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.



Thursday, October 13, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Armada - 03.28

- Opponent: Jacksonville Armada
- Location: Jacksonville
- Attendance: 1,254
- Final Score: 0-0 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Palmer, Vukovic, Ring, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Lacroix 61' (Mares), Janicki 74' (Palmer), Youla 79' (Zayed)
- Unused: Cardona, Paterson, Keller, Reinoso
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Falvey 66' (Yellow), Ubiparipovic 85' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

After being delayed a few days from last Saturday due to Hurricane Matthew, the Eleven headed down to Jacksonville for a Wednesday game. A midweek game on the road in Florida. Do I really need to go over how this game finished? It followed the script this year and went 90 minutes for a scoreless draw. In the 7 games in the Sunshine State this year, the Eleven have now scored just 3 times to bring their season record in FL to 0W-5D-2L (1W-7D-6L all-time).

I'm not going to talk about this game in much specific detail. The team went to Florida and came back with a draw against a bottom of the table team who have the worst goal differential in the league (combined season). They finished the game with a whopping 38% of the possession and at some point in the middle to late first half, I remember the Jacksonville commentators saying something to the affect of "Jacksonville's possession has dropped off in the last several's down to 71%." The Eleven were once again content to allow Jacksonville to possess the ball and work the counter. However, as can be seen from the Distribution graph from the Opta Stats, the Eleven did a fairly good job of possessing and passing in the defensive third and into the middle third, but once they got into the offensive third of the field, there were significantly more poor passes than good ones.

I continue to think about how far we've come as fans of this team. In the 3 years I've been writing, we've gone to praying for home wins and happy with road draws, to expecting this team to perform the way we know they are capable of doing this year. I'm not a professional athlete. My playing days ended after high school. Yet, I find it difficult to grasp my head around how this team performs on the road compared to the way they perform at home. They get a scoreless draw on the road to one of the worst teams in the league a week and a half after beating the Cosmos by 3 goals at home. A Cosmos team that look to be the favorite to win The Championship. The Eleven beat this same Jacksonville team 5-2 just two months ago. How do they go from a 5-2 drubbing to a 0-0 draw against the same team?

It's a midweek game, so I'm not going to dwell on it either. Saturday, the team's back in action at Carroll Stadium against Carolina.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Soccer Life - Aaron Gunyon

He's a fan of Coach Hankinson...
The Permanent Relegation podcast picked up a new member this year to be the written "voice of the BYB" and he's done an excellent job. He's optimistic when it's appropriate, but also tries to be equally realistic on the team's play. I like to read the posts that he writes and have tried to provide a spotlight on some of the fans (Nipun Chopra), writers, and commentators (Brad Hauter), as well as players (Estridge, Dawson) and front office staff (John Koluder) who make the Indy Eleven such a great team to support so I asked him once while we were hanging out in the press box to participate. He agreed to take part in my Soccer Life series and the following are his responses to my standard questions.

Thanks for your time Aaron!

1. Name:
Aaron Gunyon

2. Role (Player, Parent, Coach, Referee, General Spectator, All of the Above, None of the Above, Other):
- Retired Player, Occasional Sports Writer, Recreational Coach

3. Soccer-specific Nickname (and any story behind it):

4. Age started playing:
- 8

5. First recollection of the game:
- My Dad used to "help out" during the early days in my YMCA program. I remember him running with us for about 30 seconds before he gave up and admitted that soccer was a real sport. He grew up playing baseball.

6. Highest level of play achieved:
- Carthage College Div III
Editor's note: I tried to contact the school to get some information, but didn't get any response. Either there isn't much to say about Aaron's career (see response to #7 below), those statistics were lost in a fire (see previous survey), or they make it a point to not give information to lowly blogs with a very limited following. I'm going with the last one...

7. Honors/Awards:
- I have a box full of runner-up trophies and sportsmanship awards if that is any indication how anonymous I was on the field.

8. Last competitive match – Date (if known) & Level of Play
- Summer 2001

9. Position:
- Left Back

10. Jersey number:
- 18

11. Coaching experience:
- I have coached 100's of kids in a variety of programs.  All of it at the Rec level, but its a lot of fun.
Editor's note: As a fellow coach of rec level soccer teams, I'll agree that it can be lots of fun, but I will also pat Aaron on the back because it is often a thankless task occasionally with families that treat it like it's something to do if they don't have something else going on. So Thank You Aaron for your dedication to today's youth and growing the Beautiful Game.
12. Refereeing experience:
- Refereeing is the least appreciated activity a human can do.  I will not subject myself to that type of cruelty.

13. Most memorable moment(s):
- I once scored unassisted from a corner kick.

14. Least memorable moment(s):
- I got sent off for shouting at the ref "Try not sucking".  I was young.  It was an out of town tournament.  Coach was pissed.

15. Favorite World Cup moment(s):
- 2010 watching USA VS England in a casino with my friends.  Landon's group stage goal against Algeria was pandemonium though.

16. Favorite team(s):
- Indy Eleven and the USMNT.  Wolverhampton Wanderers is the greatest name in all of professional sports.

17. Favorite Historical Player:

18. Favorite Current Player:
- None better than Messi.

19. Indoor vs Outdoor:
- Outdoor

20. Grass vs Turf:
- Grass

21. Other sports played (and to what level):

22. Other Comments:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Indy Eleven vs Eddies - 03.27

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Edmonton
- Attendance: 1,307
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Torrado, Smart, Mares, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Palmer 26' (Miller), Ring 61' (Torrado), Gordon 75' (Ubiparipovic)
- Unused: Cardona, Paterson, Lacroix, Keller
- Goals: Zayed 56' (assist Mares)
- Bookings: Palmer 54' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

The Indy Eleven were undefeated in the Spring Season and rode that form to some hardware and a guaranteed spot in the Championship. They have since turned that form and ran it through the mud, particularly on the road. Fortunately, they've maintained that form while in the presence of the BYB and the friendly confines of Michael Carroll Stadium. Away from Indianapolis, however, the Eleven have struggled to a 0W-2D-6L record in the Fall, with a -9 goal differential (7 goals for; 16 goals against). After dispatching of in-form Miami and dismantling league leading New York in the past two weeks at home, the Eleven had to play what has become a dreaded road game, this time against FC Edmonton. In the closing minutes of the game, the Edmonton commentators stated, "the Eleven are going to look back at this game as 3 points lost." When the opposition's commentators look at the game as the home team stealing a win, you know this could have been a much better result from the Eleven.

Even though Zayed put the Eleven on the board first in the 56th minute from a well placed ball into the 6-yard box by Mares, they couldn't hold on and gave up an 80th minute goal to take the win to a draw and then another heartbreaker in the 90'+4' on a complete defensive breakdown to take the draw to a loss. With that loss, I don't see how it's possible for the Eleven to make up enough ground to win the Fall Championship or the Combined Standings. Especially since the Eleven have 5 games left and 3 of them are on the road; 2 of which are in the dreaded State of Florida. That means that unless the visitors somehow beat the Cosmos (who look to be the de facto favorite to win the Fall after clenching a post-season berth with the weekend's results), the Eleven are going to have to win the first game at home and then travel to New York to win the Soccer Bowl. Given their current (and past) road form, I'm not optimistic.

The rumor has been that Janicki is nearing his return after plantar fasciitis has sidelined him the past 6 games, but with Miller's injury that occurred in the 20th minute taking out another center back, some defensive adjustments are going to be required again if Janicki isn't ready. I'm not a doctor and Miller is a tough dude, but based on his reaction as soon as it happened and that he couldn't put any pressure on it on the way off the field, I wouldn't expect to see him for potentially the rest of the season.

I've been keeping track of the team's goal locations and the locations of where they get scored upon, but figured I would pull out everyone else's and show only Zayed's goals. With his tally today, Zayed brings his season total to 14, now just one behind league leading Ramirez. How teams lose him around the 6-yard line at this point in the season is a testament to his ability. He's only scored one goal outside of the penalty spot. Thirteen goals all within a few yards of the goal and thanks to his goal scoring effort coming in bunches, his time in Indy hasn't hurt his Mr. Hat Trick nickname nor his goal every 2 games average.

The Eleven are a special team, but it's been hard to watch their results on the road this season. Maybe they're just lulling the other league leading teams into a feeling of confidence.