Sunday, March 26, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Deltas - 04.01

- Opponent: San Francisco Deltas
- Location: San Francisco
- Attendance: 4,133
- Final Score: 1-1 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Watson-Siriboe, Keller, Vukovic, Smart, Thompson, Torrado, Ring, Speas, Braun
- Substitutions: Zayed 77' (Speas), Henderson 77' (Thompson)
- Unused: Cardona, Ubiparipovic, Manning
- Goals: Thompson 58' (assist Speas)
- Bookings: Watson-Siriboe 55', Vukovic 61'
- Adage goals: None

The Indy Eleven headed west to kick off the 2017 season in Kezar Stadium, the home of the San Francisco Deltas. In the Deltas' inaugural match in the NASL, the Eleven went into San Francisco without any real data on what to expect from the Deltas, with the exception of some video from the Delta's preseason game against Sacramento Republic the prior week. Yet the Deltas' coach, Marc Dos Santos, has had similar tactics at his previous coaching stops so the Eleven had at least a little bit of information from which to draw.

Knowing that Dos Santos would likely come out attacking in their inaugural game, Coach Hankinson looked to go with a more defensive lineup. Coach Hankinson likes to stress defense first and given that Falvey is still out with his surgery rehab and Palmer and Watson-Siriboe picked up injuries during the final preseason game against Louisville, it's not surprising that the lineup he employed against the Deltas had a defensive look to it. Four defenders and two midfielders in Ring and Torrado who tend more towards the defense than the offense and Saturday's game had the same feel of many of last year's away games. Defend first, attack when possible, and head back to Indy with at least a point from a road game.

Much like the Eleven's first game in the league in 2014, as well as when they welcomed Puerto Rico into the league last year, the home squad got on the board first when Kyle Bekker put his name in the Deltas' record books at the team's first goal scorer when he put one behind Busch in the 31st minute.
Seeing a lineup without Zayed caught a lot of fans' attention as last season's team leading scorer started on the bench. I assumed that he had an injury, but his appearance in the 77th minute off the bench gets the questions going of whether he's not fully match might or if he's taken his starting role for granted. Just like Indy's and Puerto Rico's first games, the away team found an equalizer so that both teams settled for a draw. With Zayed on the bench, Indy's goal came in the 58th minute from an unexpected source.

With the exception of John Busch, the buildup to Indy's goal consisted entirely of the new guys to the team. Watson-Siriboe picked up the ball deep in Indy's third, but picked out Speas on a spectacular cross-field change that allowed Speas to get in a centering cross. A cross that, if we're all honest, Thompson had no business getting his head to as he was surrounded by two Delta players who were, not surprisingly, both taller than him. Significantly taller. He found himself a nice spot between the two defenders and put his header back across the goal where Peiser had just vacated. Thompson didn't get a lot of power to the header since he was falling backwards, but placement trumped power and the Eleven were on the board.

While the Eleven played a very direct style in their first game of the season (long passes statistically at 21%, but it appeared to be more), given the lineup, opponent, and situation, it wasn't unexpected.

NASL/Rob Edwards
This brings me to a new feature this season; The Game Beckons Game Ball. Sometimes this will be a typical Man of the Match kind of designation, and Thompson's first goal in his first professional game to even the match is definitely a worthy moment. Yet, I want to give credit to the effort that Daniel Keller put in during this game. Falvey is unavailable and most of what we've seen in preseason has been Watson-Siriboe and Palmer in the centerback roles, but Palmer's injury precipitated the need for Keller to step in. Keller continues to show his versatility by playing defense, midfield, and seemingly anywhere else that Coach Hankinson requires a smart soccer player. I don't recall ever seeing Keller out of position, even on the goal scored by San Francisco. Keller may be considered depth on this roster, but he once again proved on Saturday that "depth" doesn't eliminate "talent."


Friday, March 17, 2017

Dylan and Duke

The Indy Eleven finished the 2016 season with 22 players on the roster (23 if you count Wojcik, but he didn't play after the 3rd game as a result of his season-long loan to OKC Energy FC). Of those 22, Janicki retired from the sport; Shaffer retired from the sport; Paterson moved back home to play closer to his family; Miller was injured and has not been officially resigned; Gordon, Reinoso, and Youla were seemingly not resigned though I don't remember a formal announcement as in seasons past; and Mares and Lacroix found other teams; leaving 13 returning players. 60% of the roster is returning and I'm pretty happy with that amount. If you take away the three guys who chose to do something different with their lives and families, over 68% of the available players are returning. Hopefully, that familiarity breeds success.

Looking at the current roster, I don't think many people were surprised that Gordon, Reinoso, nor Youla did not return for this season. Gordon has returned to Montego Bay, Reinoso is playing for Club San Jose in Bolivia, and I'm uncertain were Youla has landed. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

Dylan Mares and Duke Lacroix

When I wrote my Off-Season To Do List, I was pretty close to predicting who would be released and who were priorities to resign, with the notable exception of Dylan and Duke. I fully expected (hoped?) both players would be back. Lacroix was a Young Player of the Year nominee and Goal of the Year winner. Mares was a team leader in goals and a league leader in assists. About Lacroix I wrote, "His speed can change games. I'm not sure he's ready as a starter just yet, but he's young and we saw how much he improved between season 1 and season 2. As I said on Reddit, "I still want him to take one more step and find open teammates more often when he attacks a defense, but his speed and his ability to take on defenders makes him a threat every time he touches the ball." Its those accolades and his talent that got him trial with Minnesota United FC, one of the MLS's newest teams. Ultimately, he didn't succeed in making the roster, but did find his way to the USL's Orange County SC.
I don't know what kind of pay adjustment his move to Orange County provided, but I suspect that as much as anything, this was a chance for Duke to get more game minutes. Much the same way that I think Cardona is going to need an increase in first team minutes to improve, Lacroix needs more minutes to take his talent and speed to the next level. If the U.S. Open Cup has shown us anything over the past two years, the NASL/USL talent gap may not be as significant as a Div 2/Div 3 designation would have made us all to believe. With both leagues having provisional Div 2 status, this move may not have as negative connotation as in year's past, but I think Lacroix looked at who could (and did) return to the Eleven and saw that he was going to continue to be considered depth or a late game change of pace. With Braun's and Zayed's partnership solidified and Lacroix's offense, not defense, being his strength, he wasn't going to get significant minutes in the midfield. Duke's a smart guy and I'm sure he looked at the situation and realized he needed to find a team that would give him minutes. I'll be surprised if he isn't a starter for Orange County. And an affiliation with incoming LAFC can't hurt either.

Dylan chased the money. Don't get me wrong. I don't blame him because he earned the pay increase, but he would have been crazy to stay with the Eleven this season. As one of the players who has been here from the beginning, one of my favorite players, and one of the players I credit to the team's success last year, I hate to see him go. Coach Hankinson was quoted on "Soccer Saturday" a couple times saying the free agent players received "interesting offers." Turns out he was likely referring to Mares as he stated in a subsequent "Soccer Saturday" that the offer that Miami proposed to Mares would have made him the highest paid player on the Indy Eleven roster. With the rest of the roster that Miami has put together and that amount of money, Dylan would have been nuts to stick around in Indy. As I indicated in my Off-Season To Do List, "Dylan got better and despite not being an early season starter, Coach Hankinson found he's a hard guy to keep off the field. I see no reason to let him go now." Now I do. Money. Soccer's a business and that's the way it goes sometimes. Good for Dylan. Bad for Indy. Bad we don't get to watch him play every week and bad because the Eleven have to compete against him.

Miami spent some money in the off-season and if you think this 8 team race for this year's league championship is between last year's Championship participants of New York and Indy, then you're likely going to be disappointed. A turbulent off-season created a lot of movement for really good players and Miami found a bunch of them. For Dylan's efforts and resulting larger paycheck, it looks like he's settling in nicely in Miami. Miami has played 6 preseason games to date and Mares has started 4 of the games. He's scored twice and has at least one assist as best I can tell from the Miami recaps for the games (vs Miami FC, Toronto FC, Chicago Fire, FGCU, Barry University, & Miami Fusion). If Miami is following the Eleven's trend of starting their projected starters in their preseason games, that bodes well for Mares' move to Miami.

I don't blame the guys for their moves, but definitely going to miss seeing them play on a regular basis. Luckily, I can root for Lacroix in Orange County without any problem, but Mares only gets the conditional love. He may be an Indy Eleven OG, but he's now a competitor too. #IndyForever...with qualifications.

Good luck Dylan and Duke!