Monday, April 24, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Deltas - 04.04

- Opponent: San Francisco Deltas
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 7,124
- Final Score: 0-0 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Palmer, Vukovic, Ring, Henderson, Torrado, Ubiparipovic, Zayed, Braun
- Substitutions: Thompson 60' (Ubiparipovic), Keller 62' (Palmer)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Goldsmith, Ables
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Palmer 44' (Yellow), Ring 67' (Yellow), Braun 71' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

I've spent a fair amount of the last 30 hours (with some obvious sleeping time exception) trying to figure out what to write about a game that was described by a couple that I overheard on the way out as "a very disappointing game." They weren't just talking about the final score, but rather the entirety of the game. With the exception of a few moments for both teams, the game was disjointed for both teams. Neither seemed to be able to consistently impose their will on the other team.

This team has most of the pieces back from a very successful team last year and yet four games into the season they've only been able to muster four draws. Granted, those four games are against only two teams thanks to the NASL's absurd scheduling so it's hard to know exactly where this team (or any of the teams for that matter) really stand, but I don't think anybody really expected the Eleven to not get at least one win at this point in the season. Yet that's exactly where they find themselves, staring at a road trip to league leading Jacksonville this coming weekend.

So what did 30 hours of ponder get me? Unfortunately, not much more than the notes I scribbled to myself during the game. So like the team's apparent desire to bypass the midfield against the Deltas, I'm going to go for the long ball too.

NASL/Opta Average Position
For all the things he is, Torrado is not a left midfielder. Torrado wants to be in the middle of the park and that can be okay when combined with Vukovic's desire to go forward. However, Torrado doesn't have Mares' ability last season to cover defensively when Vuko goes forward. So if Coach Hankinson is going to play someone out of position because of the injuries, putting Torrado on the same side as Vuko seems an odd choice. Torrado's average position was in the middle of the field, right next to Ring and Ubi, Zayed, and Braun are all on top of each other in the middle of the field as well. This lineup created absolutely zero width. More on this in a minute.

Photo: Don Thompson
On the other side of midfield, Henderson's first touch failed him frequently in the game and his defense was hit-or-miss throughout the game. I fully expected him to be one of the first subs after halftime and never would have pegged him to be one of the guys to go the full ninety minutes. Though given who was sitting on the bench, there weren't many other options. Particularly given that Coach has suggested that new signee Adrian Ables was brought on for depth. Yet, Coach's description of him on Soccer Saturday seems to fit nicely with what the team needed in the second half. A quick guy who's willing to take on players. Sounds like Lacroix 2.0. Instead Coach brought on Thompson for Ubiparipovic and Mr. Swiss Army Knife Daniel Keller for Palmer.

Photo: Don Thompson
Frias, I mean Palmer, has never been one to take two touches when one will blast it back down to the other side of the field, but on a day with 20+ mph winds, that approach wasn't overly effective. Palmer's not going to get out-muscled to a ball, but subtlety is not his strong suit.

The man that no coach has been able to keep off the field, Don Smart, was definitely missed. Don's speed, crossing ability, and his ability to stay wide would have been much more effective than the middle of the field gathering. In conjunction with the lack of width provided by the lineup, it's no longer a secret that Zayed isn't going to create his own shots. So if you want to defend the Eleven, find Braun and don't let the offense go through him. His work rate is going to continue to provide opportunities because opposing teams have to account for him at all times, but as of right now, the offense goes as Braun goes. Against San Francisco, Braun only connected on 63% of his passes, 43% of those were backwards, and he only managed two shots (neither on target). The Eleven managed two shots on goal, both of them from headers from Zayed, and both off of crosses. The team could have used some more crosses from Smart, who will continue to be out for a few more weeks. They need to find a better way to break down the final third than what they displayed on Saturday, but I'm not sure how I see that getting done.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

This game was difficult to select a player for the Game Ball, but I'm going to have to give it to Jon Busch this week. Buschy finished with 5 saves on the day, none of them more spectacular than the one in the 75th minute when Bekker blasted a shot from 30 yards out that was destined for the upper corner of the goal (see minute 1:10 in the highlights below). There weren't a lot of great opportunities in the game, but that was definitely one that looked like it was destined to end the undefeated streak at 19. While that was the highlight reel save from Busch that helped the team get to a modern-era 20 undefeated home record, his other saves were just as important and were a result of placing himself in appropriate spots in the goal.

Caption This candidate...


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Puerto Rico FC - 04.03

- Opponent: Puerto Rico FC
- Location: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
- Attendance: 3,933
- Final Score: 1-1 D
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Falvey, Palmer, Vukovic, Smart, Torrado, Henderson, Ring, Zayed, Braun
- Substitutions: Ubiparipovic 45'+3' (Smart - Injury), Watson-Siriboe 72' (Falvey), Manning 79' (Palmer)
- Unused: Keller, Goldsmith, Lomeli
- Goals: Zayed 45'+3' (Braun)
- Bookings: Zayed 49' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Three games into the 2017 season and we've watched three draws. Not just draws, three come from behind draws; twice on the road and once at home. At least early on, we can generalize that the Eleven continue last season's trends of having trouble getting wins on the road, as well as never giving up. Only time will tell us if the away draws becomes a trend this season, but the continued fight seems to be part of the DNA of this team and the players that have returned. I don't see that changing, which should give the Eleven a chance at good results throughout the season. Given the circumstances, 1) a night where the game time temps were in the mid- to high 70s and humidity was in the mid-90s, 2) on a field that was just missing the dandelions from my yard, 3) against an opponent they had just played a week before, getting a positive result was always going to be a challenge.

I routinely talk about the eyeball test for games and when I combine what I saw with what the stats tell us, a 1-1 draw was a good result. Both teams had chances in a wide open, back-and-forth affair. The stats indicate that 17.4% of the Eleven's passes were considered "long" with Puerto Rico's passes at 23%. Official stats have possession going to the Eleven, but this is where my eyeball test doesn't coincide with the stats as it felt like both teams had a much more direct appearance with possession at a premium.

So why did the Eleven have to come from behind? Because the Eleven started a new centerback pairing and they didn't talk properly. In the 19th minute, the Eleven had 7 guys back (plus Cardona) against 5 PRFC players so there shouldn't have been an issue. Yet, Ramos found a seam that shouldn't have been available from two experienced backs in Falvey and Palmer. As the ball is switched from the right side of the field to the left to Ramirez, Palmer was defending Ramos. Once Ramirez received the ball though, Palmer drifted off of Ramos as Falvey runs near Ramos. Falvey continues his run towards Ramirez, which was the deciding step.
However, Falvey didn't need to continue to Ramirez as Franco had put him in a difficult place with his positioning. If Ramirez tried to go left, he would have reduced any shooting angle. If he had tried to go right, he would have taken it into more traffic. Falvey needed to stay near Ramos or Palmer needed to continue his marking. Neither stayed near Ramos and he drifted perfectly into a halo of defenders that made it impossible to stop any shot when Ramirez found him. Ramos has shown that he is a dangerous player to leave in space and he it was far too easy of a shot from the spot where he received the ball.

The good news is that Braun's famous work rate is being matched this year by his production. The team leader in Points (6), Goals (2), and Assists (2) in three games perfectly picked out a trailing Zayed in stoppage time of the first half to bring the game level. A touch that was made possible because Braun was successful on a challenge 15 yards ahead of this. If Braun can maintain this kind of form, this can only help the Eleven's offense and take some of the pressure off of Zayed. Teams won't be able to focus their attention on the team's leading scorer last year.

Unfortunately, Smart left before halftime with an injury and Palmer left early with what had the signs of possibly being dehydration. Busch, Thompson, and Speas were all unavailable due to injury. Luckily for all, the team have a week off to heal before playing San Francisco on the 22nd at Carroll Stadium. A couple weeks of home cooking against a team they've already played once, hopefully that translates into a win. With the other results from the early part of the season, the Eleven are going to need a win to keep pace before they start playing teams that have more than a combined 30 games in the league.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

This was a hard game for me to pick and this current version of Braun is going to be a front-runner each week, but I'm going to give this week's Game Beckons Game Ball to Keith Cardona. Puerto Rico's goal really wasn't his fault and he made some good saves throughout the night. I've been saying he needs minutes with the first team and this was a good example of what he can do with those guys. I particularly like how he looks for the quick passes to players once he gets the ball to quick-start any potential counterattacks. These are the kinds of games we need to see to be able to determine if he will be Busch's replacement and he did a good job with it.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Puerto Rico FC - 04.02

- Opponent: Puerto Rico FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 9,064
- Final Score: 3-3 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Watson-Siriboe, Keller, Vukovic, Smart, Thompson, Torrado, Ring, Speas, Braun
- Substitutions: Zayed 46' (Thompson), Henderson 73' (Ring), Palmer 80' (Keller)
- Unused: Cardona, Ubiparipovic, Falvey
- Goals: Braun 5' (Vukovic); Speas 10' (Braun); Braun 75'
- Bookings: Thompson 44' (Yellow); Busch 55' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

NASL/Opta Heat Map - 1st 15 Minutes
Given that yesterday's game against Puerto Rico took place on April 1st, if I told you that the Indy Eleven would score two goals in the first ten minutes, but would need a late game third goal equalizer for the draw, you would naturally expect that I would then say "April Fools!" Yet, that is exactly how the game proceeded. The Eleven jumped to a quick 2 - nil lead just ten minutes into the first half as Braun headed in a set piece cross from Vukovic in the 5th minute and then Braun assisted Speas in the 10th minute on a pass that broke the offsides trap before Speas cleverly chipped Spangenberg. The Eleven were absolutely dominant in the first fifteen minutes (see heat map above), but took their collective foot off the gas and Puerto Rico FC increased their physicality.

A physicality that the Eleven, seemingly, were not allowed to match from referee Luis Guardia. Some of that I'll put on the Eleven for not paying attention to the fact that if Puerto Rico fell down, they were getting the calls. The Eleven continued to fight to stay upright and would not get calls. The couple times where an Eleven player actually felt the contact and went to ground, they too got the call. Match stats indicate the Eleven with 16 fouls conceded to Puerto Rico's 14 fouls, but those two extra fouls were penalty kicks that were awarded to Puerto Rico. One in the first half by Watson-Siriboe and one in the second by Busch. Both penalty kicks were successful, the first from Ramos off the rebound save by Busch, the other directly from the spot by former Indy Eleven player Walter Ramirez.

Zayed was off. Let me rephrase that. Zayed's final touch was off, and only just slightly. He was a halftime substitute for Tanner Thompson and immediately made some deft passes to players. Yet, his own final goal scoring touch wasn't up to his normal standard. For a guy dubbed "Mr. Hat Trick" and "El Raton" because of his ability to be in the right space at the right time and put the right touch on the ball to get it into the back of the net, he had chances to do that and missed on all of them. There doesn't appear to be any injury per se, so maybe there's a bit of him being in his own head about not being in the starting lineup, but he just doesn't seem like his normal self.

Game Beckons Game Ball

Indy Eleven/Trevor Ruszkowski
This week's Game Beckons Game Ball goes to, not surprisingly, Justin Braun. A one assist, two goal game, with the second goal being the game tying goal to salvage a draw and continue an undefeated streak at Carroll Stadium will usually garner a player a lot of accolades. Yet, the man who turned 30 the day before showed his value for this team. Braun spent the entirety of the first half in the offensive half of the field (see first touchmap below) working with Speas to attack the Puerto Rico goal. Zayed's addition to the field in the second half did not push Speas back into the midfield, which is his officially listed position. Officially listed forward Justin Braun dropped back into the midfield and had a third of his touches in the defensive half as he came back looking for the ball and defended. Despite his presence in the defensive half, he seemed to always be available going forward. His work rate is undeniable and if not for an amazing reaction save by Spangenberg in the waning minutes, I would be writing about Braun being a major factor in winning three points instead of saving one.
NASL/Opta Touchmap - Justin Braun - 1st Half
NASL/Opta Touchmap - Justin Braun - 
NASL/Opto Average Position
One last graphic that surprised me during first inspection, but makes more sense as I look at it. The team listed the lineup for the game as a 4-4-2. On paper, that's the players that Coach Hankinson utilized. Their actual use, however, got inverted to a 2-4-4. With Vuko and Franco flying up the wings, their average position for the course of the game actually pushed them into the midfield. That pushes Smart and Thompson higher up the field. It's not a graphic we've seen, maybe ever, for an Indy Eleven, but in an early part of a season where the backline has been cobbled together in a fashion different from the preseason expectations, it looks like the best defense might be a good offense. Coach Hankinson has always stressed defense, but at least for this game against Puerto Rico, they showed that they have the talent and ability to be more offensive in nature. The Eleven are going to play Puerto Rico again on Saturday, in Puerto Rico, and I would be surprised if the team has the same mentality of going forward that they showed yesterday. A draw on the road has often been the goal and back-to-back games against the same opponent would seem like the time that Hankinson (and likely a Falvey led backline) would be more defensive in nature.