Sunday, November 24, 2019

Indy Eleven 2019 Recap & 2020 Off-Season Outlook

In the past, my recap and outlook posts have come before the team have made any announcements about the next season, but the Eleven are a bit ahead of schedule this year. Therefore, I'm behind and will have to adjust some of my comments accordingly.

The 2019 season took 2018 another step further. As the team is quick to point out, "the Boys in Blue concluded the 2019 USL Championship season with the most regular season wins (19), most points (63), most regular season away wins (6) and most goals scored (50) in franchise history. [editor's note - from the USL stats, the team scored 48 regular season + 3 playoff for 51 league goals. By my stats, the 2016 team scored 51 + 1 league goals for 52.] ... the club’s longest home undefeated streak at 27 matches across all competitions, including Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and postseason play. The ... side has not lost in regular season play in its last 25 matches, a streak dating back to July 2018 and among one of the best records in league history." With more time to build a roster than he had in 2018, Rennie returned just a handful of guys from 2018 and signed 22 new players throughout 2019. Guys that fit into the tactics he wanted to employ and that he thought would buy into the culture he wanted to create. With a top 4 finish in the Eastern Conference, the ability to host a home playoff game, and two playoff wins, Indy improved upon last year's 7th place regular season finish and its early departure from the playoffs.

With the exception of, once again, losing to Louisville City FC in the playoffs, the 2019 season can be considered a success. They may not have achieved every team's goal of winning the regular season and the playoffs, but they took important steps forward.

However, there were still some things that the team will want to improve upon moving forward in the 2020 season. Most notably, Indy's away form was less than ideal. While Indy finished the regular season undefeated at home (13W - 4D - 0L), obtaining positive results on the road was more difficult (6W - 2D - 9L). Digging deeper into those results indicates that against the top 6 finishing teams in the Eastern Conference, Indy's away form was even worse, not able to get a single win on the road (0W - 2D - 3L) against those teams (Pittsburgh, Nashville, Louisville, Tampa Bay, and New York Red Bulls II).

That will be an important piece for the team to improve next season. Indy's four-game road losing streak at the end of the season likely prevented them from having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While Indy managed to get a win in their away playoff game in Nashville, having to not travel at all would have been preferable.

So there was progress, but still some things to do in the off-season.

Looking to 2020


Stadium

For the first time in the team's history, there was actual tangible progress made on the stadium side of things. 2019 was the longer legislative budgetary session that happens every two years and Indy was able to tie their hopes in with another sports related bill that was going through with the Capital Improvement Board and the Pacers. This proved to be an effective strategy and Senate Enrolled Act 7 gives the team the ability to finally move forward with a stadium development with some financial assistance from the State. I provided a detailed analysis of my thoughts about this in April and then provided some additional thoughts on locations in August so I'm not going to rehash all of that here. I'll summarize just a few key points:

  • The ownership group finally agreed to provide a more significant amount of the cost of the stadium in their proposal, which was a piece that I've said since the beginning was going to be necessary for this to become a reality.
  • Incorporating the stadium into a larger development (also something I recommended for some time) also helped during this go around.
  • There is a key component in Senate Enrolled Act 7 that allows the stadium and the development to be "discontiguous," but within a 1 mile radius of each other. I have a feeling that this might come up later and could be another sticking point with the State, City, and the CIB if the team does attempt to have the stadium and the development in different locations. 
There was a recent report that the City had been in discussions with the team about being in the GM Stamping Plant location after the most recent developer, Ambrose, has decided to back out of building there. Many foresee a lawsuit and I doubt the ownership group will want to get involved in it and potentially wait until it is all resolved. The team had previously indicated that they would like to make an announcement on a location by the end of the year. I have reached out to the team for an update, but have not yet received any information. I do know that the team intends to use Lucas Oil Stadium "for the foreseeable future," which is at least 2 years, maybe 3.

I see this as a major issue with the team moving forward due to the likely possibility that the playoff issues that the team saw this year will occur year-after-year until they have their own facility. Lucas Oil Stadium has another primary tenant who supersedes any desire from the Indy Eleven, as well as being booked by other yearly events like the Indiana State School Music Association marching band finals and the Bands of America events. This means that any home field advantage that Indy develops during the regular season goes out of the window when they have to move to Carroll Stadium for playoff games. If I were the team, I would try to schedule a few more training sessions during the year at Carroll, just to get a better feel for the place instead of waiting a week before the first playoff game. I have also reached out to the team about their thoughts on the use of The Mike for the playoffs and am still waiting on a response from those questions as well.

Coach


Much like last year's announcement about Coach Rennie returning being met with a "ho-hum" response from most fans, unless he decided to move to another team, there was little doubt that he would be coming back. Indy have cycled through coaches every couple years in its history, but back-to-back playoff qualifying teams makes it difficult to rationalize firing a coach unless he's completely lost the locker room. I've heard of some questioning of the coach, but nothing close to a locker room mutiny.

So while the announcement is an important one from a continuity standpoint and will make Coach Rennie the longest tenured coach in the club's history, it was not unexpected. I am curious to see if there are any changes in the assistant coaching staff as we move forward. I'm interested to see if Juan Guerra stays on for another season or if he moves on.

I would like to see Coach Rennie take a step back from the Technical Director role that he is also filling and see the team hire a dedicated person for that role. Though I don't expect to see that happen.

Players

As I stated in my introduction, the team has already been busy announcing players with additional players expected to be announced this week and next. So we already know 11 guys that are returning or joining the team.

Announced as returning:

  1. Barrett, Gibson, Hackshaw, Ilic, Newton, Ouimette, Walker - As I indicated on Twitter after the announcement, with the exception of Ouimette, the other six guys were the first six signed for the 2019 roster. This seems more like a "these are the guys who signed 2-year contracts that will return next year" type of announcement to me. Ouimette joined the team at the same time as Rennie and was a stable on the right side of Rennie's three-back lineup. I can see Rennie wanting all of these guys back from a consistency standpoint as they accounted for 46% of the team's regular season minutes.
  2. Watson, Farr, Ayoze - These were the next three to be announced and only the re-signing of Farr slightly surprises me. Watson has been with Rennie in a number of locations. He and Ayoze's ages make them less likely to want to make drastic changes to other locations as long as they are reasonably happy, healthy, and playing well. Both are playing well and seem to be healthy. With the announcement of these three players, the percentage of the 2019 minutes jumps to 59%. If you're looking for consistency, there's only one glaring piece missing from the announcements and everybody is waiting on pins and needles for that one. My only question with Farr was whether he was willing to sit behind Newton again for another season. I still fully expect Rennie to consider Newton the #1 goalkeeper going into next season, meaning Farr's abilities will be sitting on the sideline as the team's most enthusiastic cheerleader. Moving forward with Newton and Farr on the roster, I (and others) would like to see Coach Rennie rotate them more throughout the season. There was no reason for Newton to be playing in the first Open Cup game (a game where Newton picked up a red card) nor try to play every game in some of those multiple games in a week stretches when Farr was available. With Newton's injuries the past two seasons, giving him some additional rest days would be helpful. Though that is something that Rennie could/should do with more of the players, but I don't see that in his mode of operation. 

Announced as joining:

  1. Conner Antley - This season's Defender of the Year in the USL League One was announced at the end of the week. Indy paid a transfer fee to get him on the roster as he was under contract with Tormenta FC for this next year. This is a big deal for the team and the league and shows that the team may have concerns about its depth in the back. I recall a time this year where Hackshaw had just returned from international duty and wasn't planning on being played. However, Osmond picked up a early first half yellow and a number of referee discussions and Coach Rennie felt that they had to get him out of the game and not risk picking up a second yellow and playing a man down. He had to play Hackshaw because he didn't think he had any other good options (I would have shifted Ayoze back and adjusted from there, but that's for another time...).

Others I expect to return:

  1. King - Coach Rennie often spoke highly of King and thinks he is poised for a breakout season. 
  2. Farias - He'll be competing for time with King, but the team could use the two of them the way they did this year when they were both healthy. Assuming Pasher returns (see below), Indy needs a more consistent attacking presence on the right side of the field to counteract the Ayoze/Pasher left side and both Farias and King showed glimpses this year.
  3. Conner - Conner was a spectacular mid-season find and he seemed to fit in nicely with Rennie's system. He's a little more box-to-box, which is something that the team needs; a defender who also likes to push forward.
  4. Novoa - His pace was a good compliment to Pasher's, but his size is going to prevent him from being any kind of target forward for this team. Despite that, I think Rennie keeps him around.
  5. Osmond - The fourth "starter" in the three back system, Rennie isn't going to want to sign Antley for depth just to get rid of his current depth.

Unknown:
I'm not sure the last time I had so many guys on the unknown list, but it's because I think it's anybody's guess on whether they stay or leave for a number of reasons.

  1. Pasher - Pasher's stock rose exponentially this year and I'm sure he was on the 2nd year of a 2 year contract so he and his agent would be foolish to not shop him around. Even if it was just to be able to negotiate more money here. Rennie needs him back. Fans want him back. Still might not be enough to keep him around.
  2. Starikov - Similar to Pasher, I think he was probably on the 2nd year of a 2 year contract and is now a free agent. His injury and its duration hampered him through most of the year, but even after his return, he struggled to get minutes. I often thought he looked frustrated at not getting time and am curious if that causes him to look for another team.
  3. Kelly - I can go either way with Kelly. There were glimpses all season of his goal scoring abilities. There were example after example of his inability to score this year. He might not be the right forward in Rennie's system. Enevoldsen struggled in Indy, but scored 10 goals in 15 games in Sacramento. Being in the right system and being happy can make all the difference in the world. Whether the team and Kelly all want to try for another season is yet to be seen.
  4. Diakhate - He was a feel-good story at the beginning of the season. He was an after-thought towards the end. He is likely inexpensive depth though.
  5. Nieto - Remain on an Academy contract? Maybe.
  6. Brown - Remain on an Academy contract? Maybe. 
  7. Rodrigues - To say he struggled would be an understatement. Despite his size, he was frequently bullied out of position and was not the target forward many fans expected he would provide. My guess is that he doesn't return, but could depend on what happens with Pasher/Kelly and a desire for depth.
  8. Perea - My gut says he is gone too, but I think it may depend on the size of the contract. 

More player news will be coming this week. Whether those include signings or announcements of departures or both is yet to be seen.

Final Thoughts:

I've decided to not dive into some other topics I would like to discuss as it relates to players and coaches. It's a long off-season so maybe they will get discussed later. For now, 2020 is looking like Indy is going to be a strong team again, vying for a playoff position and conference title. Whether they can take that next step (or two to a league final) is yet to be seen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 06.37 - USL Playoffs (Conference Final)

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 7,171
- Final Score: 1-3 L
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Watson 68' (Conner), Novoa 83' (Kelly); Starikov 98' (Walker); Ilic 98' (King)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea
- Goals: Pasher 67' (assist Kelly)
- Bookings: Barrett 45'+1' (Yellow); Ouimette 90'+2' (Yellow); Hackshaw 102' (Yellow); Watson 119' (Yellow)
- Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
- Adage goals: Two

I said it in my review of the semi-final game against Nashville. If you want to be the King, you have to beat the King. Until somebody proves otherwise, Louisville City is the King of the Eastern Conference. Five straight Eastern Conference finals and now three straight league finals. They are now in a stretch of not having lost a playoff game in 3 years. Yet...

Indy was close to taking down the King. The bubble popped 3 minutes and 4 seconds into a questionably allotted 4-minute stoppage time when LCFC's Hoppenot took a first-time rip at the ball off of a corner kick that took some nice turf bounces over the head of a falling Barrett and under the right arm of Farr who had been going to his left. It's the kind of cruel goal that changes momentum.

It's the kind of goal that keeps the King on his throne and the rest of the conference wondering what it's going to take to remove him from it.

With momentum fully shifted to LCFC after an early goal in extra time by Rasumussen, Indy was forced to throw attackers into the game as Starikov and Ilic were brought into the game in place of Kelly and King. When Spencer scored an insurance goal from the spot in the 113th minute, all that was really left was for the clock to wind down. The King doesn't give up a two-goal lead that late in the game, even playing on the road.

The moderate upside for Indy is that for long stretches of the game, they looked like the better team. Possession may be 9/10th of the law, but neither team seemed to be able to have it for any extended duration. Louisville was shown to have the final possession edge at a nearly 60/40 ratio, but Indy seemed to do more with their possession than did LCFC. They had more shots and shots on target. Jordan Farr wasn't credited with a single save for the game as LCFC had 3 shots on target and had 3 goals.

Indy had chances that they missed, including one from Watson in the 89th minute that just crept over the bar and landed in the top netting. Twelve inches lower and Indy would have been celebrating at the end of the game instead of LCFC.

My only objections to Indy's game was, possibly, the substitutions and when those occurred and for whom. Yet even those fell in line with the way that Coach Rennie has been utilizing substitutes at the end of the season. However, within a minute of Pasher scoring the opening goal of the game in the 67th minute, Coach Rennie pulled Conner for Watson, which had the feeling of an offense for defense substitution. It seemed a bit premature to me to begin the Rennie Bunker (TM) at that point in the game. Twenty-two minutes is a long time to defend against a team like LCFC in a win-or-go-home scenario, even for this team.

I also question the Novoa for Kelly sub in the 83rd minute. Though, again, the time and substitution was in line with recent patterns. I just felt that the things that Kelly was doing well for the team at the time could not be achieved by Novoa and it also pushed Pasher further back into the Bunker. Novoa does not have Kelly's size to be able to stay up top and bring a ball down with defenders on his back. He can run around like a madman trying to disrupt LCFC's defenders, but I didn't think that was what would have helped ride out the remaining minutes of the game.

When it comes to playoff soccer, it's not always the better team that wins. Sometimes, it's not even the better team on the day that wins. It's the team that makes good on their chances and for this game, that was Louisville City.

It does disappoint me that the Eleven spent all season creating a home field advantage in Lucas Oil Stadium only to see that advantage go out the roof because the stadium had already been reserved for other users. Notably one that I believe wasn't even using the facility for the NYRBII game, but has a clause that limits users to a certain duration ahead of their use. Carroll creates a great atmosphere particularly with so many traveling fans, but the weather and the turf affected the game and took away some of that home field advantage. Whether anybody in the team will publicly admit it, playing at Carroll Stadium was not an advantage. There's my little plug for an increased desire for Eleven Park because Indy could find themselves in this exact same situation every year until they have their own stadium.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ouimette gets the Game Beckons Game Ball in the loss. It's like losing twice for him...

Photos:
















Sunday, November 3, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Nashville SC - 06.36 - USL Playoffs (Conference Semifinals)

- Opponent: Nashville SC
- Location: Nashville
- Attendance: 4,145
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Novoa 70' (Kelly), Watson 86' (Pasher)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea, Starikov, Ilic,
- Goals: Pasher 59' (assist Gibson)
- Bookings: Ayoze 22' (Yellow); Ouimette 24' (Yellow)
- Referee: Elton GarcĂ­a
- Adage goals: None

Through the first week of the USL Championship Playoffs, the Western Conference was a veritable roller coaster ride full of lower seeds upending the higher seeds, including 8th seed Austin Bold taking Phoenix Rising to penalty kicks just days after having to play in the Play-In Round. The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, proceeded mostly according to script with all 4 of the top seeds advancing past their conference quarterfinal matches.

Week 2 of the Playoffs began the same way as Week 1 with Real Monarchs finishing the job that Austin Bold was nearly able to do the week before and send Phoenix Rising, the odds-on favorite to win it all before the playoffs, exiting the tournament without even making it to the conference final. With the other Western Conference results, by the time the #3 Indianapolis - #2 Nashville and #1 Pittsburgh - #4 Louisville games started, everybody knew that the final was going to go through one of the Eastern Conference cities yet again.

 As Austin Bold can attest, keeping a clean sheet in the playoffs doesn't guarantee success when it can be undone by penalty kicks. However, playoffs are often the time when defensive efforts are rewarded and the Indianapolis vs Nashville game matched the top two defenses in the league. It was the kind of game where the expectation was that a single goal could be enough to be the winner.

In the early part of the game, all signs pointed to Indy being the winner who held the early advantage in shots, possession, and corners. Action evened out a bit just past the 20th minute when a kerfuffle arose after a hard Ayoze challenge and Nashville increased their intensity. Ayoze's challenge and the resulting pushing and shoving provided the game with 3 of its 5 total yellow cards, as Ayoze and Ouimette received cards, as well as Nashville's Washington. After that, both teams settled in and finished the half with 50/50 possession, but Indy had more shots on target than Nashville.

Jordan Farr, continuing his excellent play in replacement of Evan Newton, was forced to make one of this 3 saves early in the second half. As the game progressed and the defensive strengths continued for both teams, a moment of brilliance looked like it might be the deciding factor. Then in the 59th minute, Tyler happened.

"'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'
My man John Keat's said that."
Tyler X 2 to be more exact.

Tyler Gibson, the team's iron man in starts and minutes this year, picked up the ball near midfield, picked his head up, and spotted Tyler Pasher about to make a Tyler Pasher run. Gibson put an absolutely perfect ball over the top that would land just inside the 18-yard box where Nashville's Pickens couldn't come out to get it, but where Pasher could run onto it. Pasher one-touched the ball with the outside of his left foot past a stranded Pickens and just inside the left goal post. It's the kind of shot that Indy fans have seen numerous times this year just dribble agonizingly on the wrong side of the post, but it squeaked in for Pasher's 5th game winner this season.

Indy continued to play within their game tactics, but the 70th minute substitution of Novoa for Kelly indicated that things were getting adjusted for the visitors. Novoa was left up top to chase down real estate clearances and Pasher (and then his 86th minute substitute Watson) dropped further and further back to help defend and solidify the Rennie Bunker (TM). By the time the game ended, Indy fans knew that the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket was already filled by Louisville City FC. It took until the conference semi-final games, but the lower seeds both prevailed, providing Indy and Louisville fans with a #LIPAC with some conference hardware on the line.

Indy return to #TheMike on Saturday November 9th with a 3:00 in the afternoon start time to continue this I-65 rivalry. LCFC are the back-to-back reigning champions and haven't lost a playoff match in 3 years. To be the King, you have to defeat the King. Until somebody does that to LCFC in the playoffs, they are still the team to beat in the east. Indy will look to use the good run of form and their home crowd to do just that; be the new King.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I'm not sure that I've given him enough credit this year for all that he does, but I can remedy that by giving Tyler Gibson this game's Game Beckons Game Ball. He:

  • Leads the team in minutes played (3,234; more than 500 minutes more than any other player)
  • Leads the team in Starts (36) and Games Played (36), which is the only field player in Indy's history to do so.
  • Leads the team in Passing Accuracy (87.8%), 
  • Leads the team in Long Pass Accuracy (63.1% - not counting Starikov who has only attempted 5), 
  • Is 2nd in Passes per 90 mins (59.1), 
  • Is tied for first in Passing Accuracy in the Opponent's Half (83.7%), 
  • 2nd in Passing Accuracy in Own Half (91.4%), 
  • Leads the team in Interceptions (42), and 
  • Is even 2nd in fouls won.
He's been the right guy to do what Coach Rennie needed him to do and he's doing it consistently and at a high level. Indy have utilized the ball over the top effectively all year, but Gibson's play versus Nashville highlights his ability and Tyler Pasher rewarded him for that ability.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Indy Eleven vs New York Red Bulls II - 06.35 - USL Playoffs (Conference Quarterfinals)

- Opponent: New York Red Bulls II
- Location: Indianapolis (Carroll Stadium)
- Attendance: 5,175
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Watson 76' (Kelly), Novoa 85' (Pasher)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea, Starikov, Ilic,
- Goals: Ouimette 27' (assist King)
- Bookings: None (for either team...)
- Referee: Michael Radchuk
- Adage goals: None

With ten days rest and planning for this game, Indy faced New York Red Bulls II in their first game of the USL Championship playoffs and their first game at Carroll Stadium since the end of the 2017 season. For all of its charm, and there were many fans ecstatic to be headed back to Carroll Stadium for this game, The Mike can be torture on game plans and tactics when the weather becomes a factor.

The weather became a factor.

A constant rain throughout the day created a surface that was soaked and fast. As Brad Hauter indicated on the telecast, "make the mistakes in your opponent's half of the field."

To his point, Indy often played the ball over the top with long passes, with a season low effectiveness to show for it. Indy played long passes nearly 33% of the time, but passes routinely skipped away from receiving players. The Eleven managed just 48.8% passing accuracy, while RBII managed just slightly better at 58.2%. Indy's accuracy in RBII's half plummeted down to a paltry 36.1% success rate. Some of that was the weather, some of that was the result of the Rennie Bunker (TM) and blast at the end of the game, but Indy also made a clear choice in how they wanted to play on that surface and where they were willing to make mistakes.

One of those long passes came off a restart that RBII also blasted out of their area only to have Paddy Barrett recycle it back into the mix on a long diagonal ball towards King. King perfectly one-touched his centering pass, and Ouimette showed his skill level with a side volley that went opposite side netting past Louro. NYRBII pleaded for an offside call, but it appears that King timed his run well to get to Barrett's pass. I've watched Barrett practice these long diagonal balls before games so it is clearly something that is part of the plan and something that he has learned to do well. When his pass doesn't reach its intended target it is generally met with a frustrated reaction from Barrett.

Ouimette's 27th minute goal proved to be the game winner as Indy could never find another goal, managing just 5 shots (1 on target), while also limiting RBII to just 9 shots (also just 1 on target). In a night of high scoring playoff games in which the winning team scored 3 or more goals in 5 of the 8 games, Indy held on for a 1-nil win. Given that RBII were the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference and the 3rd highest in the league, it's all the more impressive that Indy kept them scoreless. RBII were shutout just 6 times all season. Two of those were against Indy. If the old saying that "defense wins championships" is true, Indy's ability to keep RBII off the board may serve as a springboard for the rest of the playoffs.

What can we take from this win against NYRBII? Confidence, but that may be about it. It was an ugly game under poor conditions on a field that was basically new to all 27 guys who took the field. It's doubtful that Indy will want to continue next week versus Nashville conceding so much possession or continue to spray balls long one-third of the time they touch it. Indy played Nashville to a nil-nil draw in May in Indy and then played to a 2-nil loss in July in Nashville.

The point of the playoffs is to survive and advance and Indy did that against RBII under adverse conditions and can now set their sights on Nashville SC. Indy will look to remedy their road form against a team who finished the regular season on a 6-game undefeated streak and a 4-game win streak. Including their recent home playoff game, Nashville played their final three regular season games at home and have scored 10 goals in that four game stretch. Again, if Indy wants to move forward in the playoffs, their stingy defense is likely going to be the main reason they advance against Nashville.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I thought about this for awhile and could never really settle on a single player that I felt should get the game ball. Ouimette for his goal. Farr for a clean sheet in his first playoff start. Kelly and Pasher for continually chasing down long balls. Ayoze's and Conner's effort. Walker's and Gibson's help defense in front of the back 3. Hackshaw, Barrett, and Ouimette for helping facilitate that clean sheet for Farr. This game truly required a team effort against a top team in bad conditions. So, in what I believe is a first for me, I'm going to give this game's Game Beckons Game Ball to the entire team.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Swope Park Rangers - 06.34

- Opponent: Swope Park Rangers
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 10,251
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Osmond, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, Pasher, Novoa, Kelly
- Substitutions: Hackshaw 46' (Osmond), Ilic 62' (Novoa); Perea 83' (Kelly)
- Unused: Brown, Starikov, Rodrigues, Watson
- Goals: Kelly 56' (assist Ayoze); Kelly 67' (assist Walker)
- Bookings: Osmond 23' (Yellow); Conner 40' (Yellow); Hackshaw 61' (Yellow)
- Referee: Chris Ruska
- Adage goals: One

Swope Park came into Lucas Oil Stadium looking to cleanse their palate after losing to Louisville City FC by a score of 8-3 after being ahead 3-nil. With that mentality, SPR hung around in the first half, but Indy had the bulk of the chances and possession. Regardless, SPR's ability to stick around in the first half forced Indy to work harder than they would have preferred given that a draw in this game was enough to secure a home playoff game for the club. The first half was physical with the referee showing 5 yellow cards between the two teams; Indy with 2 and SPR with 3.

Coach Rennie made no changes to his lineup from the game against Tampa Bay, with the exception of starting Pasher again in place of Ilic. This consistency provided one of the most interchanging between the midfielders and forwards than I can remember this season as players routinely switched sides and lines throughout the game. However, it also meant that guys are going to have to use the break between this game and the, now official, home playoff game on the 26th to get any kind of rest. While Indy fans had to adjust their schedules because of the Colts booting the Eleven from playing on the 19th, Indy became the first team to complete their season and as a result, have a few extra days rest.

Even Hackshaw, who had been on international duty and only flew back into town earlier in the day (from my understanding), saw time thanks to one of those first half yellows going to Osmond who received numerous warnings from the referee. Not wanting to take the chance of playing yet another game down a man, the coaching staff subbed Osmond out at halftime. Personally, I would have preferred to see Rennie bring on Watson or Starikov, adjusted the forward and midfield lines, and slid Ayoze back as the left back, a position he routinely played last year. Hackshaw played well given his travel and lack of rest, but he could have used a full ninety minutes off right before the playoffs after his international duties.

Indy pressed everything in the first half, looking to force the SPR back line and goalkeeper into a poor touch and finished the half as much in SPR's defensive half as they were in their own half versus Tampa Bay. A striking difference between playing one of the conference leaders at their house and the bottom of the conference at your house and the tactics that Coach Rennie employs under those two scenarios.

Indy's effort and possession led to a slight advantage in shots at half, but Indy's final touch around goal was all they were missing. Doing everything correct up to that point, but couldn't get their shots on target. I would like to have seen Indy attempt more shots from around 25 yards straight out from the goal as SPR was consistently slow at closing down the ball in that location. Though when Indy received the ball in that area, it was generally Gibson and Walker, who are unlikely to shoot, so maybe that was why SPR was slow to close down the player.

SPR spent a lot of time chasing and defending, which meant that if Indy didn't get a goal in the first half, SPR was going to wear down in the 2nd half, potentially leading to multiple late goals. Indy managed to get two goals in the 2nd half, but the affect of wearing down SPR was seen more in their production rather than Indy's production. SPR managed just two shots in the 2nd half, one of which was the goal in the 57th minute. The goal that happened one minute after Indy put themselves ahead in the 56th minute on a goal by Kelly.

One minute later. Seriously?

Seriously. That takes Doug Starne's adage goal theory to the extreme.

Kelly going airborne during his 2nd goal
Photo Credit: @DLTPhotog
Luckily, Indy wasn't content with playing out the rest of the game and settling for the draw and continued to press forward. While it only created a goal advantage with more than thirty minutes left in the game, Kelly's 67th minute goal seemed to provide a calming feeling in the crowd that the game was going to be a win for Indy.

With the win, Indy clinched a home playoff game and finished the season undefeated at Lucas Oil Stadium, and at home in general including their U.S. Open Cup victory against Lansing Ignite at the Sellick Bowl on the campus of Butler University. Announced earlier in the week by the front office, Carroll Stadium will once again be home for Indy Eleven as their playoff game(s) will happen at the former home of the team. When I asked Coach Rennie after the game if he felt Carroll Stadium could still provide a home field advantage given that only a few of the current players on the roster have played at the stadium, all while they were visiting players with other teams, and if he had any plan to reach out to former local players Brad Ring or Jon Busch for ways to handle the field.
“I think it’s home field advantage in the sense that, over the years, Indy Eleven has done really well in that stadium. I think that the crowd are even more of a factor in that stadium – I think it’ll be sold out, I think it’ll be a really hectic atmosphere, and I think that will be a big positive for us. We’ll have to adapt to some things, but I feel good about it. I’m really happy to be at home. We’ve had so many away games in recent times and those are difficult because you don’t have a normal routine, you’re waking up in a strange place, you don’t have the feeling like you do at home. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us."
Photo Credit: @DLTPhotog
Indy is locked into the 3rd place finish in the Eastern Conference and will face either Tampa Bay Rowdies, New York Red Bulls II, or Louisville City FC depending on the results of the weekend. Given that Lou City has as many or more players/coaches on their roster that have played at Carroll Stadium, have had success there, and can bring their own contingent of fans, I have my reservations about Indy's home field advantage against them. Indy looked like the far inferior team against Tampa Bay less than a week ago. With the way that NYRBII have played of late (having lost 4 of their last 5), they might be the team that Indy would want to face as they start the playoffs.

All 3 of Indy's opponents play on Saturday night so they won't need to wait until the final game of the regular season on Sunday (Birmingham vs Pittsburgh) to know their opponent. Will a week's preparation and a few extra days of rest be enough to have more success in the playoffs than last year? The team set season club records this year for Wins (19), Road Wins (6), Points (63), Shutouts (13), was unbeaten at home, and have conceded the 2nd fewest in the USL Championship. A win in the playoffs is the next progression and hurdle for this team to clear.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Photo Credit: @DLTPhotog
Kelly gets the nod for this game. For all his struggles this year to consistently find the back of the goal, he has moved himself into some elite company in the club's record books for scorers. Kelly's brace makes him just the 4th player in club history to achieve multiple braces in a season, joining company with Zayed, Braun, and McInerney. He's now 5th in Game Winning goals and tied for 5th in Career Goals. For a prolific scorer, it helps to see the ball go in. For a prolific scorer to score 3 goals in the final two games of the regular season, that's a promising sign for Indy.














Photos (all by @DLTPhotog)











Sunday, October 13, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Tampa Bay Rowdies - 06.33

- Opponent: Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Location: Tampa Bay
- Attendance: 7,851
- Final Score: 1-1 D
- Starting XI: Farr, Osmond, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, Ilic, Novoa, Kelly
- Substitutions: Watson 59' (Walker); Pasher 59' (Ilic); Starikov 89' (Kelly)
- Unused: Brown, Perea, Rodrigues, King
- Goals: Kelly 72' (assist Pasher)
- Bookings: Barrett 64' (Yellow); Kelly 88' (Yellow)
- Referee: Lorant Varga
- Adage goals: One

Tilted Field. That's not the name of a new soccer related sports bar, though that would be a great name for that kind of bar, but rather the way this game was played. This game was tilted in the direction of Tampa Bay for the majority of the game. Everything about this game looked like it would end with a Tampa Bay win and Indy making the trip home in a much more precarious position for obtaining a home playoff game.

Indy finished the game with nearly every player's average position on the field being located in their own defensive end. Tampa flipped Indy's normal script and held a 65% possession at half with an 11 to 1 advantage in shots. Finished with a 60/40 ratio and a 24 to 5 shot difference. Indy was playing defense, good defense and last-ditch effort defense, for what felt like the entirety of the first half and were, as Brad Hauter stated at halftime, "lucky to be down one."

"You need to put some wrinkle in because you can't withstand another 45 minutes like that." As Greg Rakestraw foresaw, "I think that wrinkle might be Pasher."

Despite all of Tampa Bay's chances in the first half, it was an unfortunate penalty on a hand ball call that allowed Tampa to go into the halftime locker with a 1-nil advantage, completely wiping out all of the defending that Indy did during the half. Tampa Bay was the better team in the first half, but it's unfortunate that it was a ref's decision to call a penalty on an inadvertent hand ball by Barrett that would have been impossible for him to avoid as he fell to the turf that put Indy into such a precarious position going into halftime.

Tampa began the 2nd half in much the same fashion and finished the game looking like the better team. And yet... In the 59th minute, Coach Rennie made two substitutions; Watson for Walker and Pasher for Ilic. Watson played exactly like we have grown accustomed from the captain, but it was Pasher that started tilting the field back in a way that made it look like Indy could potentially exit Tampa Bay with a point instead of nothing. It's so rare to see a single player completely change the tenor of a game that way that Pasher affected this game. His movement, pace, and ability with the ball started to clear things for other players.

When that happens..."Out of nothing in minute 72!" Osmond to Pasher to Kelly for the equalizer. That's what the addition of Pasher can do for a team's tactics, both offensively and defensively.

As Brad Hauter stated towards the end of the game, "if you walk off with a 1-1 draw, these two teams walk off with very different emotions." There was no reason for Indy to win/tie this game, despite Coach Rennie's post-game comments. There was no reason for Tampa Bay to lose/tie this game. Yet, a draw is how the game ended and Indy left Tampa Bay with a chance to host a playoff game. It wasn't the definitive assertion of their home playoff hopes, but no team in the East has been doing that in the past few weeks, with the notable exception of Pittsburgh who are on a 10 game undefeated streak to close out the season.

A draw on Wednesday night can get Indy the much needed home playoff game, but given that their opponent just lost to Louisville on Saturday night by an 8-3 scoreline, Indy should want to show more dominance of SPR than just a draw. Additionally, with Indy's away record (6W-9L-2D) versus their home record (undefeated at 12W-0L-4D), Indy needs to make no mistake about this game and get ahead early and keep their foot on the gas until the end.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Pasher's insertion into the game clearly made all of the difference in the final result so it would be easy to give Pasher the game ball, but I'm going to have to give it to The Defense for this game. The defense was under constant pressure, was forced to make last-ditch effort after last-ditch effort, and kept Tampa Bay off of the board for the entire game if you don't count the questionable call that lead to the penalty. Without that effort, Indy could have been behind by a large margin and Pasher's insertion would not have mattered. So this game's Game Beckons Game Ball goes to the collective defensive effort.

Final Note:

Guenzatti's chicken dance after scoring the penalty kick is a classless way to celebrate a goal. I don't care if that is your normal post-goal celebration, realize the situation of:
1) getting a penalty kick on a questionable call,
2) penalty kicks are heavily favored to the kicker, and
3) you scored it on a young goalkeeper who has had very few minutes this year as the backup keeper.

Do not run at the keeper with your chicken dance. Be a professional. Score your goal and celebrate with your teammates somewhere else.

I was glad to see Drew Conner stick up for his keeper in that situation. That's kind of his personality, but it still was good to see somebody do it.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Memphis 901 FC - 06.32

- Opponent: Memphis 901 FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 13,134
- Final Score: 3-0 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett, Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, Ilic, Novoa, Kelly
- Substitutions: Perea 70' (Ilic); Pasher 74' (Kelly); Rodrigues 83' (Novoa)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Diakhate, Starikov
- Goals: Novoa 13' (assist Kelly); Ouimette 22' (assist Ayoze); Pasher 77' (assist Barrett)
- Bookings: None
- Referee: Elijio Arreguin
- Adage goals: None

Even on short rest, there's something about being back at Lucas Oil Stadium that created a different vibe from this team. They seemed to come out faster and more determined than any of the four previous road games. Coach Rennie often cites club records in comparison to how the team has performed so I'm sure he was aware that a 5 game losing streak would have been a new record low. After the game, Jordan Farr stated, “There was definitely a vibe that was ‘This needs to end here now.’ Like, there is no chance that we are losing this game, there’s no chance we are not going to get points out of this and win. I think we were under a mentality of ‘This is it.’"

With that mentality in mind, an early 13th minute goal by Novoa helped put the team in a better mindset and not have to come from behind or get a late goal to win. It helped keep the game from being a struggle for them, which is what we've seen the past few games. Ouimette's goal in the 22nd minute solidified that this was the night for the losing streak to end. Having not scored in 8 games, Tyler Pasher, Indy's leading scorer, capped off the goal scoring for the night with a one-v-one breakdown of his defender and then a shot through Caldwell's legs. Pasher's goal may have surprised Caldwell on the timing as Pasher shot the ball with his right foot, with Caldwell likely waiting for Pasher to get the ball to his favored left foot and so the shot surprised him. Interestingly, they all originated from different parts of the field and in different ways, but all three goals were scored from the same general area on the field against Memphis' goalkeeper Caldwell; around the six yard line and to his left.

Novoa and Kelly played well up top together. Kelly was extremely active with a constant fight against Memphis' Doyle for position. It happened much later in the game than I expected, but one of the two of them received a yellow card for the physical play between them when Doyle was shown the game's only yellow card in the 82 minute. Ironically, on a foul not on Kelly who had made way for Pasher.

It may be a function of trying to watch away games via a television feed and not live, but there seemed to be a concerted effort in this game for Ayoze and Conner to use the entire width of the field. In the past, I've noticed the wingers on the touchline on one side and the other side winger will drift into the middle. Tonight, both guys stayed out wide regardless of where the ball was located unless they were the player that was taking the ball into the middle. This width seemed to open channels for the rest of the players, while also allowing for some significant switching of the field by Barrett, Hackshaw, and both Ayoze and Conner. The pace of switching the field of play was quicker tonight and it paid off.

It was also nice to see that coming out of the locker room at halftime ahead 2-nil, the team did not settle into the Rennie Bunker (TM). They continued to press forward. While the vibe from the team was a win, a clean sheet and making things easier on Farr seemed to play into the tactics as well. Memphis had a couple of opportunities on goal being credited with 7 shots, but I can only remember a couple that really required Farr to make a big play, which he did.

This was a good, and much needed, win for Indy. A fifth loss in a row would have been devastating to their hopes of hosting a home playoff game (rumored to be at Carroll Stadium). Getting guys on the scoreboard will also help their confidence as they head to Tampa Bay after an entire week of rest/training. With some of the other results from the weekend, Indy moved back into 2nd place and in line for one of the home playoff matches. Strong results against Tampa and Swope Park can solidify that goal.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I'm going to give this game's Game Beckons Game Ball to Ilic. Like Kelly, he was a thorn in the Memphis defense, playing physical and with intensity. He created a chance on goal and was 100% accurate with his passes inside Memphis' half of the field. He put in a great shift tonight.

Photos