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.