Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Nashville SC - 05.14

- Opponent: Nashville SC
- Location: Nashville
- Attendance: 1,242
- Final Score: 3-1 W
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Venegas, Ouimette, Mitchell, Ayoze, Matern, Moses, Guerra, Watson, Braun, McInerney
- Substitutions: Speas 74' (Braun); Ring 79' (McInerney); Steinberger 90'+2' (Guerra)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Rusin, Lewis, Starikov
- Goals: Ouimette 6' (assist Ayoze); Braun 35' (assist Ayoze)
- Bookings: Ayoze 90' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

While wins against Atlanta United 2 and Toronto FC 2 were important for the Indy Eleven, I felt that a positive performance on the road against Nashville SC would be a much better indication that the Eleven are settling into who we thought they might be. Not only did the Eleven come away with a positive result, but they managed to defeat a team that hadn't lost since April, also against the Eleven, and kept a clean sheet for good measure.

Indy Eleven 2nd half Heatmap
Nashville had previously only allowed 1 goal at home all season and the Eleven managed to score 2 first half goals by Ouimette and Braun. With a two goal halftime lead on the road, a parked bus mentality from a Rennie coached team is about as close to a guarantee that you're going to find in life. Defend, defend, and then defend some more while looking for opportunities to counter.

Braun, and then Speas after being subbed in for Braun, were left out on an island to try and keep the ball in the offensive half of the field during the 2nd half as the rest of the team tried to catch their breath and regroup for the next wave of Nashville attacks that came in that half. Nashville had 19 shots in the game, 13 of which came after they were already down by two goals. Luckily for the Eleven, only 5 of their shots were on goal. One of those was headed off the line by Ayoze in the 66th minute and should be up for #SaveOfTheWeek even if he isn't a goalkeeper. Fon Williams had 4 saves of his own and don't be surprised if the one he had in 1st half stoppage time isn't a Save of the Week nominee. On a Nashville set piece, the ball was headed back across the goal where two Nashville players were waiting for it. A fully outstretched Fon Williams managed to get enough of his hands on it to push it under an attacking Doyle and out of danger.

Speaking of Ayoze, I honestly thought he might have turned the corner of yellow cards, but late in the 2nd half, he received yet another, this one for time wasting. This was his 5th yellow of the season, but his stretch of games not getting booked means that he had one removed due to the USL's Good Behavior initiative. So Ayoze is back at 4 yellow cards and in jeopardy of missing a game again.

Ouimette's goal was a header from a corner kick and continues the Eleven's trend of being dangerous from set pieces. Braun's goal was a prime example of putting the ball on frame and seeing what happens. It might not have been the best choice, but the confidence of a forward is a funny thing. That being said, Pickens should have done better with it and that's not a mistake you're going to see very often from him.

The Eleven only had 5 shots compared to Nashville's 19, but the Eleven were very effective with those shots. All of the major offensive statistics were skewed toward Nashville, but they were never able to unlock the bus that the Eleven parked in front of them. In addition to the mistake that Pickens made on the Braun goal, they also had moments of bad defending that nearly cost them.

Braun had a header parried away from the goal by Pickens in the 15th minute that was destined for the upper 90, where the Nashville defense didn't close out on Guerra. In the 39th minute, Venegas made a full-field, getting a shot on goal, where the Nashville players never stepped to him to stop the ball.

The Eleven didn't have a significant amount of chances, but they made the most of the ones that were given to them. Usually in a game against two good defensive teams, it's the small moments that separate them in the end. The Eleven made good on their chances, while Nashville was unable to do much with their chances.

A couple final notes:

  • Matern looked sloppy. Not the entire game, but he made some odd decisions with the ball and definitely fouled NSH in bad spots on the field.
  • Nashville made their final sub before the 70th minute, while Indy hadn't made a single sub at that point. Coach Rennie seems to have a very specific substitution plan and unless an injury occurs to affect that plan, he's sticking to it. In the past three games, the first sub for the Eleven has occurred in the 73th, 74th, and 74th minute. That's setting a plan and sticking to it.

Lastly, every time I think that Victory Field would be a more appropriate location for Indy Eleven instead of the cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium, I need to remind myself to watch one of Nashville's or Louisville's games in their respective baseball stadiums. Sight lines are...less than optimal.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ayoze would be a good choice. So would Braun and Fon Williams. Yet, I always like to reward defenders when they get on the scoreboard, so this week's Game Beckons Game Ball goes to Ouimette.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Toronto FC 2 - 05.13

- Opponent: Toronto FC 2
- Location: Rochester, NY
- Attendance: 1,242
- Final Score: 3-1 W
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Venegas, Ouimette, Mitchell, Ayoze, Matern, Moses, Guerra, Watson, Saad, Braun
- Substitutions: Starikov 74' (Saad); Ring 76' (Matern); Speas 87' (Braun)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Rusin, Lewis, Steinberger
- Goals: Venegas 23'; Braun 45' (assist Venegas); Braun 49' (assist Watson)
- Bookings: None
- Adage goals: One

No stream. No highlights. No stats. No respect.

The league did manage to do a recap.

Apparently when you average around 500 people per game (not including the 11:00 Wednesday game where I'm convinced TFC2 gave tickets away to schools - attendance = 4,100), USL doesn't care if you play your "home" games 3 hours away in Rochester, NY from time to time. Yet Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester doesn't have any production equipment available and a camera phone stream from the team wouldn't meet the league broadcast standards. It looks like the league stance is that they would rather have upset fans with no stream rather than a poor stream. Given that I started paying for ESPN+ for the sole reason of being able to see the Indy Eleven away games, I feel like USL owes me some money this month. I'm sure they'll be amenable.

One thing to note. Backup GK Ben Lundgaard was available on the bench, in lieu of Jordan Farr, so his thumb surgery must be healed. The team seems to be getting healthier, but Pasher and Ferriera are still the notable missing pieces.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Another game without McInerney and his replacement, Justin Braun, scored twice. Since I didn't see any of the game, I'll go ahead and give it to Braun for his brace.



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Atlanta United 2 - 05.12

- Opponent: Atlanta United 2
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 10,034
- Final Score: 2-0 W
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Venegas, Ouimette, Mitchell, Ayoze, Matern, Moses, Guerra, Watson, Saad, Braun
- Substitutions: Starikov 73' (Braun); Steinberger 83' (Guerra); Speas 90'+2' (Moses)
- Unused: Farr, Rusin, Lewis, Ring
- Goals: Watson 30'; Mitchell 55' (assist Ayoze corner)
- Bookings: Guerra 78' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: None

The Eleven picked up a badly needed win and kept a clean sheet to help keep within range of the playoff chase. It's hard to think of a game at this stage of the season with so many games remaining as a "must win" for them, but it definitely had that feel to it. A home game against one of the bottom teams in the standings after having a 10 day break between games. A draw or loss in this game could have been devastating to their confidence.

With Jack McInerney out due to yellow card accumulation (extended an extra game by the league), Coach Rennie was forced to use what seems like the twelfth different lineup in twelve different games. Justin Braun started up top in McInerney's place and Seth Moses made his first league start on the right side in place of Nathan Lewis. We also saw Starikov come in as a substitute in the 73rd minute, after having not played since the first game against FC Cincinnati game. With McInerney again out this coming Saturday against Toronto FC 2, I would expect a very similar lineup. I believe this is getting back to being closer to the starting lineup that Coach Rennie sees as the top eleven on the team, with Pasher and Ferreira replacing Venegas and Moses. Until then, as long as they are healthy, this will likely continue to be the starting XI.

One housekeeping note before diving into the game details, Ayoze had received a yellow card in four consecutive matches and was in danger of missing a game due to yellow card accumulation like McInerney. However, he has now played five straight games without a card and will have one of them removed due to good behavior. Given Ayoze's ability from the spot and his dual threat with Saad for free kicks, it's good to have him have a little more leeway again before being suspended.

The Eleven didn't hold a lot of possession in the game being on the short end of a nearly 60% to 40%, but they did significantly more with their possession than Atlanta did with their possession. The Eleven had 16 shots, with nearly half of them On Target, whereas ATL had just 7 shots on goal, but forced just one save from Fon Williams.

For those fans who have felt that the team has lately resorted to hopeful long passes from the defense over the midfield to the forwards, you'll be happy to know that the team had their second lowest percentage of long passes all year.

Overall, this was probably the best performance we've seen from the team. They were defensively solid, the offensive interplay was crisp, and their chances on goal were effective. Set pieces continue to be a major factor in chances on goal. The team had 7 corners in the game, which was their highest number for a game all season and one of which resulted in a goal by Mitchell in the 55th minute. Fans may want to see more goals in the run of play, but this team is definitely getting production out of their set pieces and that's a good weapon to have.

The Eleven didn't have much possession in the first half, but in the 10 to 15 minute segment where they were really dominating the game, Captain Watson found the back of the net. Watson put the Eleven on the board by perfectly timing a pass between Atlanta's backline, took a touch around the keeper, and slotted the ball home with his left foot. Watson read the pass, ran 15 yards in the same time as the defender ran 5, and took the ball to the goal. The Eleven seem to have a flair for great goals and while Watson's goal may not make Sportscenter, but it might be a more important goal for this team moving forward. It was a good goal though...
From a good win against Atlanta United 2 to the, far and way, bottom of the conference, the Eleven need a couple games against teams not sitting at the top of the table. They took care of the first team in that process, this next week they need to not look past Toronto FC 2 and turn a rough May into a potentially promising June.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Watson. He didn't make it onto the Team of the Week for no reason. He was box to box and his soccer IQ was a big part of what provided the team with their first goal of the night.



Friday, June 1, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Charleston Battery - 05.11

- Opponent: Charleston Battery
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,070
- Final Score: 3-3 D
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Ouimette, Rusin, Mitchell, Ayoze, Ring, Lewis, Guerra, Steinberger, Saad, McInerney
- Substitutions: Braun 65' (Lewis); Watson 81' (Steinberger)
- Unused: Farr, Amankona, Venegas, Moses, Speas
- Goals: Saad 43' (assist Ring); Ayoze 86' (PK); Ayoze 90'+3'
- Bookings: Ring 25' (Yellow); Mitchell 67' (Yellow); McInerney 78' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

I think there is a point in every single season of the Indy Eleven where I have referenced the scene in "White Men Can't Jump" when Gloria is telling Billy Hoyle about the significance of results. I think this game is a good time for it:
"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."
At the 88th minute of the game, I put my notes away so that I could get from my seat to the field level to talk to Coach Rennie. When my family asked me why I put them away, I told them that the game was over. I honestly thought Ayoze's penalty kick goal minutes before was going to be the closing action of the night, with the Eleven giving up a lead and then stealing one back late to at least get a draw out of it. I never expected that he would score a 2nd goal in stoppage time to give the team a chance to steal a late win. I definitely never expected that they would then let Charleston score a minute later to finish the game with a draw. Four goals were scored after the 80-minute mark, two in the death throes of the match.
"You know I think it's easy to forget it was 3-3. It feels like it was a loss because we lost that goal so late... From a coaching perspective, obviously the defending side of it was disappointing and especially with 1 minute to go to not see the game out, I'm very disappointed with that." - Coach Rennie
As I read through the Match Notes provided by the teams before the game, I noticed a couple of key facts about Charleston that I figured might end up in this recap. The first being that Ataulla Guerra had scored 6 goals on the season. By the end of the game, Guerra had added to that total, scoring Charleston's 2nd goal that set off the goal scoring spree, but also providing the assist for the final goal of the game in the 90'+4'. Guerra finished with 1 goal, 1 shot on target, 1 shot off target, 1 assist, & 2 chances created.

The second fact I wrote down as that Charleston had scored 11 of their 16 goals in the second halves of their games, with 5 of those goals coming in the last 20 minutes of the 2nd half. Of the 5 goals they had scored in the first half, 4 of them had come in the final 20 minutes of the 1st half. So Charleston clearly work to close out halves. All three of the goals against the Eleven came in the 2nd half, with two of them happening in the final 20 minutes. Finishing games is a good way to have my third note from the Match Notes.

Charleston came into the game on a 10 game unbeaten streak across all competitions; 8 of those games were in league play and the other two were in U.S. Open Cup play. From my interactions with Coach Rennie to date, he has routinely said something that lets me know that he is an analytics guy because he is aware of those kinds of details. When asked about the Eleven's goals all coming from set pieces (a trend this season) and not the run of play, he indicated:
"No it's going to come. I think if you don't score, you get criticized and if you score a certain way, then you get people looking to criticize you for that. We scored three great goals. Two world class goals and that's part of it. In the last, I think, 10 or 11 games, Charleston haven't lost and they haven't lost any goals from open play so that was not specific to us. The only goals they've lost, and there weren't many, were on set plays."
I guess it's a good thing that the Indy Eleven can score from set plays. World class set play goals.
Ayoze's free kick goal should have been the game winner, yet the roller coaster ride of stoppage time was completely undone because the Eleven's defense didn't stop a ball and left a guy running completely free in the middle of the field. A win turned into a draw turned into a loss turned into a draw turned into a win turned into a draw. I'm not sure what organic globule Gloria would extract from the game, but Coach Rennie and I are in agreement that the team's ability to close out the game is disappointing.
"I think I'm more concerned and disappointed about the way we didn't see the game out. I think that was what really frustrated me and also the mistakes we made in losing the goals."
Where Coach and I differ on the game is moving forward. I don't see the offense getting any more consistent nor consistently providing dangerous attacks that aren't part of free kicks or penalty kicks. I continue to be frustrated with the way Lewis is playing. There's significant moments where the midfield is bypassed by hopeful balls over them from the defense with an immediate loss of possession happening from those passes. Against Charleston, the midfield consisted of Lewis, Guerra, Steinberger, and Saad and the four guys routinely swapped positions on the field between left and right. I never saw it adversely affect Charleston's defense. Coach Rennie feels differently than me on where the team is at right now:
"I'm excited about where we go from here. May's been a rough month for us, mainly because of that, number of games and the number of guys unavailable, but we're still in there and come June, we'll get up and running a bit better."
His biggest concern, and what he sees as the biggest issue has been the injuries:
"I mean a lot of these guys I thought they would all be back by now, but they're not. So we have a little break between now and the next game and I'm hoping some of these guys will get back, and most importantly, stay back and the other guys will stay healthy. I've never ever experienced anything like this with so many players being out...we've not once this season, not one game had the same lineup in back-to-back. So that's, as a coach, something you have to try and get. Obviously, you're going to injuries, but the number we've had is unbelievable. There's guys playing with injuries. There's guys on the bench that aren't even going to be able to come on."
So if you've been wondering why the team hasn't been using the full compliment of substitutions lately, there's your answer. Oh, and if you're having issues keeping guys healthy and can't keep a lineup consistent, getting red cards and yellow card accumulation doesn't help. When we see the Eleven next versus Atlanta United 2, they will be without McInerney who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season and will be suspended due to accumulation. Honestly, he's a red card threat most of the time, and he might actually be fortunate to not get more games added to his suspension once the league looks at the replay. I have a feeling he's going to get more games to watch from the sideline. Regardless, that will make back-to-back games that the team will be without a regular starter because of discipline issues. Ayoze needs to make it through the ATL game without a yellow card, otherwise, he too will miss a game due to accumulation and the Eleven will miss out on a great penalty taker.

The Game Beckons Game Ball:

I'm going to give it to both Ayoze and Saad for their world class goals, one of which made Sportscenter's Top 10. Best options for offense right now and both guys delivered.