Monday, September 21, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 02.24

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 7.232
- Final Score: 2-0 L
- Starting XI: Nicht, Franco, Miller, Norales, Hyland, Keller, Ring, Stojkov, Cuevas, Richards, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Lacroix 56' (Cuevas), Ceballos 66' (Wojcik), Smart 77' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Cardona, Janicki, Pena, Steinberger
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Ring 72' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

I saw something on Twitter recently that I didn't favorite so will never be able to find again, but in essence it went like this (paraphrasing for this topic):
1) Start Microsoft Word
2) Find Indy Eleven recap templates
3) Open "Indy Eleven lose due to defensive lapse and adage goal" article.

Of course there was more to the game than that, but it all feels the same these days. The Eleven in a basically "must win" game to keep any playoff hopes alive and they come up short by giving up multiple goals and not being able to make good on their own opportunities on goal. Which is probably why the Indy Star has basically given up writing anything for the Eleven for the Sunday paper edition, which went like this:
Eleven fall to Edmonton
Second-half goals by Daryl Fordyce and Sainey Nyassi gave FC Edmonton a 2-0 victory over the Indy Eleven on Saturday night at Carroll Stadium.
That's about as narrowed down to its essence as possible. Who? What? When? Where? The only thing missing is the Why? and that's the key part that seems to be missing for fans of the Indy Eleven.


Why was there no Mares or Steinberger in the starting lineup, who have been the team's best playmakers so far and done well to connect the defense to the forwards? This was the first thing I wrote down in my notes when I saw the starting lineup.

Why did Nicht start over Cardona, who has played well despite the results. Why the change, once again, to the defensive unit?

Why can't the Eleven sign a player taller than 6-foot?  The last five signings (Lacroix, Richards, Steinberger, Ceballos, Cuevas) have an average height of 5'-5" and an average weight of 154 lbs. Why is that important? Because with the tactical change to what seems like a 4-2-2-2, the Eleven's play through the midfield seemed to decrease against the Eddies and the team was relying on defending and counter attacking. Balls to the forwards in that scenario didn't always make it directly to their feet, which meant that the Eleven have quick, but relatively small, players trying to out-run and/or out-muscle opposing defenders to get their opportunities. The out-muscling part doesn't go very well. Richards does it better than the others, but he does this by not even attempting to win most headers and positions his body for the second bounce. He's a 5'-5" power forward blocking out for a rebound. That often makes it hard to give himself a shot on goal and needs to have other players running off of his first touch. It just wasn't effective on Saturday and didn't give them many realistic shots on goal.

Why do the Eleven have so many "adage" goals?

Why do the forwards (and midfielders) wait so long to try and take shots on goal?

Why can't the Eleven achieve consistent, successful, results?

Why? Why? Why?

I don't know the answer to any of those questions and based on the trajectory of the team right now (see the new chart addition to this site below), the playoffs are a goal for next season and this season's goal should be to not finish in their namesake position in either the Fall or Combined Tables. 11th.



Monday, September 14, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 02.23

- Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
- Location: San Antonio, Texas
- Attendance: 7.232
- Final Score: 2-0 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Miller, Norales, Frias, Keller, Ring, Smart, Pineda, Richards, Steinberger
- Substitutions: Ceballos 62' (Keller), Lacroix 74' (Frias), Wojcik 83' (Smart)
- Unused: Brown, Brown, Janicki, Stojkov, Nicht
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Richards 17' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

I've decided the Indy Eleven are a lot like my golf game. I can put my drive into the middle of the fairway, flub my second shot, have a nice chip to just off the green, chip to within 10-feet, and then two putt to find myself with a double bogey. Every so often I'll eliminate the flub and reduce it to a bogey, but just as regularly, I'll add a second mishit to give me a triple bogey. Against Fort Lauderdale, the Eleven flubbed every shot and posted a quadruple bogey, but turned it around the next game against Minnesota and got rid of the flubs and single putted. This week against the last place San Antonio, the lack of consistency reared its head again and the Eleven were unable to take advantage of the other match results that would have allowed them to move up the NASL combined table. Instead, the Eleven double bogeyed their way back down the table to tenth place.

Due to the other results this weekend, the Eleven find themselves exactly where they started before the Scorpion game, 5 points behind the fourth and final playoff spot. The difference is that they are now one game closer to the end of the season. It's still technically possible for the Eleven to make it into that fourth playoff, but their lack of consistency seems to be their defining characteristic and what is going to make a late season push much more difficult.

With that said, that's the team's results and not the actual play of the team in this one. From my perspective, the team deserved a better result than happened. While the penalty kick is going to be called every time, Cardona was unfortunate that the slight touch pushed it out of his reach. If he managed to get any part of that ball, I don't think it gets called. The second goal by Castillo was a result of Frias ball watching and losing his defensive responsibility. Other than those two major issues, there was quite a bit to like about the team's play. There was good possession, there were good shots on goal (Richards' shot that blasted back off of the post was an unlucky break), and the defense did a good job preventing the counter attacks from San Antonio.

The 5-4-1 lineup of San Antonio makes it hard enough under normal conditions to get through, but there was no real need for them to try and push forward in the second half after getting the stoppage time penalty kick goal. There were multiple times when an Indy Eleven player received the ball and there were already 9 Scorpions behind the ball. The Eleven forwards and midfields aren't the tallest group so they don't regular serve the ball into the box to get a head on the ball and typically rely on quick passes to get their shots on goal, but that issue becomes exacerbated when there are so many Scorpion defenders clogging the passing lanes.

The Eleven had very good chances at goal, but the Scorpion goalkeeper Fernandes made some great saves and parries of the ball to prevent the Eleven from getting on the scoreboard. The Richards shot from around the six that Fernandes snagged with one hand was a very good reaction save.

Has there ever been a team that has used the delay tactic as much or as early as the Scorpions did in this game? It felt like Fernandes started delaying his kicks in the first half before they were even leading. Color commentator, and Scorpion player, Julius James thought it was the greatest thing in the world how much they were delaying and praised the potentially fake injury of Attakora as being "good play by a veteran professional." While delaying is part of the game, it was clearly excessive to the point that Richards resorted to going to get the ball to set it up for Fernandes' goal kicks.

Lastly, if there's one thing I've learned listening to the other team's commentators through the ESPN3 feed, it's that Indy is blessed to have Greg Rakestraw doing their games. Rake may not have the fame of JP Dellacamera, but Greg is better than nearly all of the other team's commentators, and world's better than San Antonio's. Add in San Antonio using a current player for the color commentary and they took partisan commentating to a completely obnoxious level. Maybe that was just me though...

The Eleven are where they started in points away from making the playoffs with one less game. If they have any intention of making it, Saturday's upcoming game at Carroll Stadium against Edmonton has to be the first peg in a win streak.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


This image was introduced this week ahead of the USMNT's game against Brazil, where Jozy Altidore has the possibility to join a very distinguished group of players to reach the 30 goal milestone. What's not included in the graphic is that McBride only played three more games and didn't score another goal (95 C / 30 G); Wynalda only scored 4 more goals in his next 23 caps (106 C / 34 G); Dempsey can still add to his total, but currently sits at 48 goals and 119 caps; while Landon reached 57 goals in 157 caps.

This is where I segue into a post that I've had in my head for awhile.  Landon scored nearly 60 goals for the USMNT, but that would barely crack him into the Top 10 for the USWNT, where Abby Wambach has tripled Landon's total and currently sits at 184 goals in 251 caps. Landon would be just behind Shannon MacMillan (176 C / 60 C) and right before Carin Gabarra (117 C / 53 G). If (when) Jozy gets goal number 30, that would put him in a tie for 17th place with Brandi Chastain (192 C / 30 G), albeit at a much higher rate than Brandi.

Statistics Sorted by Goals (first MNT player highlighted)
Put another way, the Top 5 USMNT goalscorers only have 15 more goals COMBINED than Abby. It's not just a function of caps either (though I'll get to that in a minute) because Abby has scored at a rate of 0.7331 goal/cap, while Dempsey leads the top men goalscorers with a 0.4034 goal/cap. What differentiates Landon from the other top USMNT scorers was his ability to also provide assists to his teammates (LD had 58 assist and Cobi Jones finished in 2nd with 22 assists) giving him a 1.0955 points/cap.  Landon would finish in 5th place in the Pt/Cap category of the Top 5 USWNT goalscorers and there are other USWNT scorers further down the list that have higher pt/cap totals, notably Alex Morgan at 1.5109 pt/cap (92 C / 53 G / 33 A) and April Heinrichs at 1.7609 pt/cap (46 C / 35 G / 11 A).
Statistics Sorted by Pt/Cap (first MNT player highlighted)
Note - Table created using only the data from Top Scorers.
Michael Bradley recently celebrated his 100th cap with the USMNT, which Alexi Lalas commented was a great achievement for a USMNT player. Donovan finished his national team career in 2nd place in caps for the USMNT behind Cobi Jones (164), but Cobi would be in 17th place on the USWNT between Carla Overbeck and Cindy Parlow. The USWNT's cap leader is Kristine Lilly with 352 caps or 31 more caps than Landon and Cobi combined. Lilly isn't alone in her cap total with 10 players exceeding the 200 cap milestone. I'm not sure where Bradley would fall on the USWNT list (now at 105 caps) because their list online stops at 30th place with Angela Hucles at 109 caps.

Statistics Sorted by Cap (first MNT player highlighted)
Note - Table created using only the data from Top Scorers. Other players are missing.
The differences are amazing when I started looking into them. I wish I knew why the USWNT players stay longer and score more than their male counterparts, but I don't. Is it competition level or tactical philosophies or something else entirely? I'm sure there are reasons, but I'm a numbers guy and the numbers are staggering. I've written on this site about the consistency (lineups and rosters) that can breed success in the NASL and I would assume that those play at least a part in the successes of the US National Teams as well. They women stick together, play together for longer, and success is bred from that and the culture to be the top team in the world. Though it doesn't hurt from the goal scoring aspect that the women never take their collective foot off the gas until the final whistle sounds.

Again, I don't know the difference between the two teams, but I hope you got something from my data dump.

Source Data:
WNT Records
MNT Records

Monday, September 7, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Armada - 02.22

- Opponent: Jacksonville Armada
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9.078
- Final Score: 3-0 W
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Miller, Norales, Hyland, Keller, Ring, Smart, Pineda, Richards, Steinberger
- Substitutions: Stojkov 74' (Pineda), Ceballos 78' (Richards), Mares 88' (Keller)
- Unused: Brown, Janicki, Wojcik, Nicht
- Goals: Steinberger 9', 73' (both assisted by Smart), Ceballos 90'+
- Bookings: Keller 38' (Yellow), Ceballos 90'+ (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Sometimes I think that these types of games are as hard to write about as the losses. This full team effort and win was by the same team that had back-to-back losses by a combined 8-1 score. The ability is there, the fight is there, but the results haven't been there and this type of game only reiterates the point I've been making all season about every point matters and finishing the opportunities that are created. Going into half-time, my brother and I remarked that the team looked good and that the score could have been higher for the Eleven. I pointed out to him that was the concerning thing about this team and a 1-0 score for the Eleven has so often found its way to a 1-1 tie or a 2-1 loss and that I hoped the missed chances didn't come back to hurt them. Fortunately, despite an amazing 64-36% deficit in possession in the first half, the Eleven held the lead and played the same way in the second half.

Some of it is the opponents, but the 4-2-2-2 tactic the team has played the past couple games seems to be an effective one for them. This is the kind of game where I don't know who to highlight. I can't think of a single player who I thought had a bad game.

  • Ring and Keller played the defensive midfielder role to perfection. They covered for the backline, while also getting the ball out to Pineda, Smart, Stojkov, et. al. Ring's blast in the 66th minute that went off the crossbar was great.
  • If you don't appreciate the effort from Hyland, I don't want to talk to you. 
  • I meant to keep track during my rewatch and forgot until midway through it, but Brad Hauter confirmed it for me in the 79th minute anyway.  Cory Miller didn't lose a header all night. Combined with his height, he times his jumps perfectly to rarely give the opposition a chance at those 50/50 balls. Oh, and all that while having what looked like his shoulder come out of its socket only to have him come back in and immediately hustle back in and defend.
  • Pineda set up the first goal by doing a 360 on his defender and picking out Smart and had a couple more good runs and attempts.
  • You wouldn't know it from his diminutive height, but Dane Richards is a beast. His hold-up play combined with his speed make him a perfect target man up top. I've been amazed at how many times he manages to use his body to get himself in a better position than the defender who is guarding him and the catapults off the defender and uses his speed to track down the ball. He's looking for shots, which is something that seemingly all fans have been yelling about for some time now. He had a shot in stoppage time of the first half from 45-yards out because he thought he could chip Sierra who was unafraid all night to be off his line. I would have liked Richards to go with the pass in that case since he had an open Steinberger making a run and Pineda across the field as well, but given how often I've harped on taking half-chances and the 1-0 lead at the time, I'm okay with it. 
  • I was surprised by the start by Cardona, but he's making a case for Nicht to ride the bench for a bit. He was never seriously pressed, but he made the saves that he needed to make, one of them of the spectacular variety where he laid out and parried a ball out of bounds with his left hand in the 52nd minute (captured spectacularly by Matt Schlotzhauer).

  • Steinberger could have easily had a hat trick, but now I'm just nit-picking. 
  • Ceballos may be small, but that was quite the rocket into the upper ninety for his goal. Given that the Eleven have already had a yellow card this season for a shirtless goal celebration, I would like to have seen him celebrate differently, but again, I'm nit-picking.

The only part of this game that the Eleven didn't win was the possession, but the better team won this game. They had a plan of attack against Jacksonville's 4-3-3 and executed it exactly like I assume they had practiced it. As I left the stadium, Peter Wilt was thanking people for coming and he said, "that was much better tonight, right? Why can't they all be like that?" I don't know Peter, but this team has shown glimpses of this type of game and it was great to see them perfectly put their game plan into action for a full 90 minutes.

Winning's fun...


Congratulations Zach on being selected as this week's Player of the Week!

Congratulations Zach on being selected to the Team of the Week!

Congratulations Marvin on the Play of the Week Nominee!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Indy Eleven vs United - 02.21

- Opponent: Minnesota United FC
- Location: Blaine, Minnesota
- Attendance: 7,137
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Stojkov, Miller, Norales, Frias, Keller, Ring, Smart, Pineda, Richards, Wojcik
- Substitutions: Lacroix 66' (Smart), Ceballos 85' (Keller), Janicki 89' (Stojkov)
- Unused: Hyland, Steinberger, Nicht, Rugg
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Richards 17' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Like most Indy Eleven fans, I didn't see any of the first half. Between the bad One World Sports feed and the horrible wifi were I was trying to watch, my impression of the first half is based on the Indy Eleven Live Twitter feed and the highlights (see below). So not a great deal on which to speak intelligently of the flow of the first half of the game.

What I can speak to is the lineup changes that Coach Regan implemented for the game against Minnesota, which were reminiscent of the Edmonton game and the wholesale changes that took place for that game. However, unlike that game, in conjunction with the mass turnover in players from the game before it, Regan decided to use a very overt tactical change from what we have come to expect out of the Eleven. The historical 4-4-2 was replaced with an almost 4-2-2-2 arrangement.  Stojkov played the right back position in place of Franco who was sitting due to last week's red card, with the centerback duo of Norales and Miller and Frias rounding out the back line. Directly in front of them were Ring and Keller, both who have been playing the defensive center midfielder role to date. Pineda and Smart on the wings as offensive mids, with Richards and Wojcik up top. That's quite the change from everything we've seen from the Eleven this season.

When you play like they did against Fort Lauderdale, you have to make changes, if only to show that there is some accountability.  Yes, the floodgates opened after the Franco red card, but you can't overlook the fact that the team gave up 3 goals in the first 20 minutes. So I understand Regan's changes for the Minnesota game.
With that much of a defensive presence, the tactic appeared to be of the defend-and-counter variety. When you give up 7 goals the game before and are headed into somebody else's house who have scored the second highest amount of goals this Fall Season (though surprisingly twice as many on the road as at home), it's not a bad tactic.  It's a tactic that is often as effective as it can be frustrating to watch.

My issue with the defend-and-counter tactic is that it seems like it limits the number of good chances that you are going to get in a game. So for a team that has issues with scoring and even taking shots on the goal, that means you better make the chances you get count. The Eleven didn't make those chances count. They had some good opportunities, but I can only recall two of them where I felt that they were ideal and Richards was, obviously, unable to convert on either. Two chances for the Eleven isn't going to get it done. Wait, that last minute try by Miller could have been a good opportunity, but that's a hard ball to one-time at that angle for a centerback. Love the guy, but that was hard to watch.

I understand the decision for the tactic, I just think that it's not helpful to limit shots on goal for a team that seems to have a hard time getting it in the back of the net. I also wouldn't expect to see the same thing on Saturday night against Jacksonville. In fact, for all of those who think that Cardona should be starting after the way that he played on Wednesday, I'm guessing Nicht is back minding the nets again on Saturday. I think Franco and Hyland are also back in and Smart, Keller, and Frias are back on the bench. The Armada have had a roller-coaster Fall Season and have difficulty scoring on the road so I don't think Regan will have the team sit back in as defensive a stance against them.

I think the team went to Minnesota in hopes of getting a tie, but maybe stealing a win with some luck. That shouldn't be their plan against Jacksonville, with three points being the only acceptable outcome if they want to stay in the playoff picture. A win against Jacksonville would leapfrog the Eleven over them and get them a little closer to that coveted final playoff spot depending on how the rest of the weekend progresses.

Every point matters, but the Eleven really need to start getting multiple points, especially at home and given that they only picked up one point out of their 3-game road trip. Use the home crowd and get three points to get a run going.