Sunday, August 30, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 02.20

- Opponent: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Location: Fort Lauderdale
- Attendance: 3,819
- Final Score: 7-1 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Miller, Janicki, Hyland, Ring, Stojkov, Pineda, Steinberger, Richards, Ceballos
- Substitutions: Lacroix 58' (Stojkov), Rugg 65' (Pineda), Brown 72' (Richards)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Smart, Keller
- Goals: Richards 16' (unassisted)
- Bookings: Pineda 18' (Yellow), Franco 50' (Red)
- Adage goals: Yep

Normally, I would watch the game a second time before writing anything, but I don't think I have it in me to sit through this game again so here goes.

Fort Lauderdale's goal in the 7th minute by PC was the eventual game-winning goal, but they didn't rest on their laurels and added FIVE MORE GOALS for a total of 7 goals.  The Strikers absolutely overran the Eleven scoring a touchdown and converted the extra point.  The score got out of hand in the second half after the red card was shown to Franco, but when you give up a goal in the 2nd minute (and to call it the 2nd minute is generous) the game was never really in the Eleven's control.

Pinho 2'
PC 7'
Freitas 20'
Freitas 67'
Pinho 77'
Pinho 81'
PC 85'

That's ugly. No two ways to put it. Unless you wanted to use some expletives...

The Eleven managed get on the board in the 16th by a good hustle play by Richards, but this could have easily been 9 or 10 to 1 if the Strikers didn't hit the post once and if Pinho and Ramirez didn't completely miss relatively easy shots late in the game. The Strikers never took their foot off the gas until the ref blew the final whistle. They didn't pass the ball around the backline or take the ball into the corner and hold it to kill time. Every chance they got, they took it right at the Eleven's defense and the Eleven's defense looked overmatched and out of place.

By my evaluation, with next week's probable starting defensive lineup due to Franco's red card absence, the Eleven will have fielded the same back four in back-to-back games only once since the July 11th/19th games when Franco-Miller-Norales-Hyland started against Carolina and Ottawa, respectively. Since the 19th game against Ottawa, the Eleven have fielded:
July 19th - Franco-Miller-Norales-Hyland (4 - 2 L)
July 25th - Franco-Janicki-Norales-Hyland (1 - 1 T)
Aug 1 - Franco-Janicki-Miller-Hyland (1 - 0 L)
Aug 5 - McKinney-Janicki-Miller-Frias (2 - 0 L)
Aug 8 - Franco-Janicki-Norales-Hyland (4 - 1 L)
Aug 19 - Franco-Norales-Miller-Hyland (2 - 0 W)
Aug 22 - Franco-Norales-Miller-Hyland (1 - 1 T)
Aug 29 - Franco-Janicki-Miller-Hyland (7 - 1 L)

So only one instance of back-to-back starting defensive lines and the Eleven had a 1W-2D-5L record and a 20 - 8 goal difference in that timeframe. Even if today's game against Fort Lauderdale had ended as just a 3-1 loss, the team would still have a 1:2 goal differential in that 8 game stretch. Part of that is offense scoring issues (can I reiterate that the Eleven have to figure out how to take half-chance shots on goal because waiting for the full chance isn't getting it done), but the other part is that this team was rebuilt from season 1 to season 2 from the defense forward. The core of the returning players was the defense. Right now, that core is not performing as had planned. Some of that is injuries, some of that is red cards, and some of that is poor play, but the inconsistency in the defense has combined with an anemic offense to get 9 points out of an available 30.

The team still has 10 games left in the Fall season, but they would need an amazing run of WINS to make me feel like a playoff spot is a possibility. Right now, I just don't see it happening, but maybe that's because I just sat through a 7 - 1 drubbing with this running through my head through most of it:

That's actually quite easy to answer. 1) I'm a glutton for punishment and have years of being a Cubs fan that have hardened my expectations of my sports teams and 2) I believe in the idea of this team even if the results aren't happening as desired. I want a team in Indy to stay, I know these guys aren't happy with the results, and I see other teams that have struggled turn it around because of the parity in this league.

There's still half of the Fall Season remaining, but the Eleven must do better and they must do better as soon as possible because I don't like to see this type of sentiment from the official Eleven game feed even if it was exactly what every fan that watched to the end was thinking.

And like the @IndyElevenLive feed, I mercifully put this post behind me/us and look forward to a better game, and hopefully result, in Minnesota on Wednesday and then again on Saturday against Jacksonville back in Indianapolis.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Soccer Life - Gwendolyn Oxenham

When I decided that I wanted to start writing about soccer, I ran through several ideas for a name of this blog. Some bad...okay, most bad. Some good, but already taken. Then it suddenly occurred to me that the reason I wanted to write about soccer was the same reason that I've always been drawn to soccer and was immortalized in my brain by a quote from Luke Boughen in the book Finding the Game by Gwendolyn Oxenham.

"When the ball is kicked towards me, I consider the game beckoning me. The game wants me."

The Game Beckons was born.

There's a companion movie called Pelada that was actually the precursor to the book and it includes another quote that rang true for me and, more immediately, the impetus for this post and gets reiterated later.

“Soccer will give you much more than you can ever give it.”

It was with that in mind that I decided I would try and contact Gwendolyn to ask if she would take take part in this periodic survey series that I do on this blog. Since soccer continues to give me much more than I have ever given it, she said yes.

Before I give way to Gwendolyn to let you read her answers to my standard questions, here's a little background on the book/movie and where you can buy them (book - here, here; movie - here).

Away from professional stadiums, bright lights, and manicured fields, there’s another side of soccer.  Tucked away on alleys, side streets, and concrete courts, people play in improvised games.  Every country has a different word for it.  In the United States, we call it “pick-up soccer.”  In Trinidad, it's "taking a sweat."  In England, it's "having a kick-about."  In Brazil, the word is “pelada,” which literally means "naked"—the game stripped down to its core.  It’s the version of the game played by anyone, anywhere—and it’s a window into lives all around the world.   

Pelada is a documentary following Luke and Gwendolyn, two former college soccer stars who didn’t quite make it to the pros.  Not ready for it to be over, they take off, chasing the game.  From prisoners in Bolivia to moonshine brewers in Kenya, from freestylers in China to women who play in hijab in Iran, Pelada is the story of the people who play.

Thank you Gwendolyn for taking part!

1. Name:
Gwendolyn Oxenham

2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
- Player

3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):
- In college, they called me Baby G, because I was sixteen when I started playing for Duke. And because Gwendolyn is way too much of a mouthful.

4. Age started playing:
- 8 – I was taking ballet; I was so bad that the teacher had me in the class with the 3 and 4 year olds. As soon as I saw my brother playing soccer, I switched sports.

5. First recollection of the game:
- I was playing for the Candy Cane and I knocked into a player and really sent her flying. While I don’t really remember that part, I do remember her father charging the field, coming at me. And then my dad of course went at that guy. Youth sports at their finest. :-)
Editor's note: I have a very similar story about a teammate's dad bad-mouthing me and my dad coming to my defense. I don't recall any body charging the field in my case, but there were some bad opinions of each other for a long time afterwards.

6. Highest level of play achieved:
- I spent one summer playing professionally in Brazil – for Santos FC

7. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play
- In 2003, during my senior year at Duke, in the second round of the NCAA tourney, against Texas A&M, I missed an easy volley right in front of the goal. We lost and my collegiate career ended.

But while I was traveling around the world, playing in pickup games and making Pelada, the most competitive game we played in was a tournament in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya – everyone put in 30 shillings, which is not much at all but which made it so that you were playing for something instead of nothing. And, for the moonshine brewers, they were giving up a day’s wages in order to play, and if they won, the could make back their wages. The field was a former trash dump, trash still rising out of the dirt, and the whole slum gathered around the sidelines. I’ve never, ever witnessed a more intense environment, the sideline absolutely erupting whenever someone scored. Unforgettable.

8. Position:
- Outside midfield

9. Jersey number:
- 14

10. Most memorable moment(s):
- Playing in a men’s prison in Bolivia, playing with eight-year-olds in Brazil, playing with the moonshine brewers in Kenya, playing with women in hijab in Iran. Playing a game in Jerusalem where the Arabs and Jews refused to play on the same team. Playing with speedo-clad riverboat guides on an island in Brazil, getting hailed on, drinking post-game caiprinhas made with the hail. And so many others. I kind of fail at this question.

11. Least memorable moment(s):
- If by that you mean the moment I wish I could forget, I think I’d have to go with my entire sophomore year of college. I’d lost my freshman year youthful cockiness. And I was coming off an injury so I was slow, insecure, and generally bad.

Traveling around the world, I also had a tendency to get megged. We probably could have made a montage of all the different locales where I managed to get nutmegged.

12. Favorite team:
- Santos (I played for them and loved getting to watch Robinho play for the men.)

13. Favorite player:
- Historical: Zidane

- Current: Obviously, Messi. But since that answer seems nearly assumed, my backup favorites are Luka Modric, Robinho, and Neymar. And Pirlo.

14. Indoor vs Outdoor:
- Growing up in Florida, I never played indoor. My first time was during graduate school at Notre Dame. I thought indoor was the most fun thing in the world and felt truly robbed that I didn’t ever get to experience it earlier.

15. Grass vs Turf:
- Grass

16. Coaching experience:
- I coached 8-year-olds when I was living in South Bend. It was fun for me and fun for them but I never really acquired that whole authority thing. Knowing how to play does not mean you automatically know how to coach :-)

17. Refereeing experience:
- I’ve always managed to avoid it but I’ll never forget watching Luke, my husband, referee a village championship in rural Ghana. It was by far the most physical game I’d ever seen and I think he gave out like 9 yellows and a red. It was colossal chaos.

18. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
- We went to Germany for the World Cup and during the Germany game, every restaurant and bar was so crowded that we ended up watching from a fish market – thanks to the smell, it was the only place with room. But it ended up being highly memorable.

To be honest, I don’t remember lots of great moments – only the horrifying ones – like when Suarez handballed it on the line and poor Ghana lost. Or in this women’s World Cup, England’s own goal in the last second of play.

19. Honors/Awards:
- Youngest DI athlete in history of NCAA. Most Inspirational Player at Duke (pretty much the award they give to the player not quite good enough for one of the other awards :-) )
Editor's Note: It looks like Gwendolyn scored twice in her first game as a freshman so it wasn't like she was on the team but didn't play. She was also the captain of the team in her Senior season.

20. Other sports played (and to what level):
- I played high school volleyball. I got benched after I headed the ball twice in a row while playing backline. I should have just let the ball go out but my soccer player instincts took over and before I knew it, I was leaping to head it.  I also ran track in high school – the 400 and the 800.

21. Other Comments:
- On our trip, Cristiano Cavina, an Italian writer, told us, “Soccer will give you much more than you can ever give it.” I think that is entirely true.
Editor's note: I told you it was a good quote.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Silverbacks - 02.19

- Opponent: Atlanta Silverbacks
- Location: Atlanta
- Attendance: 4,021
- Final Score: 1-1 T
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Miller, Hyland, Keller, Stojkov, Lacroix, Steinberger, Wojcik, Richards
- Substitutions: Janicki 55' (Wojcik), Rugg 68' (Richards), Smart 85' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Cardona, Frias, Ceballos, Pineda
- Goals: Richards 6' (PK)
- Bookings: Franco 45' (Yellow), Norales 50' (Red), Smart 90' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

With nearly the exact same lineup as in Wednesday's game against Tampa Bay (Wojcik in place of Rugg), the Eleven decided to hunker down defensively and seemed to play "not to lose" after getting the early penalty kick goal by Richards. Add in a red card to Norales in the 50th minute and it's no surprise that the official stats show a whopping 35% possession for the Eleven. I'm not an expert in tactics, but how often does the hunker down mode work when you start doing it in the first half. I understand it when you go down a man...

I'm about to digress...

My kid plays rec soccer and the refs are inconsistent and make some horrible calls from time to time. They are also teenagers trying to make a few bucks to pay for spending money. The refs in this league are professionals, but are inconsistent and make some horrible calls frequently. Which leads me to that red card to Norales. I hope that the Eleven issued a request for that red to be rescinded the second that game ended because it was clear in the replay that Norales put his hands on Chavez, but Chavez took a dive to get that call unless Norales has unnatural strength. It won't be and the Eleven will be playing a Miller/Janicki combination against Jacksonville, but it was the wrong call.

Now where was I... Oh yeah, hunker mode. I was so happy to see the team continue to push forward even after going up by two goals on Wednesday only to be disappointed to see them not do the same thing against Atlanta. I don't like hunker mode. It just gives the other team too many touches and opportunities to get back into the game and that gets exacerbated when you lose a player like the Eleven did with the red card. For me, the loss of Norales meant that it was just a matter of time before this game was going to get tied. A lot of people say that a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous, but I've always disagreed. The most dangerous lead is a 1-0 because it's such a precariously fine line between a win and a tie. For a team like the Eleven who needs as many points as possible coming down the home stretch, I would have preferred to see them take a few more chances offensively than sit back and counter.

When the Eleven caught a break by Mensing receiving his second yellow (and I agree with that card no matter what Mensing might say about his intent) shortly after giving up the own goal, the Eleven finally came out of hunker mode and created some chances. I still wish that they would take the half-chances and work for a rebound or deflection, but it just may not be in this team's DNA to consistently shoot and shoot quickly. Yes, I'm looking at you Rugg. I tried to compliment your effort on Wednesday and in 22 minutes against Atlanta, you didn't show it.

Every point matters and the Eleven head back to Indy with points in their pocket, but I think that when they look at this game on tape, they'll see that they left some points in Atlanta by sitting back too much.

Congratulations to Erick Norales for his Play of the Week nominee! Vote here!

Congratulations to Dane Richards and Daniel Keller for their Team of the Week selections!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Rowdies - 02.18

- Opponent: Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 8,500
- Final Score: 2-0 W
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Miller, Hyland, Keller, Stojkov, Lacroix, Steinberger, Rugg, Richards
- Substitutions: Smart 72' (Stojkov), Ceballos 81' (Richards), Norales 85' injury (Janicki)
- Unused: Cardona, Brown, Wojcik, Pineda
- Goals: Richards 60' (Keller), Norales 70' (free kick)
- Bookings: Steinberger 42' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Attendance took a hit this week with the first time under 9,000, but a mid-week game with the threat of thunderstorms all week will do that. It's a shame, because those that decided to stay home missed a really good showing by the Eleven. Even with the heavy rains that made the last part of the game very interesting and ruined part of the notes that I took, there were a few things that made it through the rain.

What I realized as I read through my notes was that the Eleven overcame what has been an issue with them and it even occurred during this game. The Eleven looked the better team through most of this game, but have had an issue all season with finishing. Yes, one of the goals was from a spectacularly taken free kick by Norales from just outside the 18-yard box, but it was good build-up to get to that point (and should have been a red card in my opinion). There was nice build-up within the first 5 minutes that lead to a corner. Stojkov was a beast in the opening 15-20 minutes. The possession was in favor of the Rowdies, but the Eleven took a lot more shots.

In the 57th minute, I wrote down that I wish Richards would have taken the shot instead of trying to pass to Lacroix. Three minutes later in a play that was setting up exactly like the one just before it and he did exactly that. This team has an issue with scoring and seem to be looking for the perfect shot each time that they get in the offensive third. Richards became a little selfish and took a tough angled shot and it paid off.  I have to wonder if Richard's decision to take the shot on the second attempt helps show this team that sometimes you just have to put it on goal and see what happens instead of waiting for that perfect opening. I also wrote down that the Tampa Bay defenders were closing quickly on the Eleven players so they must have read the scouting report on the Eleven.

The thing that stuck out more than anything was that even with a two goal lead, this team was pushing forward trying for more. They didn't park the bus hoping to get out with a win. They were still taking it to the Rowdies until late in the game. After Richard's goal in the 60th minute, they started taking more of those half chances. Smart had least one. Steinberger had at least one.

I'm also not going to get down on Charlie this week. He had a couple moments where he needed to take that half chance shot, but that goes for the entire team, and he did some good work off the ball. He and Lacroix helped set up Richard's goal by forcing Pickens to make a decision and his not knowing where to go helped create the smallest of windows for Richard's shot. He was tracking back deep into the defensive third to help secure the win. I want to see him take a shot, but he had good moments this week.

This was a good team win and I hope that they can carry the momentum into Saturday's game against Atlanta.



Monday, August 10, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Fury - 02.17

- Opponent: Ottawa Fury
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,866
- Final Score: 4-1 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Norales, Janicki, Hyland, Keller, Stojkov, Pineda, Caballos, Brown, Richards
- Substitutions: Lacroix 57' (Pineda), Wojcik 63' (Brown), Steinberger 73' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Cardona, Smart, Miller, Rugg
- Goals: Lacroix 60' (unassisted)
- Bookings: Brown 22' (Yellow), Ceballos 73' (Yellow),
- Adage goals: Two - 62nd, 64th minute

Three games in 8 days and three losses by a combined 7 - 1 score. To say this was a rough week for the Eleven and their fans is an understatement. New players, odd tactical lineup decisions (at least from the fan's perspective), an absolutely anemic offense, and some bad defensive lapses. Lacroix's individual moment of offensive brilliance in the 60th minute with a goal just 3 minutes after entering the game to get the Eleven within range only to watch the Fury lead go back up to 2 just two minutes later and then put the game out of reach two minutes after that was the final straw in a week that may have put the playoffs out of reach, no matter how optimistic we all want to feign.

The Eleven are clearly the most downward trending team at the moment, with a week and a half before the next game to either figure out what is going wrong or a week and a half to fall further down the table. I've tried to stay optimistic about the team because I think there is talent and depth, but I tend to be pessimistic by nature and that pessimism is beginning to surface with this team. While I appreciate the fight and the accountability that the team is showing lately, as a season ticket holder and having written about the team from the inaugural match, to date I've seen 21 league home games (missed one game last season) and have only experienced 4 home wins.

That's enough to make less hardy fans rethink their allegiance. Luckily for the Eleven, there is a very large and vocal group of supporters who look to be hanging around to support this team for as long as it takes for the results to align with the winning expectations. Maybe Kristian will be correct and that happens this year:
I want to hope he's right, but the results from this past week don't install a lot of confidence. I guess we'll see next Wednesday when we all reconvene at The Mike as the Eleven take on Tampa Bay, a team who has also had difficulty scoring in the Fall Season and have only scored a single goal away from Al Lang Stadium.



Thursday, August 6, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 02.16

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Edmonton
- Attendance: 3,120
- Final Score: 2-0 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, McKinney, Janicki, Miller, Frias, Keller, Smart, Lacroix, Steinberger, Rugg, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Pineda 45' (Wojcik), Brown 55' (Lacroix), Richards 75' (Keller)
- Unused: Ring, Hyland, Franco, Nicht
- Goals: None
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

Nearly everything I want to talk about this game comes from the starting lineup.

That's right folks, there are 3 carry-overs from the previous game. One of those, Steinberger, was playing in just his second game for the Eleven with about a week of practice time with the team and the other two, Miller and Janicki, have only a few games together as a unit. Just to make it all the more mind-numbering for me, the average number of starts for that lineup (including this game) was just under 5.5. Taking out Janicki, Miller, Rugg, and Wojcik, that number drops to just a hair under 3 and only 12% of the total number of minutes played.

Frias has a few starts, but hasn't seen the field since the fifth game of the year against  Jacksonville. Cardona hasn't seen the field since Nicht's sabbatical with Montreal in game six of the year. Lacroix has been injured. McKinney has been injured.

I understand that with 3 games in 8 days, you need to rest some guys. 75% of the regular starting lineup though? It's not like this was the same Edmonton team that came to Carroll Stadium and the Eleven hammered for 90 minutes. That version of the Eddies was missing guys to injury and national team duties. Of the 14 players in each game (11 + 3 subs), only 7 played in both games. The other half were their missing starters who came back with a vengeance last night.

I'm not saying that the guys that were on the field for the Eleven aren't all good, talented guys. I'm just saying that there is something to be said for consistency. Maybe Coach Regan is making a point to the poor form of the "regular" starters. Maybe this group of guys have been playing well together during practices. Maybe there were some guys who just needed a day off.

I don't know the logic behind the drastic roster changes, but I think it's safe to say that it didn't work out as well as Coach Regan would have liked.

I mentioned it in my post after Sommer's departure and it still stands true today. The team's at the top of the standings all have positive goal differentials. That seems like such an obvious statement, but it bears repeating. If you score more goals, you win and that usually translates to league success. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Saturday's opponent in Ottawa finished the Spring Season in 9th place with a -3 goal differential, but have turned that in the Fall Season into a First place standing with a +7 goal differential and a combined Second place standing with a +4 goal differential. The Eleven? -4 in the Fall and -3 Overall and shut-out the last 5 halves, back to the stoppage time goal by Mares against New York.

"It's a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball."

Or something like that.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Silverbacks - 02.15

- Opponent: Atlanta Silverbacks
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,632
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Janicki, Miller, Hyland, Ring, Stojkov, Pineda, Steinberger, Brown, Richards
- Substitutions: Wojcik 60' (Brown), Rugg 65' (Steinberger), Smart 77' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Cardona, McKinney, Frias, Keller
- Goals: None
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

I don't like writing about Eleven losses. Especially when those losses occur at home preceding a mid-week trip to Edmonton and a week before Fall and Combined Standings' leaders Ottawa make the trip to The Mike, just 20 days after completely dismantling the Eleven in one of the teams' worst showings all season. There were some good things from this game. The Eleven lead in nearly every category except for the final score, which, unfortunately, is really the only one that matters. I thought Ring and Hyland had solid games and the basically untested iteration of center backs Janicki and Miller played well.

However, the word that kept coming to mind during the game was "disappointing." The Pedro Mendes goal in the 15th minute was a result of two Silverbacks versus 6 Eleven defenders plus Nicht. That type of goal can't happen. While I think Steinberger will be a good addition, it was obvious that the chemistry that the team has been developing was not there in Mares' absence. The opportunities for shots were wasted at times by the old habit of taking one too many touches or passes. I want to like Charlie Rugg. His size and speed are great, but his first touch and effort continue to leave me disappointed.

My two biggest concerns that I wrote on my notes while at the stadium were "long ball" and "width." In hindsight, my concern of the long ball may have been a purposeful tactical adjustment to the Silverbacks' lineup of 3-5-2 to get some balls over the top of that defense. Given that lineup though, I would have liked to see the Eleven maintain their width to help counter that lineup. It felt like there were so many moments where the ball would go out wide to Pineda or Stojkov and their first motion was back into the middle of the field. When the opponent has that many bodies cluttering the midfield, going into the middle of the field just makes it easier for them. Staying wide and attacking up the sidelines can help counteract that tactic, but the team didn't play that way.

The good news is that the team doesn't have long to dwell on the loss due to the mid-week game at Edmonton. Hopefully a few more days of having Steinberger in practice will help with the chemistry, but given the amount of travel over the next week, that might be easier said than done. Luckily, there's still plenty of season left with a very compact table, but the Eleven need to get some points out of the upcoming Canadian games to get them back into a realistic discussion for the Playoffs. A win against Edmonton, who have back-to-back losses, would be a good start.