Monday, September 26, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Cosmos - 03.26

- Opponent: New York Cosmos
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,157
- Final Score: 3-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Torrado, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Ring 61' (Ubiparipovic), Paterson 81' (Smart), Lacroix 85' (Zayed)
- Unused: Cardona, Palmer, Keller, Gordon
- Goals: Braun 32' (assist Zayed), Zayed 48' (assist Mares), Mares 51' (assist Braun)
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: None

Zayed to Braun - Goal.

Mares to Zayed - Goal.

Braun to Mares - Goal.

A clean sheet for Busch.

That's the kind of script fans like to see when the Eleven play the league's elite. They didn't have to play from behind. They weren't chasing a goal to try and salvage a draw. They played good team soccer and looked dominant while doing it. They gave themselves a chance to get 9 points against the three teams at the top of the table in successive weekends. They put themselves in a good position coming down the stretch of the Fall Season.

When Braun put the game winner into the back of the net in the 32nd minute, Miller was "the guy behind the guy behind the guy"...behind the guy. Braun's header was fantastic. Zayed's header back across the goal was pinpoint, Smart's cross was gorgeous, but some credit needs to be given to Miller who picked out Smart with a 50-yard pass up the field that set the entire thing in motion. Beautiful one-touch soccer that was rewarded with a goal.

Coming into the game, I thought Zayed might get back on the board in a losing effort. I was correct on the first account, but the effort was definitely a winning one. After the game, I mentioned that I would love to know the mileage run by Mares and Smart and the effort they gave. Smart looked exhausted when he departed in the 81st minute and Mares sat down on the pitch after the final whistle (though that may have had more to do with an injury towards the end of the game). Interestingly about the effort by all of the team was the Average position. While Mares and Smart routinely flip-flopped sides of the field, every single player's average position on the field matched their tactical formation position in the 4-4-2 (diamond), including the subs and where they came onto the field. Mares' position pushes more towards the middle than Smart's, but I attribute that to Mares' tendency to do that normally, plus him shifting to the forward role when Lacroix came on for Zayed.

The reason I felt that Zayed would get on the board, though, is because Braun is back in form and their partnership has provided great results for the team, but also for Zayed specifically. Braun's workrate and hold up play force teams to not be able to focus entirely on Zayed in a way that the other forwards on the team can't provide for him. In the five games that Braun wasn't playing, Zayed didn't score. But in games at home and with Braun playing alongside him, Zayed hasn't gone more than two games in a row without scoring. Since Braun's return, Zayed has two assists so he was due to score based on the season's run-of-form. Braun may not be getting on the board as much as he might like, but he clearly makes the offense better when he's on the field than when he's off of it. I'm glad he's back for the end-of-the-year push into the playoffs.

The team could have used some additional possession during the final 30 minutes to give the defense some spells of rest once they went up by three as the Cosmos pushed to get on the scoreboard, but the guys seemed to want to attack the goal until the final whistle and couldn't resist the urge to go forward, even without having the numbers to do so well. This was reflected in the possession, which was basically 50/50 at halftime, but finished 43/57 against the Eleven. Fortunately, while the team was doing a lot of defending during this timeframe, they were doing so with a significant amount of team defending, with guys shifting in all positions to put themselves into the proper locations. If you're going to do a lot of defending, it's good to see them doing it well.

This was a good result against, what can be argued, is the best team in the league a week after beating, what can be argued, was one of the hottest teams in the league in Miami. A road game against Edmonton next week could solidify the Eleven in the discussion again for the Fall Championship since the Cosmos are also on the road and have had similar road woes as the Eleven.

Congratulations Braun, Franco, and Mares for their Team of the Week selections:


Monday, September 19, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Miami FC - 03.25

- Opponent: Miami FC
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,356
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Palmer, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Torrado, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Lacroix 59' (Mares), Ring 66' (Ubiparipovic), Keller 84' (Zayed)
- Unused: Cardona, Paterson, Franco, Gordon
- Goals: Mares 25' (assist Braun), Smart 57' (assist Zayed)
- Bookings: Mares 50' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

On a night that included beer steins and a wiener dog parade (see some photos later in this post) as part of Oktoberfest activities, it was a couple of the Indy Eleven OGs who got on the scoreboard to put and end to the team's five game winless streak. And while the win stopped the red hot streaking Miami FC, keeping the Eleven in a good place in the combined standings, it was far from perfect.

The Eleven, though, are getting healthy again as we come into the final stretch of the Fall Season and getting guys back into the lineup. With some additional options from a healthy roster and a spot secured in the Championship, Coach Hankinson made some tweaks to the formation against Miami by lining up in a 4-4-2, but did so more with a diamond arrangement with Mares on the left, Smart on the right, Torrado in the defensive mid spot, and Ubiparipovic in the playmaking mid spot. This created a new wrinkle from the Ring/Paterson combination as dual #6s. The diamond shape combined with Mares' tendency to pinch into the middle to allow frequent overlaps from Vukovic who likes to get forward anyway. However, like last week, it also means that Vukovic's advanced forward position provided for counters from Miami on that side of the field. Notably one in the 79th minute where a save by Busch prevented damage from Vukovic being out of his defensive position.

It's one more example of Coach Hankinson utilizing the roster and tactics to prepare the team for the future.

Dylan Mares scored in the 25th minute on a 25 yard blast to the lower left corner after receiving a pass from Braun who looked like he was the intended target from a clearance from Miami FC's goalkeeper Vega. In what will be a tumultuous and potentially Fall Season championship determining three weeks, where the Indy Eleven will play all three teams ahead of them in the Fall standings, it's vital that the Eleven take advantage of their opponents' mistakes and Mares didn't hesitate to take the shot on goal when none of the Miami defenders stepped to him. With the goal, Mares moved into a tie for second place for career NASL goals for the Indy Eleven with Kleberson and alone in second place across all competitions.

Not to be outdone, fellow OG Don Smart tallied his eighth career team goal in the 57th minute on a deflected header from Zayed on a Vukovic cross to also bring himself level with Mares and Kleberson. Neither guy was in the starting lineups when the season started, but have continued to show why it is difficult to keep them out of games. By my count, Mares became the career minutes leader in NASL minutes for the Eleven and became just the second player to reach the 50 Games Started threshold (in all competitions; NASL, USOC, & friendlies). Ring is also closing in on that mark as well, with both potentially bypassing current leader in Nicht by the end of the season. Mares and Smart are 1-2 in Indy Eleven Career Assists, respectively; 1-2 in Career Games Played; 2-4 in Career Goals; and 2-3 in Career Points.

In the mix on both goals, either directly or by occupying defenders, was Justin Braun who is a welcome return to the staring lineup. While Gordon and Youla are good players, they're connectivity with Zayed does not produce the same kind of results. While Zayed didn't manage many shots, having the hold-up play and work rate from Braun back in the mix, will certainly help his chances at more goals. Zayed tends to score in bunches and getting Braun back in the lineup with him is good timing with the Cosmos coming to town.

So that covers the good. Now for the not so good. The graphic to the left shows the comparison between the first half and second half touch maps, though a similar comparison could be made with the distribution graphs comparison. The Eleven finished the first half with a 51% - 49% possession advantage, but finished the game with a 46% - 54% disadvantage. After the Eleven got out to their 2 - 0 lead, the run of play turned more towards Miami and was exacerbated once Miami got their goal. As can be seen from the graphic, the number of touches that the Eleven had in the offensive final third of the field is visually reduced. Given that we've seen the offensive firepower of the Eleven on display at various times this year and that the goal differential of the leading teams has come into play already, it would have been nice to see them keep their collective feet on the gas instead of falling into a defensive shell.

But I'm nit-picking. A win at home against a team at the top of the table is a good thing and that's what the Eleven did on Saturday night.

"Back off Blake. I got this!"

As promised, here are some photos of the wiener dog parade: