Thursday, August 23, 2018

Indy Eleven vs Toronto FC II - 05.24

- Opponent: Toronto FC II
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 8,209
- Final Score: 3-2 W
- Starting XI: Fon Williams, Venegas, Mitchell, Ouimette, Ayoze, Matern, Watson, Mares, Saad, Speas, McInerney
- Substitutions: Guerra 73' (Mares); Collier 81' (Saad); Moses 88' (Speas)
- Unused: Lundgaard, Ferreira, Ring, Steinberger
- Goals: Speas 18' (assist Matern); McInerney 24'; Mares 58' (assist Saad)
- Bookings: Watson 88' (Yellow)
- Adage goals: One

There's a lot to discuss with this game, but I'm going to start by saying this: Toronto FC 2 are NOT a bad team. Despite an abysmal record, you can see the talent that the players possess and that TF2's goal may not necessarily be to win games in the USL, but rather to groom players for the "first-team" squad. Players like 18-year old Noble Okello (a 6'-4" 180 lb midfielder) and 22-year old goal scorer Jordan Hamilton (a 6'-1" 176 lb forward), who seemed to constantly be in the action around the goal. I fear for the guys who have to defend Okello on set pieces and corner kicks once he fills out his frame a little more with muscle from a regular weight program.

Toronto held a 60/40 possession advantage and were not afraid to go forward, forcing the Eleven to spend a large amount of their time defending in their own half. However, as Toronto went forward, it also left their defense in a position for counterattacking, which Rennie confirmed after the game was part of the plan when I asked about the balls over the top.
"They were quite high and quite square and so we wanted to exploit that and I think, well we did, we scored from it, but I feel like we probably should have gotten more. Simply because the offsides, I don't think, weren't actually right all the time."
The Eleven's first goal, in the 18th minute by Speas was exactly one of those balls over the top from Matern, where the team was trying to exploit TF2's back line. At the time that Speas had scored, the Eleven had already been called offside 3 or 4 times and it was clear that the ball over the top was going to be something the team employed for the game. By the end of the game, the Eleven had achieved one goal from that tactic and a double-digit 10 offside calls. Coach Rennie, as coaches are prone to do, disagreed (correctly) with many of the calls:
"Honestly, I saw some replays and there's no way they were offside. This field's got more lines on it than any soccer field in the world and somehow it didn't help get it right. So that's disappointing because we were timing our runs really well. Not every one maybe, but the one's I saw replay of we were onside and those were actually 1-v-1 opportunities."
Opportunities like Speas' goal, which was a nice finish around a veteran goalkeeper.

The obvious story of this game for Indy Eleven fans was Dylan Mares. A long-time fan favorite and Indiana son, Mares returned home to sign with the Eleven mere days before this game. Mares started in the midfield in his return and promptly scored and set up the assist to the assist (unofficial) on McInerney's goal. Not a bad way to reintroduce yourself to a fan base that was sad to see you go.

Mares won the ball in the midfield that eventually led to McInerney's goal, but he was composed on the ball all game. His game winning goal in the 58th minute was much like Hamilton's goal in the first half in that the defense never closed down the ball. Everybody was trying to get the ball in front of them, but never actually put any pressure on the ball. Mares 45-yards from the goal and was able to dribble all the way to the 18-yard box to get off his shot without anybody stepping up to him to take the ball away. Both Mares and Coach Rennie commented after the game about how Speas' and Saad's runs helped draw away defenders from Mares, helping allow the space to be created to facilitate Mares' shot. The runs were good, Mares' shot was perfect, and the Eleven salvaged another game where they allowed the opposition to claw their way back into a game that should have been much easier for them to win.

Sometimes fans boo refs. That's nothing new and nothing that will stop anytime soon. Rarely does my mother boo a ref, but she did during this game. Sometimes a rather sparse crowd (let's be honest there were not +8k people in the stands for this game) sounds like a much larger crowd when every single one of them boos a call. Or lack of call in this case. In the 60th minute, Ayoze had possession of the ball near the 20 yard line (the football lines have to be good for something; too bad it's just for my commentating because they're horrible for watching while watching a game) and sent a 30-yard pass up to Speas right on the 50-yard line. Speas then took a couple of touches and proceeded to put another ball over the top of the TF2 backline that Saad ran onto. Saad carried it from the 20, the 15, the 10, the 8 and was then taken down inside the box by two defenders (keep in mind that field is skewed this direction so Soony was just inside the box when taken down despite being on the 8-yard line). On the television broadcast, Greg Rakestraw stated, "Saad goes to the turf" and Brad Hauter replied, "Yep."

When no call was made for the tackle, Rakestraw said "Nothin'." and Hauter's color commentary description properly summarized the crowd's thoughts before the chorus of boos rain downed on the field. "Whut?" with an implied "WTF, are you kidding me?" tone of voice.

What followed after that commentary may be the funniest thing I have ever heard out of Rake and Hauter in the 5 years I've been watching the Eleven play. Like the fans, Coach Rennie was livid about the non-call.
Rakestraw: "You rarely get to use the term apoplectic in a broadcast."
Hauter: "That's because you don't know what it means."
Rakestraw: "Well, I do."
Hauter: "I've never used that word."
Rakestraw: "That's why I have this job, but Martin Rennie is going that on the Indy Eleven sidelines right now."

The non-call seemed to usher in a more physical game after that point and when I asked Coach Rennie about the physical play afterwards, he laughed it off, saying, "I'm from Scotland so that wasn't physical for me..." but did say that he didn't think any of the players picked up any significant knocks from the play.

Another home game where the Eleven had an early two-goal lead and gave up two goals before getting the go-ahead and winning goal in the second half. Luckily, the Eleven didn't wait until the closing minutes to get the game winning goal and increased their point total for this rough 7-game stretch to 7 points of a possible 9. I've been saying that this stretch of games will likely determine whether the team makes the playoffs and they've started it off well, albeit with a lot more excitement that some fans would prefer. A 2-nil game without all the drama would be nice too.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

It has to be Mares, right? Right. He was my favorite player during his first tenure in Indy and I think he's only improved with his time in Miami. He looked composed on the ball, was involved in the build-up to the 2nd goal from winning the ball in midfield to the leading pass for Saad, and he scored the game-winning goal. It's great to have him back in Indy.



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