Thursday, September 28, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Armada - 04.25

- Opponent: Jacksonville Armada
- Location: Jacksonville
- Attendance: 1,881
- Final Score: 0-0 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Ring, Torrado, Smart, Speas, Ubiparipovic, Zayed
- Substitutions: Junior 64' (Speas), Goldsmith 64' (Torrado), Henderson 85' (Ring)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Thompson
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Smart 37' (Yellow), Ring 69' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

At some point, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this isn't working. Watch the highlights below. Put together by the Indy Eleven, not the NASL, the Indy Eleven. They had to go all the way to the 73rd minute before they could find a single offensive highlight worth putting in the video and it was a result of Paulo Junior, Don Smart, and David Goldsmith. The New Guy, Mr. Indy, and The Kid.

Coach Hankinson employed what has become the team's now typical 4-2-3-1 lineup with the regular back four, Ring and Torrado holding the fort just ahead of them, and then Speas, Smart, and Ubiparipovic as the midfielders, with Zayed as the lone forward. Defend first, attack on the counter.

The attacking four had 3 shots, with only 1 of those on frame. All by Smart. Speas, Ubiparipovic, and Zayed all had goose eggs in the attack. Goldsmith had 2 shots on goal in half the time. Yes, it could be argued that the tactics changed when Goldsmith came in and that the game opened up significantly towards the end of the game, but for a team that desperately needs wins to give themselves any kind of chance to be one of the final four playing at the end of the year, they need more tooth to their offense beyond what we're seeing right now.

The Jacksonville commentators were very partisan in their call of the game, but I don't think they were wrong in stating that the Armada should have won the game. The Eleven are fortunate to have come away from the away game with a draw. I think the team has reached the point where the young guys start getting their shot. The playoffs are being further and further from being a possibility and since I think those guys could be around next year, they might as well start seeing some more minutes. Some may argue that there's still too much time left to throw in the towel, but when you get three shots on goal from your four attacking starters, what does it matter. Give Goldsmith, Thompson, and Ables a chance. Might as well throw Cardona and Lomeli into that group too. I love Jon Busch, and this team might not be in the position they're in if not for his superior goalkeeping, but this team isn't clicking right now and I, personally, don't see the difference between a draw on the road with a bunch of young guys or the performance we saw tonight out of veterans.

The Game Beckons Game Ball:

Cory Miller. Miller has come back from his injury with the same hard-nosed defending we all remember from last year. If you're coming into his space, you're going to know it. He's always on the edge of getting a card of one color or the other, but I guarantee that Banks, Taylor, and Gebhard are going to see Cory in their nightmares. How many last ditch efforts did Miller have to time perfectly and he got them all right?


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Indy Eleven roster talk

I've been a Cubs fan for nearly all of my life. As such, the phrase "there's always next year" has become ingrained into my personality when it comes to sports. Last year's Indy Eleven team (and the Cubs for that matter) made "next year" a much more enjoyable and less worrisome prospect. The Cubs look to be on their way back to the MLB playoffs, while the Indy Eleven look to be starting their off-season earlier than last year. I would love for the guys to prove me wrong in the remaining games available, but I haven't seen anything consistent this year to convince me post-season play is in their future. So with that as my backdrop, "there's always next year."

For a minute, let's assume that the Indy Eleven will be playing soccer next year. Let's look past the fact that the NASL, the league in which the Indy Eleven currently play, looks more like the Titanic after hitting the iceberg known as the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) than a viable long-term league. The ship may be going down, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the row boats don't work and that the Indy Eleven can't stay afloat.

Let's assume, too, that the Indy Eleven are playing in whatever Division 2 league falls out after we all hear from USSF about what they are going to do with USL. They too could be stripped of their provisional Division 2 status awarded to them in January and a couple dozen teams between the two leagues could fight to stay alive in some manner. I have the impression that Indy Eleven's owner, Ersal Ozdemir, prefers the business model of the NASL over USL and that he prefers the optics of being in a Division 2 league rather than a Division 3 league. However, I have no idea what to expect of him when it comes to staying in contention for #IndyMLS. I can't imagine he's making money yet with the Indy Eleven, but Peter Wilt told him when they started that he might be operating in the red for awhile, so maybe he's willing to continue taking the risk, in whatever league gives him the best chances to find a way into MLS.

So with those assumptions, what's the roster look like next year? Do guys bail out in fear of there not being a team or do some of them ride it out because they like us so much? I have a feeling some of that is going to depend on USSF's decision about USL and how much risk the guys are willing to accept for their careers. Let's do a quick rundown of the roster, as a reminder, listed by jersey number:
#1 Cardona (GK)
#3 Watson-Siriboe (D)
#4 Ring (M)
#6 Torrado (M)
#7 Smart (M)
#8 Henderson (M)
#9 Zayed (F)
#10 Ubiparipovic (M)
#12 Vukovic (D)
#13 Manning (D)
#14 Thompson (M)
#15 Keller (Swiss Army Knife)
#16 Miller (D)
#17 Braun (F)
#18 Busch (GK)
#19 Speas (M)
#20 Goldsmith (F)
#23 Franco (D)
#30 Lomeli GK)
#31 Junior (M)
#32 Falvey (D)
#33 Ables (M)

So 22 players. We know for sure that Torrado and Ubiparipovic are retiring at season's end. Torrado to go back to Mexico to work with the national team, Ubiparipovic to rest an aching body.

20 players.

I fully expect that Busch retires as well. There's something about his demeanor this year that makes me think he's trying to enjoy a final year as a player.

19 players.

I've been informed that there are three players who are on multi-year deals, extended through the 2018 season, "the rest will be free agents at the end of this year." At the end of last season, we know that Mares, Franco, Ring, Keller, and Lacroix were all free agents. Mares is in Miami, on his way to winning a Championship. Lacroix is at Orange County SC in the USL. So Franco, Ring, and Keller were all free agents who re-signed. Conveniently, those are the exact three players that I would have picked to be on contract through next year. I've been told that two players are already under contract for next year, though I haven't been told what two players. I assume it's two of those three.

Those are the 3 players I fully expect to be leaving and the three players I fully expect to be back. That leaves 16 players who could go either way, right? That depends on other rumors, but yes. So who wants to come back and who does the team want back?

Cardona's a tricky one for me. He's been here for three seasons, playing in 18 games, most of which came in the 2015 season when Kristin Nicht went off to play for Montreal. I think if he finally gets his chance to be the #1 goalkeeper, then he stays. If not, a young guy like him wants, no he needs, starter minutes to be able to improve. If Busch stays, don't be surprised if Cardona tries other pastures.

Thompson, Goldsmith, Lomeli, & Ables are all, basically, rookies. The last of which was added mid season, in essence, being a walk-on after training with the team. Like Cardona, all four of these guys could go either way depending on the salary requirements. They've all shown signs of being promising players who could be valuable additions to next year's team. I think all four players are back next year, not because Coach Hankinson sees them as starters, but because they are young, inexpensive, depth.

Watson-Siriboe under-performed all year. I don't expect him to be here next year.

Henderson hasn't had enough minutes to get a good impression of what he can really do because of his injuries. Guys with his minutes have historically not seen the next season.

Paulo Junior was brought on as a stop-gap to address injury concerns and provide a spark. Guys like that have also historically not seen the next season. Ask Jason Plumhoff and Brandon Poltronieri.

Based on the length of Manning's concussion issues, I personally hope that he retires as well. I'm a proponent of not letting your desire to play soccer ruin your health for later in life, particularly when most soccer careers are over by a person's mid-30s. I don't know much about what has been preventing him from playing, but anything that has kept him out for this long can't be good for your long-term health.

Which leaves us with the guys I believe Coach Hankinson thinks of as NASL starters: Smart, Zayed, Vuko, Miller, Braun, Speas, & Falvey. At best, I think Smart, Miller, and Braun return, but Braun's injury could limit him in the spring depending on how his rehab progresses. I honestly don't think Zayed, Vuko, Speas, and Falvey return next year. I can't pin-point any definitive information about why they don't return. I just don't think they are happy and Vuko's and Speas' play reflects their attitude right now.

That gives a returning roster of 11 players: Franco, Ring, Keller, Smart, Miller, & Braun as starters and possibly Thompson, Goldsmith, Lomeli, and Ables as depth. Cardona subject to Busch's decision. 11 returning players, 5 of which Coach Hankinson doesn't think are NASL-level starters.

Don't you just love Division 2 soccer's roster turnover?

There's always next next year?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Indy Eleven vs FC Edmonton - 04.24

- Opponent: FC Edmonton
- Location: Edmonton
- Attendance: 3,027
- Final Score: 2-0 L
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Ring, Ubiparipovic, Smart, Goldsmith, Junior, Zayed
- Substitutions: Thompson 45' (Goldsmith) Speas 61' (Ubiparipovic), Ables 81' (Junior)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Lomeli
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Falvey 69' (Yellow), Smart 80' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

I have no desire to re-watch this game with Edmonton's horrible stream.

I have no desire to count how many times the ball was just casually given away by the Indy Eleven players.
NASL/Opta Stats - Indy Eleven Unsuccessful Passes

I have no desire to count how many times the matador defense was employed (ole!)...or how many times that led to last ditch defending.
Photo: NASL/FC Edmonton
I have no desire to go back and figure out how many times a player took one extra touch that prevented them from getting a shot on goal.

Whatever optimism I had left about the team making the Championship disappeared today. With 8 games remaining (4 home, 4 away), I don't see how they get enough points to overtake the teams ahead of them. The Eleven have a -7 goal differential in the Fall Season and it's not just an issue of not scoring, but leaking goals too.

But what concerns me is shown in the photo to the right. Yes, that's a penalty kick by Corea. A converted penalty kick. The 5th such converted penalty kick on the season and one that was actually the correct call. What bothers me most is that the team has also had some penalty kicks saved by Busch, only to have the rebound put in the goal. What have they learned from all of the penalty kicks that were saved and then scored? Well, in the case of Vuko, it means stand flat-footed with your hands on your hips. Watch the highlights and you'll see that Falvey and Franco are only slightly better.

Today, I saw this tweet:
I would extend that to include that if you don't address the things you're not doing well when you're losing, the losing will continue.

Continuing to stand with your hands on your hips on a penalty kick is just one more small thing that frustrates and concerns me about this team as it hits the final stretch of games in the season. Maybe not mathematically out of it yet, but quickly finding themselves in desperate need for points.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

DePauw vs Franklin at Carroll Stadium

This past Wednesday, I was able to bug out of work early to be able to watch the DePauw Men's soccer team take on Franklin College at Carroll Stadium prior to the Indy Eleven vs North Carolina FC game that evening. With a 3:30 start time, attendance was a little light, but fully engaged. At least for the first 20 minutes, at which point the DePauw Tigers had put three goals on the board thanks to a brace from senior Taras Tataryn and a goal from fellow senior Peter White. Junior Justin Mitchell added a fourth goal in the 63rd minute before Franklin College's Luke Oliver put the visitors on the board with a penalty kick in the 79th minute.

The final statistics indicate that the Tigers outshot the Grizzlies 26 to 10, but the majority of Franklin's shots came in the second half, after the result of the game was well in hand for the Tigers. DePauw was completely dominant. While official stats aren't kept on time of possession, my best guess puts it at around 70/30 in the first half, maybe even more lopsided. The second half brought the numbers closer together as DePauw slightly took their foot off the gas, but still maintained the majority of possession. DePauw's players moved the ball well between each other and were able to put 11 of their 26 shots on frame forcing Franklin's goalkeepers Beldon and Byrd into 7 saves.

Not only was DePauw dominant in their performance, though not perfect as evidenced by the 79th minute penalty kick, but they did it while rotating players in and out. By my count, 31 different Tigers found their way onto the field, including 4 different goalkeepers. Despite the frequent changes, there wasn't a significant affect on their play. The team seamlessly integrated guys as they entered and exited and maintained their constant pressure on the Grizzlies. Some of that may be attributed to having superior talent than the Grizzlies who are struggling to find wins, but it's not easy to

You may be asking about how DePauw was able to play 31 players. Well, if you saw my interview with DePauw Head Coach Brad Hauter in May, DePauw started a reserve squad this year and Coach Hauter brought everybody. Talking briefly with him afterwards (he had to quickly change hats from coach to Indy Eleven color commentator) , he indicated that they don't normally travel with such an extensive roster, but given the unique experience of playing in Michael Carroll Stadium, he felt it was important to bring the house. Like any good coach, he still found issues with the way his team played, particularly the focus towards the end of the game when his team was up by four that contributed to the penalty kick.

One last thing to note. The DePauw men's team has an official full roster of 38 men. During the entirety of the match, the entire roster stood watching the game. Coach Hauter indicated to me that the coaches want the players to remain engaged in the game, but that it is not at the coaches direction that the players stand. A few season's ago, the seniors decided to take a more active role in the leadership of the team than their predecessors, and they instituted the standing requirement. It has remained a part of the team. It was a good example of how leadership with a soccer team doesn't just come from the coaching staff, but from the players too.

The team has had mixed results this season, but it was all working Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis.

Photos courtesy of Don Thompson:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Indy Eleven vs North Carolina FC - 04.23

- Opponent: North Carolina FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 7,798
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Ring, Torrado, Junior, Ubiparipovic, Speas, Zayed
- Substitutions: Goldsmith 65' (Torrado), Smart 81' (Speas)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Thompson, Lomeli
- Goals: Zayed 90'+1' (assist Franco)
- Bookings: Torrado 32' (Yellow) - 5th yellow card of the Fall Season
- Adage goals: None

A mid-week game with a chance of rain kept a good portion of the crowd away. Like most/all games in the history of the Eleven that occur mid-week, announced attendance wasn't anywhere close to actual attendance. Regardless, the crowd that did brave the potential weather issues, were engaged and boisterous and towards the end of the game, upset with the home squad. If you're looking for optimism in game recaps, this isn't the place for you today because this isn't going to be that evaluation of Wednesday's game.

The good news is that the team finally found the win column at home in the Fall Season. The team kept a clean sheet, keeping North Carolina FC from doing much of anything offensively, except for the occasional counterattack. Zayed, who's been knocking on the door a lot lately, saw one actually go into the goal, in second half stoppage time. The team's new signing got some playing time (and start). Nobody seemed to get injured.

Yet, so much of this game reminds of the dark days of the first two seasons. The team signed Paulo Junior late last week and all of his paperwork was finalized on Tuesday. So he's really only had a handful of practices with the team. While he played fairly well, there was clearly some missed connections that weren't there because there just hasn't been enough time to get to know his teammates. Due to the injury plague that has befallen this team this year, I fully expected him to see some minutes, if for no other reason than to allow Coach Hankinson a chance to see the extent of Paulo's match fitness. Yet, he was instantly inserted into the starting lineup. That gives the guys on the bench, healthy young guys like Goldsmith, Thompson, and Ables, a kick in the gut, further conveying to them that he doesn't trust them and doesn't believe they are NASL caliber starters. Yet, a guy who hasn't played in the league all year is better? All of this harkens back to when the team was struggling in 2014 and 2015 and guys were brought onto the team and instantly inserted into the starting lineup. Zach Steinberger comes to mind in Season Two, when he hadn't been with the team more than a day or two before being thrust into the starting lineup. Changes like this are concerning for a team's morale, chemistry, and screams of an Owner/Coach desperate for wins as they struggle to keep this team moving forward. Think of Bruce Arena bringing in certain guys for the national team...

Then there's the fact that the team had a man advantage for 50 minutes and it took a stoppage time goal to steal a win at home. FIFTY minutes of playing 11 v 10 and not being able to get a goal. NCFC were always going to be content to come to Indy and rattle off another draw on the road and give their Championship hopes some more breathing room. Once they went down a man, the proverbial bus wasn't exactly parked, but it wasn't moving very fast either. Most of the second half had all 10 guys behind the ball in their defensive half with a 4-4-1 arrangement. There were clear lines drawn at times across the field where NCFC were more than content to let the Eleven's defensive line kick it around the back. Indy kept possession and probed for shots, but then refused to take those shots when they developed. Some of their best chances came when somebody tried to take a shot from 20 yards out. Nearly every time they tried to take the ball further into NCFC's box, a swarm of defensive players was there to thwart the effort. The Eleven don't have a single guy on the roster than can take players on one-v-one to try and break down a parked bus mentality. Smart's close, but he didn't see action until the 81st minute, and his forte lately has been his ability to send in spectacular crosses. Yet, Zayed is the only target available for those crosses. There just isn't any team height with Braun's absence. Paulo Junior's 5'-7" frame isn't helping the cause.

As I left the game, my disappointment at how ineffective the team was with breaking down a man advantage far outweighed my joy that they actually stole the three points. As I walked out, I kept thinking about a rainy game in June 2015, when a Sommer led Eleven had a multiple man advantage and couldn't capitalize until the 8th minute of stoppage time on a blast from Kyle Hyland from nearly 30 yards out to salvage a draw. Peter Wilt shot me a look in the press box that silently said, "that was lucky." On the field, Coach Sommer laid into the effort of the guys telling them that if they didn't do a better job at their job, they would find somebody else to do it. Little did he know that he would be the one removed from his job. All of that came flooding back as I watched an 11-man Eleven squad struggle against a 10-man NCFC squad. It's difficult to consider that a coach with a 75% success rate in his time here might be shown the door, but something is drastically different this year and injuries can only be used as an excuse for so long. Letting go of an entire team is an option, but not a promising one. Which generally puts the coach on the hot seat.

Fifty minutes of ineffectively trying to score a goal when there should be an advantage doesn't help.

Some people will argue that a win is a win. I've referenced this on my site a few times now, but I think this win felt like a loss and that Gloria in White Men Can't Jump is onto something:
"Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs."
I thought that making the Championship was going to be a long-shot, but with the games remaining, I just don't see it being realistic any longer. I hope they can prove me wrong and use this win as a launching pad, but this was a post out of pessimism, not optimism.

The Game Beckons Game Ball:

Drew Schwier. Sometimes the game means a lot and sometimes it doesn't. The game and this team meant a lot to Drew and it's hard to understand why things happen to good people. I only met Drew once, way back in 2014 when we swapped some gameday posters, but he seemed like a good guy, and his presence was definitely felt in the BYB on Wednesday. I appreciate that the team understood the magnitude of his death and honored him before the game.