Sunday, July 31, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Miami FC - 03.16

- Opponent: Miami FC
- Location: Miami, Florida
- Attendance: 5,076
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Miller, Janicki, Vukovic, Mares, Torrado, Ring, Gordon, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Smart 61' (Gordon), Ubiparipovic 74' (Ring), Reinoso 80' (Torrado)
- Unused: Palmer, Paterson, Busch, Falvey
- Goals: Zayed 89' (assist Smart)
- Bookings: Janicki 87' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: Two

I hate writing after losses. Especially when the statistics and the eye test indicate that it didn't need to be the Eleven's second loss of the year and second in the last three games. Yet, as we saw a lot last year, when you give up early goals, it affects the way the game gets played. Especially when you're on the road against a team who seems to be finding some confidence with their mid-year acquisitions.

Opta NASL Full time Heat Map
This game was played, almost entirely, in the Miami half of the field. I don't think I've ever seen a Heat Map and Average Position charts as one-sided towards one team's offensive half as this game. Miami's 4th minute goal clearly allowed them to settle in and defend, but time and again, the Eleven had chances that they just didn't convert. The kings of late goals made it interesting on a Zayed (or Braun depending on who actually gets credit for putting the ball all the way across the goal line - shown as Zayed right now) 89th minute goal, but giving up the 85th minute goal that made it 2-0 made their life much more difficult. The 90'+6 free kick from Vukovic was about 9-inches too far to the right as it grazed the outside of the post, and continued the trend of frustration in Florida for the Eleven.

Halftime Average Position
I rarely have the stat page up when watching the games so that I can focus on the play, particularly during away games where the field of vision is much more limited than the home games where I can attend in person and see the entire field. However, I decided to pull it up this game because I wanted to see a visual representation of how the game was going. It completely shocked me to see such a lopsided Halftime Average Position chart. Cardona was on an island by himself for the first 45 minutes with the other 21 players on the field in the Miami defensive half or within 10 yards of it.

Full time Average Position

Amazingly, the full-time Average Position chart didn't change drastically, even with the introduction of both team's substitutes. It's often hard to tell from the telecast where the defenders are located as the play transitions to the offensive end, but the Average Position chart shows Miller and Miami's leading scorer, Cvitanich, in nearly the exact same spot. I don't know if it was the plan for him to man mark to that degree, but that's the end result.

So another road trip and the team continued to have winless results. The team hasn't won on the road since April against the newly formed Rayo OKC (who happen to be on their own undefeated streak at the moment - currently at 8 games). It's not because the team didn't put the ball near the goal. Nor that they didn't have shots. The Eleven had 20 shots, but only managed to put 5 of those on goal. More amazing than the twenty shots they took, the team had 47 crosses. Unfortunately, only 23% of those crosses were successful and that leaves a lot of crosses that found the heads of Miami players or missed their mark entirely.

I've been thinking lately that one of the defining characteristics between the various levels of soccer throughout the world is the first touch. Strength and speed and vision all come into play, but the elite players in every league seem to have a better first touch. Nowhere is this most relevant than with Gerrado Torrado. His first touch is impeccable and sets him up to do good things when the ball comes to him. He completed 43/48 passes and I think it's because he sets himself up by not having to chase the ball or having the defender close in on him after a bad first touch. He made his second start, increasing his time from 45 minutes to 60 minutes to 80 minutes. Clearly, Coach Hankinson wants to get him involved, but has the flexibility to slowly work him into game fitness without drastically upsetting the team chemistry.

Assuming the goal stands as Zayed's, the assist will be officially credited to Don Smart. He's only averaging 38 minutes per game when he plays, but he seemed to affect the game more than any other player once he made his appearance in the 61st minute. In the 29 minutes he was in the game, he had 27 touches and 10 crosses. Unfortunately, only two of those crosses were successful, but it wasn't because he was timid about the game. He consistently attacked the endline trying to get the ball into the box into Braun and Zayed. Last year's "super sub" helped that nickname against Miami.

The Eleven had shots, chances, and possession, but couldn't finish. That's a lot of the reason why this game ended in a loss for the Eleven instead of a win. It's a good thing that the Eleven have become such a stout team at home, but they need to learn how to get some wins on the road. If they don't, they better hope they can start getting the results they got in the spring again rather than the ones they got on the road against Minnesota and Miami recently.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 03.15

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 8,119
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Miller, Janicki, Vukovic, Mares, Torrado, Ring, Gordon, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Paterson 60' (Torrado), Smart 68' (Gordon), Palmer 82' (Mares)
- Unused: Cardona, Ubiparipovic, Keller, Youla
- Goals: Janicki 13' (assist Mares)
- Bookings: Ring 59' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

First, let's address the bumblebee in the room. The striped socks work. It may have been a result of the Ronald McDonald appearance and sponsorship, but they were a nice change of pace from the typical NASL solid colored sock. As Patrick Cummings can attest, there aren't a lot of teams wearing any kinds of designs on the socks and the one that does (Tampa Bay) looks nice. Given that the team has settled on the all blues at home and the all whites on the road, it's nice to see something different once in awhile.

I love that the XI have decided to push Janicki and Miller forward on set pieces in the final third. Their height and desire to go for those kinds of balls is something that wasn't there last season. Miller rarely misses on a defensive header so it's been a nice tactical decision this season to get he and Janicki into the mix on set pieces. As a result, with Janicki's 13th minute goal, he is now tied for second on the team with three goals; two of them coming in the past three games. I think it's just a matter of time before Miller finds his way onto the scoreboard too.

Early on in the game, I commented that Torrado was "playing like a guy who knows he's not going the full 90. Like he's going to play 60 minutes." It's been stated that part of the reasoning behind Torrado's signing that made it acceptable to the team is that there were conversations with the trainers at Cruz Azul and they stated that Torrado was extremely fit and conscientious about his fitness. Despite that, a 37-year old veteran on a night where game time temps were still in the 90s and humidity causing it to feel like triple digits, and having only played 45 minutes for the team, it just seemed like he was exerting himself at a level knowing that he wasn't going to play the entire game. Amazingly, that was exactly when he came out of the game. While he was in though, I can only remember a couple of bad touches (and there were a lot of those by the Eleven), but his thought process was spot on every time. He made the right decision with the ball and it will be interesting to see how the midfield is used in the coming weeks with Mares playing well, Ring and Paterson playing well in the dual holding midfield role, and Ubiparipovic healthy again.

There were a lot of bad touches by the Eleven that lost them possession of the ball. I'm only going by gut feeling here, but it felt like Gordon and Braun were the worst offenders. Braun's touch was definitely off and it was both in receiving and passing. His motor was still at its usual high level so hopefully it was just an off night for him.

There were quite a few items that I thought about discussing for this game. Edmonton's possession being high for a team that likes to defend, but how much of that possession took place in their own defensive third. Yet, the one that really jumped out was Indy Eleven's Successful Crosses. Historically this season, the Eleven are successful on their crosses 25% of the time. They doubled that for this game. There were several chances, notably Zayed, Gordon, and Braun, who were able to get a head to the crosses that nearly found the goal. An 8 save game by VanOekel helped prevent those from adding to the Eleven's goal total. Maybe the Eleven can continue that in the future.

Against a team like Edmonton that had some new combinations in the backline, it's a little disappointing that the Eleven weren't able to take better advantage of their lack of familiarity with each. The effort was there and there were some good opportunities to get a second goal, but the overall sharpness of the team just wasn't there for this game. Maybe most exemplified in the 90th minute when Busch uncharacteristically nearly gave it away to Fordyce in the box after dropping the ball to his feet and Fordyce charged in to get it from Busch's side. Busch played it off Fordyce and picked the ball back up. He survived the miscue, and the Eleven were able to ride out Janicki's goal to get them to back to the top of the Fall and Combined Tables.

After their first loss of the year to Minnesota last week, a win is a good response.

Photos by Don Thompson Photography