Sunday, September 29, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds - 06.29

- Opponent: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
- Location: Pittsburgh
- Attendance: 3,520
- Final Score: 3-0 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw (C), Osmond, Ouimette, Gibson, Conner, Ayoze, King, Ilic, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Starikov 65' (Ilic); Watson 65' (King); Rodrigues 78' (Conner)
- Unused: Farr, Perea, Walker, Novoa
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Ayoze 60' (Yellow); Watson 73' (Yellow)
- Referee: Malik Badawi
- Adage goals: One

Interested in knowing the last time an Indy Eleven team lost 3 games in a row in league play? In 2017, Indy lost three of the final four games before closing with a draw. Last year, Indy lost 5 of their last 7 games, limping into the playoffs before succumbing to Louisville City FC. Following this game's defeat, the Eleven have four games to right the faltering ship they find themselves, having gone from potentially sitting in 1st place outright to sinking to 5th place in a weekend.

New York Red Bulls II spent the past 7 weeks as the top ranked team in the East, with Indy joining them at the top the past two weeks. Recently, both teams have looked like they have had no desire to claim the top spot and home field advantage throughout the eastern conference playoffs. NYRBII have lost 3 of their last 5, while Indy has lost 4 of their last 6. As a result, at the end of week 30, both teams were surpassed by Nashville and Pittsburgh. Indy's loss to Pittsburgh gives the Riverhounds a 7 game undefeated streak and a clear chance to be the top team in the East at the end of the regular season as they too have a game in hand on the other teams at the top of the table. While Louisville City FC managed to give up two goals late to Tampa Bay to prevent them from inching even closer to the conference front-runners, the reigning back-to-back champions are on a 9 game undefeated streak. Not exactly the sight that the rest of the conference leaders want to see coming at them in their rear-view mirrors.

Indy had a chance to get on the board early and affect the tenor of this game.
4' Dane Kelly (Indy Eleven) hits the right post with a right footed shot from very close range.
As has been a habit of Kelly this season, his shot is just a little off; a little wide, a little high, a little crossbar/post. I think he could have taken a second touch and calmly slotted into the goal before the defenders arrived, but he rushed it from a tight angle with a one touch ball that found, once again, the post. Not long after that, the team's were forced into shelter after a lightning storm went through Pittsburgh. Not long after returning to the field, Pittsburgh put themselves ahead with a goal from Neco Brett in the 15th minute on a 30-yard free kick. Just before halftime, Forbes doubled the home squad's lead with a shot from a similar location, but to the opposite corner of the goal. From there, Pittsburgh just needed to hold on and absorb the expected pressure from Indy in the second half. Not only did they succeed in doing that, Forbes added a third goal to make the evening a complete disaster for Indy fans.

Interestingly, as Indy finds themselves struggling at the end of the year, this was the first time that they have given a brace to a player all season. The game included some other firsts for the season:

  • Captain Watson was shown his first yellow card of the season a mere 8 minutes after being subbed into the game in the 65th minute. 
  • Ayoze also picked up a yellow card in the 60th minute. Much like Conner's straight red card two games ago, it was in a part of the field that didn't require Ayoze trying to make the tackle he attempted. Also like Conner's red card, Ayoze's yellow card is going to force him to miss the next game due to yellow card accumulation. If you're keeping track, that makes 3 games in a row where a player's actions have resulted in disciplinary action that forces them to miss the next game. Indy has been rotating players this month due to the schedule and the player's undisciplined actions has made that rotation even more difficult.

I would like to say that I know how to fix Indy's recent woes, particularly with yet another road game on the schedule in Ottawa before Indy find their way home next Saturday. The best I can do though is say that Indy's continued woes at finishing their chances has persisted and at game 30 in a 34 game schedule, this is who they are. Teams are content to let Indy win the possession battle, which has happened 22 times this season (or 73% of the games played), and then look for their own chances either through counterattacks or during their own smaller spells of possession. Indy's attack is mostly methodical, with the periodic long ball over the top to a streaking Pasher or Kelly. Teams have also figured out that putting numbers on Pasher is an effective strategy, forcing others to beat them. In the recent stretch of games, that isn't happening. Indy has scored 1 goal in the recent road trip debacle, which was a put-back goal from Barrett. Indy managed just 3 shots on target tonight; 1 from Pasher, 1 from Kelly, and 1 from Starikov. With Indy chasing the game from the 15th minute, 3 shots on goal isn't going to cut it.

In the press conference at the last home game, Ilic made reference to a saying that players, coaches, and fans like to say. "Strikers win you a game, but defenders win you championships. If you have a good defense throughout the season, that's how you get to the top." Coming from Louisville, which has won championships, Ilic is in a prime location to speak of what can win the championship. Yet, the offense's inability to score lately has put a lot of pressure on the defense and it may be finally showing as the season concludes. If Indy can't keep teams from scoring as they've been successful at doing for most of the season (Pittsburgh's 3 goal output took Indy out of being the top defense in the league) and can't put the ball in the goal themselves, their playoff run could be a short one.

Indy head to Ottawa on Wednesday before finally returning home next Saturday against Memphis. Indy can still host a game in the playoffs, but it has to start with a win against the Fury and maintaining their home form against Memphis and then Swope Park. If the team doesn't get wins in those three games, they may be looking at traveling in the playoffs and that's not an alternative that Indy fans will find comfortable nor appealing given Indy's road record.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Newton got a couple of big saves to prevent this game from being worse than it ended. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Atlanta United FC II - 06.29

- Opponent: Atlanta United FC II
- Location: Atlanta
- Attendance: 1,026
- Final Score: 2-1 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett, Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Ayoze, Watson (C), Pasher, Starikov, Rodrigues
- Substitutions: Ilic 70' (Starikov); Kelly 73' (Rodrigues); Novoa 89' (Walker)
- Unused: Farr, Osmond, King, Perea
- Goals: Barrett 36'
- Bookings: Hackshaw 9' (Yellow); Gibson 43' (Yellow); Barrett 90'+5' (RED)
- Referee: Alejandro Mariscal
- Adage goals: None

Sometimes you can glean something good out of a loss. Sometimes you get tonight, when the best you can say is, "we looked better than last Friday against Birmingham." Only just barely and against a team in Atlanta United FC 2 that is just a Birmingham Legion win away from being officially eliminated from the playoff picture. The less I say about this game, the better my blood pressure will be and considering that I had to deal with my neighborhood's HOA this week, I need to do everything I can to keep my blood pressure down.

After last Friday's game, Coach Rennie was quoted as saying, "We’ve had a really good season and our players are entitled to a bad half, but that’s something down the stretch that we really need to get focused back on." Coming out and losing 5 days later against ATL2 gives the impression that they didn't get their focus back on in their longest rest between games this month. It's also officially cause for concern for Indy fans. Indy may have officially stamped their place in the playoff picture, but home field advantage is still very much up for grabs. Back-to-back road losses highlight Indy's need to be playing at home come playoff time. In the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium (or wherever the playoff game(s) will be held), Indy is 11W-0L-4D, while posting a 6W-7L-1D record on the road.

As I said in my review of the Birmingham game, "Over the years, Indy hasn't had a lot of significant sustained success. When they have been a good team, and with a couple of notable exceptional moments, Indy has made a habit of having a chance to make significant moves up the table only to look like they weren't worthy of that ranking. Tonight was no different."

This was a physical game with 40 combined called fouls and 8 cards. The loss in Atlanta was bad enough, but it was exacerbated by the fact that one of those cards was shown to Paddy Barrett at 90'+5', AFTER the final whistle had blown. After the game on Friday, Barrett tweeted about the team's bad performance. I doubt he tweets tonight, despite getting the team's only goal in the 36th minute to get the team back to even going into halftime.

With two more games on the road before heading back to Lucas Oil on October 5th to play Memphis 901 FC, Indy needs to figure out their focus and they need to figure it out quickly. Indy heads to Pittsburgh on Saturday to play a team that has now officially punched their own ticket to the playoffs, is on a 6 game undefeated streak, and has only lost once in their last 13 games. Indy have already played Pittsburgh twice this year, having been knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup by the Riverhounds in late May and then Indy exacting some revenge a week later with a 2-1 come-from-behind win. Given the two teams' current form, Indy is going to need to look a lot better than they have the past two games if they want to win the rubber match and stay ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings.

Right now, Indy looks to be trending the wrong way after getting themselves into the playoffs. With just a few games left, can they right the ship and live up to the expectations that they created for themselves in the first 80% of the season? Or has Indy's season long inability to consistently create chances and make good on those chances finally reared its head again, right when they need it least?

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Not tonight fellas.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Birmingham Legion - 06.28

- Opponent: Birmingham Legion FC
- Location: Birmingham
- Attendance: 4,062
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Osmond, Gibson, Conner, Ayoze, Perea, Ilic, Pasher, Novoa
- Substitutions: Walker 60' (Ilic); Kelly 60' (Novoa); Starikov 84' (Perea)
- Unused: Farr, Rodrigues, King, Watson
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Conner 53' (RED); Ayoze 83' (Yellow)
- Referee: Greg Dopka
- Adage goals: None

Over the years, Indy hasn't had a lot of significant sustained success. When they have been a good team, and with a couple of notable exceptional moments, Indy has made a habit of having a chance to make significant moves up the table only to look like they weren't worthy of that ranking. Tonight was no different.

Indy controlled the ball and possession, but gave up a goal late in the first half to make the game more difficult than they wanted to deal with in this difficult run of games. However, even before Wright's goal in the 39th minute, Indy didn't look like a team with a chance to be the top team in the East. Passes were sloppy and often nowhere close to being on target. At times, passes were sent long. Other times, they were woefully short. Indy's counterattacks were slow and ineffective. Indy managed just 1 shot in the first half and it wasn't on target. Birmingham managed 5, despite being out-possessed 56.6% to 43.4%.

Everything from Indy looked labored.

Drew Conner's straight red card in the 53rd minute on an unnecessary tackle exacerbated every problem. Up a goal and up a man, Birmingham had no need to take any chances. They could sit in their own form of the Rennie Bunker (TM) and play keep away when they did have the ball to wear down the rest of the Indy players, then counter when the opportunities arose. By the end of the game, the possession ratio didn't change at all despite Indy being down a man, but Birmingham were able to further increase their advantage in shots, finishing with 14 to Indy's 7. Indy forced Van Oekel into just one single save.

Indy continued to hold possession, even down a man, but they couldn't do anything with it. Every ball Indy sent over the top was met with at least six Birmingham defenders and a couple of trailing Indy players. It was obvious that Indy wanted to attack Birmingham from the left side of the field as the ball continued to be swung back to that side of the field going forward. With the right side of the field being ineffective at generating any kind of offense, Birmingham was able to focus on the left and continued time-after-time of sending multiple players at Pasher. As the defense swarmed around him, Pasher had no ability to play out of it and routinely, and actually quite easily at times, had the ball taken from him. Pasher finished with just one chance created, Ayoze just three.

Conner's effort and exuberance and effort caused him to miss most of the second half and Wednesday's game against Atlanta United FC II, but I'm not convinced that Indy would have won this game even with a full complement of players. Indy didn't look like the better team from the start. They certainly didn't look like a team that had a chance to take sole possession of first place. With the Baby Bulls playing on Saturday night against Louisville, Indy lost their chance to finish the weekend in first place. In fact, with other possible results for the weekend, Indy could drop back down to at least third place. Though still with games in hand on the other teams around them.

Indy head to Atlanta United on Wednesday. A loss to Birmingham is difficult, but a loss to Atlanta would lead to significant concern as the team finishes the season.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Evan Newton was forced to earn his paycheck for this game.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Bethlehem Steel - 06.27

- Opponent: Bethlehem Steel
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 12,103
- Final Score: 2-1 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Conner, Ayoze, King, Ilic, Pasher, Novoa
- Substitutions: Watson 65' (Novoa); Kelly 75' (Ilic); Walker 83' (Pasher - injury)
- Unused: Farr, Rodrigues, Perea, Osmond
- Goals: Ilic 57' (assist King); Kelly 80' (assist Pasher)
- Bookings: Ouimette 66' (Yellow); Kelly 87' (Yellow); King 89' (Yellow)
- Referee: Kevin Broadley
- Adage goals: None

How about a little history lesson to start tonight's recap?
  • With his start tonight, Karl Ouimette surpasses Cory Miller and Colin Falvey for 9th all-time in club history for games played. Ayoze is knocking on the door as well, needing just one more game to surpass the duo. 
  • Ouimette now sits at 8th all-time in minutes played. With his 90 minutes tonight, Ayoze surpassed Cory Miller to take over the 10th spot. 
  • Pasher needs 2 goals to tie Mares for 3rd on all-time goal scoring. Ayoze and Kelly are tied for 8th and Starikov is 13th. 
  • Ayoze is tied for 3rd in assists. 
  • Pasher and Ayoze are 5th and 6th, respectively, all-time in career points. 
  • Newton needs two clean sheets to get to 11 to tie the club record for a season, currently held by both Jon Busch and Owain Fon Williams. 
  • With the team's win, they set a new club record for home undefeated streak (across all competitions and locations) with 24 and clinched a playoff position.
What's my point of listing all these rankings? Indy has, more or less, always been set up as a defense first team. However, the guys we are seeing now, and the season still has seven games to go, are quickly moving up the ranks in the offense categories as well, making Indy a more well-rounded team than we've ever seen outside of the 2016 NASL Championship Final appearance team. Indy still has games in hand on the teams around them, but have now caught, or surpassed, them in the table too sitting even on points with New York Red Bulls II who have sat at the top of the table the past five weeks. “We made the playoffs tonight with five weeks to go. That’s a huge achievement. Every club looks to make the playoffs and we’ve done that. We have much higher aspirations than that. We want to be at the top and give ourselves the best chance to win when the playoffs come."

Much like Wednesday's game against Ottawa, Indy was the better team for large portions of this game. Indy's defenders routinely had possession of the ball in Bethlehem's side of the field. The team held the possession advantage and the number of shots. Interestingly, much like the Ottawa game, Bethlehem was credited with more shots than seemed possible given where and when they possessed the ball.

Conner has been a welcome addition to the midfield, as a box-to-box player that has been missing from the lineup to date. With his motor, he routinely pushes forward into the attack and then sprints back to help provide cover with Gibson for the back three. Their pairing, chemistry, and work ethic has elevated the team to be more dominant in the center part of the field. Including Ilic in that group has really been able to take the midfield to a different level that will pay dividends in the playoffs.

In the 26th minute, a giveaway from Hackshaw lead to a chance for Bethlehem that required some team defending, which Barrett, Ouimette, and Newton played to perfection. Keeping the teams level at zero and preventing a dreaded "against the run of play" goal for Bethlehem was vital at that point to not let Bethlehem get any momentum.

I value Newton's decision making as Indy has continued to play out of the back. He makes good decisions about when to pass and when to blast. He makes quick decisions on the need to get the ball long and out of danger. Even if it means foregoing the possession, he allows his defense to realign and get prepared again. With the style that Indy plays, having a keeper of Newton's ability is vital. Bethlehem's goalie Freese was nearly penalized for his carelessness with the ball early in the second half when he neglected to take into account Pasher's speed and desire to get to a ball. It forced him to try and clear the ball all the way to the touchline, while also trying to manhandle Pasher along the way.

Shortly after that goalkeeping fiasco by Freese, Indy continued to knock on the door with a free kick that was blocked, reloaded, and nearly headed in by Hackshaw if not for a great save by Freese. The ensuing corner kick was sent in and cleared a couple times before finally placed perfectly for Ilic to put away in the 57th minute. It was at this point that the game shifted.

Down a goal seemed to set a fire into Bethlehem's offense and the next 30 minutes consisted of much more effort, possession, and shots from the visitors than at any point in the game before. After Bethlehem's flurry, Indy settled back down and began to adapt to Bethlehem's change of tempo. However, Indy continued to give up moments as the visitor's tried for an equalizer. An equalizer that finally came in the 76th minute from a corner kick opportunity.

Indy counter-punched with their own when Freese came out on a reckless challenge that mostly got Pasher and the ball fell to Kelly. With fresh legs and an open goal, Kelly easily put the ball into the back of the net. While the team celebrated the goal, it came at the expense of Pasher who left shortly afterwards due to his injuries. For a guy who battled effects of a head injury all last season, Indy fans have to be nervous until they see him in the starting eleven again. Later, Kelly was also subjected to a hard foul that was difficult to watch on the replay. Surprisingly, neither of the fouls on Indy's top two scorers were given red cards. Looking at them both, a case could be made that the yellow cards given to Freese and Ofeimu were insufficient. It will be interesting to see if the league agrees with the referee's assessment of yellows or the Brickyard Battalion's assessment that the fouls warranted red cards.

While the last 30 minutes or so were not Indy's best of the game, they fought back to capture the win and leap frog a couple of teams to near the top of the table in a week that saw three games in seven days. When Indy play on Friday against Birmingham, they will do so as a playoff eligible team looking to solidify a home field advantage in the playoffs.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ilic. It didn't end up being the game winner, but his effort and composure to get the ball from the cross King down to his feet and shot on goal was spectacular. He's had such an up-and-down season with his injuries, it's good to see him rewarded for his effort. Ilic was quick to point out the success and potential of this team rides on its defense stating, "I'll tell you something – the strikers win you the game, but defenders win you the championships. So if you have a good defense throughout the season, that’s how you get to the top. I would say that this year the defenders are actually much better than the strikers for us. We have the best defense across the league and I’m really happy for the guys."


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Ottawa Fury - 06.26

- Opponent: Ottawa Fury
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 9,047
- Final Score: 2-0 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Conner, Ayoze, King, Ilic, Pasher, Novoa
- Substitutions: Watson 65' (Novoa); Starikov 74' (Ilic), Kelly 87' (Pasher)
- Unused: Farr, Rodrigues, Perea, Osmond
- Goals: Ayoze 6' (assist Ilic); Ayoze 55' (assist Conner)
- Bookings: None
- Referee: Ismir Pekmic
- Adage goals: None

Indy and Ottawa have been competing against each other since 2014 when they both entered into the North American Soccer League. In that time, Ottawa has had the better of the results, with Indy getting 2 wins, 6 losses, and 3 draws and having been outscored 11 to 19 in those games. This was the teams' first meeting of 2019, but Ottawa came into Lucas Oil Stadium as the last team to get a win in the building, having secured a 1-nil win last July 4th. Ottawa has recently developed a tendency to play Indy on key national days now that they're both in the USL Championship. Last year the two teams played on Independence Day, while this year it was Patriot's Day. Unlike last year, Ottawa was unable to spoil the day as Indy scored twice and secured another clean sheet.

The stagnant offense that affected Indy versus Charleston was remedied with the reinsertion of Pasher and Conner back into the starting lineup. In the early moments, the game was a bit sloppy but tilted towards Indy's offensive end due to those two players, Ilic and Novoa. The pressure paid off when Ayoze took a 25 yard shot that deflected into the goal in the 6th minute, scoring his first goal of two goals on the night and his first goals not taken from the penalty spot.

Football lines affected the Ottawa goalkeeper when he caught the ball 19 yards from the end line. Yes, that's a foul and a yellow card for the Ottawa net minder. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to playing in Lucas Oil Stadium. Indy looked like they pulled something from the training ground with a touch from Ilic to Ayoze underneath Ilic to a left-footed shot from Pasher. It looked like it had a chance, but was deflected wide. "We worked on that one quite a long time ago so I'm surprised they remembered it. I'm glad they did and it worked good. Ultimately, you give players ideas and opportunities, but they have to be the decision makers on the field and they have the quality to do what they want to do and it was really unlucky not to score."

Photo: Don Thompson Photography
Novoa and Pasher routinely switched sides of the field and making similar runs against the Ottawa backline. Novoa doesn't quite have Pasher speed, but his pace troubled Ottawa defenders, particularly with them needing to be cognizant of where and when Pasher was making his runs. This pairing could be something dangerous moving forward as Novoa further settles in and gets more familiar with the rest of the team. The skill level is there, but Novoa just needs a little more time with the team to get on the same page. Coach Rennie agreed when I asked in the post-game press conference stating, "I thought, at times, they made a couple movements where they got into each other's space a little bit, but I think that's something that we can quickly rectify." Novoa looked fresh, even as he was being subbed out in the 65th minute, but Coach is continuing to manage minutes this month.

Ayoze. What more can you say about the guy that hasn't been said before? His first touch is impeccable. He places balls where they need to be placed. His effort is unquestionable. Tonight was no different. He was really hugging the touchline, creating width and allowing the trio of Pasher, Ilic, and Novoa to have space in the middle as he sent in crosses. He finished the game with 7 crosses and 6 chances created.

While the teams went into the locker room at halftime with a 1-nil score, the first half was dominated by the Eleven, holding a 60% - 40% possession advantage even though the game was predominantly in Indy's half of the field. Ottawa had five shots on goal to Indy's six in the first half, but none of Ottawa's shots really troubled Newton, who had 2 saves in the half. Indy were rewarded early with the deflection goal, but their effort outpaced Ottawa and their technical ability was higher as even Indy's defenders were able to move the ball around Ottawa players. Indy were more accurate with their passes at an 83% rate, whereas Ottawa was less than 72%.

The visitors from Canada came out in the 2nd half with more energy, but the 56th minute goal from Ayoze seemed to suck most of the rest of the life out of them, while Indy continued to press. Pasher nearly scored a goal seemingly seconds after the ball was placed back into play. Surprisingly, even with a two goal lead, Indy never settled into the Rennie Bunker (TM), continuing to push forward until late in the game, including a header from Ilic that bounced off the post in the 72nd minute and a chance from Ouimette in the 84th minute.

Photo: Don Thompson Photography
Ottawa did seem to get a 2nd life close to the 80th minute, getting two really good opportunities on goal, that went just wide and high, respectively. They also managed to keep Indy off the board for a third goal in the 84th minute on a goal line clearance that Ouimette could have done better with his effort and should have scored. Somehow, Ottawa finished with the same number of shots as Indy, but that seems like a deceiving statistic for this game.

It keeps being said, but with so many games in such a short time, managing player usage is important and the minutes Novoa received tonight will be beneficial moving forward. It's also important to get points where possible and continuing to get points at home is vital.

Indy finish the night tied on points with league leader New York Red Bulls II, still with a game in hand, but are officially in 2nd place due to goal differential. Indy will look to continue the good vibes on Saturday when they take on Bethlehem Steel and try to continue the home undefeated run.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Photo: Don Thompson Photography
I have to give the Game Beckons Game Ball to Ayoze. I feel bad giving it to him in back-to-back games, but when you're deserving, you get the awards. I'm a bit surprised that the first goal wasn't changed to an own goal for Ottawa, but it was a great strike and may have had a chance even without the deflection. It would be nice to see him get on the scoreboard more too as the season winds down, thereby creating one more option in the Eleven's toolbox of scorers.


Photo: Don Thompson Photography

Photo: Don Thompson Photography

Monday, September 9, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Charleston Battery - 06.25

- Opponent: Charleston Battery
- Location: Charleston
- Attendance: 1,359
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw (C), Osmond, Ouimette, Walker, Gibson, Ayoze, King, Perea, Starikov, Kelly
- Substitutions: Watson 45'+1' (Walker); Rodrigues 68' (Perea), Novoa 77' (Kelly)
- Unused: Farr, Barrett, Diakhate, Ilic
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Rodrigues 90'+6' (Yellow)
- Referee: Sergii Demianchuk
- Adage goals: One

By nearly every statistical metric, the Indy Eleven should not have lost to Charleston Battery. Especially when they held a man advantage for 33 minutes of regulation and another 6 minutes of stoppage time when Charleston's Nelson was shown a second yellow after a high boot to Ayoze in the 57th minute. In nearly 40 minutes of playing 11 versus 10, Indy could not find the equalizing or winning goal.

Charleston found their game winning goal through Piggott in the 42nd minute on a counter-attack. A counter-attack where only Walker was back to defend because Indy lost possession on a short corner kick and were out-raced to the other end. Piggot slotted the ball home under Newton and went into the locker room feeling good about their position.

Indy finished the game with a whopping 71% of the possession. They were 86.4% accurate with their passes; 79.6% accurate in Charleston's half of the field. They held a 28 to 6 advantage in crosses; 46.4% of which were accurate. They more than doubled the amount of shots (17 to 8), with a 6 to 1 shots on target advantage. They even had a 90.9% tackle success rate.

It seems counter-intuitive, but it isn't always a benefit to having a man advantage. Up a goal and down a man, Charleston had no real desire to do anything but bunker and blast to relieve pressure and, only when absolutely able to do so, counter attack again. Against some teams that could be a difficult proposition. Against the Eleven, that should be a difficult proposition. However, the guys who have shown an ability to create on their own, Pasher and Conner, were not only not on the field, they weren't even in the game day roster. As a result, Indy sent in cross after cross (28 of them at a 46.4% success rate) and watched most of them go over or wide.

Indy continued to build into their attacks from the back and with their possession. However, Charleston's bunker defense was up to the task without having to worry about any players trying to go 1 v 1 and without Indy's offense switching sides quickly. Charleston had time to react to nearly everything that Indy threw at them in the late stages of the game. Coach Rennie even commented about the team's inability to break down Charleston, saying "there needs to be more going at people one-on-one, more 1-2’s around the box, and more layoffs, and shots around the box." Unfortunately, I don't think he necessarily has enough personnel for that, particularly when the ones who do have those skills didn't make the trip.

With so many games coming in such a short time this month, some adjustment of the lineup had to happen, but not having Pasher or Conner to attack the Charleston bunker took some of the bite out of the attack. To try and maintain the team's home undefeated streak, I would suspect that both will be in the 11 on Wednesday night at home against Ottawa. Ottawa have lost their last three games, but are trying to stay in the playoff race and will be looking to make up for losing to Atlanta 2 on Saturday night. Indy is going to need to come prepared to face a motivated Ottawa, while also wanting to keep pace with the teams ahead of them as Indy's "game-in-hand" advantage starts to dwindle.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ayoze. He kept sending crosses into the box to try and get somebody on the other end of them, but just couldn't find his 4th assist of the year. I wish he would have used his skill to be one of the guys to attack the Charleston defense, but you can't fault the guy for his effort. He finished the game with 13 of the team's 28 crosses and 5 chances created.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Indy Eleven vs New York Red Bulls II - 06.24

- Opponent: New York Red Bulls II
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 9,124
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Osmond, Walker, Gibson, Ayoze, Farias, Conner, Ilic, Pasher
- Substitutions: King 45'+1' (Farias - injury); Watson 76' (Walker), Kelly 78' (Ilic)
- Unused: Farr, Perea, Starikov, Rodrigues
- Goals: Kelly 83' (assist King)
- Bookings: Conner 17' (Yellow); Barrett 28' (Yellow); Walker 61' (Yellow); Ouimette 79' (Yellow)
- Referee: Lorant Varga
- Adage goals: None

As the season has progressed, this game stood out as an important one with Indy and New York Red Bulls II being consistently at the top of the top having not been ranked below 4th place in the conference since Week 14. NYRBII came into the game with the high power offense in the Eastern Conference, scoring 64 goals, 15 more than Nashville and nearly 30 more than Indy. Indy came into the game as the stingiest defense in the league, giving up just 18 goals on the season. Indy also came into the game on a 20 game undefeated streak at Lucas Oil Stadium (21 home streak including the U.S. Open Cup game against Lansing Ignite) and allowing just 4 goals from opponents in 12 home games. Further fueling Indy was the desire to make amends for the 2-1 loss to NYRBII earlier in the year, while also gaining ground on the Eastern Conference leaders. The teams came into the game with nearly identical number of passes on the season, despite Indy having played 3 less games. However, Indy has an 80% accuracy rate, while NYRBII ranks last in the conference with 73%, a statistic that Indy wanted to continue to keep in their favor, jumping passing lanes. Indy managed to keep NYRBII below their average, including limiting them to 60% in Indy's half of the field.

To try and counteract NYRBII's high scoring offense, Coach Rennie employed the defensive midfield combo of Walker and Gibson, which he hadn't used since Drew Conner became a starter. The desire to keep NYRBII in check meant that the team needed guys to be more defensive minded, while looking to counter with Ilic and Pasher up top and Conner sitting underneath those two to serve as the connector between the defense and offense. With a couple games under his belt, Conner's effort and composure on the ball meant he was a good selection to be the box-to-box player the team needed against NYRBII. It also caused him to get another yellow card in his short stint here in Indy when he ran 40 yards to catch up to a NYRBII player only to catch him with his leg after sweeping the ball away.

In the 40th minute, Pasher single-handedly took on the NYRBII defense and nearly succeeded, with his shot sailing a bit high and wide. He followed it up a minute later with another run down the right side, but didn't get the shot he wanted, which nearly took out one of Lucas Oil Stadium's security personnel. With the way that Indy was attacking, either Ilic or Conner needed to run underneath Pasher when the backline sent a ball over the top for those moments when the NYRBII defenders headed the ball back away from Pasher. Without that runner, Indy consistently gave up possession and chances when Pasher didn't get to the ball.

An injury to Farias late in the first half force Coach Rennie to, twice in two games, adjust his substitution pattern ahead of schedule. Hackshaw didn't see the end of the first half against Louisville and an apparent thigh injury forced Farias to depart early tonight. Barely into the game, Farias' substitute King, was slow to close out Loebe who rocketed a shot off the crossbar in the closing seconds of the half, sending both teams to the lockers tied.

NYRBII swarmed Indy's attackers and midfielders, forcing Indy to be well below their season average for passing. Indy couldn't maintain the ball through its midfield, forcing them into long balls and errant passes. Indy had their highest percentage of long ball passes since April 28th, when they played...NYRBII. Couipled with Pasher's atypical ineffectiveness to close out his chances led to Indy's inability to get on the scoreboard until late in the game with the addition of Kelly and his fresh legs and a well placed header in the 83rd minute.

Kelly (routinely pointed out by the team as the USL's all-time leading scorer) went 14 games without scoring a goal, but has now scored twice in the past 4 games. I think it's important to note that his goals came in a substitute role and also occurred after the departure of Enevoldsen. If Kelly can find his form in a substitute role, that's exactly where he should be playing. Indy's defense is going to keep them close in all of the remaining games and having Kelly come on as a late game option after Pasher has ran the opposing defense ragged for 70 minutes is a nice option to have for Indy.

Indy's defense hunkered down and managed to keep NYRBII from finding the back of the net in the closing minutes, despite a final shot differential of 19 to 7. With the win, Indy move up in the table to third, while also maintaining three games in hand on NYRBII. Indy has struggled against the "top level" teams in the conference so getting this win is a great way to kick off a busy September schedule. Indy will now travel to Charleston on Saturday, subject to the weather from Hurricane Dorian, to continue the momentum created from this win.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Evan Newton gets the Game Beckons Game Ball for his effort against one of the most offensively-minded teams in the conference/league. While not all of NYRBII's 19 shots were threatening, Newton had to come up big on a few occasions, finishing with 6 saves, matching his highest number of saves for the season, which also came against NYRBII in April. NYRBII have scored 3 or more goals in 10 of their 27 games, scoring 5 goals 3 times and 8 goals once. They have been held scoreless just two other times this season; a 2-0 defeat to Tampa Bay in May and a 3-0 defeat to Pittsburgh in late June.They have scored 33 goals since last being held scoreless so for Newton to get another clean sheet for the season is a significant accomplishment.