the short corner attempts from the U.S.  Especially when the lineup includes Wambach, Morgan, and Johnston who are excellent at heading on corner kicks.  They're ok to attempt at times when you see something with the way the opponent is defending the kick, but not when that team is Nigeria.

I reserve the right to change my mind and while I love both of them, Rampone and O'Hara can enjoy the World Cup from the sideline unless one of the starting back four is tired or the game is already won.  Sauerbrunn and Johnston have an amazing connection and are playing spectacular beside each other. The way that Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Klingenberg, and Krieger are playing as a group, you don't change that chemistry.  Even when Rampone came in during the second half, it was for a midfielder and she played left back allowing the Sauerbrunn/Johnston combo to remain.  Rampone has mentored Sauerbrunn well and they look to be doing an equally effective job with Johnston. Julie Foudy has been saying that this team should be playing a 4-3-3 lineup and with the way that the back four and Solo are playing, I can't disagree with her. Let the back four do what they've been doing and attack, attack, attack.  Get the early lead and make the other team chase the game.  Then take advantage of what DiCicco calls "the U.S. trap" where the U.S. continually increases their level of play until the opponents can't keep up with them.

DiCicco and Whitehill were big on two players during the game; Morgan and Holiday.  I can't disagree with either of their assessments.  Morgan looked dangerous all game and she and Wambach have a clear connection that the other combinations of forwards just don't seem to have to the same extent. I think that as long as they are both healthy, and I agree with DiCicco that Wambach looked tired at the end, it gives more weight to Foudy's 4-3-3 lineup.  Pair those two with a third speedster (and take your pick between Press, Rodriquez, or Leroux) and let Holiday/Lloyd/Rapinoe/Health/O'Reilly run the other team's midfield and defense ragged by possessing and constantly serving in balls.

There was this series of comments from DiCicco throughout the game:

  • "But here's something the U.S.A. is doing differently. Lloyd is sitting deeper in the midfield and their best #10 player, Holiday, is higher."
  • "And that's what the U.S.A attack has been missing. That little combination there. Holiday underneath a forward."
  • "I thought that first half was the best half for the U.S.A and I think one of the reasons is Lauren Holiday left the #6 position and became more of a #10 position."

All of those preceded this final exchange between he and Whitehill:
DiCicco: "that was good flowing soccer by the U.S.A. there and Holiday's in the center of it."
Whitehill: "I'm with you Tony on Holiday being higher. She's a special player and one of her special gifts is her final pass and she just creates so much more for the U.S...Holiday, I just love her fluidity in the middle and her and Lloyd are playing much better in this game."
DiCicco: "If you talk to Jill Ellis she will tell you 'our best #10 player is Lauren Holiday.'"

This is where things don't make sense to me. You play your best goalie, you make sure you have good center backs, and you make sure that the right person is playing in the position that connects the defense to the offense.  If that person is Holiday, and according to the coach it is, then that should be where she is played.  The U.S. is flush with talent and if within all that talent is one player that stands out as the best to connect the defense/midfield with the forwards, start there.

The World Cup has a path full of teams that will have more defensive and offensive prowess than Nigeria.  That means the USWNT may need to score more than one goal, which means that you have to get the ball to the forwards.  Winning the group helped create a better path to win it, but you have to put your best players in their best positions.

I hope that the Nigeria game was a step in that direction.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 02.10

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,202
- Final Score: 3-0
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Miller, Hyland, Ring, Stojkov, Pineda, Mares, Brown, Rugg
- Substitutions: Smart 64' (Stojkov), Lacroix 77' (Pineda), Wojcik 90' (Rugg)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Janicki, Melgares
- Goals: Brown 39' (assist Mares); Mares 44' (PK), Lacroix 82' (assist Rugg)
- Bookings: Miller 83' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

I went into my rewatch of the game wanting to see if this game was as glorious as it seemed in person. A 3 - 0 win in Carroll Stadium causes a fan base starved for home wins to exit the stadium euphoric. I watched to see if I missed something. I didn't.

Was it perfection? No, but that's not really possible.

Writing it down now, I feel like I'm just nit-picking with anything that I thought the team did poorly.  The worst thing they did was that I thought they came out of halftime a little flat and with a little less energy than they finished the first half. I'll chalk it up to a rare multiple goal lead that had the team feeling comfortable.

55% - 45% possession in the first half.
8 shots to 2 in first half.
Nicht didn't touch the ball until the 10 minute mark and that was a pass back from his defense.
Two goals.

Given that kind of first half, I can understand a slight let down until they realized that Edmonton wasn't going to go down with at least some kind of fight. That's not desirable, but understandable.

This was an all-around good game by the entire team.  I counted only a few long balls and only a couple of those were what I would consider to be "bad" decisions.  The others were clearances or were good, well-timed penetrating attempts over Edmonton's back line.  By my count, Nicht only had about a dozen touches of the ball the entire game and 75% of those were passes back to him from his defense.  Nothing from Edmonton was concerning.  Edmonton came in missing a few players and didn't help themselves with the red card shown to Raudales in the 67th minute, but they just didn't have much to offer against a team that played as well as the Eleven even when they were full strength. Even Rugg, who I've been down on recently because of his heavy touches, played a really good game.  His assist to Lacroix was a beauty. I wasn't a fan of the team's corner kicks, but again, I'm nit-picking.

I'm still cautiously optimistic, but this looks like a completely different team with the exact same players playing.  I don't know if it's because the guys like playing for Coach Regan more or if a mid-season firing has everybody realizing that they needed to step up, but they are certainly playing with more effort from top to bottom. It's great to see and I can't wait to see them continue this momentum in the Fall Season.

This week, I was able to find a photographer who has much better skills with a camera than I.  I narrowed it down from the couple hundred he provided to me and hope to have more photos for future posts.  Photos courtesy of staff photographer Don Thompson.

Just one of many examples of players looking loose during pregame.

This might have been the hardest he worked all night.

Assistant Coach Kleberson all smiles before the game.

Working hard!

Strike! But he looked good doing it.

Working hard too, but a little undersized in this battle.

"From distance again..."



Rugg headed to goal.

Having fun or telling us the score?  You decide.

Everything looks cool when you're winning.

This could hurt...

Lacroix leaving Eddies in his wake.

Is Norales giving Lacroix a bear hug or a wedgie? Who cares when you're winning 3 - 0.

Rebecca Townsend interviewing the 2-0 Coach Regan.
Congratulations Dylan Mares and Erick Norales for being selected to the Team of the Week!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Women's World Cup - USA vs Sweden

Source: WWCGraphics
The United States Women’s team played Sweden to a 0-0 draw in their second game of Group D play, which allows the USWNT to remain on top of the group standings.  The stats reflect a slight edge to the U.S. in the game, but the highlight of the game for either team was the 77th minute goal line save by Meghan Klingenberg.  It’s a good thing she’s 5’-2” because if she had been 5’-1”, I think that ball goes into the goal.

The ball stayed out of the goal and it was one more example of the defensive unit of the USWNT playing superb team defense.  Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, and Klingenberg did a great job stifling the Swedish attack to the point of the official stats (link to FIFA full stats) showing Sweden getting 9 shots, but none of those were on goal.  Sweden’s defense was equally up to the challenge as they limited the U.S. to 12 shots and only 2 were on goal (though I’m curious about that stat since it shows Wambach with one of those shots, but zero shots on goal; didn’t the keeper have to make a save to push the ball over the crossbar.  Isn’t that a shot on goal?).

So the defense was great and the offense didn’t produce too many shots.  That just leaves the midfield.  Cue the music because it was Musical Midfield during this game.  Rapinoe, Lloyd, Holiday, and Brian were the starters.  Amy Rodriquez came into the game in the 58th minute for Brian.  So A-Rod went to forward and Press dropped back to her less than desired position in midfield. Nine minutes later, Wambach game in for Press.  So Wambach takes A-Rod’s place up front and A-Rod dropped back into the midfield position.  Luckily, after that it was Morgan for Leroux, forward to forward, so that the midfield musical chairs stopped.  If those are the substitutions to be made, I question the order.  Switch the first two so that the midfield has some consistency for longer stretches.

A midfield that nearly everybody agrees is underperforming.  The reasons for that underperformance seem to vary depending on who you ask.  My opinion, and you can call me names if you want, is that the problem doesn’t lay with Holiday.  Yes, she went to my high school (well after I graduated) so you can say that I’m blinded because of it, but it also means that I have kept a close eye on her. Holiday has a high soccer IQ, is adaptable, is strong, and has a smooth touch on the ball, but if you want the most out of her, I think she needs to be in that #10 playmaker position.  That’s the position she plays for Kansas City to spectacular results.  League MVP, League Golden Boot in 2013, League Champion in 2014, Championship game MVP in 2014, one of the historical League leaders in goals and assists, all while being one of the most fouled players in the league.  Yes, she’s doing a serviceable job as the holding midfielder, but I don’t think you get everything out of her and the team in that position.  I know, I know, who plays there if not Holiday?  Boxx or Brian and I probably go with Brian only because of the limited amount of time Boxx has played lately.  Then I put Heather O’Reilly on the right flank and let her run up and down on the opponent’s left midfielder.

This is where I seem to differ from a lot of the other opinions out there.  I’ve seen comments that only Rapinoe is attacking.  From my perspective, that’s because she’s not passing when she should and trying to do too much.  Tony DiCicco has said similar statements at times during the broadcasts so there’s at least one that might agree with me, but that’s not the majority of the opinion.  I love Rapinoe, but I think she needs to be shouldering some of the blame of the poorly performing midfield.  She’s taken the criticism I normally reserved for Lloyd.

I would like to see the team start like this 4-4-2 arrangement:
---------- Solo ---------
--- Krieger --- Sauerbrunn --- Johnston --- Klingenberg ---
--------- Brian --------
--- O’Reilly ------ Heath ---
--------- Holiday --------
--- Rodriquez ------ Press ---

Wambach, Press, and/or Morgan on as super-duper subs and Rapinoe/Lloyd as needed for midfield subs.  Still not sure why O’Hara isn’t playing at all, but given how well the way the back four played against Sweden, I would stick with them until they are either hurt or completely exhausted.

Here’s my logic on that lineup.

Leroux’s pace and strength are impressive, but Press is a natural goal scorer and seems to be in better form right now.  I like Rodriquez’s connection with Holiday from their experience together over the years and now as teammates with Kansas City and would take advantage of that.  Morgan being fit to play is different than being fit to play 90 minutes, which is still further different than being able to play 90 minutes in the World Cup.  I also feel like I see a lot of Heath in for Holiday substitutions and I think that is a waste of vision and skill.  I’ve always liked their combination play in the games where they are in together and I would take advantage of the connection and vision too.

I’m going by memory here, but pre-Wambach in the Sweden game, I feel like there were more quick restarts on free kicks than after she came into the game.  I can recall one free kick shortly after she came in that was probably 40 yards from goal and close to the sideline.  Instead of starting quickly, the kick became a skewed corner kick.  Maybe it is just people seeing things differently, but there could be something to the statement of a tactical change when Wambach is on the field that isn’t necessarily a good change.

That lineup is never going to happen though and would guess that it will be very similar to what we saw against Sweden.  Might see Rampone or O’Hara to get them some minutes in case they are needed later in the tournament and likely see Morgan come off the bench again.  With a win or draw, they will advance and even a loss could be okay depending on the other results, so I don’t anticipate too many drastic changes for Tuesday night’s game against Nigeria.  Though I’ve read that they have issues with set pieces so Wambach may get the start again to try and get an early set piece goal and put Nigeria playing from behind.  I think it’s a 2-0 win and they advance as the #1 seed from the group.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Women's World Cup - USA vs Australia

Due to a Megan Rapinoe brace and a third goal by Christen Press, the United States Women's Team overcame a less than stellar start to beat Australia 3-1. A 3-1 victory that has them leading their group and the seemingly overwhelming media narrative is that the United States team is no longer the dominant team and that they are being caught and passed by the other nations in the world.  This is both true and false. The other countries (some of them anyway) are starting to catch up to the talent and athleticism of the American women.  Germany and France in particular are in good form and have the ability to beat the United States.  Japan as well. Even the host team Canada has shown they are getting closer to routinely competing with the United States.

And yet, the United States played a good feisty Australian team, played less than they are capable, and still walked away with a win.  This team is deep at all positions.  The only spot that has any kind of real concern is with a holding midfielder and nobody is a natural in that position.  Shannon Boxx does a good job with it, Morgan Brian is getting there, and Lauren Holiday is using her talent and soccer IQ to do the best she can with it. Though I think most would agree that she is a much better and more natural attacking midfielder.

So what went wrong in the start of the game?

Of the 14 players for the United States, five of them were in their first World Cup and it showed at times. I watched Julie Johnston play in the U-20 World Cup in Japan and she was great.  She's done a great job leading up to the World Cup.  I think the early pressure by Australia caused her to change the way she plays and started relying on blasting the ball as soon as she could.  Even when she had plenty of time.  That will be fixed by Friday night against Sweden.  Oh, and sitting on the bench is ageless wonder Christie Rampone if needed.

Pia Sundhage has caught some grief in the last couple days for her comments about her former team, but I tend to agree with some of them. Wambach would be better served coming off the bench this time around and let Leroux and Rodriguez start because they are both in good form.  Especially while Morgan gets her legs under her after having not played much this year with her injury.  Or even Press up top with O'Reilly as the winger because Press has a nose for the goal and O'Reilly will keep the width better. Wambach affects the team's decisions on restarts.  There were times during the game where the team played long set pieces instead of quick restarts that might have served them better. Set pieces have always been a key part of the U.S. team, both men and women, but there's a time to go quick too and I think the team errs to the side of set pieces when Wambach is on the field.

Defensively, I'm still surprised that O'Hara is sitting given that she played every single minute of the last Olympics, but I think we'll see her before this World Cup finishes.  I think Coach Ellis and the U.S. look at this as a marathon of 7 games and using the team depth against the other countries so I think Rampone gets the start against Sweden.

Pia is also right about Lloyd and Solo.  Lloyd is a scoring midfielder.  I've argued before that is because Lloyd looks to shoot first and hold onto the ball, often at the expense of looking for teammates who have been options.  Since 2011, Lloyd has a 3:1 goal to assist ratio while Holiday has a 1:2.5 goal to assist ratio during that same time.  Lauren has shown she can score goals at all levels, but she looks to get her teammates involved as well.  Lloyd's role of hold the ball and shoot first, pass second was taken by Rapinoe during the game and she scored two goals so maybe that's further proof that I don't know what I'm saying.

Solo...  We've all read the news articles about her.  I've read her book.  She seems to be a complete headcase off the field, but within those white lines, she's the best goalie in the world.  One of the things that has bothered me about nearly every article I've read about the U.S. vs Australia game is the narrative that Australia would have easily beaten the U.S. if Solo didn't bail them out.  There are 11 players on the field and the goalkeeper is a vital part of that and is part of the game plan. As a defender, if you have a goalie of Solo's caliber, you play a little different than if my 80 year old grandmother was playing behind you.  You can call it bailing out the defense, but I think it's just a vital cog in the game plan.

What is concerning for the U.S. moving forward are the two yellow cards given to Holiday and Rapinoe.  Were they fouls? Yes. Were they cards? I don't think so.  Given that a second card by either of them results in a game suspension all the way until the quarterfinal round, both are going to need to be careful with their play.

Three goals for, one against, top of the group and the world is crashing in around them?  Don't believe that narrative.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 02.09

- Opponent: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Attendance: 5,083
- Final Score: 2-1
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Miller, Hyland, Ring, Stojkov, Pineda, Mares, Brown, Rugg
- Substitutions: Wojcik 65' (Mares), Smart 66' (Stojkov), Lacroix 88' (Brown)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Janicki, Melgares
- Goals: Pineda 44' (assist Mares); Pineda 90'+
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

Not counting the hat trick by Blake Smith in the U.S. Open Cup game last season, by my count, the Indy Eleven have only had two previous players score a brace during a league game.  By scoring his extra time goal in the 94th minute, Pineda joins a group that includes just Mike Ambersley and Kleberson who have had multiple goal league games for the Eleven (Ambersley and Kleberson both got their braces against Atlanta).

For his effort, Pineda was awarded the NASL Player of the Week, following last week's award by Kyle Hyland.

His awards for the week also includes being nominated for the NASL Plays of the Week:

I voted for Pineda, because, well, I'm a homer, but this is a hard week to choose a winner.  Three of the five nominees are shots from roughly the exact same spot on the field.  The only difference might be when Pineda's occurred in the game.  I feel like the Scorpions' goalkeeper Sattler deserves some love for that save.

It's been said all season that sometimes you have to a steal a win or a tie during a season as points can be hard to obtain and the Eleven have become the heart attack kids this season.  The team has played nine games this season and the Eleven have game tying or game winning goals in the 89th minute or later four times and another two where they have given up goals in the 85th minute or later.  Two-thirds of the games this season have been decided in the final 5 minutes (or stoppage time).  If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that you never leave an Indy Eleven game before the ref blows the final whistle.

I noticed as I went through my notes for this game that I had something written every five minutes for the first 25 minutes or so of the first half.  It seemed like every 5 minutes, the Eleven had a good chance at the goal.  They might not have done much with all of those opportunities, but they had good build-up and were actually taking shots.  Seeing them actually shooting the ball was nice to see. I also had a note around the 20 minute mark, right before the Strikers scored, where Brown had his back to the goal and laid the ball off to Pineda who took a shot.  It reminded me a lot of the goal that Mares scored against Tampa Bay in that it was in a similar part of the field and Brown was playing the ball to another player with his back to goal.  It surprises me a little that its the smaller Brown making these hold-up plays instead of the bigger Rugg, but it's been effective.  Though I'm starting to wonder if Rugg's cleats are made of concrete because he's had some very heavy touches lately so maybe it's a good thing it's Brown with the lay-off touches.

The other parts of this game that stuck out to me was free kick in the 11th minute. Seemed like a very wasted opportunity from 18 1/2 yards out.  The Strikers had 7 or 8 guys directly in the wall and the other three between the ball and the goal. The Eleven only put two guys in the box with four guys behind the ball.  It's like they were playing for the rebound instead of any kind of real effort on the goal.  I don't know how the Nicht missed the ball on the Striker goal in the 22nd minute, but I really liked his kick save off the cheeky back heel shot in the 32nd minute off the corner kick. At the end of the game, both teams seemed to be playing for the tie, with the exception of late game substitute Duke Lacroix.  His effort and pace is what created the chance for Pineda's late goal and I'm curious to see if he starts to get some additional minutes in the near future.

It's always nice to get the first win since mid-April, especially after a week where Coach Sommer was fired and interim coach Tim Regan took the reigns for the first time, but I have to temper my enthusiasm.  The team "looked" better and achieved a better result, but the stats still all lean towards the Strikers. A team that we need to remember was/is sitting near the bottom of the table like the Eleven.  It's not like this was a win against the Cosmos.  So while I'm glad to see the team come away with three points, I'm still cautiously optimistic. That being said, a win this coming Saturday against Edmonton and a few key results (Jacksonville and San Antonio losses would be nice) and the Eleven finish the Spring Season in the Top 5.  A placement that seemed improbable with the string of results after the Carolina tie and with enough points compared to the teams ahead of them to put them in a reasonable position going into the Fall Season.

Pineda wasn't the only Eleven player receiving recognition for his play as Norales makes his third Team of the Week.  Congrats fellas!


Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Women's World Cup

Tomorrow, the United States Women's National Team begins its quest to do what the women's team has failed to do since 1999.

Win that trophy.

Unlike the Men's National Team, the World Cup is the expectation for the women's team and despite its successes in the Olympics in recent years against essentially the same competition, the World Cup is still the more desired trophy. The team's failure to win the coveted trophy has been discussed at great length by pundits after every World Cup comes to a close with the U.S. team not hoisting it.  There are reasons given about the rest of the world catching up to the speed and athleticism of the United States, the flaw here and the flaw there, and even issues with coaches selection of which goalie to play.  To me, it comes down to proof that it's a hard damn trophy to win, even if you're the team that is favored to win it.

The United States is in the so-called "Group of Death," having to face Australia, Sweden, and Nigeria, ranked 2, 10, 5, and 33, respectively.  The United States' group schedule looks like this:
Monday, June 8
United States vs. Australia (Winnipeg), 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)

Friday, June 12
United States vs. Sweden (Winnipeg), 8 p.m. (FOX)

Tuesday, June 16
Nigeria vs. United States (Vancouver), 8 p.m. (FOX)

There are the high profile players on the team who seem to be getting most of the press.  Solo, Wambach, Morgan, Leroux, and even Lloyd look to be on most of the magazine covers. I think this World Cup is going to hinge on Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Klingenberg, Chalupny, Rapinoe, and Holiday. Solo is the best goalkeeper in the world and those other four are some of the best finishers. This World Cup is going to hinge on what goes on between all of the headliners. I don't think Rampone is going to get the same kinds of minutes and Sauerbrunn has slowly become one of the best center defenders in the world.

I also think that Lloyd's decision making in the midfield is going to be key.  If she picks the right times to take her shots, and she will take her shots, this could go very well for the team. If she doesn't take the right time to take her shots, which she is prone to do from time to time, there's going to be some wasted opportunities.

I think this is the year for them to finally bring the Cup back to the States, but I don't think it's going to be easy.  Like the pundits have all said, "the world is catching up."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sommer's departure

As we've all heard by now, Coach Sommer and assistant coach Paul Telfer were released from their duties today and assistant coach Tim Regan will take over as interim head coach with Kleberson stepping into an assistant coach role while he rehabs his injury.  There's a lot that goes into that sentence and what it means moving forward for the team. However, I've come to a conclusion from this latest personnel change for the Indy Eleven: I love the game of soccer, but I hate the business of it.

Just like last fall when the team made a mass release of players, this firing hit me the same way. Good people now without a job.  Worse though, is that there are people relishing and taking joy in that fact.  I understand that we want successful teams and that if that isn't happening, then changes have to be made.  That's consistent regardless of your profession, but I think it seems worse for me when I so often think of soccer as a game and forget that it's a job for these guys.

I'm also not entirely convinced that the issue was with Coach Sommer and that his replacement will mean success for the team.  Only time will show whether it was a successful decision or not. Though, this could be a good time to mention something that I've been trying to figure out how to incorporate into my other Eleven posts.

There's no question that the Eleven had some defensive issues last season and took steps to try and solve that problem this season.  Hence the resigning of most of the starting back line that was so successful at the end of the fall season and the addition of Janicki.  Then the team looked to provide guys that could score.  Good defense, get a goal, win the game.  Defense wins championships, right?  Except that hasn't happened.  The team has yet to have a clean sheet and the guys brought on to score aren't scoring.  I don't think that is just in the coaching.  Guys have to play better too and I think they all know it.  Sommer knew it after Saturday's game for the few dozen people that were still around when that game finished.

In this league, though, there are small differences between the ones that have had success this season and the ones that haven't.  Look at the standings and there is something that immediately sticks out to me.
Do you see it?

The top four teams in the league are the only ones who have positive goal differentials.  It's true that they don't give up a lot of goals, but they put the ball in the goal to help their cause. While the Eleven, a team built around its defense this season, is forcing its offense to score at least one and a half goals per game and the offense isn't getting it done.  That's an issue for both sides of the ball.

It's not a hard fact, but turnover from season to season seems to play a part of the success in this league.  Using the rosters from last season and the rosters as they stood at the end of March when the NASL Media Guide was printed, I created the following table.

What sticks out to me is that NY and Minnesota, who are currently in the top 3 in the standings both retained players that accounted for more than 70% of the minutes played last season.  San Antonio, last year's Champions, retained less than 50% and find themselves near the bottom of the table this year.  Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale retained less than 20% and are also in the bottom portion of the table.  Only Tampa Bay and Carolina, who coincidentally both retained approximately 37% of their roster, have found success and are in the top four.  While the middle is all fuzzy, the ones that retained the most are at the top of the standings and the ones who retained the least are at the bottom of the standings. There's something to be said for consistency.

I know it sounds like I'm making a case against Coach Sommer.  The team retained nearly 2/3rd of their minutes from last season, building from the back that was successful at the end last season, and added scorers.  So it must be Sommer that is at fault, right?  As a volunteer coach, I can appreciate the fact that no matter what I tell the players (albeit my level and Sommer's level are completely different), they still have to go out there and execute the plan.  If they don't execute the plan well, the failure of the team lays with them too.

I have the feeling that was part of interim coach Tim Regan's speech to the team today based on what he said to the media.  That there's been a change in the coach and his departure is on all of them to do better or there could be more departures. I'm not a big fan of firing a coach mid-season nor after only a year and a half on the job, but then I'm not, apparently, a fan of the business of soccer.  Hopefully, Coaches Sommer and Telfer find new jobs soon.

Indy Eleven vs Rowdies - 02.08

- Opponent: Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,226 (paid attendance...)
- Final Score: 2-2
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Janicki, Miller, Hyland, Keller, Stojkov, Mares, Pineda, Brown, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Ring 34' (Keller injury), Melgares 81' (Miller), Wojcik 85' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Norales, Smart
- Goals: Mares 21' (assist Brown); Hyland 90'+8'
- Bookings: Brown (Yellow 59'), Miller (Yellow 74')
- Adage goals: One (40')

Of my group of season tickets holders, I was the only one of our 11 tickets (of course we have 11 tickets...) who wanted to brave whatever the elements threw at us on Saturday night.  However, since I was the only one going and previously mentioned that I hadn't used my credentials, I figured the game against the Rowdies would be an excellent time to be part of the media instead of a fan. The fact that it kept me dry was just an added bonus.

The game tested my capabilities of being an "impartial" observer of my favorite team as I tried to be part of the media.  While the press box was predominantly filled with Indy staff or Indianapolis sports writers, there were still Rowdies staff there and I didn't want to break the NASL media regulations requirement that the "press box is a neutral zone; both home and visiting team management, personnel and media will refrain from bipartisan comments or cheering."  I may or may not have broken that rule in the 97th minute.

The bullet list of this game alone is a crazy read:

  • The National Anthem performed by Josh Kaufman
  • A goal by the Eleven in the 21st minute created by a spectacular wedge shot by Hyland to Brown, who held up the ball long enough to play a ball to Mares who put the ball into the side netting
  • An immediate delay after the goal due to lightning in the area
  • A 2 hour and 3 minute delay where the corner flags and much of the sideline looked like this for awhile:
  • A few hundred fans braved the delay to see their home team not in as good a rhythm after the delay as they were in before it
  • An adage goal given up by the Eleven in the 40th minute from a shot by Balchan that deflected off Miller
  • A yellow card to Antonijevic right before the end of the half (this will come back later)
  • Another goal for the Rowdies in the 68th minute by Santos
  • Followed shortly after by another yellow card to the Rowdies' Hernandez and the Eleven's Miller for an altercation in the 73rd minute
  • Followed immediately by a red card to the Rowdies' Santos for taking that altercation too far
  • Indy Eleven playing with a man advantage for the next 17 minutes of regulation
  • Sommer makes a defense-for-offense substitution in the 81st minute to get a goal by bringing on Melgares for Miller
  • Sommer makes another substitution to add more offense with Wojcik in the 85th minute
  • Rowdies' Menjivar gets a yellow in the 88th minute
  • Rowdies' Antonijevic gets a yellow in the 89th minute, his second of the game, meaning his yellow turns into a red and the Eleven now have a 2-man advantage
  • Seven minutes of extra time are added...SEVEN
  • Nicht playing center field as the Rowdies drop 9 guys back into defense and were content to blast the ball back out and save their win
  • Hyland rips a shot just under the crossbar, just over the outstretched arms of Pickens and into the back of the net in the 98th minute
  • Rowdies' Hristov gets a red card leaving the Eleven to play out the final moments with a 3-man advantage.
11 v 8 closing minutes and a 2-2 tie salvaged in what looked like a win by the team's play, but a loss by the score until Hyland's heroics.  Heroics that go back to what I've been saying.  Shoot the ball!  With the wet conditions after the delay, I thought that any open shot within 30 yards of goal should have been played on frame and as hard as possible with the expectation that Pickens would have difficulty catching it or it taking a funny skip on the way there like Tampa's first goal.  The team still only managed 5 shots on goal in conditions that should have produced more, especially with the man/men advantage. That needs to change if this team has any desire to turn some of these games into wins.

For his late game heroics, stellar assist to the assist on the first goal, and all-around solid play, Hyland became the first Eleven player to be awarded the NASL Player of the Week.  Congrats Kyle!