Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Indy Eleven vs Saint Louis FC - 07.14


- Opponent: Saint Louis FC
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
- Attendance: 5,664
- Final Score: 1-1 D

- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Conner, Gibson, Ayoze, Haworth, Lindley, Moon, Pasher

- Substitutions: Ilic 61' (Gibson), Rafanello 79' (Moon), Watson 87' (Conner), Carleton 88' (Ayoze)
- Unused: Farr, Antley, Osmond

- Scoring Summary:
STL - Cicerone 50' (assist Blackwood)
IND - Hackshaw 72' (assist Ayoze)

- Bookings:
STL - Wharton 4' (Yellow); 75' (Yellow) - RED
STL - Greig 45' (Yellow)
STL - Adewole 45'+2' (Yellow)
STL - Fink 45'+4' (Yellow); 61' (Yellow) - RED
IND - Conner 55' (Yellow)
IND - Hackshaw 64' (Yellow)

- Referee: Lukasz Szpala
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

Saint Louis plays in a way that makes them comfortable sitting back and absorbing play and counter-attacking at key moments. The first half consisted entirely of that style of play. Indy had 7 shots on goal, forcing Morton into 6 saves.  Conversely, Saint Louis' less than 40% of possession in the first half resulted in just one easy save from Newton. Indy's one shot off target was from Moon who couldn't put a Pasher cross on frame from inside the six yard box.

Indy pushed their tempo a little more in the second half early, nearly getting a goal within the first couple of minutes when a non-call on Moon in the box (probably the correct call) bunched the Saint Louis defenders and Cam Lindley stole the ball from the group and proceeded to put a ball across the six that Pasher ushered just outside of the right post. 

Yet, against the run of play, Indy gave up a ball in the 50th minute in the Saint Louis box and Saint Louis sprinted to the other end, with Cicerone ultimately slotting a ball past Newton and turning a dominant performance by Indy on its head. Much like Coach Rennie's comment last week, "Even sometimes when we hardly made a mistake, we’ve been punished, and when we’ve had chances, we’ve not taken them," Indy found themselves trailing after making very few mistakes. In this one, nobody tracked back with Cicerone as Greig opened some space for Cicerone to run into. Blackwood had an easy pass to the middle of the field where Cicerone could shoot at the goal uncontested.

Then a second yellow to Fink in the 61st minute once again turned the game on it head. Just before the card to Fink, Indy had subbed in Ilic for Gibson, in a clear plan to get more players in the attack. The red card tilted the field in Indy's favor and their persistence paid off when Indy was finally able to put the ball past Morton in the 71st minute. In a typical Conner play, he hustled down a ball in the corner, that led to him being fouled. The ensuing free kick led to a short corner, which Haworth (who took the free kick) played quickly to Ayoze who sent a perfect cross to the back post that Hackshaw headed into the goal.

Less than 5 minutes later and a second yellow on Wharton put Indy up two men with plenty of time to get a victory. Throw in what became 10 minutes of stoppage time and Indy had 25 minutes with a two-man advantage to get the game-winning goal. In that timeframe, Indy managed another 7 shots, but only forced Morton into a single save in the entire second half, even with the man advantage. 

Twenty-five minutes of a two-man advantage and Indy finishes the game in a 1-1 draw, but also not taking ahold of 2nd place in the Group that they absolutely needed to take with this game. Now their path to the playoffs looks even more daunting after looking like they were going to easily make it based on their results in the first portion of this season. Rakestraw reminded us on the telecast that the last time Indy had a two-man advantage was in 2015 against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. That game also resulted in a tie, thanks to a 97th minute goal by Kyle Hyland. What Rakestraw didn't mention was that the draw was the final nail in the coffin on Coach Sommer as head coach. While I don't expect that to happen here (and a former high ranking front office staff member agrees with me), the #RennieOut crowd has not been happy with the past month of results and have started to become more vocal.

I said it last week and I'll say it again this week, this team misses the services of a proper striker who can be, and is, in the right place at the right time. For all of Indy's talents, to me that is the piece that just isn't there and it's not something that Coach Rennie seems to want to find or know how to utilize properly; see Dane Kelly as the league's all-time leading scorer and 2nd leading scorer this season as an example of the latter. With the way that Indy plays and the way that Saint Louis was forced to play down two men, Pasher's goal scoring strengths were completely neutralized. I began to think that it would have been better to drop him back into a defenders role (which is where he started in Indy so he's capable back there) and put Hackshaw or Ouimette up top to get their head on one of the 29 crosses Indy had for the game. While it seems counterintuitive to put Indy's top goal scorer out of a goal scoring position, Pasher isn't likely to get a 1v1 situation where he can run past the defender nor is he going to get many goals from his head. Indy needed a different way to attack the goal.  

An ongoing refrain from Coach Rennie in the post-game press conferences, which is stated again tonight is, "We created a lot of chances tonight and I think we need to be a little bit more clinical with those chances, there’s no doubt about that." I want to believe that some of these guys have that ability, but chatting with former Indy Eleven player Eamon Zayed after the game, he too doesn't see a true striker on the roster and also thinks it's the piece that is missing. In his words, "if you play without an actual 9, then you better have two wide forwards to score 10+ goals and Indy only has one!!!!! [Indy is] a 10+ goal man short of being a title winning team!"

So without a true number 9 nor a second 10+ goal scoring wide forward, are we seeing the pinnacle of where Indy can reach? Who knows, but tonight's draw makes it much more difficult for them to even be in this year's playoffs, much less have success in them if they get there. I was asked today my thoughts about the game before it started. I responded with, "I'm not sure if this is a must-win game, but it's definitely a must-draw game. Given that it's at home, it needs to be a win." Indy can still make the playoffs if some other results go their way (a Louisville vs Saint Louis game on Saturday with Saint Louis missing some players because of tonight's red cards is big), but Indy needs to consider the final two games of the season as "must-win" games to help keep their fate somewhat in their control. 

Indy returns to action next Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City II, who are now just playing for pride and to ruin other team's chances. Regardless, they have already proven they can win in Indy and the Eleven shouldn't take them lightly. By this time next week, we should have a better understanding of the importance of the final game of the season in Saint Louis. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball
If you're a defender and you get the goal that pulls a draw out of a come-from-behind scenario, you get the Game Beckons Game Ball. Congrats Hackshaw.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 07.13


- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 2-0 L

- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Conner, Gibson, Ayoze, Haworth, Lindley, Moon, Rafanello

- Substitutions: Pasher 59' (Rafanello), Antley 72' (Ayoze), Watson 72' (Conner)
- Unused: Farr, Carleton, Ilic, Osmond

- Scoring Summary:
LOU - Lancaster 39' (assist Hoppenot)
LOU - Bone 76' (assist Ownby)

- Bookings:
IND - Ouimette 37' (Yellow)
LOU - DelPiccolo 66' (Yellow)
LOU - Bone 66' (Yellow)
LOU - Hoppenot 73' (Yellow)
LOU - Totsch 79' (Yellow)

- Referee: Kevin Fikar
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions
LIPAFC 4.0 for the year had the same result as LIPAFC 2.0 & LIPAFC 3.0. 

Meaning, Indy Eleven lost. 

In the description of the word "rivalry" from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it includes the statement, "sibling rivalry exists when there is competition or jealousy between sisters or brothers." That's what these games are starting to feel like, and not the definition that the Indy Eleven front office staff want us to believe about the match-up of "rival can also mean "equal" or "peer."" These games have been happening long enough (the 1868 "Bloody Affair" comes to mind) that it's starting to feel like little brother (Indy) is just never going to stop getting his ass kicked by big brother (Louisville). At some point, Indy fans are going to have to accept the fact that a "rivalry" needs to see both teams win, otherwise it's just two teams who are in proximity to each other. Whatever talent Indy has on paper, it isn't being translated into any kind of actual success against Louisville. 

Indy has played 44 league home games since moving to the USL Championship in 2018, with 42 of those taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium. With tonight's loss, Indy have only lost 8 times in those games. Louisville owns 3 of those losses; once last year in the Eastern Conference playoffs and twice this year. Indy's USL regular season record against LCFC is 1W-4D-4L, which breaks down to 1W-1D-2L record at home (3 GF /6 GA) and a 0W-3D-2L record in Louisville (7 GF/12 GA). If you expand that to include all games in the modern era (NASL, USL, USOC, postseason), Indy's record against LCFC is a dismal 2W-4D-7L (11 GF/22 GA), with the record at home being 2W-1D-4L (6 GF/12 GA).

Louisville owns this series in every meaningful category. Even in the games where Indy is statistically similar (as in this game) or even seems to have the advantage, the eye ball test tells me that Louisville is the better team, from top to bottom, than Indy is right now. Indy managed 34 crosses in this game to Louisville's 12 and LCFC had a 0.0% crossing accuracy rate. Indy had 2 shots on target, while LCFC had 3 shots on target. Indy even had a few more go agonizingly close to the post or crossbar. Yet, Louisville scored 2 goals on 3 shots on target. With Pasher and Carleton sitting on the bench, Louisville's finishers were more clinical. Moon and Rafanello continue to show flashes of their ability, but they aren't on the same level as Lancaster, et al. Louisville defenders know their roles and were quick to get behind the ball on Indy's (sometimes painfully slow) counterattacks, providing few uncontested attempts on goal from Indy. Indy's offense seemed a half- to full second slower in their decisions than they needed to be and those extra beats were enough for the Louisville defenders to regroup and stifle most of the Indy threats. 

There were two statements that Coach Rennie made after the game that speak not only to this game, but several times over the season, particularly when it comes to the Louisville games.

"Over the majority of the game, we had lots of chances and didn’t take them, and that’s really the frustrating thing from tonight. ... but it’s just that final ball and final touch has to be a little better. I think sometimes we are in good positions and don’t shoot." 

"Even sometimes when we hardly made a mistake, we’ve been punished, and when we’ve had chances, we’ve not taken them."

I would argue that he isn't wrong. Indy had chances. I would clarify though, that many of them were chances that Louisville's defense quickly turned into half-chances. With the exception of Haworth's unopposed shot from the 6-yard line that he managed to put over the goal, Indy's best chances came from their set pieces, which has been a constant throughout Coach Rennie's tenure. The clinical finisher or poaching forward just has not been a part of Indy's weapon under Rennie. That seems to be the piece that this team really needs to get over the hump against a team like Louisville. A guy that hovers around the goal and is able to turn those half-chances into goals.

Louisville's ability and comfort with each other is why minor mistakes get punished against Indy. Louisville know they aren't going to get many chances against Indy's defense and this game was no different. Yet, they there will be a mistake and they are able to capitalize on them.

Lastly, Louisville struggled out of the gate, but are finding the form that we all expected they would find. They have played Indy enough, and there's enough video on Indy, to know you aren't going to get any major surprises from game to game. Pasher is the only significant goal scorer this year and if you can effectively isolate him and keep him to only a couple of chances, you're going to put yourself in the mix for a win or draw. 

Indy currently has a 25 man roster, but there have been a total of 30 this year. 8 of those 30 are USL Academy contracts who haven't seen a single minute of action. 2 are Yeferson (who the team released back to his home squad due to COVID) and Dumas (who has only seen a total of 76 minutes of action). 1 is a backup goalkeeper who has to be considering his options elsewhere for next year if he wants to progress in his career. 1 was released to El Paso where he has become an immediate starter for Coach Lowry. If you're counting, that leaves 18 players making up the minutes for the team and two of those were playing in League One last year and a 3rd came from an open tryout. Of those 18, 7 have double digit starts, leaving just 4 spots in the starting XI that are "unknowns" on a game-to-game basis. Coach Rennie is going to make his first sub around the 70th minute and despite having 5 subs available to him this year, has only used his full compliment of subs 3 times out of 13 games. 

Coach Hackworth has seen Indy enough the past couple of years to know the strengths and weaknesses of this Indy team, knows he isn't going to get any significant surprises from Coach Rennie, and has been able to find ways to exploit it.

  • Limit Pasher
  • Get guys back quickly when Indy tries to counter
  • Use as much width as possible to stretch Gibson and Conner
  • Press Indy's defense into making mistakes and make good on at least one of them.
For his part, Coach Rennie has not been able to do the same against Louisville.With the current roster, I don't know how Indy overcomes Louisville, even if the roster/lineup can beat 80% of the rest of the conference. Until they unlock the Louisville key though, they're going to struggle to achieve their goal of being the best. I keep saying it, but if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. Right now, that is Louisville, and Indy can't beat them.

Indy can't sit on this game for too long because the loss opens the door for Saint Louis to push their way into the Top 2 of Group E and send Indy's promising start to the season into an early post-season break. Indy finishes the season with a Saint Louis-SKCII-Saint Louis run and need to get points off of Saint Louis to not feel like the season was wasted, regardless of what may happen in the playoffs.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Ayoze. Only because somebody should get it and he put in a solid 72 minutes. 

(I told you Rennie subs around the 70 minute mark...)

Photos (@DLTPhotog)

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Indy Eleven vs Sporting Kansas City II - 07.12


- Opponent: Sporting Kansas City II
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
- Attendance: 5,066
- Final Score: 2-1 W

- Starting XI: Newton, Osmond, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Conner, Gibson, Ayoze, Haworth, Carleton, Moon, Rafanello

- Substitutions: Watson 82' (Rafanello), Antley 82' (Ayoze), Ilic 89' (Moon) 
- Unused: Farr, Dumas, Senanou, Lindley

- Scoring Summary:
IND - Moon 6' (assist Ayoze)
IND - Rafanello 63' (assist Haworth)
SKCII - Freeman 88'

- Bookings:
IND - Barrett 3' (Yellow)
SKCII - Resetar 23' (Yellow)
SKCII - Serna 53' (Yellow)
SKCII - Riley 58' (Yellow)
SKCII - Davis 59' (Yellow)
SKCII - Cuic 74' (Yellow)
IND - Conner 87' (Yellow)
SKCII - Manager Nagamura (Yellow)

- Referee: Ismir Pekmic
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions
Pasher wasn't on the game day roster. Pasher is the only player to have scored for the Eleven since July 29th. Where was Indy going to get a goal in his absence? The good news is that Ayoze was back in the roster and in the 6th minute, he sent a long pass up the left side that found Moon near the 18 yard box, who proceeded to take on his defender one-on-one and slide the ball under Thompson into the right side netting. Just like that, some of the pressure was taken off of the Indy Eleven, who needed to look at this game as a must-win.

While Indy's first half defense against Louisville was fraught with multiple errors, Indy's game plan of limiting the touches of Sporting Kansas City II's Wilson Harris' in dangerous locations was highly effective. That included not only having Barrett key in on Harris with Gibson hanging around just in front of him to limit his touches, but the Eleven also limited the easy touches from the rest of SKCII. Indy pressed the young backline of SKCII frequently on the field as far back as within SKCII's 18-yard box.

Without Pasher on the field, Moon looked more focused at going forward and finding his own shot instead of trying to feed Pasher. After a perfect cross from Haworth in the 63rd minute, Moon was nearly able to connect with the cross to give himself a brace. While Moon was not able to find the ball, the effort that Bone showed against Indy, Rafanello matched with a back post run where he was able to get the ball past Thompson through a very small window.

With a two goal lead, Indy's focus became maintaining the clean sheet. A clean sheet that they were not able to successfully accomplish due to a perfectly taken free kick from just outside the 18-yard box by Freeman, SKCII's 17-year old forward. A kick that went just over the wall and just out of the reach of Newton. Down a goal and with time running out, SKCII had a late corner kick that looked to provide the tying goal off of the head of Barbir. However, the referee ruled that Barrett was fouled in the process of Barbir creating space for the header and called off the goal. Without knowing what Pekmic saw from his position, the replays make me think that the SKCII players and fans have a valid complaint about the goal being disallowed. Though when players from your team have been shown yellow cards five times to the point in the game, it's not like you have been a beacon of sportsmanship and rule followers. When that has been the way you played, a non-foul can look like a foul from the referee's perspective and location on the field.

While the final goal/non-goal can be debated, Indy was the better team for the majority of the game and deserved the win. SKCII were limited in their chances and only managed 7 shots, with just 3 on target. Both teams needed this win to stay in the Group E playoff race, as every game in the group now has the feel of being the proverbial 6-point swing. Louisville and Saint Louis play on Saturday to bring the group back to even in games played and then everybody do-si-dos and changes partners for the Week 13 games.

Such is the life of the USL Championship in the final weeks of the season.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Nick Moon deserves this game's Game Beckons Game Ball and not just because he scored the opening goal. He put in a good shift and showed that he's not just growing into his role as a forward (remember that wasn't his role at Lansing nor any of his other previous stops), but also growing in his confidence.

Additional Photos

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 07.11

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 3-1 L

- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett, Ouimette, Conner, Gibson, Lindley, Haworth, Watson (C), Pasher, Rafanello

- Substitutions: Moon 62' (Rafanello), Carleton 62' (Watson), Ilic 76' (Conner), Antley 87' (Haworth) 
- Unused: Farr, Osmond, Walker

- Scoring Summary:
LOU - Williams 23' (assist Lancaster)
LOU - Bone 27' 
LOU - Matsoso 44'
IND - Pasher 45' + 6' (Penalty Kick)

- Bookings:
IND - Ouimette 29' (Yellow)
LOU - Souahy 45' + 5' (Yellow)
LOU - Totsch 77' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elvis Osmanovic
- Adage goals: Two

Thoughts and Opinions
The halftime stats were fairly even. The final stats were fairly even. Yet, Louisville City FC found themselves with a 3-1 win at Lucas Oil Stadium to bring the season LIPAFC record to 2 wins for Louisville and a draw. Early in the season restart, I indicated that the Eleven needed to try and split the games with Louisville and then get favorable results in the other games to solidify themselves in the playoffs. Indy has received some favorable results in the out of group games, but Group E has proven to be the most difficult group in the league, with Saint Louis and Sporting KC II nipping at the heels of Indy and Louisville. Indy's loss tonight prevents the season split for the LIPAFC and further opens the door for Saint Louis to overtake Indy for the second playoff spot. 

When you are playing a team as good as Louisville, it's the little things that differentiate between finishing with a win or continuing to lose to their local rival. When Indy gives up 3 goals in the first half, it's the little things that they didn't do right. All three goals scored by LCFC in the first half were a result of the trailing player finding themselves wide open after deflections and Indy players not tracking the players properly.

In the case of the first goal from a corner kick in the 23rd minute, it's painful to admit that it was mistakes by Barrett and Hackshaw that led to the goal. In the pre kick setup, Hackshaw is lined up as one of the defenders on the eventual goalscorer Williams.

With the ball in the air, both Watson and Hackshaw fall back towards the 6-yard box with Souahy. Given Hackshaw's propensity to win headers, it's difficult to fault him, but it left Williams alone on the back post. 

While Hackshaw was attacking the corner kick, Barrett continued to man-mark Lancaster, which is a smart decision. However, it further left Williams unmarked on the back post.

With the ball in the air, clearly not in the area of Lancaster, Barrett should have dropped back to get between the goal and Williams. Instead, Williams continued to be left unmarked and easily found the net after Totsch's shot/cross. Louisville City 1. Indy Eleven 0.

The second goal Louisville was hustle. Louisville's Corben Bone out-hustled Gibson, which is also painful to admit. "Somebody out-hustled Gibson?" you ask? Unfortunately, yes. When Hoppenot sends a ball over the backline, Hackshaw is a step or two behind Speedy Williams, Barrett is a few yards ahead of Lancaster, and Gibson is a yard in front of Bone.

After the long pass to Williams, Barrett correctly slides further towards the ball and closer to Lancaster. Gibson has run 2 yards, while Bone has run 5 yards.

As Williams is taking the initial shot, Bone has developed a 10-yard advantage over Gibson.

Newton makes a partial save that goes off the crossbar and Bone has continued to increase his distance from Gibson.

When the ball bounces back off the crossbar into the middle of the box, only Bone, who put in the extra effort, is around for a simple header past Newton. 

The little things matter when you are playing Louisville. Before the game was a third of the way complete, Indy had made two very crucial mistakes and put themselves in a hole that was going to be extremely difficult to overcome. 

While Indy managed to get a goal on the board in stoppage time of the first half through a penalty kick goal from Pasher, they had already given up a third goal minutes before. While the third Louisville goal wasn't nearly as egregious of errors as the first two, the defensive breakdowns were more than the offensive opportunities in this game could overcome.

A lot can happen in the remaining 5 games, but it's absolutely vital that Indy get a positive result against Sporting Kansas City II on Wednesday and not let the bottom portion of the table get any closer. As Rakestraw said on the telecast, "Don't lose the same game twice." Don't let this game, and the fact that you have to lost back-to-back games against Louisville and have to play them again in a week and a half, cause you to not focus on SKCII and not get a positive result out of that game. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Haworth gets the nod for this game's Game Beckons Game Ball. The stats don't reflect all that he brought to the game, particularly in the beginning of the second half when Indy dominated the game and attempted to get the game back within reach, but Haworth was a definite bright spot in that portion of the game and provided a necessary spark.