Monday, August 28, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Armada - 04.21

- Opponent: Jacksonville Armada
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,862
- Final Score: 3-2 L
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Watson-Siriboe, Keller, Ring, Torrado, Thompson, Speas, Goldsmith, Zayed
- Substitutions: Braun 58' (Watson-Siriboe), Ubiparipovic 58' (Torrado), Ables 67' (Zayed)
- Unused: Cardona, Miller, Vukovic
- Goals: Speas 66' (assist Braun), Goldsmith 90'+2' (assist Speas)
- Bookings: Keller 35' (Yellow), Watson-Siriboe 38' (Yellow), Braun 61' (Yellow), Speas 83' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

Last week, I talked about expectations. While it's unfair to judge a current team by what it has done in the past, that's the nature of sports. Winning teams are expected to continue winning. Losing teams are expected to periodically find winning results, but are generally expected to lose. You expect Real Madrid and Barcelona to be at the top of La Liga. You expect Manchester United and Chelsea to be at the top of the English Premier League. You expect the L.A. Galaxy to be at the top of MLS. You expect the New York Cosmos to be at the top of NASL. When you have a season like the Indy Eleven had last year, and they return the core players from that team, you expect that they will be in the discussion for this year's playoff and Championship races. When they don't lose a single game at the Mike last year, you expect similar results the next year.

However, it may officially be time for "lowered expectations." In ten home games this year, the Eleven have a 3W - 3D - 4L record and are sliding down the combined table. It may feel like a bit early to table watch, but the loss this week to Jacksonville pushed the Eleven further out of one of the playoff spots. It's starting to look like Miami is going to win the "double," winning both the Spring and Fall Seasons, so that leaves the other three playoff spots based on the Combined table. A playoff spot is looking less and less likely for the Eleven due to the continued injury bug this team has found this year. Can we even call it a "bug" at this point? The latest slew includes an oblique injury to Don Smart, a late scratch of Vukovic, an injury to Zayed that was going to limit his minutes during this game, and a return and subsequent departure of Braun. That's all on top of the ongoing concussion issues with Manning and Henderson's injury.

Braun's injury in the 69th minute, and departure in the 74th minute, left the Eleven to play a man down for the next 20 minutes (including stoppage time). A 20 minutes that saw something from the Eleven that hadn't been evident in the preceding 70 minutes. Urgency.

Jacksonville out-hustled and out-muscled the Eleven for vast stretches of the game and it led to a 3-nil lead before the Eleven found the back of the net in the 66th minute on a perfectly placed ball from Braun that Speas slotted home. A minute later, Adrian Ables got his first minutes for the team as Coach Hankinson decided to give the rookie a chance at being a spark off the bench. Two minutes later, Braun goes down, potentially for the rest of the year. As of this writing, x-rays came back negative on his ankle, and an MRI on Monday will shed more light on the severity of Braun's injury. If serious, and if Zayed's minutes need to be further managed, Eleven fans may find out how the partnership of Goldsmith and Ables works.

Braun has continually been the engine driving the offense of this team and his injury, a 3-1 deficit, and a man deficit seemed to galvanize the offense, even in his absense. Or at a minimum, Braun's substitution for Kwame Watson-Siriboe, indicated that Coach Hankinson was telling his team that they may lose 6-1, but they were going to put their foot on the gas offensively. The team came out of halftime, down by two, and started playing more direct. To the left is the distribution for the Eleven in the first 15 minutes after halftime and what it shows is that the team started trying to bypass the midfield. The data for the next two 15 minute spans intensifies that direct style of play even further. The official stats indicate only 15.5% long passes, but there seemed to be an effort to try and get the ball into scoring positions without having to possess it much. That seemed to be because every time an Eleven player touched the ball, they were immediately pressed by the Jacksonville players. At the end of my write-up for the Cosmos game I stated:

The Eleven head home on Saturday to play Jacksonville, who, at the moment, are desperate for a win in the Fall Season as they are the only team behind the Eleven. Sitting in last place. Will that desperation be stronger than the Eleven's home field advantage. At this point, who knows what to expect?
The answer to that question was that Jacksonville's desperation was stronger than the home field advantage. Jacksonville came out hungrier and the Eleven never seemed to match their intensity until late in the game when they were throwing everything forward. Braun's substitute for KWS pushed the lineup to a three back with Ring providing protection and more offensive power. All it took was a seemingly insurmountable lead and fewer players before a bunch of wily veterans and rookies tried to do the impossible.

Coach has said that there are only about 11 or 12 guys on the team that are true "starters" in this league. They currently have a 21 man roster so let's start from the start.

  1. Smart - Starter (injured)
  2. Ring - Starter 
  3. Miller - Recovering from injury
  4. Franco - Starter
  5. Cardona - Backup
  6. Keller - Pressed into starter, but was not slated to be there
  7. Ubiparipovic - Starter
  8. Zayed - Starter (nursing an injury)
  9. Falvey - Starter
  10. Braun - Starter (injured...maybe for season)
  11. Vukovic - Starter (injured)
  12. Busch - Starter
  13. Torrado - Starter
  14. Speas - Starter
  15. KWS - I believe coach feels KWS is starter caliber, but I disagree...
  16. Henderson - Backup (injured)
  17. Manning - Concussion issues, but probably not a starter
  18. Lomeli - Rookie
  19. Thompson - Rookie
  20. Goldsmith - Rookie
  21. Ables - Rookie

So that gets us to a starting lineup that, at least at this point in all of their careers, are not starter level players. There are talented players and we saw some of that with some fancy footwork along the sideline by Thompson to get himself some space for a cross, some early game quick trigger shots on goal by Goldsmith, and Ables' pace that helped stretch the Jacksonville defense late. Yet, we find ourselves watching a team that can't keep a consistent lineup, playing guys that were never intended to be this year's starters, and running out of time to get positive results. Results that were a given at home last year, but have fallen into an unknown this year. While they haven't all be home games, the team has given up 3 goals in each of the last 4 games, for a -5 goal differential. Moving forward, the team potentially has their engine missing in Braun, Zayed nursing an injury, and a bunch of rookies to try and get the team on the board while the defense continues to leak goals.

Consider me concerned.

The Game Beckons Game Ball:

Hard to pick one for this game so I'm going to give it to the new kid, Adrian Ables. As a DePauw alum, I'm glad to see one of my fellow alums find the field as a pro. He found his way onto the roster, much like a walk-on in college. He wanted to practice and be around pros and it eventually worked its way into a contract. His appearance against Jacksonville, and his receiving of the Game Ball is more about me rewarding his persistence and hard work. Congrats Adrian!



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