Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Armada - 04.16

- Opponent: Jacksonville Armada
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,735
- Final Score: 2-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Keller, Vukovic, Ring, Smart, Speas, Torrado, Braun, Zayed
- Substitutions: Henderson 63' (Torrado), Goldsmith 81' (Zayed), Palmer 88' (Smart)
- Unused: Cardona, Thompson, Ables, Watson-Siriboe
- Goals: Vukovic 48' (assist Ring), Henderson 68' (assist Zayed)
- Bookings: Zayed 59' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

After this week's 2-nil win at home against the Armada, the Eleven are an 86th minute Ledesma flop from finishing the Spring Season on a five game win streak, rather than just a five game undefeated streak. An undefeated streak that started in the game that followed a 4-1 loss, at home, to this same Armada team. To say that the team's results have taken a dramatic upswing in the final third of the Spring Season is a bit of an understatement. The team has come together despite the external questions of their performance and are finally getting, and remaining, healthy. Only Plumhoff and Miller were unavailable for selection due to health issues. Ubiparipovic wasn't around due to the fact he was getting married. So for the first time in five games, the Eleven had a new starting lineup that wasn't forced on them because of injury. Torrado was healthy again and Ubi was getting hitched.

NASL/Opta Stats - Indy Average Position
Whether by who's available or by who he trusts, Coach Hankinson has settled into a starting lineup, as well as a substitution pattern. The backline has solidified with Franco, Vukovic, Falvey, and as I've been saying, the second centerback spot next to Falvey is, and should be, Keller's until he proves incapable. Speas and Smart are going to be on the wings. Ring is going to be the defensive mid. Ubi (or Torrado) are going to either play in front of Ring or somewhat beside him. Braun and Zayed up top. Ubi (or Torrado) are going to play around 60 to 65 minutes and be replaced by Henderson. Zayed is going to get 80 minutes and be replaced by Goldsmith. Palmer will come on at some point late in the game for someone depending on how Coach is trying to close out the game and player's energy levels. Much like last year, the team has settled in and it's not a surprise at what they are going to do, but they're getting it done anyway.

After missing the previous six games, it was obvious that Torrado wasn't going to play the entire game, but he also looked rusty and not up to his normal performance. He only won a third of his tackles, a quarter of his duels, conceded 4 fouls and won zero, and only completed about 75% of his passes. Not Torrado standards, but it's good to see him healthy again as it gives the team options for lineups and matchups against other teams.

Zayed needs a goal in the worst way. For a guy who has historically averaged a goal every two games throughout his career, a goal every six games must feel like he can't get the ball in the goal at all. Last season, the only time Zayed went more than three games in a row without scoring was the stretch were Braun was injured. This season, Zayed went seven goalless games before scoring his second and is currently on a five game goalless stretch. He was credited with the assist on Henderson's 68th minute goal, but Zayed seems like he's unsure of himself right now. I can think of at least two times off the top of my head where Zayed of the past would have attempted a one-touch shot on goal, but chose rather to try and settle the ball for a better attempt only to have the defense close on him and prevent that attempt. So instead of getting a half chance on goal, it turned into no chance on goal. I don't know how he's looking in practice, but he just looks like he's indecisive on how to best strike the ball to be able to watch it go in the goal. A goal (or two) could fix that.

The good news for the Eleven is that despite Zayed's struggles right now, other guys are finding their own way to score goals. Vuko's goal in the 48th minute was a thing of beauty. From my seat in the standards, I was perfectly place to watch how much the ball curved from his shooting location into the goal. He resembled so many of his set piece attempts, but it happened in the run of play. A run of play that occurred because of a perfectly weighted, field switching cross from Ring. Surprisingly, that is Ring's first assist as a member of the Eleven. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that the team's recent string of success comes as Henderson, Vuko, Smart, & Speas have scored goals. Teams had been able to focus on Braun as the team's primary goalscorer. Now that other guys are finding success, this will only help everybody.

Speaking of Braun. There is a Justin Braun that plays in the NHL for the San Jose Sharks. NHL Justin would be proud of the physical stamina of NASL Braun. He is absolutely taking a beating by teams at this point. Every single touch of the ball is met with a physical challenge by opposing defenses. I'm not sure how he maintains his level of effort while taking a beating, particularly given that he has recently been dropping back further into the defense to get the ball.

Statistically, this doesn't look like a win from the Eleven, but they seemed to be the one in control of the game through the majority of the game. Jacksonville had some chances, but the defense or Busch always stepped up and made the play. Vuko hustling back in the 39th minute to thwart what looked like a sure goal when Banks made a well timed run to break the offside trap. Busch's stoppage time save in the 2nd half that kept Jacksonville off the board and maintained the clean sheet, again thwarting Banks' header from just outside the 6-yard box. It's these kinds of plays that have helped propel the Eleven to their current undefeated streak and what has pushed them into the 2nd tier of the league. As I've mentioned last year and this year, the league seems to separate into three distinct tiers of teams. The favorites, the underdogs, and a cluttered middle. Miami have started to create a top tier of 1 and the Eleven looked like they were going to reside in that bottom tier of teams waiting until next year, but their recent run of form have made them the only team to move between tiers. Only time, and a Fall Season, will show whether they can maintain their momentum and turn it into an appearance into the Championship.

The Game Beckons Game Ball:

I think a few guys could get the Game Beckons Game Ball, but I think Henderson deserves it for coming in an making an immediate impact.



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