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.

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