Monday, October 30, 2017

Indy Eleven vs NCFC - 04.32

- Opponent: North Carolina FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,813
- Final Score: 2-2 D
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Vukovic, Torrado, Smart, Thompson, Speas, Goldsmith, Zayed
- Substitutions: Ubiparipovic 58' (Speas); Junior 75' (Thompson)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Lomeli, Ables
- Goals: Zayed 20' (assist Speas); Miller 65' (assist Vukovic)
- Bookings: Goldsmith 88' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: Two

Going into this game, the Indy Eleven had been eliminated from post-season play and North Carolina FC had already solidified their place in the post-season. All that remained to be decided was NCFC's seeding. Win or draw and they would be the 3rd seed and avoid a semi-final matchup with Miami FC, the first team in NASL 2.0 to ever win the double, having won both the Spring Season and the Fall Season by clinching on Saturday night against Edmonton FC. San Francisco, the 2nd seed in the Championship, has looked strong lately, going 7W-7D-2L in the Fall Season, but given their preference, nobody is eager to face Miami.

With a mindset of get points, but definitely don't lose, NCFC came out of the gates and scored in the 4th minute on a goal by Schuler. Schuler was reasonably well defended by Miller, who was a late addition to the starting lineup due to a pre-game injury to Keller. However, Schuler put his shot under Miller's legs and Busch's outstretched arms into the side netting. Exactly how the road team looking to avoid a matchup with Miami needed to start. Put the struggling Indy Eleven team down and watch the fight drain out of them.
NASL/Opta Stats Goal Replay

However, the starting lineup for the Indy Eleven included David Goldsmith and Tanner Thompson, and their youthful exuberance, and potentially their desire to one last time show their abilities to try and make a roster next year (here or elsewhere) put themselves into dangerous attacking positions. Coupled with a final game from Torrado and an inspired effort by Franco and the Eleven gave themselves a number of chances to even the score, which they did in the 20th minute. Interestingly to me was that the play that scored the goal for the Eleven was basically duplicated seconds beforehand.

NASL telecast screen capture - Goldsmith assist to the assist
For the first attempt, Torrado received the ball at 18:50 in the first half, near the center circle, dribbled a couple paces and then sent a ball to Goldsmith. Goldy took a couple dribbles and then sent a gorgeous ball through the backline that Speas was able to run onto, but his cross was blocked by Moses. A poor clearance by Moses to Franco and Torrado found himself with the ball again at the 19:16 mark. One dribble and he put the ball back to Goldsmith in nearly the same location. With his head on a swivel and surrounded by NCFC players, Goldsmith again found Speas out wide, who two-touched his cross to the six-yard box where Zayed slammed it home. It was pretty soccer, preceded by pretty soccer.

This team, even with its limited budget compared to the New York and Miamis of the world, has ability and it reared its beautiful head periodically at times this year. The team underachieved all season, but have found a good stretch of play in the final game of the year in a game that meant nothing to them except for pride. The Eleven even found a 2nd goal in the 65th minute by Cory Miller, surprisingly not with his head. After Thompson was taken down not far from the 18-yard line, Vukovic put a ball over everybody that Miller ran onto and powered past Robinson, who had come into the game in the 32nd minute for an injured Sylvestre.

Yet, like much of this season, for as much good play that was displayed by the Eleven, it all ended with a thud in the 89th minute. Moments away from being able to finish the season on a positive note, the Eleven gave up a set-piece goal and gave NCFC the draw and the 3rd seed.

That's just the way this season went. The balls and plays that went their way in 2016 were nowhere to be found this season, injuries were rampant, and moments of brilliance were undone by unnecessary mistakes. With so many questions standing before them this off-season, from most of the players not being under contract, a coach who's not under contract, questions about the status of the league, no further progress of a more appropriate stadium, to General Manager duties being performed by Coach Hankinson and President Belskus (who is not a "soccer guy"), every single player sat down at a table in the West End and signed autographs for fans after the game. On a night where the end of the game temperatures were in the 30s and the guys had just lost a win in the closing minutes, they stayed and signed. That speaks volumes to me of their character.

Coach indicated afterwards that there are a lot of decisions to be made and they all start with a domino of the league's lawsuit. Once that domino falls, decisions about his future will be made. Decisions about player's futures will be made. In back-to-back games, he has indicated that much like when he first arrived, the roster is going to get an overhaul. Many of the guys we watched this year will not be back next year. Those that will return will be greeted by a strong, dedicated fan base, already itching to get back to cheering for their club.

In the words of sports fans for ages, "there's always next year."

The Game Beckons Game Ball:

Been a bit since I've given this out, but I think there was a player actually deserving this week. David Goldsmith. He may be listed as a forward, but he has great playmaking abilities and he showed them off from time-to-time this year, but particularly during this game. Dylan Mares made a jump from his first year to his second year and I'm willing to bet that Goldsmith does the same next year. Maybe that will be with Indy, maybe that will be with an opponent, but I saw enough out of him this year to make me think he's going to be a good player sooner rather than later.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Puerto Rico FC - 04.31

- Opponent: Puerto Rico FC
- Location: Indianapolis (officially an "Away" match)
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Cardona, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Keller, Ring, Smart, Junior, Speas, Vukovic, Zayed
- Substitutions: Goldsmith 46' (Junior); Ubiparipovic 46' (Miller); Thompson 60' (Smart)
- Unused: Busch, Watson-Siriboe, Lomeli, Ables
- Goals: Goldsmith 82' (assist Thompson)
- Bookings: Miller 30' (Yellow); Ubiparipovic 65' (Yellow); Keller 70' (Yellow); Falvey 86' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: Two

Much like the team, I've run out of ideas. The injury bug was a thing this year, but the team is mostly healthy, with the obvious exception of Braun. Yet, there were only periodic moments from this team today where they looked to be on the same page and played cohesively. Puerto Rico FC got on the board early in the 5th minute on a goal by Rivera after a botched clearance by Ring and that helped them ride their way to a victory, something they haven't done since mid-August. If you weren't in attendance, the PRFC players celebrated at the end of the game like they have been living out of their suitcases and had lost 7 of their last 8 games, which is exactly where they find themselves and the run-of-form they've had recently. A goal in the 43rd minute by Welshman, again a result of a poor clearance, and the PRFC had their game winner, enough to withstand a late push by the Eleven and an 82nd minute goal by Goldsmith.

On a day where Don Smart reached 100 official appearances for the Indy Eleven, one has to wonder how many of the current team will be around next year. Listening to Coach Hankinson and the players talk, nobody knows how to turn around this year's results with the current roster. Guys aren't playing to their potential, aren't hustling to the same extent as last year, and look completely disjointed. At one point in today's game, a ball was played over the top to Ubiparipovic to run onto. The team had no answer for how to break down PRFC's defense, but balls over the top to Ubi, not one of the team's faster players, seems like a last ditch effort. When passes and plays didn't progress as expected, players dropped their head or raised their arms. Everybody looks exasperated and confused as to why things aren't working. One of the last things said to me as I was leaving the stadium was that it was a dark place and it had nothing to do with the lighting. Coach, players, staff, and fans walked out with a concrete feeling that the highs of last year were fleeting and have been replaced by the lows that were the norm in the first two years.

Ever wonder what I write during the game to remind myself of what to write later in these posts? You probably don't, but most of what I write down never makes it into a post. However, I'm tired of trying to find new ways to describe these games, just like the guys seem tired of finding new ways to let games slip away from them. So here goes, in roughly chronological order...

The BYB had some orange smoke during pregame in support of Puerto Rico, which I tweeted about and received the normal likes/retweets and the required "looks cool, but the BYB is weak" response. Which I can no longer find, for some reason... Before I move on from this though, the comment was from an Armada fan. A squad that looks like they have a sell-out for tomorrow's game against the Cosmos, but had an official attendance of 780 people in a mid-week game against the same PRFC. Why can't people just appreciate a good gesture without throwing stones in glass houses?

Falvey got his GK involved early (1st min) with a nervy pass back to Cardona.

Missed clearance by Ring 5th minute caused goal. Nothing Cardona could do.

Cardona making Franco work early. Strong throw and pass.

20th minute - Vuko moved to LB, Keller moved to holding mid.


Long run by Franco in 45th minute wasted by Zayed.

Took all the way to 56th minute for Zayed to get called offside. Moral victory?

70th minute - moments of good soccer. Just few and far between.

BYB has some unique chants this game.

  1. Theme from M.A.S.H. played during a PRFC injury time in 28th minute.
  2. "Buy her a beer!" after BYB member was hit in the face/beer by a shot.
  3. "Leave her alone!" after a second shot went in her direction just a few moments after she was hit.
79th minute - long balls for Ubi to chase is not a good strategy.

82nd minute - Goldsmith goal created by Thompson taking on defender and going to goal. 

84th minute - Goldsmith off the woodwork.

So that's it. That's what a blog writer, or at least this blog writer, jots down while trying to enjoy a soccer game. Seems like it would detract from the enjoyment of the game a bit, doesn't it? 

At times...


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Business of Soccer

I originally set out with this site to write about soccer. All soccer. National Teams. MLS teams. NASL teams. USL teams. NWSL teams.College teams. However, it has taken a much more Indy Eleven-centric turn to it, mostly because I only have so many hours in the day and this is nowhere close to being the thing where I need to put my main time and focus. Yet if you're a fan of soccer in America, this past week has been filled with, seemingly, a lot more lows than highs and so I thought I would write down some of my thoughts.

 A week ago, the United States Men's National Team went down to Trinidad and Tobago and needed to get a win to advance to next year's World Cup, but would have likely moved on with a draw. No game is a given and the USMNT isn't exactly a top 10 world team (sitting at 28 at the time of the game), but there's no reason they couldn't get a positive result against the 99th ranked team in the world, playing some of their young guys with the team having already been eliminated from the World Cup. My thoughts on the game were summarized perfectly by Landon Donovan in an interview on the Dan Patrick Show:
"The most disturbing part for me was the lack of urgency displayed," Donovan said. "We all know sports anything can happen, you can lose games, that's all part of it, but the lack of urgency to really understand what was at stake was really disheartening for me, and, candidly, it was really hard to watch."
Unfortunately for me, that's a similar reaction I've had to the Indy Eleven this year. What I saw from the USMNT hit too close to home. The team is full of guys with a significant number of caps, including a starting XI with an average of 56.6 caps. Those are guys that know, or should know, what was at stake and how to approach a game of that magnitude. Not qualifying because of some of the other results in the HEX can be understood, but not qualifying because you don't get a positive result against Trinidad and Tobago is inexcusable.

Which leads us to Bruce Arena. Arena was brought on to get the team qualified for the World Cup after the U.S. lost Mexico in Colombus (we'll get to that topic in a minute) and then Costa Rica by a combined 6-1 score. He didn't get it done and I'm only moderately surprised he didn't stay on as head coach through the year until a permanent replacement was found. Let's get something straight though. This failure should put a tiny chink in his legacy, but Bruce Arena is still a legend in the United States. His teams have won 5 MLS Cups, 3 Supporter's Shields, an Open Cup, and he was MLS Coach of the Year three times. His teams, MLS & USMNT, achieved positive results 71% of the time. For me, the loss to T&T isn't on Arena. It's on the guys who didn't play with any urgency when they needed it most.

As long as I'm talking about U.S. Soccer, how many more lawsuits can it handle? The U.S. Women's National Team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation to be able to get equitable pay. That should never have had to happen. One team has won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. Regardless of what you think about men's versus women's soccer and how much more advanced the U.S. is in regards to women's soccer compared to other countries, success should be rewarded and the discrepancy in pay and benefits was embarrassing. It shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to resolve that issue.

Now we have the North American Soccer League suing for, well, I'm still a little unsure on that one. Monopoly practices I guess. Personally, I think the lawsuit is a Hail Mary from the NASL to try and save a failing league. To be honest, I appreciate the business model of the NASL over the MLS/USL, but at some point, you have to realize that it's not a successful business. Teams come and go routinely and the stability of the league is continually in question. At some point, regardless of how much fans love their clubs, a failed business venture is a failed business venture. That doesn't mean, however, that some of the teams in the league are failures. Though, based on attendance numbers, even some of the "successful" teams can't possibly be profitable businesses. All of that turmoil has led the league to its current place in the U.S. soccer landscape; a hot mess. A hot mess that I don't expect to be part of the U.S. soccer landscape next year. Though that's just based on my gut feeling and no inside knowledge of anything.

That's not to say that U.S. soccer's top-tier league hasn't had its own issues this past week. Today's announcement from the owner of the Columbus Crew, in essence, said that without a new stadium the team would likely be relocated to Austin, Texas, a city with which he has been in discussion. U.S. soccer fans, naturally, have been in a tizzy all day about this and in a general uproar against Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt. Soccer fans have always felt like they play second or third fiddle to the other major sports in the country; NFL, MLB, & NBA. MLS can't compete with the attendance nor salaries of those leagues. The USMNT has averaged in the low- to mid-30,000 attendance since 2007 and the USWNT has only broken the 20,000 mark twice since 1994 (both World Cup winning years). The soccer-specific stadiums around the country are routinely sized for the 20,000 to 25,000 range. Most Division 1 university football stadiums are twice that size. The Indy Eleven have averaged 8,000 people in a mess of a stadium in a mess of a league based only on the fervor of its fanbase, but I'm convinced that better stadium amenities could raise the attendance level. Regardless of the fact that Mapfre Stadium was the first soccer-specific stadium in the country, the success of the national teams in the stadium through the years, and it's general place in the history of soccer in this country, it's still just an aging stadium that can't compete with the other soccer stadiums throughout the country and Precourt knows this. Precourt may or may not be all the things that people have called him today, but he's also a businessman, the Columbus Crew is a business, and his tactic is not unprecedented.

This type of strong-arm tactics aren't going to help U.S. soccer fan's inferior complex and general attitude of not being respected. I say, welcome to the big leagues. The only way that an owner can make this kind of threat is if an owner thinks there's a chance. I know others will, and probably have, argued that Precourt is moving the team regardless. That may be true, but if he did, he would join a long line of major professional teams that have relocated (below is just a small sample).

  • The Cubs recently played the Washington Nationals in Major League Baseball's National League Divisional Series. The Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos until 2005. 
  • In my lifetime, in the National Basketball Association, the Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego and became the San Diego Clippers, which you now know as the Los Angeles Clippers. The Vancouver Grizzles are now the Memphis Grizzles. The Seattle Supersonics are now Oklahoma Thunder. 
  • The National Football League is full of teams that used to be somewhere else. The Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946, then moved to St. Louis in 1995, and are now back in Los Angeles. The Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982, then back to Oakland in 1995, and are now headed to Las Vegas. The Baltimore Colts became the Indianapolis Colts in the dead of night.
  • In the National Hockey League, the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993. What you know as the Colorado Avalanche used to be Quebec Nordiques prior to 1995 and the Phoenix Coyotes used to be the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Pro soccer isn't immune either. The Houston Dynamo? Used to be the San Jose Earthquakes. This year's National Women's Soccer League's North Carolina Courage were known as the Western New York Flash as recently as last year.
If there's one thing I've learned writing about soccer in America, it's that there is a very distinct difference between the love of the sport and the business of the sport. At its core, professional soccer, like other professional sports, is a business with hundreds of thousands of people employed directly or indirectly by it. However, there are 22 MLS teams, 30 USL teams, 8 NASL teams, and 10 NWSL teams with owners that desire to make a profit from their business and have the ultimate say in what they do with their teams. 

Is that always in the best interest of the fans? No. 

Is that always in the best interest of growing the sport in the country? No.

Is that their prerogative? Yes.

That's the business of soccer.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Miami FC - 04.30

- Opponent: Miami FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,925
- Final Score: 3-0 L
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Miller, Keller, Torrado, Henderson, Junior, Speas, Vukovic, Zayed
- Substitutions: Goldsmith 53' (Junior); Ubiparipovic 63' (Henderson); Thompson 67' (Speas)
- Unused: Cardona, Watson-Siriboe, Lomeli, Ables
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Torrado 41' (Yellow - 8th of the Fall Season - will miss next game due to card accumulation for the second time this Fall Season)
- Adage goals: Two

Over the years in my different blog iterations, I've made reference to a phrase, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics." If somebody told you that a team had a 23 to 9 shot advantage (6 to 3 on target, respectively), had a nearly 60/40 advantage in duels won & aerials won, had a 5 to 2 corner advantage, had an 18 to 6 cross advantage, required only 4 clearances to 30 for the other team, and that the first team's goalkeeper wasn't credited with a single save while the second team's goalkeeper had 6 saves, you would likely assume that the first team was the winning team. In this case, you would be completely wrong. Statistically, the Eleven dominated nearly every category except for possession and most importantly, the scoreboard.

Miami was credited with 3 shots on goal and all three went for goals. All coming in the first half. Indy started the game pressing Miami's backline, knowing that it needed to get ahead of Miami, but it was Miami that struck first, thereby forcing Indy to chase the game. The second half substitutions for the Eleven, in essence, created a 3 back lineup to provide more offensive going forward trying to find a goal to give them some kind of hope of getting back into the game. This change is what precipitated the stats above, but even under that "pressure," Miami always looked like the better team during this game. Miami didn't put nearly the same pressure on Indy in the second half as they did in the first, otherwise this could have been a 6 - 0 scoreline. It's nice to watch beautiful one- and two-touch soccer, with movement that forces the team to chase shadows. Unfortunately for Indy Eleven fans, that team was the opposition and not their home squad, who continued to have poor communication (see a sequence of one of those times in the photos below) and unforced errors.

NASL/Opta Stats - Passing setup for Mares goal
The Eleven needed a win today to keep any glimmer of hope of making the playoffs, but by halftime, the possibility of getting extra games this Fall Season were extinguished. Miami's Stefano Pinho had a brace, scoring in the 4th and 34th minutes, and former Indy Eleven player Dylan Mares capped the scoring a few minutes later in the 38th minute. Miami FC held a 61.5% to 38.5% possession advantage because they were content, and able, to pass the ball around, looking for their opportunities to go forward. How they didn't have more shots is a mystery to me.

How the Eleven generated as many as they did is also a mystery to me. At one point in the game, I wrote down in my notes (which has been said before here and elsewhere), "you don't score 100% of the shots you don't take." One of the Eleven's major faults this year has been a slow trigger on taking shots. What should be a one touch shot ends up being two and defended away. What should be two touches, ends up being five and defended away. With Braun out, this team lacks his motor and hold-up play, and nobody on the roster seems to be able to generate their own shots. The first 20 minutes or so of the game, Paulo Junior and Torrado did the best at trying to generate movement going forward, but were not able to sustain that for 90 minutes.

Many times during games, I write something in my notes that turns out to not be accurate once I've looked at the stats or re-watched the game. That was not the case today. As I watched, it looked like both teams had a very compact grouping around the center of the field, with only about 40 yards separating both defensive lines. Looking at the average position graph from NASL/Opta Stats, my assessment was accurate. My observation occurred in the second half when Miami had, in essence, parked the bus and were trying to prevent the balls over the top by Indy and Indy was trying to push forward to get something positive on offense.

With the loss, the Indy Eleven are officially, mathematically, eliminated from post-season play. As poor as the results have been lately, I'm not sure how they will get motivated to play the final two games, other than to not finish last. I've touched on it recently, but it's officially time for #Minutes4Lomeli as he is the only player on the roster to not see time this year. Even if it's just a half worth of action at some point. Other than pride and future roster spots (likely on other teams for many/most of these guys), there's no reason not to give him a chance at playing.

This has been a difficult season for the Eleven and their fans and there's a level of gratitude for it all to be officially over now that the math can't work in their favor any longer. With today's result, the fans can stop being concerned with this year's results and can focus on whether there will be a team at all for next year.

Wait, that's not much better...

Photos (courtesy of Don Thompson Photography)


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Indy Eleven vs Deltas - 04.29

- Opponent: San Francisco Deltas
- Location: San Francisco
- Attendance: 1,542
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Busch, Franco, Falvey, Watson-Siriboe, Miller, Ring, Henderson, Junior, Thompson, Vukovic, Goldsmith
- Substitutions: Zayed 61' (Thompson); Ubiparipovic 69' (Ring); Torrado 80' (Henderson)
- Unused: Cardona, Keller, Ables
- Goals: Henderson 7' (assist Junior)
- Bookings: Ring 35' (Yellow - 5th of the Fall Season); Henderson 36' (Yellow); Thompson 42' (Yellow); Watson-Siriboe 90'+1' (Yellow); Miller 90'+4' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

A late night game (at least for those in the eastern timezone) and another loss for the Indy Eleven, so I'm going to keep this basic. Here are the key elements as I see them:

NASL pregame formation
Coach Hankinson broke out a lineup that had so many "defenders" that the NASL thought he employed a 5-3-2 at the start of the game. It was later revised to a more accurate 4-2-3-1, but it certainly had the league confused. The team has played a lot of games (5) in not a lot of days (14) with another one in three days so I understand the roster rotation, but it looked odd to see it listed that way.

The Eleven got on the board early with a 7th minute golazo from Henderson. They promptly gave up an own goal on a San Francisco corner kick in the 12th minute to knot the game at 1 - 1. It would stay that way until the 81st minute, when second half substitute Dagoberto put in his own golazo to give the Deltas the win. The Eleven held a nearly 60/40 possession advantage, but were out shot 16 to 5.

The Eleven and the Deltas played a very physical game. Though only one team saw the bulk of the yellow cards, and that was the Eleven. The Eleven saw more yellow than Big Bird, with five different guys getting booked by center ref Baboucarr Jallow. Ring and Henderson received their cards a minute apart from each other in the first half, with Thompson adding a third yellow a few minutes later. KWS and Miller joined the card game in stoppage time of the second half. Ring's yellow card gives him 5 for the Fall Season, meaning he will be missing the Miami game due to card accumulation.

NASL/Opta Distribution Stats for Junior
Paulo Junior played a strong game. In fact, at times, he seemed like the only offense in the first half.

Don Smart didn't play and didn't even travel. That means that assuming he isn't injured, if he plays on Saturday against Miami, he will play his 100th officially recognized game* as an Indy Eleven player in front of the home fans.

The Eleven lost. With three matches remaining, they can achieve a maximum of 9 points, giving them a total of 41 for the combined table. Miami, San Francisco, and North Carolina have already obtained more points than that. Which means that the Eleven can finish no better than fourth place. Currently, New York and Jacksonville sit at 37 points. A win and a draw, at a minimum, by either of those teams would put all three of them on equal terms, but the goal differential tiebreaker does not go the Eleven's way. Both of those teams play this weekend and Wednesday next week. Theoretically, by this time next week, the Eleven could be officially out of the playoffs. Though a loss on Saturday to Miami and a draw by either of those teams, and the Eleven will be out as soon as this weekend. Honestly, that's what I expect, given that Miami just had a rare loss this past weekend and will be looking to make amends for that loss with 7 days to prepare while the Eleven will have two. It could get ugly.

*Unbeknownst to me, "friendly" matches are not included in the team's official count.