Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Indy Eleven vs New York - 03.03

- Opponent: New York Cosmos
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,067
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Palmer, Falvey, Janicki, Vukovic, Ring, Paterson, Braun, Mares, Lacroix, Zayed
- Substitutions: Smart 64' (Lacroix), Franco 73' (Vukovic), Wojcik 76' (Paterson)
- Unused: Cardona, Shaffer, Keller, Miller
- Goals: Zayed 90', Zayed 90+5'
- Bookings: Vukovic 50' (Yellow), Braun 57' (Yellow), Janicki 65' (Yellow), Ring 90+5' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Before I get into the discussion of the game, I want to include some thoughts on the NY Cosmos contingent who attended the game. From my perspective sitting in the section below them, their constant voice helped create a great environment for the game. The Mike is well considered to be one of the best environments to play in the league, and it's nice to have other team's fans make the trip because it only adds to the stadium noise. Their voice was loud enough that cancelled out the BYB noise for my section. Combine that with the Red Card Regiment and the east end of the stadium was a very loud place to be. At one point, I recall having the BYB in my left ear, the Cosmos fans behind me, the Red Card Regiment going in front of me, and the entirety of the east stands using the metal stands and seats for all their sonorous glory in conjunction with the RCR made it deafeningly loud. I'm going to give them a pass for part of their behavior during the national anthem. A group of violins are tough to hear, even through the P.A. system. However, when it gets under 5 minutes before the game and both teams are standing at attention with a large American flag showing on the replay screen, use your other senses and realize that the National Anthem might be playing. Then, after the rest of the crowd around you gets your attention about it, stop making noise, apologize, and refrain from using the f-bomb at the crowd for the rest of the anthem. They took a reasonably understandable issue and turned the home crowd against them by not being adults about it.

Now let's talk about the Green Smoke Monster in the room. I personally don't mind the smoke. However, two days before the game, the fans tweeted that they would be at the game and the Eleven staff gave them a warning about the way they should conduct themselves.
If you didn't follow the link:

  • Guests shall refrain from using offensive language, making obscene gestures, throwing objects, using flares, fireworks, smoke bombs and other prohibited items.

I confirmed with the team that they did not seek permission to use the smoke bombs. So after the massive cloud they released during the National Anthem, they were given a warning, both by the team and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. When the smoke was again released after their goal in the 51st minute, their departure from the stadium was required. I also heard rumor that the setting of those smoke bombs also started a small fire from the paper confetti they used during the player announcements and that further contributed to their early departure. So again, if they had paid attention, their presence would have made for a very raucous ending to the game. As it was, the Indy Eleven fans and BYB got to experience the joy of the last minute win unencumbered by the noise from visiting supporters.

Now for my take on the game.

From the time the fans had their first interactions with Coach Hankinson in December, the tactical formation of 4-2-3-1 has been his favored lineup. The preseason games and the first two games against Tampa Bay and Ottawa have all used that arrangement. Ubiparipovic's hamstring injury, however, made many wonder how he would rearrange things. Given Mares' effort and effectiveness last week against Ottawa, a like-for-like change seemed reasonable. However, Coach Hankinson surprised all by switching to a 4-4-2 with a flat midfield using Ring and Paterson in the middle, Mares on the right, and Braun moved up top with Zayed. The Eleven weren't able to get it to translate into a possession advantage, but this arrangement was more effective at creating chances than in the previous weeks. With the exception of adding Mares to the starting lineup, these were the exact same players on the field under the 4-2-3-1, but it removed Zayed from being on an island by himself and allowed Braun to work in what seemed like a more natural way for him.

Given the result and the way the team played against one of the best teams in the league, it looks like a stroke of genius on Coach Hankinson's part. Yet if we're all honest, this was a miraculous win and even stealing a draw after going down a goal to New York would have been an acceptable, and historically consistent, result. It's clear that there is no quit in this team, but three games into this young season and the team hasn't scored a goal before the 89th minute and have had to play from behind in two of the three games. It's a bit early to be discussing whether those are going to be defining traits or just an early season anomaly, but those are not trends that the team want to continue.

So what happens to the 4-2-3-1 after the bye week when the Eleven head to Oklahoma who are shown to have played the same formation in their first two games? Does Coach Hankinson fall back to it himself or does the team's success with Braun up top with Zayed keep the arrangement going for another week? I think I remember Hankinson say that the starting formation is just that. A way to start and that it's how the team uses the players on the field. Well the team had the same players on the field against New York as they did against Ottawa, but with different results.

They had more crosses, they were better with possession, better with aerial duels, had more shots. It's an interesting position the team finds itself. This team was built around players that Coach Hankinson felt could play in the 4-2-3-1 system and yet they have been the most effective in other tactical arrangements. Even last week against Ottawa, when they were chasing the game, the 4-2-3-1 dissolved somewhat as Smart and Reinoso helped push things higher on the field, as well as Paterson pushing forward. The defense has been solid even as guys get pushed forward working for the equalizer so I guess that the team stays with this arrangement after the week off. If it continues to be effective, I think Hankinson's preferred arrangement gets benched for the foreseeable future.

On most games, I have a narrative of what I want to write about it in my head as I'm leaving the stadium and let my review of the stats and rewatch of the television broadcast confirm or question that narrative. For this game, I had to rewrite parts of that narrative three times in less than 5 minutes. At around the 75 minute mark, I remember thinking that I didn't know how the team could pull off the draw, much less the win. The New York Cosmos are a much better team than the Ottawa Fury and the Eleven barely managed that draw. At the 85th minute, I thought there might be a chance for the draw. At the 90th minute, I watched the fans around me groan when it was announced that there was going to be 5 minutes of stoppage time because we've all seen the Eleven turn wins into draws and draws into losses with adage goal after adage goal and they were playing the defending champions who have started the season on fire. When Braun's header in the 90+3 minute went a foot wide of the goal, I figured that was the last good chance. I didn't expect to be able to write that the Eleven won the game on a cheeky chip from Braun that lead to a one-timed blast from Mares that was perfectly put away on the rebound from Zayed.

Miraculous? Yes.

Deserved win? Yes.

Do we have a name for these folks yet?
The Watchmen? The Lookout? Lew's Lookout? Lew's Crew? The Sentinels?

Congratulation Zayed on being named this week's Player of the Week!

Congratulations Zayed and Mares on being named to the Team of the Week!

Congratulations Zayed on being nominated for Play of the Week!

Congratulations Zayed for getting the weekly treble and winning Play of the Week!


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Ottawa - 03.02

- Opponent: Ottawa Fury
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,140
- Final Score: 1-1 T
- Starting XI: Busch, Palmer, Falvey, Janicki, Vukovic, Ring, Paterson, Braun, Ubiparipovic, Lacroix, Zayed
- Substitutions: Mares 51' (Ubiparipovic), Reinoso 63' (Braun), Smart 74' (Lacroix)
- Unused: Cardona, Miller, Franco, Larrea
- Goals: Vukovic 89'
- Bookings: Mares 55' (Yellow), Paterson 66' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Much was discussed coming into this game about the trio of Falvey, Paterson, and Ubiparipovic facing off against their old team from last year. A team they helped lead to the Championship game with an unbelievable stretch of games in the Fall Season. How they could help scout the team. How they said that the Eleven would beat the Fury.

The thing, though, that was mentioned, but never really emphasized as far as I found was that this Ottawa Fury team is a shell of the team that went to the Championship last year. Like Indy, they have a new coach. Three of their key players are sitting here in Indy and a large chunk of the team found new homes as well. By my count, there are only 7 players on the current roster that were on the team at the end of last year and two of those are goalkeepers.  For all that the three knew the club, they didn't know this team. Much in the way that we're all waiting to see exactly how this new look Eleven is going to perform, Ottawa is in the same situation. Such is the life in the NASL with team turnover.

What that meant was that in many ways, the team that lost by three to the Cosmos last week, outperformed the Eleven this week. The Fury held a 60/40 possession edge, and like I indicated in last week's recap for stats I wanted to watch, they held roughly that same ratio in duels and aerial duels won. Only time will tell if this is the start of a trend.

Last week, the wingers seemed to keep pinching in bringing defenders with them and limiting the passing zones. If the heat maps are to be believed, they did a better job of this, but I remember a couple times when a ball was received on the wings and then taken right back inside and subsequently lost. The times they did it last week didn't make sense to me and it wasn't any better this week.

What does concern me already about this team, despite playing to two draws, is that I have this sense that the "playmaker" position isn't being utilized. With the new Opta stats, I was able to check something without having to make that my focus in my rewatch of the game. Ubiparipovic had 22 touches in the 51 minutes he was in the game, while Mares had 28 in the 32 minutes he was in the game after replacing Ubiparipovic after injuring his hamstring. So a combined 50 touches. While I don't have a good idea if that is enough or not, it seems light for a player that Hankinson stated when Ubiparipovic was signed that "A team’s attack is only successful if it’s based on the ability to break down a defense and create chances for strikers. Those are exactly the skills SiniĊĦa brings with him to club."

So the two players in that #10 role touched the ball 50 times. But it, unfortunately breaks down like this for passes:
Janicki to Ubiparipovic - 0
Vukovic to Ubi - 2
Palmer to Ubi - 0
Falvey to Ubi - 0
Paterson to Ubi - 1 (a corner kick in the 12th minute)
Ring to Ubi - 2

Janicki to Mares - 3
Vukovic to Mares - 0
Palmer to Mares - 3
Falvey to Mares - 2
Paterson to Mares - 1
Ring to Mares - 4

So the two players who are the "playmakers" and are supposed to be linking the defense to the attack were passed to 4 times in the first 51 minutes and then 13 times in the next 39 minutes. The only reason I checked this information was because I remember seeing a ball over the top from Janicki and then his very next possession was the same thing.

So while I remember the incident as Janicki, he wasn't the only one.

The Eleven were again in the range of 25% of their passes being considered "long." While it's still early in the season and I don't want to read too much into it yet, I hope this isn't the start of a trend. Ubiparipovic was the team's first signing of new players during the offseason, explicitly to be able to provide that connect between the defense and the offense and he wasn't used. The lack of passes to Ubiparipovic wasn't quite so stark in the Tampa Bay game so hopefully it was a one-off.

All that being said, I have faith in this defense. This team has a good defensive unit. On Ottawa's goal, there were players back and Vukovic ball watched for half a second, but even then it took a sprawled out Vered to put it on frame, otherwise it would have squirted through dangerously but wide. That didn't happen and the Eleven go down a goal.

Before the game, I was asked if I had a prediction for the game and I said 2 - 0 Indy based on what I saw of Indy against a good Tampa team and Ottawa's loss to New York. However, I reminded myself after of a conversation I had during the preseason game against Louisville when somebody (who will remain nameless for now) said to me, "there could be a lot of 0-0, 1-0 games this season." Until I'm convinced otherwise, I'm not going to predict any multiple goal games. I just don't see it happening at the moment, which is concerning since New York comes to town having scored multiple goals in both of their first two games. That's going to test the "death, taxes, and a draw with the Cosmos" mantra.

So when a team is having a hard time getting their scoring legs under them, sometimes you have to earn a draw on the road and steal a win at home. Vukovic's late equalizer keeps the Eleven in the crowded middle of the Spring Standings, but a surging out of the gate Cosmos and RailHawks have an early lead that hopefully will get reduced on Saturday with an Eleven win over the Cosmos.

Jon. Jon? Over here Jon.


Congratulations Vukovic on getting Team of the Week honors!