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.


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