Monday, June 26, 2017

Indy Eleven vs North Carolina FC - 04.13

- Opponent: North Carolina FC
- Location: Cary, North Carolina
- Attendance: 3,494
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Keller, Vukovic, Ring, Smart, Speas, Ubiparipovic, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Henderson 67' (Ubiparipovic), Goldsmith 77' (Zayed), Manning 85' (Keller - cramping)
- Unused: Cardona, Thompson, Plumhoff
- Goals: Braun 22' (assist Franco), Zayed 24' (assist Braun)
- Bookings: Smart 45'+7' (Yellow), Busch 88' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Much like last week, I'm trying to not let my inherent pessimism overcome this recap, but the realistic side of me says that yes, the Indy Eleven are on a two-game win streak, but all they've really shown me is that they can beat North Carolina FC. Although, I can't dispute that they looked much better this week than last week. There were good stretches of possession, very few poor giveaways (that I can remember), good spacing, and good one-touch passes between players on a number of occasions, most notably the ones that led to Zayed's goal.
Statistically speaking, this was a very even game and one that I would agree the Eleven deserved to win. If Braun's shooting touch was a little better, he could have easily had a hat trick. North Carolina FC jumped out to an early lead in the 9th minute when the ball had a fluke deflection off the post straight to Shipalane, who was able to easily tap it in to the goal. Franco was a bit out of position on the play, but that's the kind of bounce off a post that you just have to chalk up to luck. The Eleven fought back and Franco redeemed himself with a perfectly weighted cross to the middle of the box that Braun made no doubt was going into the goal from his header.

A couple minutes later, the aforementioned goal by Zayed put the Eleven ahead in what looked like it could be a high scoring affair. Braun missed a shot wide from inside the six right before halftime that I'm sure he still wonders how he missed. After halftime, the frenetic pace of the first half continued for another 15 - 20 minutes. At that point, the game began to slow down as players' legs began to weigh from the heat and effort. Daniel "Swiss Army Knife" Keller eventually became the player that would succumb to the heat and would exit in the 85th minute with cramps. Clinging to a one goal lead on the road, Coach Hankinson didn't waste much time using his final sub on Keller, bringing in fresh legs in Manning, rather than trying to let Keller gut out the final minutes of the game.

NASL/OptaStat - Eleven Average Position
The OptaStats provide for some very interesting nuggets to the game as well. First, just like last week, the Average Position of the Eleven ended just like you would expect of the players that composed this 4-4-2 diamond. The centerback pairing of Falvey and Keller holding down the defense, while Franco and Vuko had the liberty to make runs forward. Brad "Defensive Mid from Hell" Ring tucked in ahead of Falvey and Keller providing cover, while Ubi orchestrated the offense moving forward. Smart and Speas tucked in slightly, helping facilitate the overlapping runs from Franco and Vuko, and Braun and Zayed up top. There's a lot of movement between the parts that gets lost in the Average Position chart, but it's not surprising to me to see how it all settles into what you would expect over the extent of 90 minutes.

NASL/Opta - Average Position - Falvey & Keller
Second, Falvey and Keller set a line and stuck to it. The Heat Map for those two guys looks like someone drew a straight line across the field and told them that they could deviate from a 15-yard range of that line only for defensive or offensive set pieces. I know I'm not the only one saying this, but until Keller shows me something otherwise, he's my preferred centerback pairing with Falvey. KWS and Manning are listed as defenders, whereas Keller is a listed midfielder, but his performances in that position gives me much more confidence that he is going to be in the correct position when needed. Busch has been quoted (and I'll paraphrase) that he knows what he is going to get with a Keller and Falvey combination and they have a good rapport. If Busch is comfortable having him in that spot, then so am I.

NASL/Opta - Average Position - Brad Ring
So that covers the overall team position and the centerback positioning. Let's move forward along the spine to Brad Ring. Much like Keller, I don't think that Ring was Coach Hankinson's starting defensive midfielder coming into the season. Also much like Keller, I don't think you can take the job away from him at this point. Torrado is Torrado and regardless of how much I love Ring, Torrado's overall vision of the field is far superior to Ring's. Torrado's age may be catching up to him a bit this season, but Ring has become a box-to-box defensive midfielder who doesn't shy away from contact or yellow cards and is going to give you 90-minutes of hustle on both ends of the field, but routinely provides cover for the centerbacks. Ring was 2 for 2 on tackles, he was 3 for 3 on duels, he had 4 interceptions, he was 41 of 44 in passes, and, oh yeah, he created 2 offensive chances including a shot on goal. I know it seems counter to keep a World Cup veteran in Torrado on the bench, but I think Ring is the better option right now.

NASL/Opta - Average Position - Justin "Steve" Braun
Moving up the pitch... In the morning interview with Coach Hankinson on Soccer Saturday with Greg Rakestraw, Coach implied that Ubi's performance on the field has been improved because the team is trying to play him in a deeper role, receiving the ball further in the defensive side so that he can pick better spots moving forward. However, what wasn't said is that this year's team's offensive leader, Justin "Steve" Braun is also coming back further to receive the ball and help distribute. Braun's work-rate and motor still puts his average position at the end of the game tucked just behind Zayed, but he was routinely coming back into the defensive half of the field to receive the ball and distribute. It could be argued that isn't where a team wants their target forward to play, but given that he touched the ball 60 times, completed 41 of 45 passes, while also creating 3 chances, 4 shots, 1 goal, and 1 assist, it's hard to argue with him coming back so far. With the exception of two shots that I think he would like to have back so that he could put both in the back of the goal, Braun played a pretty great game.

Two final thoughts. There are two team stats that jump off the screen for me. The first are the aerial duels. The Eleven are credited with winning 28.6% of their aerial duels. If that seems low to you, it is. Like 26 points below their average for aerial duels coming into the game. The Eleven were averaging close to 55% on their aerial duels and have routinely been higher than 70%. So it's odd to see that stat so drastically different than the norm and, by far, a season low for them. However, I don't know if it gets factored into the stats, but I recall during watching that I remember thinking that the Eleven were periodically backing off from the aerial duels and setting themselves up for the second ball. They were putting themselves in a better position, anticipating a poor first touch by the NCFC players. I don't know if this was a conscious effort based on film review, something they've been working on in practice, or something else, but it surprised me to see such a low number.

The other stat is the offside calls. Like last week, the Eleven were called offside seven times. I don't know if it was something different that NCFC was doing than other teams, but the Eleven clearly didn't learn anything from the film session to be able to limit the number of times they were called offside. I know they can do it. Braun had a perfect angled run in the 60th minute that allowed Zayed to give him a weighted ball through the defenders while also keeping Braun onside. Ultimately, Braun's shot was one of the ones I mentioned earlier that I'm sure he would like back, but it's proof that they know how to make the run to keep themselves onside if they would just do it more often.

Just after Braun missed the goal high in the video above, NCFC unloaded a series of shots at the Eleven that Busch stopped, then Vuko stopped, then Busch again stopped. The effort needs to be watched over and over again. We'll look past the fact that NCFC players had much more space available to them than desired, but the end result was that the Eleven kept the ball out of the goal. There are times when I've convinced myself that Busch will not be returning next year (as a player), but the guy clearly still has the ability to play this game at a high level. I haven't watched the other games from the weekend, but don't be surprised if he makes the Team of the Week again this week.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

There are a lot of guys who could get the Game Ball this week. Busch's 6 saves were definitely worth. Falvey/Keller/Franco/Vuko? All worthy. Ring. Definitely worthy. Smart/Speas. Yep. Zayed. Sure. Yet, I have to give it to Braun this time around. See all of the above reasons. He impacted the game. Think I'm wrong?

The Eleven have 10 days off to stay/get healthy, rest, and prepare for a July 4th visit to New York City. If they play the Cosmos like they've played NCFC the past two weeks, I might let my optimistic start to creep back in. For now, though, I'm still going to temper my reaction and hope that a two-game win streak isn't an anomaly.

*videos edited from NASL telecasts


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