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.


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Ottawa Fury - 06.31

- Opponent: Ottawa Fury
- Location: Ottawa
- Attendance: 3,145
- Final Score: 1-0 L
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Osmond, Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Watson (C), Pasher, Diakhate, Starikov
- Substitutions: Perea 78' (Walker); Kelly 78' (Starikov); Farr 82' (Newton - injury)
- Unused: Barrett, Ilic, Novoa, Rodrigues
- Goals: None
- Bookings: Watson 60' (RED); Ouimette 60' (Yellow)
- Referee: Serge Topalian
- Adage goals: None

Three RED CARDS in four games. Four LOSSES in four games. Outscored 7 to 1 in four games. Indy has only had one other time when they lost 4 straight games (in league play) in the team's history. I'll give you one guess what season.

Did you guess the start of 2014? That's how bad this streak ranks in the club's history. When it is being compared to that first season, which has never been held up as a beacon of success, things have reached historic lows.

Indy managed just one shot on target and that didn't happen until stoppage time of the second half. Regardless of the opinions of the red card on Watson in the 60th minute, which I feel was incorrect and too harsh, particularly when Watson was dragged down by Gagnon-Lapare like they were playing in the Canadian Football League like the other games that are also played on the field, Indy was never on the front foot of this game. Indy, again, held the possession advantage, but Ottawa was much more effective with their possession.

Nothing is working for this team right now and it wouldn't surprise me to see Memphis come into Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday and eek out a win in a place that has been a fortress for Indy this year. They look gassed right now, with both the offense and the defense struggling to find a consistent 90 minutes. Newton made a less than typical mistake on the game-winning free kick, but seemed to not trust his wall to do their part of the job and was caught leaning the wrong way, allowing Haworth's shot to go right where Newton should have been protecting.

Everything is a struggle right now.

Last year's squad finished the season in much the same way that Indy is finishing this season. With a string of losses and limping into the playoffs at a time when fans want to see them peaking. Indy secured a playoff spot with 5 weeks remaining in the season and have looked ineffective since they achieved that goal. A top four finish may still be possible, but it's starting to look less likely with their current run of results. Given Indy's struggles on the road this season (6W-9L-1D), a playoff road trip seems daunting right now.

Indy has lost all of their "games in hand" on the teams around them and are now staring at a potential playoff road game. A win on Saturday against Memphis might put some much needed confidence back into the squad before getting a much needed full-week's rest and heading to Tampa Bay. If Indy struggles against Memphis, fans may be once again looking at a short playoff run.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I think Farr deserves this one even for his limited time on the field. It's never easy to be thrown into a game as a keeper, with no preparation, no warm-up (in fact, he might have been cooling-down at that point in the game), down a man, chasing a goal opening themselves up to counter-attacks and still do a good job. Farr did exactly what he needed to do in a tough situation.