Sunday, March 31, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Hartford Athletic - 06.03

- Opponent: Hartford Athletic
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 20,251
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Crognale, Barrett (C), Ayoze, Matern, Gibson, King, Enevoldsen, Kelly, Starikov
- Substitutions: Watson 71' (Starikov); Pasher 76' (Matern); Diakhate 90' (Kelly)
- Unused: Farr, Farias, Osmond, Ouimette
- Goals: Own Goal 40' (Lyngo)
- Bookings: Ayoze 58' (Yellow); Gibson 63' (Yellow); Matern 69' (Yellow)
- Referee: Lukasz Szpala
- Adage goals: None

For the first time in Indy Eleven history, the team won their home opener (played to draws in 2014 - 2017 and lost to FCC last year); beating expansion side Hartford Athletics by a score of 1-nil. For the first time in Indy Eleven history, the team surpassed the 20,000 mark for announced attendance; reaching 20,251 fans. For the first time this season, Ayoze took the field and reminded us all why he was last year's team MVP.

For what is hopefully the last time this season, Dane Kelly missed a shot from 3 yards out, sending the low cross from Ayoze over the crossbar. While that is the shot that had Kelly holding his head in his hands and Indy Eleven fans groaning for what could have been, Kelly was a pest for the Hartford defense all night. In addition to the ball that somehow made its way over the crossbar (I think it took a last second hop right before it got to him that affected where it hit his foot), Kelly has done more woodwork this year than a carpenter. Kelly put two more shots off the woodwork, bringing his season total to four. The one off the left post in the 52nd minute was a left-footed blast that hit near the upper 90. The one off the right post in the 89th minute (and his last touch of the game), was a right-footed low screamer that hit a foot off the ground. Kelly is trying everything he can to get the ball in the net, but has been unlucky to date. "I'm a striker so I'm going to get chances. I'm going to score some and I'm going to miss some too. Today's one of those days where I just couldn't find the net." Teams need to be worried about when he finds his rhythm because he is getting chances and sooner or later, he's going to get going and stop being unlucky.

Kelly may be struggling to find the net and other players have been picking up the goal scoring until he rounds into form. For example, Starikov had 3 shots (2 off target, 1 blocked), Enevoldsen had 3 shots (1 on target, 1 off target, 1 blocked), and Ayoze had 2 shots (1 on target and 1 off target) with 7 chances created between them. While none of the Indy Eleven's chances materialized into a goal, the team was helped out in the 40th minute, when Hartford Athletics' Lyngo attempted a chested ball back to his keeper Lissek and inadvertently put the ball into their own goal. It would be easy to say that Indy was lucky with this goal, but the pressure that they were placing on the Hartford defense finally materialized in a goal, just not exactly in the way that they would have planned.

Another sign that Ayoze was back was that he was shown a yellow card in the 58th minute. Ayoze received 6 yellow cards last season, 4 in a stretch of 4 games before figuring out how to deal with the USL refs. Ayoze's yellow card set off a string of yellows shown to Indy Eleven players as Gibson and Matern both were shown yellow cards in the next dozen or so minutes after Ayoze was shown his. Somehow, Hartford finished the game unscathed. USL refs going to USL ref.

Indy came away with a victory and that helped make the largest jump on the table this week. It's difficult to judge the table right now with the way that the USL schedule is being played right now, but it's always nice to see the team in the top half of the table. Their standing won't remain that way for long as they don't play again until April 15th. They also don't play another home game until May 1st, so if there were any new soccer fans created in the 20,000 in attendance, they're going to have to wait a month to get back to LOS to cheer. USL schedule going to USL schedule.

Other Notes

- Walker was shown as being out due to injury. The broadcast indicated it was abdominal. I heard after the game that it was because he had an appendectomy. He was walking around and seemed to be doing well. Hopefully he continues to recover well.

 - I thought the team looked out of sync at times in the first third of the game. Upon watching the replay, I counted at least ten instances of unforced errors and bad decisions. Those were either passes that were ill-advised (without enough pace or into traffic), passes that were different than the receiving player was expecting, or passes to a spot where nobody was located or could reach. Given it's the third game of the season, some of that can be attributed to still learning each other, but I have to wonder too if the adrenaline of playing in front of the home crowd had the guys amped a bit at the beginning. I didn't notice the same sort of mistakes later in the game.

- Early in the game (7th minute), Matern was leading a break with Kelly. While the rest of the stadium began to increase in volume as they hoped to see something materialize from the break, Matern's not exactly the preferred guy to lead that charge. In the end, Matern had to wrestle the ball away from 3 defenders who had converged on him, but did, ultimately, gain a free kick just outside the 18-yard box for his efforts. I would have liked to see him put in an earlier ball over the top to Kelly and let the USL all-time record goal scorer work his magic.

- I had hoped to see it last year during the July 4th match against the Ottawa Fury, but the team was finally able to acquire a full-field sized version of the American flag for display during the National Anthem. With the rendition of the Anthem by Courtney Jurick, it was as cool as I had anticipated it to be. I do know that the flag was borrowed from the Colts, but I don't know if there will be periodic use of the flag this season or if this will be the only time we see it this year.

- Former Indy Eleven player Wojciech Wojcik (aka Woj) entered the game for Hartford in the 74th minute and immediately got into the action by fouling Matt Watson. It's always nice to see former Eleven players continuing to find teams after their time here as Woj was loaned to OKC, then signed to OKC, then spent last year with the Cosmos, before rejoining manager Jimmy Nielsen in Hartford (Nielsen was the coach in OKC when Woj was there). #IndyForever

The Game Beckons Game Ball

As I said last year, I sometimes wish I could give him this award every week, but Ayoze certainly made his presence felt in his first action this year. With Hackshaw playing behind him, Ayoze is freer to make the runs and be a pest offensively without the defensive responsibilities that he had last year. His touch and decision making was right where he left us expecting last year. Glad he's back in the lineup.

Additional Photos (courtesy of Don Thompson Photography)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Charlotte Independence - 06.02

- Opponent: Charlotte Independence
- Location: Charlotte
- Attendance: 1,649
- Final Score: 3-2 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett, Ouimette, King, Walker, Gibson, Watson (C), Enevoldsen, Starikov, Kelly
- Substitutions: Penn 77' (Starikov); Diakhate 82' (Kelly); Farias 89' (Enevoldsen)
- Unused: Farr, Matern, Ilic, Crognale
- Goals: King 12' (assist Walker); Gibson 16'; Enevoldsen 69' (assist Walker)
- Bookings: None
- Referee: Gustavo Solorio
- Adage goals: One

Sometimes you watch a game, see the score, and look at the game statistics and you think, "yeah, that makes sense." Sometimes you watch a game, see the score, and look at the game statistics and you think, "there's a disconnect between all of those." This game is one of the latter.

Indy Eleven scored 3 goals, two of those in the first 16 minutes by King in the 12th minute and Gibson in the 16th minute. The third, which would surprisingly be considered the game winner, found the back of the net in the 69th minute on a rocket from Enevoldsen from a corner kick. After
that, Charlotte scored two goals to make the end of the game much more interesting than it needed to be from an Eleven fan's perspective.

Charlotte held a 62.5% to 37.5% advantage in possession. And yet, even by the standards of the Charlotte broadcast team, Charlotte's possession was substantial but not effective. Charlotte had just three shots on target for all of that possession. However, the managed to put two of those shots in the goal. Evan Newton made his first save for Indy in the 66th minute. Three minutes later, Indy put their third goal on the board. Four minutes later, Charlotte's second shot of the game, found it's way past Newton and breathed life into the Independence. Their possession paid off again in the 83rd minute when IU product Andrew Gutman's header found its way under Newton and trimmed the game down to a single goal differential.

As an Indy Eleven fan, you love the start to the game. You love that multiple guys are finding the back of the net. However, giving up the late clean sheet makes you wonder if all of Charlotte's possession and the 3 back lineup began to wear on Indy, helping set up the two goals.

As I suspected, Coach Rennie stayed with the 3 back lineup, but he moved Ouimette to the center of the field and moved Barrett to the right. Without seeing all of the preseason games, I wonder if Rennie is still trying to determine who can best fill that CB, leadership, role for this team. I suspect he likes Barrett's physicality to the role, but maybe Ouimette is showing to be better at directing the defense. We may see some additional movement at that position until Rennie figures out who he can trust in that role.

As previously mentioned, Charlotte held a 62/38 possession advantage, in essence swapping the possession numbers that Indy held against Saint Louis. For me, much of that difference can be accounted by the fact that Indy nearly doubled their number of long passes between the two games. Indy had 14% long vs Saint Louis and 26% versus Charlotte and that number seems low from the eyeball test. Or maybe it is just exacerbated by the fact that the 82% passing accuracy from the Saint Louis game dropped down to 69% for this game. It felt like Indy routinely did well with quick passes with each other in the defensive third only to watch somebody blast it forward over the midfield in an attempt to get it to Enevoldsen, Starikov, or Kelly. Routinely with limited success.

It's only two games into the season, but Dane Kelly really needs to see a ball go into the goal. In the game against Saint Louis, his penalty kick was saved and he had a header go off the woodwork. Against Charlotte, a nice run of fplay by the Eleven allowed Kelly to unleash a shot from just outside the 18 that also found the woodwork. Fortunately for the Eleven, other guys are scoring goals, but they desperately want to get Kelly going soon.

Indy now has two weeks off before their home opener against former Indy player Wojcik and Hartford Athletics and then another two weeks off before going to play Swope Park.

Other Notes:

- Ayoze was out again this week, this time officially listed in the Injury Report as Questionable with a quad. In his absence, Walker has been taking most (all?) of the corners and set pieces. In a related note, the Eleven have scored four goals in the young season, three of which that were assisted. Walker has all three assists.

- There are some good commentators in the USL and there are some bad commentators. Rakestraw is one of the best. The Charlotte commentators were...not as good. I had to stop the game and come back to it later. Fast forwarded to about where I left off and was met with dead air. A lot of dead air. So much that I wondered if I had turned off my speakers. Greg has said that there's a fine line between providing commentary in a visual medium and that he approaches it differently when he's doing radio. I counted 5 different segments of the game, where the Charlotte commentators were silent for at least 30 seconds. At one point, from 62:35 to 63:38 (a full minute of game time), there was silence. They didn't say a single word. No play-by-play. No color commentary. Just the sounds of the PA announcer and the sparse Charlotte crowd noise. If you don't think Greg Rakestraw is one of the best in the business, I feel sorry for you.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I think I'm going to give this to Starikov this week. Starikov's header was what started the flurry in front of goal that lead to Gibson's put-back goal. His energy was good and ended up with 4 shots and an 80% passing accuracy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Saint Louis FC - 06.01

- Opponent: Saint Louis FC
- Location: Saint Louis
- Attendance: ??
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett, Ouimette, Penn, Walker, Gibson, Watson (C), Enevoldsen, Ilic, Kelly
- Substitutions: Pasher 73' (Ilic); Starikov 90' (Penn)
- Unused: Farr, Farias, King, Matern, Osmond
- Goals: Hackshaw 61' (assist Walker)
- Bookings: Hackshaw 57' (Yellow); Barrett 64' (Yellow)
- Referee: Rosendo Mendoza
- Adage goals: None

Indy Eleven kicked off the 2019 season on the road against Saint Louis FC with a nice contingent of the "Battleborn Brigade" in tow. If you're going to provide commentary for a match, do a little research and get names correct, including the one for the supporter's section. Just makes you look unprofessional.

As far as the game goes, it looks like Coach Rennie is going to start the year defensively the way that they finished last year, with a 3 back lineup. The first time that Indy played it last season was a late September game versus Tampa Bay, but Coach Rennie indicated at that time that he had wanted to employ that tactic earlier in the season, but the loss of Reiner made it difficult. It looks like he wanted to get an earlier start to using the 3 back system earlier than the 31st game of the season like last year.

The difference between this year and this game was the absence of Ayoze, who was pulled in the 18th minute of the last preseason game against Nashville, but was not listed as "official" injury for this game. However, Indy's MVP for last season didn't even make the roster for the game against Saint Louis, so I'm going to interpret that to mean that he wasn't fit to play. As a result, academy product and Indiana University signee, Josh Penn moved into the starting lineup. I'm not sure why Pasher didn't get the start, but Penn did nothing to make me think he isn't deserving. More on that in a bit. While I think Ayoze's composure and decision making were missed, it was the other side of the field that seemed to be making the bad decisions, not the 18-year old who was in his place. Ouimette, who played more minutes than another other field player from last year's team, made multiple mistakes that created chances or goals. With or without Ayoze, that was not a great game from Ouimette.

With the back 3 of Ouimette, Barrett, and Hackshaw, Coach Rennie employed dual holding midfielders in Walker and Gibson. Both pushed forward at times, but they were there to provide cover for the back three. The aforementioned Penn and Watson were the wingers, while Ilic, Enevoldsen, and Kelly rounded out the midfield and forward roles. Ilic and Enevoldsen routinely tracked back on defense, but Kelly played up top and only had 2 touches in the defensive half. It's interesting to note that spine of the defense for this game was comprised of ex-FC Cincinnati players with Newton, Barrett, Walker, and Gibson.

Indy acquired a lot of offensive firepower in the offseason in Ilic, Enevoldsen, and Kelly. Yet, less than 30 seconds after Kelly missed a penalty kick, defender Hackshaw headed home the resulting corner kick from Walker in the 61st minute. Indy then proceeded to give up goals in the 69th and 76th minutes on scramble plays where they were unable to get the ball cleared from in front of their own goal. Indy often played the short ball out of the back, including one from Hackshaw to Newton that forced him to chip the ball over a defender to get it back to Hackshaw, and those passes created some nervy moments with a high pressing team like Saint Louis. Indy tried to play out of the back last year and so this is clearly something that Coach Rennie wants to do tactically, but the regular season game speed employment of it needs some more work.

The Saint Louis' commentators felt that the result was a fair one, but I think they neglected to remember the chances that Penn created in the 1st half or the Kelly header that slammed into the crossbar early in the 2nd half. Neither team was overly clean, with some wayward passes, heavy touches, and troubles defending. Indy gets a few days to work on their issues before heading to Charlotte for their season opener and then a couple weeks off before their own home opener on March 30th. I'm going to reserve my judgement for this year's use of the 3-4-2-1 lineup for at least a couple more games and until I see it with Ayoze on the field, but I have some concerns from its use against Saint Louis.

Other notes:

- Paddy Barrett picked up a yellow card in the 64th minute on a clumsy challenge. He was also carded in 2 of the 5 preseason matches. He is shown to have received 5 cards last year so either he'll slow down on the cards or Coach Rennie has asked him to fill more of a defensive enforcer role this year.

- In Ayoze's absence, Walker took all of the corners and, I believe, all of the set piece restarts. Ayoze was missed in this aspect of the game as well.

- Coach Rennie utilized only 2 substitutes during this game, bringing on Pasher for Ilic in the 73rd minute and Starikov for Penn in the 80th minute. The remainder of the bench consisted of a back-up goalkeeper, THREE defenders (Farias, King, & Osmond), and Matern, and holding midfielder. Chasing the game, he didn't give himself many fresh legs to try and get an equalizing goal. A game day roster of 6 defenders, 3 holding midfielders, and 2 goalkeepers (11 of 18 players) doesn't give you many offensive options, but also doesn't seem out of the norm for Coach Rennie.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

As I said on Twitter, Penn "is 18 yrs old & playing in his 1st match with a professional squad on opening weekend as a starter. Adrenaline had to be thru the roof. Impressed he was able to contain it." Yet, he was the bright spot for me. He pushed forward, attacked players one-on-one, had 1/4 of the team's crosses, and created 2 chances. For a player that I assumed was signed for depth, he made a great "professional" debut. If he can continue this type of play, the Eleven are going to miss him when he leaves mid-year to enter Indiana University.