Friday, November 16, 2018

Indy Eleven 2018 Recap & 2019 Off-Season Outlook

With the exception of last year when it looked like the Eleven may have played their last game and I was tired of writing, I have provided a recap of the preceding season and an outlook of what I expect in the off-season leading to next year. Now that the USL Championship season is complete (congrats Louisville City FC on their 1-nil victory against Didier Drogba and the Phoenix Rising) and I've had a bit of time off to collect my thoughts, I thought it was a good time to sit down and see what comes from my brain to my fingertips to the screen. Let's start with a look back at 2018.


If you were looking for something different with the team, 2018 was the year for you. After waiting and waiting during the off-season, the idea of not watching the Eleven play this year was looking to be a more realistic prospect. Given the option of potentially having to lose a season of play, which could have meant the death of the team, owner Ersal Ozdemir made the decision to move the team from the NASL (who are currently still stuck in legal proceedings) to the USL. Once that decision was made, a rapid succession of announcements were made regarding the future of the team and its 2018 composition. The team announced the decision on January 10th. Within a week, the team announced the hiring of Martin Rennie as the head coach. Within a week of that, Justin Braun was announced as the first player to make up the 2018 roster, with near daily announcements of additional players. Less than two weeks after announcing Coach Rennie, the team announced that they would be playing their home games in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Eleven played 5 preseason games before starting the season on the road against the Richmond Kickers. As much as I tired of the use of the excuse towards the middle and end of the season, and as much as I believe some of it was self-inflicted, that really is a lot of activity in a short amount of time by the team.

With all of the changes and limited preparation time, the Eleven won 4 of their first 7 games. Unfortunately, the team lost 4 of their last 7 games to conclude the season on a disheartening note. The Eleven finished the season with a 13W-11L-10D record, but struggled to get positive results against the top teams in the conference, achieving just a 2W-6L-4D record against the teams that finished in the top 4 spots of the Eastern Conference. I've said it before on this site, but the team was good but not great this year. They generally beat the teams that they should have beaten, but struggled to get results against the elite teams in the league, including an 0-3 record against FC Cincinnati.

The Eleven finished the season ranked 7th in the table. The Eleven finished the season ranked 8th in goals scored. The Eleven finished the season ranked 8th in goals allowed. Of the 8 playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, Indy was the only team that finished the season with a single digit Goal Differential. The successful teams in the conference scored more goals than their opponents (yes, I know that sounds obvious, but Ottawa toyed with being a playoff team until late in the season and they ended up with a negative double digit goal differential so it can, somehow, be done the other way). Coach Rennie is a defensive minded tactician, but has said that they needed to find ways to create more chances in the offensive third and be more successful in the chances that they did get in that portion of the field. Given some of the offensive talent on the roster, it makes me wonder what Rennie will do with the roster next year to remain as defensive-minded as he seems to be, while also providing better finishing. It's not like McInerney, Saad, and Starikov aren't capable of scoring goals.

So what do I see for the team in the offseason?

Looking to 2019


2019 will, once again, be a longer legislative budgetary session that happens every two years. As a result, the team will likely make another push to get some public financing help in funding a new stadium for the team. As I've repeatedly stated for some time now, I believe this effort will not return any fruit unless Mr. Ozdemir (and maybe other investors) lays down at least half of whatever is the final dollar amount for the stadium. From my conversations with team personnel, the Eleven will again play at Lucas Oil Stadium "for the foreseeable future." I believe this was part of a two-year agreement, but that may have been revised. It is hoped that the schedule will be more favorable, with significantly fewer Wednesday night games. However, for its advantages over Carroll Stadium, I don't believe that Lucas Oil Stadium is a viable long-term solution for the team and some kind of soccer specific stadium is going to need to be determined. Particularly if the team is going to continue to have the roof open during a heat wave, creating sweltering player and viewer experiences.

St. Mirren Stadium in Scotland. The USWNT recently played here.
Could a modified version of this be sufficient for Indy Eleven,
\with the ability to expand later as needed?
While the attendance figures increased over last year, the eye-ball test as a spectator makes you question those numbers, particularly during the string of Wednesday night games. Whether the values are inflated or not, the optics of 10,000 fans in a place that seats nearly 70,000 was not good. After the +17,000 record setting attendance of the first home game of the season against FC Cincinnati, you would have been hard-pressed to think that the team needs a stadium that can sit 20,000 fans. A stadium of 15,000 might even be optimistic. Yet, the team and, more specifically, owner Ersal Ozdemir, continue to use a MLS carrot to rationalize a need for a larger stadium. If the team wants their own stadium, I continue to think that they would be better served to think smaller with the ability to expand later. I've seen a lot of stadiums and renderings of new stadiums that are much more subdued than the one that was presented to fans in the Stadium for Indiana push and I think the team should consider that route rather than the brick wall they are running up against right now.

In Belskus' exit interview with Rakestraw, he indicated that the team is looking at a stadium arrangement that includes a larger development consisting of retail, housing, etc. I had this idea three years ago, including building some of those items directly into the stadium. I also have to wonder if they are considering something like the Airport project that was discussed two years ago. I interviewed Jeff about the stadium a couple of years ago and I recently reached out to the team for more information on stadium discussions to include in this article, but I did not give them enough time to provide the detailed answers I wanted. A follow-up article on the stadium will happen later this off-season as I'm able to pry more information from the front office.

(For additional information, here are all my posts related to discussions of an Indy Eleven stadium throughout the years.)


While the front office's social media content was well done, the announcement that Martin Rennie would be returning as head coach for the 2019 season was met with a "ho-hum" response from most fans, myself included. Not necessarily because they didn't want to see Coach Rennie return (though there are a few of those as well), but rather that it was generally expected that this would be the case. Even Coach Sommer was allowed to start a second year at the helm and he didn't get a brand-new roster of players into the playoffs in their first season in a new league. In my opinion, there seemed to be almost no chance that Coach Rennie would be let go after this year. Further adding to the well hyped, but underwhelming "announcement" was that Coach Rennie stated in an interview with Greg Rakestraw on Soccer Saturday that he had moved his entire family to Indy full-time. That doesn't seem like the kind of move a person would make if they weren't returning for Year 2.

An unknown at this point is the status of Assistant Coach Phillip Dos Santos. Dos Santos' brother Marc was recently announced as the new head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Phillip was an assistant under Marc during his tenure with the San Francisco Deltas, so it would seem logical that Marc might extend an offer to his brother in Vancouver as well, especially since Phillip was born in Canada. If Marc makes the offer, I can't blame Phillip if he decides to headed to snowier, but probably higher paying, pastures.

Front Office

Much like the players on the field, the front offices of lower division soccer teams routinely have a lot of turnover from season to season. Last year it was Scott Stewart exiting to new rival Louisville City FC (who have done nothing but win the USL championship since he's been there) and Bianca Velez who exited for the Colorado Rapids. There was John Koluder and Peter Wilt and Tom Dunmore before that... This year it is Danielle Wooding and Molly Kruger and Jeff Belskus. Danielle was the Community Relations Manager, Molly was the Director of Corporate Development, and Jeff was the President.

Jeff Belskus announced his retirement a couple weeks ago and I'll reiterate the question I posed on Twitter after the announcement: Was his tenure successful? I believe that it depends on your expectation of why he was hired. If you believe he was hired to use his connections from his days with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to facilitate getting the team a new stadium, then it certainly seems like he failed. When pressed by Guy-Jo Gordon (another former FO staff member) about Belskus' accomplishments during his tenure, my most notable response is that he helped facilitate the transition from 2017 to 2018. Meaning, new coach, new league, new stadium, and scorched-Earth rebuild of the roster (though I would argue that last one was not a positive and that many of the players from 2017 were not handled as professionally as they deserved). I believe he was hired to bring a new stadium, which does not seem to have been accomplished. So by that metric, it's hard to say that his tenure was completely successful.

Molly was famously the 1st hire of Peter Wilt when the team started. With her departure from the team (but remaining in Indy), only Mike Henn, Andy Piggush, Larry Linde, and Tian Liang remain from the original Season 1 front office staff.

So the Front Office took a bit of a hit this offseason. Which leads me to...


Coach Rennie consistently said all season that the team needed some time and continuity with each other. With that in mind, he will likely want to retain as much of the roster as possible. Otherwise, the excuses this year will follow him into next year and fans will be less patient in year 2 as they were in year 1 of his tenure.

May be gone:

  1. Campos - This is an easy one for me. He was loaned from the Chicago Fire and injuries prevented him from even getting an official number from the team. He was non-existent and I can't imagine a scenario where the loan is renewed.
  2. Lewis - Despite his blazing speed and international experience, Lewis struggled in all 11 games that he played. Nine of his 11 starts took place in the first 11 games and then he fell out of favor for the remainder of the season.
  3. Rusin - He was one of the first signings, but really only found minutes early in the season as a result of some injuries to Coach Rennie's preferred defensive starters. His minutes dropped off drastically as the season progressed. Unless Coach Rennie sees him as a good backup, I think Brad might not be on next year's roster.
  4. Amankona - Unless he's playing for very little money, Amass was the only field player not named Campos to not see a single minute of league action. If history is any guide, that's a bad sign for him being on the roster next season. 
  5. Braun - Rumor is that he is retiring. After back-to-back seasons with injuries, I can't blame him. I hate to see him go, but I can understand his frustrations and the risk of trying to continue playing.
  6. Pasher - This has nothing to do with his performance on the field...when he was on the field. Any player that spends as much time on the injured list with a head injury is concerning, both from the team's perspective, but more importantly, from his own perspective. Without knowing any of the details of the injury, the duration of his injury concerns me about his long-term prospects of playing professional soccer.
  7. Steinberger - Despite the level of play that Zach displayed after being loaned to North Carolina FC late in the season, I have a hard time believing that he returns next year. I don't know the details of the loan, but guys like Steinberger want minutes and he wasn't getting them in Indy. Given his success in NCFC, I wouldn't be surprised if they offered him a contract and the Eleven have to play against him next year.
  8. Ring - I know. I hate writing this as much as you hate reading it, but Coach Rennie's persistence of playing rookie Nico Matern in the holding midfielder position in lieu of Ring tells you who he prefers. Some conspiracy theorists say there is a reason for that and I wish I knew the actual reason, but I'm worried about Ring's future in Indy. Unless Coach Rennie sees Ring as a useful utility defensive back-up or Ring is playing for cheap money, Indy's last remaining player from its inaugural season may be on the outside looking in. I hope I'm wrong. 

Expected to return:

  1. Ayoze - He was the team's MVP and I'm not sure how you could vote for anybody else for that award. If he wants to play, he's the #1 going into the preseason.
  2. Ferreira - Reiner played with Dos Santos in San Francisco. The Ferreira-Mitchell-Ouimette 3-back system seemed to be the favored lineup by Coach Rennie towards the end of the season when all three were available and healthy. I expect those three to be at the forefront of the contract renewals.
  3. Fon Williams - Dependent on the loan with Inverness Caledonian Thistle but he improved throughout the season and would expect that Rennie would like to keep the backline and goalkeeper arrangement as consistent between Year 1 and Year 2 as possible. 
  4. Guerra - I could see this go either way, but I think he stays.
  5. Matern - See comments above under Ring. Coach Rennie prefers him and I didn't see enough out of him to warrant substantial interest from other teams.
  6. Mitchell - Went to Korea with Coach Rennie. Came back from Korea with Coach Rennie. If there's a Rennie guy, I think it's Mitchell. See above for Ferreira. 
  7. Moses - Workhorse with a lot of pace. 
  8. Ouimette - Karl played with Dos Santos in San Francisco. See above for Ferreira.
  9. Saad - Young player with a flair for free kicks. Minutes were reduced at the end of the year, but I think he returns.
  10. Speas - Much like Guerra, I could see this go either way, but I think he stays too. 
  11. Starikov - When healthy, Starikov demonstrated an ability to score goals and be physical up top. I think he stays. 
  12. Venegas - Pasher's ability to go forward as a wing-back, but without Pasher's desire to get back on defense. Regardless, I think he's back.
  13. Watson - Matt was the old man on the roster this year, but his soccer IQ makes up for some of his reduced speed. I think Rennie brings the skipper back. 


"Kubel to Base. I've lost the package" - Kubel (probably)
  1. Mares - He was with the team outright at the end of the year and not as a part of a loan, but Dylan did nothing but get better in his time away after his first stint with the Eleven and he was pretty damn good back then. In his limited time in Indy this year, he separated himself from everybody but Ayoze as the best player on the team. The team would do well to try and keep him, but I have to believe that Dylan is going to get some lucrative offers this off-season for other teams. Just like his last departure from Indy, I don't know if the Eleven will be able to match the offers.
  2. McInerney - Jack didn't want to be here in the beginning of the year and it showed. After he settled in and realized that any chance of him moving back up to MLS was dependent on how well he performed this year, he started doing what he was hired to do and scored goals. It's nice having a double-digit scorer on the roster, but I think Jack believes he shouldn't be playing in lower division soccer. Some MLS team might agree with him.
  3. Collier - I would expect that his loan from the Chicago Fire expires and he returns to them, but the Eleven have had some very successful loans from the Fire. It seemed that Coach Rennie was impressed with Collier's abilities, so he might push for another loan, but I think a lot of it will have to do with the Fire's desire to get him back.
  4. Farr and Lundgaard - Back-up goalkeepers that never saw minutes. Do they want to stick around? Their return may also be dependent on what happens with Fon Williams..
That means I think 13 of the 26 players will be retained, with a couple more being possible. In lower division soccer, maintaining half of the roster is doing pretty well. Maybe as important though is that the above 13 players that I think return account for 75% of the minutes played for the season. If Coach Rennie is to be believed that the team needs some more consistently to be really good, 50% of players and 75% of the minutes is a good place to start.

Fans keep clamoring for news from the team. The team keeps telling them to be patient. I hope I'm wrong about a couple of the players and I'm sure the team has different ideas about a stadium, but only time will tell.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Louisville FC - 05.35 - USL Playoffs

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Louisville
- Attendance: 6,763
- Final Score: 4-1 L
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Ouimette, Mitchell, Ferreira, Ayoze, Matern, Moses, Watson, Mares, Speas, McInerney
- Substitutions: Venegas 45' (Matern); Collier 61' (McInerney); Saad 61' (Watson)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Rusin, Ring, Guerra
- Goals: Saad 67' (assist Mares)
- Bookings: Mitchell 46' (Yellow); Ouimette 72' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: Two

Indy Eleven limped into the USL playoffs losing 4 of their final 6 games, including a loss last week to tonight's opponent in Louisville City FC. In those final 6 games, Indy played the elite teams of the eastern conference in FC Cincinnati, Louisville City FC, and Pittsburgh, as well as Bethlehem Steel who also made the playoffs. In those four games, Indy was outscored 8 to 3, giving up a trifecta of goals to Pittsburgh and FC Cincinnati. As I've pointed out before, Indy's record against the top four teams in the league (FCC, LCFC, Pittsburgh, & Charleston) was 2W-6L-4D.

Indy was good, but not great all season. Tonight, they were great for the first 5 minutes and came away with nothing to show for that effort. McInerney had a good opportunity within the first 20 seconds and Matern had another a few minutes later. After that, and much like last week, the better team won. Once LCFC put a goal on the board in the 29th minute by McCabe (his first of 2 on the night) and Indy had to push more numbers forward to get an equalizer, they were going to continue to provide opportunities for LCFC to exploit them.

Immediately ahead and behind the halftime break, Indy gave up free kick chances that LCFC put into the goal, creating an insurmountable lead. Coach Rennie went to the bench early in the second half, substituting Venegas in for Matern at halftime and then held off until the 61st minute before throwing all of his chips into the table. Out came McInerney, who felt a bit non-existent at times, for Collier and Saad in for Watson, both in the 61st minute. Indy had another good stretch of play after the substitutions and Saad made an immediate impact, pulling one back for the visitors in the 67th minute.

The optimism about Indy potentially making it a close game was short-lived though as Lancaster placed a (potentially) wind-assisted free kick over the wall and into the upper 90 out of reach of a fully-stretched Fon Williams. With that dagger, the rest of the game played out like a painful death march to the off-season for Indy Eleven and their fans.

The game finished as I expected, if not by the goal line that I expected. Indy was always going to have issues going into Louisville and getting a win. Exacerbating their odds were relatively poor performances from some guys like Ouimette and Matern. Not surprisingly, Ayoze and Mares played well in the loss and I would hope that they find their way back onto next season's roster. I'm more confident that Ayoze will be back, but I suspect Mares will once again be offered a contract some place that the Eleven will not be able to match. If I believe the line that Coach Rennie has stated all year about needing time to achieve proper chemistry (apparently 8+ months isn't quite enough), I would assume that most of this year's squad will be returning next year though I have to wonder if Lewis, Amankona, Pasher, Ring, Rusin, & Steinberger will be returning.That's a discussion for another time though.

Tonight, the Eleven begin their off-season after a disheartening 4-1 loss to a rival after having a good, but not great, season.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ayoze and Mares. Ayoze is the team MVP and Mares gets 2nd place just because of his limited time here in Indy this season.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 05.34

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Louisville
- Attendance: 10,686
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Venegas, Ouimette, Ferreira, Ayoze, Matern, Moses, Watson, Mares, Braun, McInerney
- Substitutions: Collier 54' (Braun); Guerra 78' (Matern); Speas 81' (Moses)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Rusin, Amankona
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Ouimette 51' (Yellow); Moses 78' (Yellow); Mares 82' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

I wanted to wait to write my thoughts about the Eleven's loss to Louisville until the rest of the results from the league's Sunday games were final as it affected where the Eleven would end in the table, and by extension, where they would play in the first weekend of the playoffs. At the conclusion of the game against LCFC, Indy maintained the spot they entered, which was in 5th place. At the conclusion of the Sunday games, the Eleven fell all the way to 7th, forcing a rematch with Louisville City FC next weekend.

Knowing that it was a possibility for the two teams to play again next weekend, I considered the option during the 2-hour drive home. I would like to be wrong about it, but I don't believe that the Indy Eleven can win the game next weekend. They have played Louisville tough this season, but at the time of year when it matters most, the Eleven don't look like the team that can win against the top level talent in the Eastern Conference. They've played the top teams in the closing weeks of the season and have lost 3 of their last 5. That's not exactly the run-of-form that you want when heading into the playoffs.

With what we've witnessed Saturday, the Eleven held their own in the first half, but chased the game in the second half and not just chasing the game in the sense that they adjusted their tactics to find an equalizer after falling behind from a 34 minute penalty kick goal from Lancaster. Rather, they were constantly chasing the ball trying to catch up to the ball movement from Louisville. I don't see how the team remedies that in less than a week.

Then there's the field... LCFC have clearly figured out how to play in a field that is short, narrow, and watered down with dish soap laden water. How many LCFC players did you see slip and slide making cuts in the infield "grass" and how many Indy Eleven players did you see slip and slide making cuts in that exact same area of the field? I think Braun's early second half departure was a result of a slip that caused him to slowly pick himself off the turf. In the first half, Venegas looked like a thief tip-toeing through a house in an absurd soccer crime-caper movie. Which, I'm sure seems obvious, is not an ideal way to defend a team. Particularly when you're playing more of a three back lineup. So in addition to the eleven players on the field, the Eleven had to compete against the field itself.

LCFC were not as affected by their field, and by all indications, avoided the baseball infield portion of the field as much as possible. Yet, even with LCFC playing in just the northern half of the field, the Eleven were constantly trying to catch up to the movement from Louisville.

In the first half, the Eleven were going from West to East. I took the heat map from the game's match center, roughly drew in the location of the infield "grass," rotated the map to reflect the actual field, and split it for each team. Here's what that evaluation confirmed for my eye-ball test.

Indy defended a lot and the majority of their touches were within their own half. That was in both halves, but the second half was even deeper in their defensive third.

Indy Eleven 1st half heat map - defending west

Indy Eleven 2nd half heat map - defending east
Louisville, on the flip side, had a great deal of their touches in Indy's half of the field and looked to make a concerted effort to avoid the infield "grass." They seem to have adjusted their play to the difficulties that the infield and pitcher's mound presents. Yet, even with that compressed field limitation, LCFC's passes consistently forced the Eleven to recover defensively.
LCFC 1st half heat map - defending east

LCFC 2nd half heat map - defending west
With less than a week, Coach Rennie and the rest of the coaching staff have to figure out how to beat a team that, to me, were the better team on Saturday without any way to recreate the difficulties of playing on the surface they saw this week. Which is going to be a tall order and leads me to this week's Game Beckons Game Ball.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Owain Fon Williams in a runaway. Fon Williams set a new season high for him in saves on Saturday, officially tallying 8, but what felt like more. Coach Rennie was quoted afterwards of saying that he thought "he [Fon Williams] deserved a clean sheet" and "it was only a penalty that was able to beat him." Owain had to deal with more than double the Shots on Target as his LCFC counterpart, Ranjitsingh, and was able to keep the Eleven in the game. He managed to minimize the scoring damage and a penalty kick is a rough way to lose a clean sheet, but he played well and was the definite bright spot for the team.



Sunday, October 7, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Bethlehem Steel FC - 05.33

- Opponent: Bethlehem Steel FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 14,894
- Final Score: 1-1 D
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Ouimette, Mitchell, Ferreira, Ayoze, Matern, Moses, Watson, Mares Collier, Starikov
- Substitutions:  Rusin 41' (Mitchell - injury); McInerney 62' (Moses); Speas 70' (Starikov)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Ring, Guerra, Saad
- Goals: Starikov 60' (assist Ayoze)
- Bookings: Moses 58' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

The Eleven came into the game knowing that a win solidified their place in the playoffs, a draw kept them in the running, and a loss took their fate out of their own hands. To prevent that last scenario from happening, the Eleven were forced to fight back from a goal deficit when a ball was sent through to Bethlehem's Faris and he was able to walk into a close range for a shot after a recovering defensive run from Mitchell sent him into a heap on the turf with what looks like a significant hamstring injury. Coach Rennie was unable to provide any indication of the extent of the injury immediately after the game, but any time you see a player crumble like he did, you have to expect that he won't be available to play next weekend against Louisville City FC.

What that means for the lineup, which again was started with the 3 back setup for this game, will be an interesting evaluation during the week. Exacerbating the issue is that Mitchell's replacement in this game, Brad Rusin, also came up lame in the late stages of the game and he was forced to play more up top with Watson playing the defensive role to help nurse the draw across the finish line. Venegas was not available for this game after picking up a knock during training during the week. All of those injuries could create an interesting lineup on Saturday. If those three are not able to go next week, we may see Ring or Moses on the back line, with the team going back to the previously used 4-4-2. Coach Rennie has said that he didn't feel comfortable with a 3 back lineup until Ferreira returned and had some games under his belt with the other guys so I assume he didn't feel that Ring, et al, were capable of performing the way he wanted in that scenario. It will be interesting to see the injury report later this week.

Indy started this game with the three back lineup again with Collier and Starikov up top. Bethlehem's press forced the Eleven to pull Ayoze further back into a defensive role, but Coach Rennie wanted the team to continue to operate with the 3-5-2 mentality. The injury to Mitchell further complicated that tactic with the players being forced to adjust on the fly as the game progressed. Watson described it afterwards as "we went to a 4-4-2 at one point and we went to a 5-3-2...once we got the goal, it was just "we're not going to concede a goal."" and that mentality was evident as I remember at least twice late in the game where Mares tracked a player all the way back to the endline with Ferreira helping out. Both cases resulted in a corner kick, but it was obvious that the midfield was as much, or more, involved in their defensive roles as they were in the forward roles. That's a significant advantage to having players like Mares, Moses, and Watson on the field.

Collier and Starikov worked hard up top, but this was not one of Collier's best games. His hold-up play and connection with the other players were off early. I can't pinpoint the difference, but he just didn't seem to put passes where they were expecting them to go. He didn't play horrible, but he seemed off.

Fon Williams had one of his better games that I can remember. He had a spectacular double-save in the 16th minute and then another in the 83rd minute, all of them requiring him to bail out mistakes from the defense in front of him. When I asked him afterwards about what goes through his mind at times like those, he provided a very thoughtful response:
"Being a goalkeeper in that situation, you gotta put yourself as much in the attacker's mind as possible because at the end of the day, I don't know whether you've ever stood in goal, but it's pretty big behind you. You gotta fill that goal as much as you can. In that scenario, you've gotta realize what's the percentage, what's it going to be? Is he going to take the shot early? In that case, you've got to hold back or is he going to take his touch? In that moment, you got a decision to make whether you can go close him down and go for the presented ball with your body spread. Or whether hang back and be in a reaction save. You hold your ground and try to make the save that way. In the first half, I saw him come into the box, he took a little bit of a heavy touch, and at that point, that made my mind up I was going to come out and make myself as big as possible. Thankfully, in that scenario, it worked my way. Being a goalkeeper, it's all about decision making and it's all a learning curve. You win some, you lose some."
The following is a summary of some of my other notes about the game that I thought were interesting, but didn't deserve more detailed discussions:

  • The 24th minute tackle on Watson by Chambers is how guys blow out knees. Should have been a yellow card for Chambers. It was good to see Chambers finally pick up a yellow card later in the game, even if it wasn't until the 87th minute.
  • In the 32nd minute, Moses got the "1-2-3 foul" talk from the referee. Given the way that Moses plays, I knew it was just a matter of team before he picked up a yellow. Moses managed to make it to the 58th minute before getting a yellow card on a foul that was far less severe than some of the ones from the Bethlehem players that deserved yellow cards, but weren't given.
  • In the 33rd minute, Bethlehem's Ngalina injured himself on the stands, proceeded to walk back onto the field, and then fell down on the field...with a wrist injury. These kinds of things drive me crazy. It creates stoppage time unnecessarily.
  • Matern shot the ball towards goal (it was just his 6th of the season, with only 1 on target)
  • 86th minute McInerney bike attempt, Mares scissor kick attempt on goal just over the bar. That would have been a spectacular way to get a win.
The Eleven are still not officially in the playoffs, nor are the officially out of them either. A win against Louisville City FC on Saturday would be the best alternative; a draw relies on a number of scenarios working in their favor and a loss requires an even greater number of scenarios working in their favor. It going to be difficult to predict how the game will go until more information is known on their injury situation, as well as what lineup LCFC chooses to use since they are already in the playoffs. Do they chose to rest some guys before starting the playoffs the next week or do they play them due to the regional rivalry aspect of the game?

You can only play the team in front of you and the Eleven need the win so that they can avoid scoreboard watching on Saturday night.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

This was the kind of game where I have difficulty giving one player the Game Beckons Game Ball. Fon Williams was vital in the win with the saves that he made, particularly the double save in the 16th minute. Mares was steady in the midfield. Watson played well, both in his midfield role and the defensive role in which he was thrust late in the game. Starikov's goal was important.

Which leads me to my selection for the final home game of the season. Ayoze. For my money, he's the team MVP. In this game, he accounted for 5 of the team's 9 Chances Created. With his assist on Starikov's goal (which was a 50-yard dime and is the long yellow line on the screen capture of his distribution), Ayoze becomes the Eleven's single season assist leader, bypassing Dylan Mares. He's the team's set piece specialist. He takes all the corner kicks. This team would be completely different without him.



Sunday, September 30, 2018

Indy Eleven vs FC Cincinnati - 05.32

- Opponent: FC Cincinnati
- Location: Cincinnati
- Attendance: 31,4783
- Final Score: 0-3 L
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Ouimette, Mitchell, Ferreira, Ayoze, Matern, Venegas, Watson, Mares Collier, McInerney
- Substitutions:  Starikov 66' (McInerney); Saad 76' (Collier); Guerra 79' (Matern)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Ring, Rusin, Speas
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Matern 31' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

I went into this game assuming that the Eleven were going to lose. Yeah, I know. What kind of fan am I? A realistic one. Cincinnati hasn't lost in 21 games (on May 26th to Louisville) and have now won 10 games in a row. Indy has been inconsistent, were on the road, and have struggled against the top portion of the conference. Cincinnati is not just in the top portion like the Eleven, they are THE top and it hasn't even been a close race.

Yet, based on the statistics, the Eleven held their own; even held an advantage in a number of categories. Coach Rennie has routinely said that they have been progressing well and that they needed to eliminate some individual mistakes. The Eleven had mistakes and paid for them nearly every time in this game. That's what great teams do when you make a mistake.

When Adi scored in the 34th minute, nobody stepped to the ball. If you don't stop the ball, a player's options significantly increase. When nobody stepped to him, Adi fired a shot. Yes, it took a deflection, but Fon Williams has struggled with shots like that all year. Close range reaction saves have been fine, but shots from distance seem to surprise him.

When Konig scored in the 65th minute, Fon Williams came well off his line, despite Konig being surrounded by both Mitchell and Ferreira, and made absolutely no contact with the ball. Konig collected and easily placed the ball into the goal.

On their third goal, the Eleven were slow at closing down Cicerone who had time to pin-point his cross, which Mitchell managed to redirect nicely into the side netting. It was a nice goal, it was just in the wrong goal.

The Eleven were credited with 20 shots, but only 5 were on target and a bunch of the missed shots were blasted well wide or over the goal. They were only 25% accurate on their shots, whereas Cincinnati took only 9 shots, but were 55.6% accurate.

Despite the 3-nil scoreline, I don't think the Eleven were a far inferior team against Cincinnati. Indy had some chances, but good saves from Newton and maybe an uncalled handball inside the 18 kept Indy off the scoreboard. Indy also had an issue with getting on the end of their crosses. The team had 24 crosses, of which only 7 were successful. As can be seen from the Chalkboard screen capture, Venegas accounted for 13 of the team's 24 crosses, but only two of those were successful. Venegas had success getting around Cincinnati's left side defense, but they couldn't do anything with the effort. The Eleven, as per usual, had some really good moments, but the final touch (whether that was a pass or shot) when they got inside the final third was lacking all night.

That's been a recurring theme from time-to-time this season. Unfortunately, the team has run out of time for me to think that they're going to figure it out in time for them to make any kind of substantial run in the playoffs. It looks like they are going to sneak in, but my guess is they're going to have to win games on the road as I don't see them getting themselves into position to host.

If Indy wins out, they get to 54 points. Only Bethlehem and Charleston have the potential to reach that point total or higher and if Indy beats Bethlehem, then that takes care of them. Charleston currently sit on 53 points, so they would have to lose to both Atlanta and Ottawa to not gain any additional points. I don't see that happening. So now the Eleven are playing to stay in the playoffs. If they manage just draws against Bethlehem and Louisville, that puts them at 50 points and NYRBII, Nashville, NCFC, Ottawa, & Bethlehem all have the potential to match or surpass that total.

It basically comes down to the fact that if Indy doesn't win out against Bethlehem and Louisville, they're going to need some results to go their way to make sure they are in the playoffs. At this point, after having watched them all season against the top portion of the conference, I'm going to resort to my typical pessimistic view. I think they make the playoffs, but just barely. Though, if they don't get any points from the Bethlehem AND Louisville games, I don't think they squeak in.

Two weeks remain for them to prove their worthy of a playoff spot.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

In a game where it was hard for me to differential one player as the stand-out player, sometimes you have to reward the effort and not necessarily the results. So Venegas gets the Game Beckons Game Ball tonight. He was consistently causing trouble for Cincinnati on the right side of the field, but had difficulty finding people on the other end of his crosses.