Monday, December 5, 2016

Indy Eleven's 2016/2017 Off-Season To Do List

Indy Eleven Off-season To Do List

Last year at this time, I put together a To Do List for the team to do in the off-season before the 2016 season and I figured I would do the same this year. When I sat down to write it, I realized that some of what I wrote in 2015 still applies today. Where appropriate, I've simply cut, pasted, and slightly edited (original text shown in italics) last year's text to show how far the team has come (Spring Champions and Final Runner-Up) and how much still remains.

I think enough time has passed from Indy Eleven's final game of the year that I'm able to sit down and objectively evaluate where the team goes in the off-season before the start of their third fourth season next year.  There are a lot of unknowns going into the off-season, some of which may be a concern and others that are just normal change of roster issues. Minnesota United is set to leave the league for MLS; the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury are leaving the league and joining the USL; Rayo OKC was not at the recent Board of Governors meeting and have been rumored to have released their players; Fort Lauderdale Strikers and New York Cosmos are having financial problems to the point the rumors are that the Cosmos may not continue in the league and were having issues paying players and have furloughed some staff; and San Francisco is set to join the league in 2017. Those are big issues for other teams (and the league), but let's look at what I see for the Indy Eleven assuming that the Indy Eleven and the NASL remain in operation for next year. Discussions below could be drastically different if the Indy Eleven switch leagues to the USL. I will likely touch on those as I go along.


There will be a push for a stadium again since this is the longer legislative budgetary session that happens every two years.  So Indianapolis is looking at closer to 2019 before a game would be played in a new stadium if it got gets passed in 2017. Though the team still feel that a stadium will help them (and a potential NWSL team) succeed in a way that isn't possible in the current situation with Carroll Stadium, I'm becoming more and more convinced that it doesn't happen until Mr. Ozdemir and maybe other investors lays down at least half of whatever is the final dollar amount and even that might not be enough and that includes the hotel backstops that were part of previous bill discussions.

The current argument is that it won't be paid by taxpayers, but I don't think it matters to most. At a minimum, it feels like a taxpayer subsidy for a rich owner and many people have issue with that even if it doesn't directly affect them. Given that there are groups of Indy Eleven fans that are hesitant about the process doesn't didn't bode well in a the short session and I don't think it will matter in this coming year's longer session. The Eleven kept Keeping the attendance strong this year as one of the league leaders, will help to a point, but the continued downward trend from last year could be used to point to a decreased interest in the team. The team is still well above the league average so that helps their case even if season ticket sales were down from season 1 2 to season 2 3. Governments have a long history of tax breaks for businesses, but for some reason, this entire process has been perceived not as one of those tax breaks, but as handout to a sports team owner in a "minor league" team. That perception will only get worse if a move to USL is required, regardless of whether USL is granted Division 2 status from their current Division 3 status. However, the USL has a requirement that all teams compete in a soccer specific stadium, so a push for a stadium becomes more involved if the team moves to USL. This could be a factor why the Eleven appear to be riding the NASL wagon until the wheels completely fall off.


No firings and no "interim" tags this year. Keep Hankinson and keep him until he wants to retire back to Jamaica. Tim Regan and Coach Hankinson seem to work well together so if he wants to be here, keep him too.


Wilt officially became a part of a competing (future) team towards the end of the Spring Season. Wilt's involvement with the Indy Eleven gave it immediate credibility, just as his name is giving credibility to the Chicago group. His absence creates a position that, to date, has not been filled. At least not filled with an announcement and title. Jeff Belskus took over the President duties when Wilt departed, but the GM duties have not received a dedicated hire. Will the Eleven hire a new GM? Do Tim & Tim get added responsibilities without the bump in pay? My guess is no new hire, particularly with the league in flux and with a roster full of guys that most want to see back, pretty much intact. Belksus should be able to handle the contract decisions, with Tim & Tim adding in a few more players. Which leads me to...


So with all of the on-field success finally matching the off-field success, what team do we see next year, right? With that in mind, I think that a good chunk of the team should stick around, but a break down of who I think leaves, should definitely stay, and who might go either way is below.  The team retained 13 11 players from last season (Stojkov was originally retained but released after the last preseason game and Woj was sent on a season long loan after playing 14 minutes in the 3rd game of the season - so 9 players) and I would expect that a similar larger number is retained this year. I'm hopeful that the team sees the core players as valuable enough to bring back given the flashes successes that we saw from this team. There is talent on this team and I think consistency would go a long way next year. I truly think the roster could depend on whether the team remains in the NASL. While rumors don't seem to have the Eleven as one of the teams making the move, and maybe being one of the teams fighting to keep the league alive, a failing league leads to a failing business venture. Regardless of how we all feel about this team, there is still, and will always be, an owner behind it who wants it to be profitable. If that means a change of leagues, and a corresponding reduction in salaries, then that is what will happen. For this discussion, nothing changes. Ozdemir keeps salary stagnant and the team remains in the NASL.

  1. Gordon - Omar is on loan from Montego Bay United, where he lead the Jamaican Red Stripe Premier League in goals. His production for the Eleven did not match his production there. Whether that was because of fatigue or not, he wasn't able to connect with others as well and often had a heavy touch towards the end of the season. If Braun and Zayed stay, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go.
  2. Youla - Similar to Gordon on his production and they both use an international spot. There are going to be some players available with the movement in the league and international spots are vital.
  3. Wojcik - I thought Woj was gone last year, but he returned only to see himself get loaned out for the year with the possibility of being recalled at any time. I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't happen again given that I think the forwards might be the area hit hardest.
  4. Reinoso - The historical trend has been guys with minimal minutes don't find themselves on next year's roster. I think Jair falls into this category. 
  5. Torrado - The Eleven gave up Larrea for Torrado mid season and he certainly has a calmness to his game that is indicative of his experience so I can see him being a part of next season's starting roster. However, he will turn 38 early in next year's season and had injuries through the Fall campaign. Personally, I think Torrado was signed to help sell tickets to a key demographic but at a much less salary than Kleberson. Torrado wants to be in the states and seems to like Indy. There might still be a role for him here, but he is also using one of the international spots. I could be easily wrong on this one since I'm starting to talk my way out of my own opinion... 
Priorities to re-sign:
  1. Busch - He came to Indy with the intent of playing one or two more season learn how to be a coach. I saw nothing from him this year to make me think that he can't play one more season. If he wants to play, he's the #1 going into the preseason.
  2. Falvey - There's a reason he's the captain and his vocal leadership took a player that most of us questioned a great deal last year (Janicki) and created a centerback pairing that was outstanding. Those are the kinds of guys that take good teams and make them great. Get him back.
  3. Janicki - I was critical of Janicki at times last year, but Coach Hankinson and Falvey have shown exactly the benefits of being a team. Coach Hankinson knew Janicki's abilities and put him in a position to succeed by putting guys around him that can cover his deficiencies. 
  4. Miller - The defense needs a physical presence and Miller provides that in spades. Did he ever miss a defensive header? Falvey and Janicki are physical players as well and are going to take knocks throughout the year. Miller has shown he can pair with either. Assuming his rehab goes well, he'll be a great asset to have on the team.
  5. Palmer - Speedy, strong, and showed he could play center back when necessary. I think I still prefer to have Franco on the right back at times, but Palmer's physical presence combines nicely with Falvey and Janicki.
  6. Vukovic - I love to hate Vuko and hate to love him. He was signed as a center back, but had to take the left side role when Stephen DeRoux injured himself before the season ever started. Coach Hankinson has indicated that DeRoux is still on his radar as one of the best left backs in the league so that could be an issue for Vuko with Falvey/Janicki/Miller (and Palmer in a pinch) in the center. And while his tendency to push forward (waaaay forward) causes him to be a defensive liability at times, it also creates a plethora of opportunities with overlapping runs with Mares who drifts towards the middle of the field. There could be a case for him to not be here next year, but I think he stays.
  7. Franco - Was 2015's leader in minutes and starts and was consistently solid in the backline. He lost his spot to Palmer for a good portion of the year, but fought his way back by the end. He doesn't have the same physicality as Palmer, but he does create more overlapping runs, particularly with Smart on that side. 
  8. Ubiparipovic - Ubi best shows his ability when the team tactically lines up in the 4-4-2 "diamond" formation. The biggest issue for me is that both he and Mares prefer the "playmaking" position and Mares is a little better defender. Hard to keep them both off the field and Ubi has better vision forcing Mares a little out of position. It was successful at the end of the season so I think he's back. 
  9. Paterson - Much like Ubi/Mares, it's hard to not want both Paterson and Ring on the field at the same time. Coach Hankinson tried having two #6s and the formation didn't have as much success going forward. His set piece ability alone is worth keeping him.
  10. Mares - For me, he was the best player in 2015 this season for the Eleven and his absence was critical. Dylan got better and despite not being in early season starter, Coach Hankinson found he's a hard guy to keep off the field. I see no reason to let him go now.
  11. Smart - His defense has continue to improved and his play at the end of the season was fantastic as he got more playing time. Smart's crosses are a thing of beauty and with guys like Braun and Zayed in the box looking to get on the ends of them, he became a valuable attacking threat this season. 
  12. Ring - Solid. He's exactly what you need from a guy whose job is the defensive midfielder. Seems to be a bit prone to injury at times, but completely sacrifices himself for the team. 
  13. Braun - Justin was my team MVP. When he was injured, they looked different without his workrate and holdup play in front of Zayed. If you're going to have a guy like Zayed, you need a guy like Braun. Zayed isn't going to create a lot of his own shots, but he finds ways to the ball and Braun does an excellent job of pulling defenders away from Zayed freeing him to find the space that Braun vacates with defenders in tow. My only concern about his and/or Zayed's return was in the team's end-of-year description: "Braun impressed on multiple occasions with his work rate and determination, and his partnership with Zayed can only increase in fluidity should the two find their way back to Indy in 2017." Should. Should the two find their way back. Seriously makes me wonder if one or both are headed elsewhere.
  14. Zayed - Furthering my concern from Braun's end-of-year description, Zayed's description didn't alleviate any of my concerns: "If Zayed returns to Indy Eleven in 2017, he wants to both build on the 2016 campaign and take home both the Golden Boot and The Championship and stated as much at the end of last year. We’ll see what the future holds for one of Indy’s most prolific forwards ever." If. If he returns... See what the future holds... They were a great partnership and play well off each other's strengths. I don't know if Zayed scores as many without Braun, but I also don't know that another player would have been able to score as many with Braun as Zayed was able to do. It's also hard to argue with a goal rate of 1 per 179.1 minutes. Like the Falvey/Janicki pairing, the sum may be better than the parts.
  15. Lacroix - His speed can change games. I'm not sure he's ready as a starter just yet, but he's just young a rookie and we saw how much he improved between season 1 and season 2. As I said on Reddit, "I still want him to take one more step and find open teammates more often when he attacks a defense, but his speed and his ability to take on defenders makes him a threat every time he touches the ball." 
  1. Cardona - I think this all comes down to his desire to be a backup again behind a veteran keeper in Busch. I firmly believe Busch is back and it will be his spot from the start. So unless he gets injured, Cardona's minutes will be like this year. Mid-week games behind guys who are not the normal starters and early U.S. Open Cup games. I still think he shows signs of being a good keeper, but at some point he's going to need minutes behind the starters to show it.
  2. Keller - Young, but did a solid effort. He has shown he is a soccer player and not just a midfielder. He filled admirably in a variety of positions and guys like that are nice to have on a roster.
  3. Shaffer - Dubbed "The Bulldog" by Busch, by all accounts he seems to be a good guy to have in the locker room despite not making very many game day rosters. #Minutes4Shaffer equaled 180 minutes over two games (also starts) late in the season, but like Keller, some guys are good to have on a roster even if they don't see a ton of minutes.
So I keep at least 15 players from a 23 man roster; 65% of the roster. Or to put it another way, 85% of the minutes played from this season. Coincidentally, that would be consistent with the way that I found the New York Cosmos retained their roster for the 2015 season. As I found then, teams that retain a bulk of their players/minutes tend to be more successful the next year. Last season, Ottawa found their way into the Championship game, but their success caused checkbooks to open for some of their players and they had a lot of turnover. This season, they finished 10th. A year after being in the final game, they finished ahead of only Jacksonville and Puerto Rico in the combined standings and only 7 points ahead of Puerto Rico who only played in the Fall Season. Roster retainage doesn't guarantee success, but it certainly takes away the issue of new players adjusting to each other.

Now we wait to see if any of this discussion even matters. I'm cautiously optimistic, but wouldn't be surprised if the Eleven end up looking like the band that continued playing as the Titanic sunk.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Cosmos - 03.34 - Championship Final

- Opponent: New York Cosmos
- Location: New York
- Attendance: 2,150
- Final Score: 0-0 D (Lost 4-2 in PKs)
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Janicki, Vukovic, Ring, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Torrado 45' (Mares), Lacroix 90' (Smart), Paterson 101' (Ubiparipovic)
- Unused: Cardona, Palmer, Keller, Youla
- Goals: None in regulation. Paterson and Vukovic scored in PKs. Zayed and Busch missed.
- Bookings: Ring 72' (Yellow), Falvey 83' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

So that emotion doesn't get in the way of the start of this review, let's start with some season stats from the Opta Stats.
#1 New York - 59
#2 Indy - 51

Average Goals per Game
#1 New York - 1.84
#2 Indy - 1.59

Shots (excluding blocked shots)
#1 New York - 354
#3 Indy - 331

% Shots on Target
#1 New York - 48.0%
#5 Indy - 44.4%

% Goals to Shots
#1 New York - 16.70%
#2 Indy - 15.40%

Total Crosses
#9 New York - 524
#2 Indy - 643

Cross Completion %
#7 New York - 23.90%
#2 Indy - 25.70%

I could cherry pick a few more, but the bottom line is that Sunday's game between the Indy Eleven and the New York Cosmos took place between the #1 and #2 teams in the league and a large portion of the statistics are consistent with their final standing ranks. Despite a couple of lopsided scores between these two teams in the Fall Season, this game had all the indications of being exactly what it turned out to be; a back and forth game that needed 120 minutes and penalty kicks to determine a winner. Both team had chances throughout the game, but neither team could break the seal that might have opened it up and turned it into a high scoring game. Officially, the two goalkeepers only had 5 saves between them (1 for Maurer, 4 for Busch), but there were plenty of nervy moments for both team's fans, most notably, a blast from Don Smart that took the crossbar challenge to a new level in the 70th minute.

On the season, the Cosmos were able to get winning results 84% of the time when scoring first and the Eleven were able to get winning results 76% of the time, both behind only Edmonton's 93%. Which is why the Eleven looked to come out on the gas pedal in the first 20 minutes to try and get ahead early. The Cosmos settled into the game after that and the game grind was underway.

I have questions about how the game progressed, (why was Mares pulled at half, why did Busch take the third penalty kick, who was scheduled to take the fifth), but The Eleven have shown that they can, and did, compete with the best teams in the league for the duration of the year and it took the Cosmos, at their pseudo home field, penalty kicks to beat them in the Championship. Given the flux of the NASL next year, a Cosmos-Eleven rematch may not be out of the question.

It would be nice to look at this game as a bonus from what the fans expected coming into the season, but right now, it feels like April can't come soon enough. I plan to do a season review in the near future, but Coach Hankinson has indicated that the goal for next season is to add key pieces and not another complete overhaul of the roster.

Winning breeds winning and a loss in the Final makes you want to get back to remedy that losing feeling. Ask Falvey, Paterson, and Ubiparipovic if they're ready to get to the Final again.

Now ask them if they wish they could get started tomorrow.

Final over and lost.

Expectations risen from the ashes.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 03.33 - Playoffs

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 9,072
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Janicki, Vukovic, Ring, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Torrado 75' (Ubiparipovic), Lacroix 80' (Smart)
- Unused: Cardona, Palmer, Paterson, Gordon, Youla
- Goals: Ubiparipovic 63' (assist Mares)
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

First off, I would like to thank Larry Mason, father of the BYB's own Joshua Mason, for graciously providing me with a few photos of the game for my post since my normal photographer was not able to make the game. Thanks Larry!

Second, and this is probably a different opinion than most, but I would have preferred to see captain Colin Falvey subbed out at halftime or at least shortly afterwards. Having had a soccer-related concussion in my playing days, I tend to take the Taylor Twellman stance that head injuries should not be something to take lightly. NASL may not have the same concussion protocols as MLS or the NFL, but that doesn't mean that a gash in the head should be overlooked. Once it became obvious that the gash on Falvey's head was continuing to bleed (he finished the game on his third jersey, a jersey that was devoid of name or number), I would have preferred to see Palmer come off the bench to fill in that CB role. A role that he has shown recently he is capable of doing and being that enforcer. I get that Palmer paired with Janicki means that you lose the communicator role that Falvey brings, but particularly after the Eleven scored their goal, Palmer and Janicki should be able to find their man and blast the ball back up the field if necessary.

*exit soap box* Now...


In a fairly physical game (see Falvey discussion above), the Eleven came out strong with the intent to try and get on the board early. This was one of those games where both teams tend to defend first and then counter out of it. Yet, the Eleven showed on a few occasions this year that they can take it to teams early and put the game out of reach. Edmonton defends well, but scored less than half of the goals that the Eleven scored on the season (25 to 52, respectively). Their goal scoring on the road was even worse, scoring only 8 goals on the road all year. Even Puerto Rico, who played 10 less games, scored more goals on the road. The Eleven knew this and tried to exploit it. One of my notes that I wrote during the game was related to this tactic and another was that many of the restarts from the Eleven were quick restarts. To the right is the Heat Map from the Opta Stats for the first 15 minutes of the game. There was a lot of play on the right, but what is most interesting to me about that Heat Map is demonstrated when you remove the Eleven's from the graphic.

I always love it when my eye-ball test is confirmed by the statistical data. The Eddies had significantly less possession at the beginning of the game than the Eleven and fewer shots during that period. Once again, Coach Hankinson and the Eleven knew their opponent and tried to do whatever they could to take advantage of the other team's weakness. Coach Hankinson has been quoted in the past about the Eleven playing their game and letting the other team try to figure out how to beat them, but he (and they) know the other team's too and have shown this year to be able to adjust tactics to fit. Playing a team that defends well but doesn't score much? Try to put them behind the 8-ball early.

One of my other notes was that the Eleven gave up some possession towards the end of the first half. Almost like they overexerted themselves a bit in the first 15 and were tiring. Maybe that was the case or maybe the Eddies settled in.
Based on the stats, my observation in the final 15 minutes of the first half wasn't as accurate. Looking at the two graphs, the last part of the first half may have still gone towards the Eleven. Either way, the two teams went into the locker room tied at halftime. A halftime that included some rough stitching of the head wound that occurred to Falvey in the 39th minute as he and Ameobi collided. I think Edmonton's Coach Miller told his team to increase their physicality because there were several strong challenges by the Eddies immediately after half.

Photo credit: Larry Mason
Despite their increased physicality, the Eddies couldn't muster a shot (off target) until the 69th minute. The Eleven, however, managed three shots including the goal by Ubiparipovic in the 63rd minute but not before Braun nearly put one in the goal by laying out to put a Franco cross just off frame in the 60th minute (that Mr. Mason captured fabulously).

Ubi's goal was set up by some strong hold-up play by Zayed and Mares within or near the 18-yard box. What I loved about his goal was the difference in his shot compared to other's shots on goal during the game. Both Smart and Mares had shots at different times in the second half and both went for power on their shots, both putting them wide. Ubi, on the other hand, perfectly placed a ball in the upper 90 that was out of the reach of the 6'-4" VanOekel. Youthful exuberance versus wiry veteran? Maybe, but the goal put the team exactly where they needed to be against a team that struggles to score any goals on the road, much less multiple goals.

Photo credit: Larry Mason
Then the plan could have been defend well until the final whistle. I'm sure that played into the decision to keep Falvey on the field, but if there's one thing this team has done this year, it's team defend. It also wasn't the last time the Eleven threatened the Eddies' goal. If it wasn't for a difficult bounce for Braun to handle within the 6-yard box, the Eleven would have put another goal on the board in the 83rd minute. Though it's still kind of amazing he put it over the goal from that distance.

As can be expected, the Eleven needed some late game heroics to keep the win intact and a chance to win it all in the Final. In the 87th minute, Busch was called upon to make one of his three saves on the day when Ameobi put a header on frame. Busch parried it away before it was ultimately sent out for a goal kick.

The Eleven finished the year undefeated at home due to performances just like this one. They know their strengths, they know your opponent and their weaknesses, and they adjust accordingly as needed.

To be the best, you have to beat the best.

Due to a comeback win by the New York Cosmos against Rayo OKC Saturday night, the Eleven will have to head to New York to capture the title in an intimate Belson Stadium. The last time Indy went to New York, they lost 3-0. I don't expect that result this time, but for a team that has struggled on the road, they certainly have a hard task ahead of them. This team has exceeded all of the fans' expectations so this game shouldn't be any different. They might not win, but I'm not betting against them.


Friday, November 4, 2016

An Open Letter to Indy Eleven fans

Dear Indy Eleven Fans,

Tomorrow is the culmination of a year well spent at The Mike. A year in which we saw some old friends leave, saw some old friends stay, and welcomed in a new group of guys and coach with the explicit goal of winning a championship. A goal that past experience told us was unattainable. A goal that past experience told us was laughable. A goal that past experience told us was beyond reason.

A goal that they firmly believed was possible and they would take us with them kicking and screaming if they needed.

Well, they have taken us kicking and screaming and it turns out that our kicking and screaming further spurred them along in home game result after home game result. Their talent, desire, teamwork, and grit combined with the fans and the constant voice of the Brickyard Battalion to create a fortress at The Mike that only three teams were able to even come close to cracking. Opponents were able to get draws just 3 times out of 16 visits to Indianapolis and not one team went home with three points in their suitcases.

13 Wins - 3 Draws - 0 Losses in The Mike.

In just the second game of the Spring Season, Ottawa nearly pulled out a victory, but an 89th minute goal by Vukovic started the year's home #Undefeated streak. The most recent was the last game of one of the 3 games in 7 day stretches at the beginning of September when Tampa Bay came to town and got on the board first only to see the Eleven equalize six minutes later. The only other draw at home was in early May when FC Edmonton, the team that the Eleven will be playing tomorrow, went down a goal 22 minutes in, but got one of their own before half.

Three draws at home. 1-1 scorelines.

Let's flashback to a cold night in the middle of October 2014, when the Eleven finally won at home for the first time in their, then, short tenure. In what has become an iconic moment in the history of this club, fans stormed the field to celebrate with the players after exercising the home field demons of that season.

Fast forward to 2016 and the final game of the Spring Season. With a routine win at home, the Eleven would finish second in the league with work to do in the Fall to make sure they made the playoffs. Win by 3 goals and the tiebreakers fall the Eleven's way to claim a Spring Season title. After an early goal by Zayed, Carolina scored a goal of their own, meaning the Eleven now had to score 4 goals. Again, laughable based on everything the history of this club had taught us to date. Yet a first half stoppage time goal by Braun and two more goals by Zayed and the "Miracle at The Mike" was complete. While not official until the next day, the Eleven claimed its first piece of hardware in its history and fans, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the victory, something that seemed completely unattainable, once again took to the field to celebrate with Mr. Hat Trick and The Legend.

So Edmonton comes to town tomorrow to do what no team has done all year at The Mike. Win. Draws are no longer an option. If results go the right way, the Eleven could be playing for the Soccer Bowl a week later, again at The Mike. Regardless of what happens in the next week, I want to remind us all to "act like ya been there."

We've been on the field. We've now celebrated cathartic and amazing victories standing next to our home club players. We've been there. We now know what it's like to watch winning soccer in our home stadium week after week. We've witness a turnaround from a team that just couldn't get results to a team that we expect to win most games they play, especially at home. So...

Raise your voice.
Stomp your feet so much that the metal bleachers vibrate and ring throughout the Circle City.
Bang on the drums.
Celebrate what has become an unforgettable season.

If the Eleven are able to win two more games at home, though, let them enjoy the wins together as a team for a bit. I promise you, they'll find us when they're done celebrating with their brothers. We mean as much to them as they do to us.

So let them have that moment. They deserve it.


Fan, Season Ticket Holder, Beat Writer
(in that order this weekend and hopefully next)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Rayo OKC - 03.32

- Opponent: Rayo OKC
- Location: Oklahoma
- Attendance: 1,043
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Keller, Janicki, Shaffer, Paterson, Smart, Gordon, Lacroix, Reinoso, Youla
- Substitutions: Vukovic 45' (Franco), Torrado 62' (Smart)
- Unused: Busch, Ubiparipovic, Busch, Braun, Falvey
- Goals: Paterson 52' (PK)
- Bookings: Franco 29'
- Adage goals: One

Final week of the Fall Season and the Eleven headed to Oklahoma to play a Rayo OKC team fighting for a final spot in the Championship. Similarly, Minnesota United headed to New York with a chance to do the same. That was the narrative during the week ahead of the weekend clashes between the two top teams in the league and the final two remaining teams with a chance to extend their seasons.

Except Minnesota and NY played on Saturday and OKC and Indy played on Sunday. Minnesota proceeded to lose to NY on Saturday giving Rayo OKC the final spot in the Championship regardless of the result on Sunday. So, Rayo OKC and Indy Eleven fans were blessed with a game that was, in the grand scheme of standings, absolutely meaningless. So as we all sat down to watch a digital stream of the game on the patchwork quilt field with 1,000 of our OKC brethren at the stadium, neither team had any motivation other than good ole-fashioned pride.

What resulted was a game that really wasn't all that cohesive for either team. There were a lot of counterattacks for both teams and goals from penalty kicks, set pieces, and a bad defensive breakdown. There were some good moments by both and I'm sure I could analyze it in a lot more detail if I rewatched it again like I typically do, but there isn't much need. The Eleven scored off of a Paterson PK that resulted from a shot by Lacroix that hit an OKC defender's arm. Rayo OKC got their first goal because three different Eleven players didn't close down Velasquez and he got off a shot that was out of the reach of Cardona. The second was on a corner kick where two Indy Eleven players were out-aerial-dueled by two different Rayo players as Indy Eleven players who aren't all 90-minute match fit lately were out-hustled.

Normally, I would be upset about a game that could have been won, but wasn't. However, I have to respect Coach Hankinson for his 18-man travel roster. Just in case Rayo OKC still had something to play for, he traveled to Oklahoma with Busch, Falvey, Zayed, Braun, Ubiparipovic, Vukovic, etc. so that he could put a lineup on the field that respected the game instead of fielding a lineup of predominantly reserves while OKC fielded their starters. Once it was determined that OKC was into the Championship and neither team wanted to risk injuries to their starters, Coach Hankinson had the ability to field a similar lineup as what was fielded in Tampa Bay. All while giving Palmer a chance to recover from his injury against Puerto Rico, preventing Ring from potentially getting his 5th yellow card in the Fall Season (& suspending him for the final game in the process), and giving Mares a rest.

All things considered, the Eleven might not have come home with the victory, but it was probably a fair result. The depth players were able to play some minutes and most importantly, on the velcro quilt field, it didn't seem like anybody got hurt. Not a win on the scoreboard, but maybe a win in all other respects.

Now the Eleven need to prepare for Edmonton who visit The Mike on Saturday with the intent to continue their own season and ruin the Eleven's home unbeaten streak. They need the fans to show up in full voice to help prevent that from happening.

See you there.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Indy Eleven vs PRFC - 03.31

- Opponent: Puerto Rico FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,916
- Final Score: 3-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Palmer, Falvey, Janicki, Vukovic, Smart, Ring, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Franco 35' injury (Palmer), Paterson 60' (Ubiparipovic), Lacroix 75' (Smart)
- Unused: Cardona, Keller, Gordon, Youla
- Goals: Braun 36' (assist Ubiparipovic), Zayed 45' (rebound from PK), Mares 45'+3' (assist Braun)
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

Home Sweet Carroll

In mid-October 2014, in the Eleven's inaugural season, fans spilled out onto Carroll Stadium's pitch to celebrate the Eleven's first home win. Two years later, as the final whistle blew, not a single member of the BYB found their way onto the field. The Eleven finished 2016 undefeated at The Mike in what had a very anticlimactic feel to it. With the exception of about a 12-minute period to close the first half, everything that happened after that seemed like a formality. It's a little disappointing that a season of never losing at home wasn't met with more fanfare. Though, it's also equally heartening that the team has progressed so far that the fans now expect winning ways and the team consistently, game after game, met those expectations this year.

The event that kicked off the dozen minutes of excitement started with a goal by Braun in the 36th minute on a nice chip from Ubiparipovic. There were two things that I loved about the goal. The first you can see in the Goal Replay, which is that it was a slow buildup to the goal. Counting the foul that Mares won to get it started, 9 different players touched the ball, working it from left to right and then back again before getting the cross into Braun. The possession and the patience of the team led to a goal. Beautiful soccer. The other part that I love was what Braun did right before he scored. Something that if you watch, he does all the time. He outworks, and outthinks, defenders. Watch the highlights and you'll see that right before Ubi makes the chip to the 6-yard box, Braun makes a move towards Ubi as if to receive a pass, then quickly cuts back towards the goal, freezing his defender chasing nothing but air. Perfect chip from Ubi and Braun puts it into the back of the goal. I've been debating about it for awhile now, but I think I've determined that Braun is my MVP for this team. His work rate, hold up play, and intangibles for this team has pushed him into the front-running position. This is a true team, but so much of what he brings to the team sets it up for success. With Saturday's goal and assist, Braun is now in the team's Top 5 for career assists and points and Top 3 for goals. Yes, Zayed is in that same category, but Braun has done it in 6 fewer games.

This is a nice place to be for this team, isn't it? I'm debating who is my team MVP between two forwards who actually produce goals to the point where they are some of the top goal scorers in just one season.

A couple minutes after Braun's goal, Puerto Rico's Oliver received his second yellow of the game, sending him to the showers early. Up a goal, up a man, with 52 minutes remaining in the game all while playing at home. I had no doubt that this game was won at this point. Six minutes later, Smart was pulled down in the box and Zayed was lined up over a penalty kick. PRFC's goalie Spangenberg guessed correctly and blocked Zayed's initial effort, he was not able to block the resulting rebound from Zayed. Game, for all intent and purposes was over at that point.

And then 3 minutes later, Mares put a left-footed blast to the right side of the goal freezing Spangenberg to the point he didn't even attempt to get the shot. In much the same way that the team spread the ball around on Braun's goal, the team worked the ball around until it found the right time to break down the defense. I don't know what the half-time speech was from Coach Hankinson, but I like to think it was "let's go out there and get Buschy a clean sheet. And if we can get Zayed another goal, even better." I only saw a couple times where it looked like somebody was targeting Zayed, but if ever there was a time to go after a person's goal, that was the time.

The Eleven head to OKC next weekend to play a team that has a lot more at stake in the playoff race than PRFC. Will we see the same lineup we saw in Tampa Bay or does Coach Hankinson keep the momentum going with the regular starters in the team's final tune up before the Championship.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Rowdies - 03.30

- Opponent: Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Location: Tampa Bay
- Attendance: 5,348
- Final Score: 3-2 W
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Janicki, Keller, Shaffer, Paterson, Gordon, Lacroix, Ubiparipovic, Reinoso, Zayed
- Substitutions: Ring 45' (Ubiparipovic), Torrado 65' (Reinoso), Palmer 82' (Franco)
- Unused: Mares, Smart, Busch, Falvey
- Goals: Lacroix 15' (assist Reinoso), Reinoso 31' (assist Lacroix), Paterson 85' (assist Torrado)
- Bookings: Paterson 36'' (Yellow), Janicki 75' (Yellow), Ring 90' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Shaffer's NASL/Opta Stats Chalkboard
My request for #Minutes4Shaffer (or #MinutesForShaffer depending on how it was used by others) turned into #Start4Shaffer as Coach Hankinson made eight changes to the starting lineup from last Saturday's game, bringing in several players who don't routinely see significant minutes. For the first time since the inception of the team, Shaffer's minutes mean that every single player on this year's roster (not counting Williams and DeRoux who were both signed and released before the first game) saw game action, including Wojcik who saw 14 minutes before his loan to OKC Energy FC. I'm told that Woj will be rejoining the team in the near future, but will not be able to see any additional minutes as his loan ended a day after the NASL roster freeze deadline. Regardless, it warms my cold heart to know that every single player saw action in this Spring Season (and maybe more) Championship winning season. To know that a team, consisting primarily of reserves, went down to Tampa Bay and came back home with a win makes me even happier.

Now onto the game...

Janicki back with full-match minutes. Good to see him back on the field. The lineup around him though with Franco, Keller, Shaffer, and Cardona behind them highlighted exactly how much the backline as benefited this year from the vocal leadership of Falvey and Busch. There were numerous times when this lineup seemed out of sync with each other. Though Tampa Bay was called offside three times during the game and I think all three may have resulted in the ball in the back of the goal so they were clearly communicating enough for the offside trap to work. Overall, given the lack of match minutes together and Tampa Bay needing the result much more than Indy, I think they performed very well together.

This was clearly a game of defend and counter. Tampa Bay held a nearly 70% to 30% possession. They had nearly twice as many shots on goal and more than FIVE times as many crosses. Yet Indy had FIVE times as many clearances so they were doing their job. Team defend, get it out of the zone, and let the speedy midfielders and forwards try to chase down some of the balls to give the D some rest. At one point, the counter worked so well that Indy found themselves on a 3 v 1 break and if not for a poor touch by Gordon, Indy might have found another goal on the board. On a related note, Gordon had a few of those moments this week and it shows why his playing time has fallen recently.

Duke Lacroix! Duke's ability to get past defenders was a key component to Indy's result yesterday given their game plan. He's never really been shy of dribbling at players and trying to beat them with his speed, but in the past, he has often taken one too many touches and found himself dispossessed after a good possession. There were times when I thought the same thing against Tampa Bay, but he managed to keep the ball (nutmegging Mkandawire in the process) and found himself in position to score or assist. The next few graphics are from the NASL Match Center showing the Goal Replay. In each, there's a common theme..."Unsuccessful Challenge"

"Unsuccessful Challenge" - Keith Savage

"Unsuccessful Challenge" - Tamika Mkandawire

"Unsuccessful Challenge" - Darnell King

This was considered an official "Miss" by NASL/Opta Stats. Yet even with all of this build-up, Lacroix still manages an "Unsuccessful Challenge" from Darnell King. The Tampa Bay defense had to be glad to see Duke leave the stadium because he continually tried (and succeeded) at taking the game at them.
After Lacroix ran havoc on the Tampa Bay defense in the first half, the Eleven found themselves up, on the road, at halftime by a 2 - nil score. Given that a loss was going to severely put a hamper on Tampa Bay's chance of getting into the post-season tournament, it's not surprising that they roared back to tie the game in the 68th minute from a couple of goals by Joe Cole. The first, in the 53rd minute, came off a shot from Hristov that Cardona couldn't handle and spilled it out for a 2nd shot by Cole. The second was individual brilliance by Cole and putting a ball that I don't think any keeper could have reached. However, the Eleven continued to defend against a rejuvenated Rowdy onslaught and countered in the closing minutes for their game winning goal by Paterson in the 85th minute. The NASL/Opta Stats shows for Paterson's goal look relatively basic. Keller short pass to Torrado. Torrado dribbles a few paces before passing to Paterson in the middle of the field. Paterson short dribble before shooting from outside the box. Looks simple.

However, beyond just the fact that the Goal Replay doesn't accurately reflect how well Paterson show the ball and the defenders in the way of it, there's a very significant piece missing from it. Keller's run to get them into that position. So I made some edits to the Replay.

After some consistent pressure against the Indy defense, Keller gets the ball with acres of space in front of him (I apologize if I didn't quite get his starting point correct since I'm working from memory on this one). Keller, the team's CB in this lineup, took off up the field with what looked like all intent and purposes of heading to the corner flag and holding the ball there as long as possible. Tampa Bay didn't have many defenders back and so Keller slowed down his dribble, looked around, and found Torrado. Not a bad guy to give the ball to in the closing minutes of a game with space around him and an ability to make good decisions with the ball. He looks around and finds Paterson making a run up the middle of the field. Paterson takes a couple of steps and when no defender immediately stepped towards him, he rockets a shot into the side netting, over a defender's leg, and past the outstretched arms of Pickens.

Each guy made the exact correct decision on this play and that's is completely lost in the "Goal Replay." Keller's decision to take off on the dribble, knowing how many Eleven players were behind the ball, maintained some much needed possession to give the guys a chance to reset. However, his decision to slow down the ball was likely a more effective use of killing the time and further continued to help keep possession. Torrado made the run to help Keller maintain possession. Paterson made the run to further the "counter" portion of the "defend and counter" strategy once it obvious that Keller wasn't just going to go to the flag.

Heady soccer at its best.

There were moments of worry. There were moments of miscommunication. The team returns to The Mike on Saturday for the 4th game in 11 days with a majority of the starters rested. Given the lineup of mostly reserves and playing on the road against a team that needed a positive result much more than the Eleven, I think you have to argue that the Eleven had a game plan and executed it as well as possible.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Indy Eleven vs RailHawks - 03.29

- Opponent: Carolina RailHawks
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,649
- Final Score: 3-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Palmer, Vukovic, Ring, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Paterson 65' (Ubiparipovic), Lacroix 76' (Zayed), Youla 85' (Braun)
- Unused: Cardona, Janicki, Keller, Gordon
- Goals: Braun 45', Paterson 77', Youla 90'
- Bookings: Lacroix 79' (Yellow), Busch 90'+3' (Yellow), Youla 90'+4' (RED)
- Adage goals: None

I can only say it so many ways. This is just a different team at home than they are on the road. Both teams needed the win. The Eleven needed the win to at least give them a chance for the #1 seed in the Championship and Carolina needed the win to stay in the hunt for the final spot. A loss by either would likely prevent either from happening. Therefore, the RailHawks shifted their formation to a 3-5-2 to be able to give them some more bodies going forward. The Eleven picked up the win, but the winning result by the Cosmos last night wrapped up the #1 seed for them leaving the Eleven as the #2 seed. The RailHawks lost and made any kind of post-season scenario that much more difficult.

Yet, in a game where Carolina, arguably, needed a positive result more, the Eleven came away with a 3-0 win. There's just something about being in Indianapolis that pushes this team to better results. In a game that had multiple chances by both teams, in a back-and-forth fashion, the Eleven were the ones who took advantage of their opportunities. The RailHawks had 12 shots on goal. The Eleven had 12 shots on goal. The RailHawks had a 40% shot accuracy. The Eleven had an 88.9% shot accuracy. They took advantage of the chances, Carolina couldn't take advantage of their chances.

The 45th minute goal by Braun had much the same affect as his goal right before the half the last time Carolina played in Indianapolis. It solidified the Eleven offense and put the pressure on Carolina. We can talk at great length about Zayed's scoring or Busch's goalkeeping or Falvey's defensive leadership, but this is a different team with Braun in the lineup up top with Zayed. It doesn't show up in the highlights below, but the entire sequence that lead up to that goal had Braun all over the area trying to win balls and make himself available for balls and Ubi rewarded him with that effort by placing a pinpoint ball for him for the header.

After Paterson was substituted for Ubi, I felt that there were times when the dual 6 arrangement adversely affected the offensive counters because it was Zayed, Braun, Mares, and Smart sprinting forward against more Carolina defenders than they could breakdown. Yet, you can't argue with the guy's free kick ability. From the location that he took the free kick in the 77th minute, there was really only one place for him to place the ball and he placed it perfectly. He also banked on the poor thinking of the guys in the wall who jumped in the air when the kick was taken. From the distance of the kick, it would seem impossible for a player to get the ball up and over the wall and then back down, all with enough pace to beat the keeper. Yet, the wall jumped, Paterson put the ball under them and in the back of the net. That's a smart player and a great kick. What I didn't understand during the kick was that there were only 3 Indy Eleven players in the box during the kick and 10 RailHawks. If the RailHawks had not jumped and the ball hit the wall, why wasn't there more Eleven players in the area to hit any deflection? It worked out, but it puzzled me at the time to have so many guys standing at midfield.

Youla. Youla had an eventful 10 minutes. Into the game in the 85th minute, a goal in the 90th minute, and a red card in the 90'+4'. As good as he run was to get him the goal, the red card was equally bad. You can't put your hands up at a guy's face no matter what was done or said to you. Albadwi should have been given a card for embellishment, but that's exactly what you do to try and draw a card and it worked perfectly. For Youla, that's also exactly how you work your way out of a coach's graces.

The home cooking continues to work. The team kept a clean sheet, put three on the board, and seemingly nobody picked up an injury. That's a good way to end game 2 of 4 in the 11 day stretch.