Sunday, May 30, 2021

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 08.04



- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Lynn Family Stadium
- Attendance: 10,731
- Final Score: 2-1 W

- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw (C), Cochran, Timmer, Koffie, Law, Moon, Ayoze, Vassell, Wild, Hamilton

- Substitutions: Arteaga 67' (Vassell); Sissoko 78' (Wild); Smith 90'+1' (Hamilton)

- Unused: Edwards, Gutjahr, Malic, Ouimette

- Scoring Summary:
LOU - Bone 45'
IND - Hamilton 63' (PK)
IND - Hamilton 89' (PK)

- Bookings:
LOU - Lancaster 11' (Yellow)
LOU - DelPiccolo 71' (Yellow)
IND - Seagrist 77' (Yellow)
LOU - Hubbard 88' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elijio Arreguin
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

Since their inception, Indy Eleven have played 227 games across all competitions. Of those 227 games, Indy has played Louisville City 14 times. Of those 14 games, Indy has won just 3 games; once in June 2016 (a U.S. Open Cup game), once in May 2018, and as of last night, Indy added their third win. That amounts to 1,120 days since their last win in 2018. 

Let me repeat that for the ones in the back. Indy hadn't beat Louisville in 1,120 days. There's a reason it's more appropriate to describe this as a "geographical" rival, because anytime there are 3 years between victories, it's hard to describe it as a legit rivalry. 

Photo credit: EM Dash
In that timeframe, Indy's roster has seen some turnover, Louisville's roster less. In fact, from that game in May 2018, Indy's game day roster included just two players that were also on last night's game day roster; 
Ouimette and Farr. In contrast, Louisville's game roster included 6 players from that May 2018 game; Totsch, Davis IV, DelPiccolo, Lancaster, Souahy, and McCabe. One notable name missing from Louisville's lineup was Speedy Williams, who was replaced last night by former Indy Eleven player Tyler Gibson. Louisville lost a player and replaced them with Indy's Iron Man.

As I mentioned in my portion of Benton Newman's game preview, you know what to expect from Louisville. It's never a rebuild, it's a reload and Louisville have done that since the 2018 game by adding Gibson, Corben Bone, and Kyle Greig to name just a few. When Benton and I talked, he stated that "our ability to retain talent year over year has been the key ingredient to our success. It all starts from the top and I applauded our ownership and front office staff for being dedicated to creating a enjoyable and successful culture. The financial commitment towards the stadium and training complex has only made LouCity more attractive."

Louisville's consistency means that a majority of their players remember what has occurred in most of the recent LIPAFC matches, but that the Indianapolis players have no real understanding of what the game means to the fans. Not really anyway. When asked what it meant to snap the 10-game winless streak, even Rennie after the game was quoted as saying, "I’m not really that focused on that because it’s a new team, it’s a new group of players. It
’s 2021, it’s a new season. In life, if you focus too much on the past you miss the present moment and the future opportunities, so I’m not too much focused on what’s happened in the past." 

Photo credit: EM Dash
I have repeatedly said that it's hard to call it a rivalry when only one of the teams is winning and that if you want to be the King, you have to beat the King. Well, Indy finally beat the King. At least on the scoreboard. 

That, however, is about the only place that an objective observer can say that Indy won this game. Look up the stats. I don't have it in me to go through all of them. Some key ones though are that Louisville held a 65%-35% advantage in possession, an 18-5 advantage in shots, and was 12%-15% more efficient in their pass accuracy. The only place where Indy won was in penalty kicks, and if we're being honest (though I'm sure Louisville fans would disagree with me), there's an argument that there should have been one more of those for Indy. However, you would be hard-pressed to disagree with the two awarded penalty kicks and Hubbard was lucky to receive only a yellow for his foul and not a red since his actions stopped a clear scoring chance.

Others will tell you that the win is all that matters, and sometimes I'm one of them. Sometimes. Not this time.

Photo credit: EM Dash
Indy turned over the roster in ways we've never seen. They brought in talent, specifically to be more attack minded, because Indy had trouble scoring last year in ways that didn't involve Tyler Pasher. Arteaga, Hamilton, and Wild put that talent and eagerness to go forward on display last week against SKCII. For the moment, we'll assume that Vassell and Wild are interchangeable pieces in that attack so the change in that portion of the lineup isn't important, but from what I have seen so far, that isn't the case, despite Vassell's credentials. However, with that assumption, the Rennie Bunker (TM) looked to be in full effect again against Louisville from the start. Indy put all 11 guys behind the ball most of the time. They did not look like the possession-oriented, attack-minded team we saw last week. This was defense first, play-for-the-draw-on-the-road mentality that we've grown accustomed to seeing from a Rennie coached team. 

I want to celebrate this win. I do. But it doesn't feel like a step forward yet. It feels like a side step that maybe gets better later in the year after the guys have had more time to gel. Right now though, it feels like the little brother still trying to figure out how to beat the big brother or at least not look badly while trying. I'm hoping that the next meeting between the two teams plays out differently, but with the same result, because Indy have yet to score a run of play goal in a win against Louisville during its duration in the USL. 

It's hard to sound like a sore winner, but I'm sure that I have managed to do just that. I think I may just be tired about hearing how "we're going to play our game" and then watch my team play a bunkering style of play against the top team in the East when I just watched them play the exact opposite style of play against a 2 side. Maybe that is "their game" and they're able to adjust like a chameleon in a Disney movie, but why does the RB (TM) always seem to be present against the better teams in the league?

Yay, we won!

One last side note. It was a brief moment on screen, but after Hubbard was called for his foul on Arteaga and they were preparing for the penalty kick, there was a clear moment when you could tell that Arteaga and Hamilton were arguing about who was to take the kick. THAT'S the fire I want to see from our attacking players. It turned out fine for Indy fans, but I might have learned towards Arteaga taking the shot since Hamilton had just taken one against Hubbard and it made the chess match more difficult. I don't know who ultimately made the decision, but I love that there are multiple players wanting to be the one to take it. Yet, one of those fighting and wanting to take it sat on the bench for 67 minutes after scoring two goals in three games.

Well, there I go again.

Indy don't get to celebrate for long as they have a busy stretch as they come back home on June 2nd to face OKC and Memphis on June 5th, before wrapping the run on the road by facing former players Dylan Mares and Macca King with El Paso Locomotive, who made it to penalty kicks of the Western conference final last year. We're about to find out a lot about this team in the next week and a half.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Photo credit: EM Dash
I want to keep giving love to Law because he is quickly becoming my favorite player, but I have to give it to the back three today. While I dislike the RB (TM), I don't dislike how the guys that have to play it actually play it. I'm not sure why Ouimette has found the bench right now, but Timmer has been good in his place. Cochran seems to be coordinating the guys well, and Hackshaw has been, well, Hackshaw. So enjoy the GBGB boys. 

The Just Because I Want To Include It But Couldn't Find a Good Way Moment
Photo credit: EM Dash
Jordan Farr knows how to lower his shoulder to protect himself.

I don't know if that comes from training with Andy Swift or Jon Busch or Evan Newton, but that was good goalkeeping.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Indy Eleven vs Sporting Kansas City II - 08.03


- Opponent: Sporting Kansas City II
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 3,999
- Final Score: 2-0 W

- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Cochran, Timmer, Sissoko, Law, Moon, Ayoze, Arteaga, Wild, Hamilton

- Substitutions: Seagrist 69' (Ayoze); Smith 76' (Hamilton); Vassell 77' (Wild); Buckmaster 90' (Moon); Gutjahr 90' (Koffie)

- Unused: Edwards, Ouimette

- Scoring Summary:
IND - Hamilton 53' (assist Wild)
IND - Arteaga 65' (assist Wild)

- Bookings:
SKC - Resetar 48' (Yellow)

- Referee: Matthew Corrigan
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

There aren't a lot of guys still on the roster that were around when Indy Eleven lost to Sporting Kansas City II last September, when the team lost 2-1. While that lost didn't ultimately seal their fate in missing the playoffs, it was a loss that provided an extra level of pressure when the team faced Saint Louis the next week. So while most of the players didn't have come into the game with any extra motivation to right the wrong of last year, Coach Rennie remembers and the starting lineup had the look of a manager that had a perfervid desire to prove this is a different team. We've been used to seeing Indy in a 3-5-2 type lineup, but with a fully healthy Hamilton, Rennie unleashed as much of his attacking weapons as he could squeeze onto the field. The official lineup from the team called it a 4-4-2, but it definitely played like a 3-4-3. Indy always falls back into a back 5 in defense, but they were going to go forward and they were going to go forward with numbers. Hamilton routinely had his back to goal with good hold-up play, Wild showed something that we haven't seen since Pasher's departure; an ability, and an overwhelming desire, to attack players 1 v 1, and Arteaga has a high motor and is unafraid to take his shot from all kinds of angles and locations. This lineup, with this group of players, was anything but the Rennie Bunker (TM).

And yet...

Indy Eleven First 27 Min Distribution Chart
In the early part of the game, the team looked like the teams we have seen in the past with long passes and long diagonal passes. There were so many in fact in the first 25 or so minutes of the game that I made a note of it and asked Rennie about it in the post-game press conference. I wondered if they had seen something in the video that they felt they could exploit. Nope. Just what the players felt was available. Whatever it was that they felt was available in that first third of the game, they significantly reduced those long diagonal balls the rest of the game. 

Before I get into the second half, I want to take a minute to discuss a couple of the other notes I wrote down during the game.

At some point Ayoze is going to reach 50 years old and retire from the game of soccer. Until then, Indy fans can only hope that he decides that he and his family want to stay in Indy and continue to play the left winger role. Until Hackshaw either gets the next Indy to MLS transfer or someone else decides to pay him more than Indy is capable of paying, Indy likely has the best left side of any team in the USL. If you aren't appreciating what they are bringing to this team, this is my reminder to value the high level of soccer those two guys are bringing to this team.

Second note - I was unable to attend the first home game (or the 2019 playoff games) so this was my first time back to Carroll Stadium since 2017. I absolutely missed the fans' ritual of stomping on the metal stands during the team's corner kicks. It's something that grew out organically in the early days of the team and has continued after the return to Soccer's Greatest Dive Bar. I don't know any of the details of what Eleven Park may include, but I doubt they will include metal stands. As I sat in the press box and felt the vibration of the stands, I had a brief moment of elation as I remembered how many games I've felt the stands vibrate underneath me, followed by a moment of sadness that an upgrade in stadium (which I want to be clear) will forever silence a fan tradition.

Now, back to better thoughts.

Photo Credit - Matt Schlotzhauer
Both teams entered the locker room at a stalemate, at least from the scoreboard perspective. SKCII had the possession advantage, but that's the only place where they led. Indy led 6 shots to 1, with a 2 to 0 advantage on shots on goal. Indy doubled SKCII in corner kicks 4 to 2. SKCII did lead in fouls committed, hammering Indy with 12 fouls to Indy's 5. Indy left the locker room with an apparent adjustment in tactics from Rennie that told the team to press more and press higher. No matter where an SKCII player touched the ball, an Indy player put them under pressure. That pressure paid off with in the 53rd minute when Hamilton put Indy on the board off of a corner kick from Wild and Indy was able to finally #CueTheSmoke as a result of a goal and not just the celebratory, "we're able to do smoke again" smoke last game. Smoke that seemed to linger a bit longer, blanketing the field as play resumed, as if it knew that the fans missed the opportunities to release the smoke and didn't want to leave.

Photo Credit - Matt Schlotzhauer
Then nine minutes later, Arteaga put the ball into the right side of the goal after Wild took on players 1 v 1 and found Arteaga, eager to send a ball passed the keeper, which he did through a path of outstretched legs. With Hamilton's goal, the players that Indy saw score multiple times during the preseason and came into the season with the hope that would translate into the regular season, have now scored 3 goals in 3 days and account for all of Indy's goals. Indy finished the game with 16 shots and 7 of those on target. Arteaga and Hamilton accounted for 9 of those shots. So while other players had shots (Wild had 3 and the CBs had a few), production out of these two guys is exactly what Indy fans want to see. The team doesn't have to rely on just one player's next level ability to get past players and don't have to funnel the ball to just that one player or hope for set piece goals. Now, the team still has that ability whenever Hackshaw, Ouimette, and Cochran are on the field, but also have some players that can score in different ways. 

Indy closed the game out with Arteaga having two really good chances later in the game and Farr didn't have to make a save (an easy one at that) until the 74th minute. Was Indy's domination because SKCII played on Wednesday and were tired or resting key players? Or has Indy improved with the addition of goal scorers and a chance in tactic? We'll find out when the team makes the trip down I-65 to play Louisville City this next week and we'll see if Rennie sticks with the 3-4-3 formation. My guess? Rennie resorts back to the Rennie Bunker (TM), Louisville gets an early goal, Indy has to chase the game, and walk away with a 2-0 or 2-1 loss. My hope? That Rennie comes out exactly like he did against SKCII, which is something that I don't think that the Louisville coaching staff will expect given 3 years of experience (remember, they are playing under a former assistant, and now interim head coach, after John Hackworth left last month). 

That's next week. For now, Indy fans get to celebrate a dominating effort from Indy that actually resulted in two goals and plenty of smoke.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Wild. Goal scorers always get the love, but Wild deserves this one. He was responsible for the assists on both goals, had 2 shots on target, 1 shot off target, 8 crosses (3 successful), and 4 chances created. That's making your presence felt and it's how you stay on the field, if I were the coach. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Indy Eleven vs FC Tulsa - 08.02



- Opponent: FC Tulsa
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 2-0 L

- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Cochran, Ouimette (C), Moon, Seagrist, Sissoko, Koffie, Law, Smith, Arteaga

- Substitutions: Hamilton 63' (Smith); Wild 70' (Sissoko); Ayoze 70' (Seagrist); Buckmaster 86' (Moon); Gutjahr 86' (Koffie)

- Unused: Edwards, Timmer

- Scoring Summary:
TUL - Rivas 62' (assist Bourgeois)
TUL - Rivas 82' (Penalty Kick)

- Bookings:
IND - Koffie 53' (Yellow)
TUL - Corrales 58' (Yellow)
TUL - Da Costa 64' (Yellow)
TUL - Kibato 83' (Yellow)
IND - Ouimette 90'+5' (Yellow)

- Referee: Lukasz Szpala
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions
It's been a few years since Indy played a regular season game at Carroll Stadium when Indy played North Carolina FC to a 2-2 draw in front of 8,813 fans. As Indy kicks off their 2021 season at The Mike, the weather had a distinct fall feel to it, but with significantly fewer supporters in the stands due to the Indianapolis and IUPUI COVID-19 restrictions. 

Indy Eleven withstood a high and fast press from Tulsa in the opening minutes of the game to settle into holding the majority of the possession at halftime at a more than 60% to 40% ratio. Indy were able to see the better of the chances, with the official halftime stats indicated Indy had 6 shots with 0 shots on target, and while technically correct from a stats perspective, Moon blasted one off the post in the 35th minute. However, FC Tulsa managed just 1 shot with 0 shots on target despite three set piece opportunities within 25 to 30 yards from Indy's goal.

Unfortunately for Indy, the only smoke the fans saw happened before the game as the BYB released some pent up desire to send some sulphur smell into the air. Unlike the regular season game against North Carolina FC in 2017, Indy finished the game on the short side of the scoreboard, losing 2-0 after Tulsa scored an uncontested header from near the penalty spot that one hopped just over the outstretched arm of Farr and then a second goal exactly from the penalty spot after Cochran took down a Tulsa player in the box. The first goal could be described as being a bit against the run of play as Indy controlled the ball well and had the better of the chances. When I asked Ouimette about the goal from his perspective, he stated,

"...but on this sequence it was a quick turnover I think. They got possession of the ball and it was just not getting ready defensively quick enough. So we're going to have to address this and make sure that they don't have easy opportunities like that. I think it was four guys in the box against two center backs so that's unacceptable and we need to do better on this part." 

The goal by Tulsa seemed to reinvigorate them and the game dropped more into the back-and-forth game that had been seen in the early parts of the game. That back-and-forth eventually led to the penalty kick in the 81st minute that was impossible to dispute, despite the protestations from the BYB. When Indy was awarded their own penalty kick in the 88th minute, it looked like it might be one of those "too little too late" kind of moments, but at least Indy would have helped themselves with the goal differential and eliminated the Tulsa clean sheet. However, when Ayoze put the penalty kick off the crossbar, sometimes it just isn't going to be your night. 

As Ouimette indicated, the team has some things to work on before their next match in a couple of weeks against Sporting Kansas City II. It also looks like it is going to be a normal length season so there is some time to work through some of the growing pains of having so many new faces in the roster and lineup. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I always have a hard time choosing a player for the GBGB in a loss, particularly when the team overall didn't play poorly, but obviously didn't play well enough to win. However, the brightest spots for e were the same bright spots in Birmingham, but with the addition of Moon. Good things seem to happen when the ball goes through Law, Seagrist, and Moon. I think they have the problem that all Rennie coached teams have had about sometimes slowing the game down instead of attacking, they have all shown to have high motors, good vision, and where the chances are originating.

Photos (Courtesy of Don Thompson Photography)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Indy Eleven vs Birmingham Legion FC - 08.01


- Opponent: Birmingham Legion FC
- Location: BBVA Field
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 1-0 W

- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Cochran, Ouimette (C), Buckmaster Seagrist, Sissoko, Koffie, Law, Smith, Arteaga

- Substitutions: Hamilton 62' (Arteaga); Moon 62' (Smith); Gutjahr 74' (Sissoko); Timmer 90' (Law)
- Unused: Edwards, Liu, Malic

- Scoring Summary:
IND - Arteaga 28' (unassisted)

- Bookings:
BHM - Asiedu 61' (Yellow)
BHM - Williams 87' (RED)
IND - Hamilton 90'+5' (Yellow)

- Referee: Greg Dopka
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions
Indy Eleven last played a competitive match that counted on October 3, 2020, which means that it has been 210 days of off-season and pre-season. Seven months of evaluating the 2020 roster, scouting and hiring players for the 2021 roster, and signing and releasing players to MLS squads. Two hundred ten days of waiting to kick the ball in anger against a team where the performance and the result mattered.

In the opening 20 minutes or so, Indy looked exactly like a team that hadn't played competitively in 210 days and that had several new players in the starting lineup. Eight of the eleven starters for Indy were making their club debut, with only Farr, Hackshaw, and Captain Karl Ouimette returning from last year's starting lineup. While Indy outscored their opponents 20 - 2 during the official preseason matches (unofficial matches added another 8 goals to the opponents total from my sources), some of the defensive familiarity may not have been developed as much as expected. Until Indy found the early goal by Arteaga in the 28th minute from a rebound on a Van Oekel save, Birmingham controlled the majority of the play. Birmingham's early chances, which Indy was fortunate not to be penalized by, resulted from some questionable decisions by the back line, particularly Cochran. Cochran provided some difficult passes back to Farr that required Jordan to make some drastic recoveries and decisions. The most notable of which required Farr to chest the ball and scissor kick it away, that nearly led to a goal by Birmingham, but was mercifully kicked into the side netting instead of into the goal.

The goal seemed to settle the squad, and while Birmingham finished the game with the possession advantage, most of that possession wasn't in dangerous areas or in the Birmingham's offensive final third. 

Half Time Heat Map
The field conditions were terrible, with players from both team routinely slipping. Parts of the field looked like they were playing in a sand box as turns, kicks, and even short passes brought up significant amounts of sand. Whether that was the entire reason or not, the first half was played in the middle of the pitch, with neither team having a significant effort in the final third. Both teams managed 5 shots, with Indy getting 2 on target and Birmingham getting just 1 shot on target. With Indy's goal midway through the first half, Indy settled into the game much better, but this was still a game that was played in the middle of the field as both teams struggled to have much possession in the final third. Personally, I was glad to see that the team continued to push forward and that the Rennie Bunker (TM) didn't immediately become the team's tactic, which we've seen in the past. 

With that in mind, I would have still liked to see Indy push faster on their offensive breaks. At one point, the color commentator during the game said, "Indy Eleven had an opportunity to go quickly, but for whatever reason, decided to just slow it down." This was a question I had at times too. Indy had several occasions where they were pushing forward, but inexplicably stopped and recycled the ball backwards in lieu of further attacking the goal 1 v 1 or sending in a cross. I hope this is something that we see improve as the season progresses, because the Eleven missed a few more chances to put the ball into the mix with players in the box. If history tells us anything about Rennie's preferred tactics, I'm guessing the players were doing exactly as instructed and we will continue to see chances squandered that will eventually, and inevitably, come back to hurt the team.

Birmingham's Williams was shown a straight red in the 87th minute for retaliation on Ouimette, who got tangled with Williams on a cross. With the advantage of a replay, Ouimette had his arms around Williams as they went to the ground and looked like he inadvertently hit Williams in the head trying to find a way to fall without hurting them both. Williams took offensive to the hit to the head and put a boot to the stomach of Ouimette, which the AR clearly saw, giving referee Greg Dopka all he needed to be able to show Williams the red card. With a man up and limited time remaining, Indy settled into the bunker when Birmingham had the ball and slow play when Indy had the ball.

One of my conversations that I had during the game stated, "Tonight is the kind of win that was missing last year for Indy Eleven. Mentally tough, grind it out, and find a way to win type of game." This is exactly correct. It wasn't exactly the prettiest soccer at times. There were a number of bad decisions that could have put Indy in a hole. Indy squandered some potential chances going forward. Yet, Indy grinded and found a way to get the win.

Indy head home with three points in their pocket and an acceptable showing for their first official game in 210 days. Waiting for them as they make their return to Carroll Stadium will be FC Tulsa, who will be playing their third game and have started the season with two wins, having already played OKC Energy and Sporting Kansas City II. Indy will want to have a good showing as they make their way to the original home of the team, and will likely need to score multiple goals as FC Tulsa has already shown the ability to score goals in bunches in the early part of the season, having already scored 5 goals. Playing FC Tulsa may force the team to adjust today's tactic and attack more.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

For the fist game of the year, I'm going to have to give the Game Beckons Game Ball to two players. While it would seem obvious to give it to Arteaga for scoring the winning goal (and he was definitely worth with his high motor and desire to come back to help on defense), I actually want to give the GBGB to the left side of the field. I was surprised that Ayoze was not in the starting lineup, but the duo of Law and Seagrist played extremely well all night. The pair were better than 80% accurate on their passes (Law at 89%), accounted for 9 crosses and 5 chances created (Law with 4 of them), and were the driving force of the offense for most of the game. While they were also part of my above discussion about slowing the game down instead of attacking, so many good things came from their side of the field that I have to reward them for their effort.