Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chicago Sting - Peter Wilt's involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Strikers - 02.29

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Indy Eleven vs United - 02.28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Plays of the Week:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Indy Eleven vs United - 02.28 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I wanted to remind myself of the 2014 Standings:

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

I also just wanted to post this again:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 02.27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done Dragan!

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

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

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

"Settle it and one time it Brian!"

Wait, where are you going Brian!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceballos chips the nest...



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

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

Some more Cory Miller love:
Drop kick by Fernandes

Cory Miller - "You take this back!!"

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

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

Still coming down the middle unmarked.

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

How about some pretty photos?

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

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

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