Saturday, June 26, 2021

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 08.10



- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Lynn Family Stadium
- Attendance: 10,927
- Final Score: 3-3 D

- Starting XI: Edwards, Ouimette, Cochran, Hackshaw, Timmer, Ayoze (C), Law, Moon, Wild, Smith, Arteaga

- Substitutions: Hamilton 62' (Arteaga); Vassell 62' (Ayoze); Koffie 71' (Law); Seagrist 71' (Wild); Buckmaster 86' (Moon)
- Unused: Dick, Sissoko, Gutjahr

- Scoring Summary:
LOU - DelPiccolo 6' (assist Ownby)
IND - Smith 9' (assist Hackshaw)
LOU - Gomez 14' 
IND - Hackshaw 20' (assist Moon)
IND - Arteaga 41' (assist Smith)
LOU - Bone 78' (assist Ownby)

- Bookings:
LOU - Bone 32' (Yellow)
IND - Smith 33' (Yellow)
LOU - Hoppenot 70' (Yellow)
IND - Vassell 74' (Yellow)
IND - Buckmaster 9'+4' (Yellow)

- Referee: Gabriele Giusti
- Adage goals: Yep

Thoughts and Opinions

Game 2 under interim manager Max Rogers started with something that we didn't see much from the waning days of Martin Rennie's tenure, and that is a starting lineup that is the same as the previous game. Something that we have seen though, is Indy giving up early goals, which they did again tonight, giving up a goal in the 6th minute. The difference is that in this game Indy got one back in the 9th minute. 

25 Min Attack Stats
The scoring didn't stop there as Louisville scored 5 minutes later on yet another goal that has taken a deflection and had the Indy goalkeepers wrong-footed. For Louisville's second goal, it was Gomez taking a shot that bounced off of Ouimette with Edwards leaning the wrong way. Amazingly, Indy followed that up 6 minutes later with their own goal. Moon sent a ball to the far post that found Hackshaw with a one-touch into the near post netting. For two teams that are typically pretty stingy with their defense, there were 4 goals in the first 20 minutes. Then Louisville gave up another one five minutes before halftime. 

After that goal, and the halftime break, the game settled into a more normal IND v LOU match. LouCity holding much of the possession, with Indy keeping the ball in front of them and countering when the opportunity arose.

Full Match Crosses
Until the 78th minute when Louisville scored again as Indy continued to concede more and more possession hoping to ride out the game, which is something you can't do against a team like Louisville. It seems Martin didn't pack the Rennie Bunker (TM) into his banker's box when he left the office. Indy tried to defend and defend and that is never going to be a winning tactic against a team like Louisville, especially in a game where the teams scored a combined 5 goals in the first half. Louisville finished the game with 52 crosses according to the match center stats. You don't have to know much about soccer to know that if you have that many balls being sent across the goal, something is going to give and usually its the defense that buckles under that pressure.

However, I don't want to get too negative with the bus parking that took place for the majority of the second half. So let's talk about how efficient Indy was in the first half with their goals. Really that goes for both teams. Between the two keepers, they were only made 2 saves (both by Edwards) for the entirety of the game. At halftime, there were 5 shots on target and 5 goals. That's pretty damn effective. Indy had 6 shots for a 50% shooting accuracy and Louisville also had 6 shots for a 33.3% shooting accuracy. The number of shots for Indy went down to 1 in the second half, but they were highly effective in the first half. 

One last thought for this match. Since Martin Rennie's departure, Indy Eleven have scored 5 goals. Many fans will state that this is what this team can do now that Rennie is gone. I'm not going to argue that too vehemently, but I do want to point out that part of Rennie's complaint as he departed was the Carroll Stadium turf. We all know (or suspect) other reasons too, but the team has played on two really nice grass fields since that post-game rant. Will the same offense output that we've seen the past two games be duplicated when Indy Eleven get back to Carroll next week against Birmingham? Will Martin's parting shot be proven to be true? I guess we'll see, but at the moment, his assistant's decision to push Law further up the field and allow Timmer to play the single defensive mid role looks to have been very effective in his first two games as the team's interim coach. 

Indy head home with a point from Louisville, with the Central division leading Birmingham Legion waiting for them on Saturday. We know the field won't be full of sand like it was when Indy met Birmingham in the first game of the season, so this next game will likely play much differently. Either way, there will be a lot on the line as the two teams will want to maintain their winning ways.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Photo Credit - EM Dash
This is a hard decision for me tonight. So I'm going to make it easier on myself and just reward the GBGB to the entire team for their first half effort. Yes, giving up two goals was not ideal, but both of Louisville's goal came off deflections. Indy had three very good goals. Smith's goal was a great header from a great Hackshaw cross. Hackshaw's goal came from a great Moon cross. Arteaga's goal came from a great Smith thru-ball (and Law decision to not play the ball). Notice I didn't say that any of those goals came from set pieces. I'm good with a good set piece goal, but this team is starting to look like they can do both set piece goals and run-of-play goals. That's something that brings optimism moving forward and deserves to be rewarded. So First Half Indy Eleven get the GBGB. Hackshaw gets the photo.

Friday, June 25, 2021

My journey into the Scottish Professional Football League

Towards the end of the Scottish Premiership's 2020/2021 season, I found out that there are a lot more of the games from the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) on ESPN+ than I was aware. The games were mostly for the Premiership and the Championship levels, but the SPFL has four tiers of football, including League One and League Two levels. So I started watching a few games. Then I watched some more. All without any kind of rooting interest for a specific team. 

Around the same time, Indy Eleven signed/hired guys who have some kind of connection to Scotland or the SPFL: Nicky Law (Motherwell F.C. [2011-2013] and Rangers F.C. [2013-2016]), Cammie Smith (born in Aberdeen Scotland - played for Aberdeen F.C. [2012-17], Dundee United F.C. [2016-2021], St. Mirren F.C. [2016-19], and Ayr United F.C. [2020-21]), and assistant (now interim) coach Max Rogers (was an assistant coach at St. Mirren F.C. [2014 - 2016]). Indy Eleven already had the obvious connection to Scotland with Martin Rennie who was born in Thurso, in northern Scotland, as well as Owain Fon Williams who has played in various spots in the SPFL, including Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. [2015-2019], Hamilton Academical F.C. [2019-2020], and Dunfermline Athletic F.C. [2020 (on loan) and again for the 2020/2021 season]). After all of those connections, we had Indy Eleven's return to Carroll Stadium immortalized in artwork by Steven Stewart of Football Stadium Prints. Who, wouldn't you know, is from Scotland.

As I've stated before, I don't have a rooting interest in any of the world leagues, including MLS, and as best I can tell going back through some of the hints in my family tree on, I don't have any (maybe one) connections to Scotland. Yet, as I continued to watch games and become more interested and invested in the results, I began to consider that maybe it was the SPFL that should be my world league to support. Without any family connection that I could find to Scotland, it came down to research. I started reading through every Premiership team's wikipedia page to learn about their history and their records to see if I could rule out any or if any spoke to me. I managed to narrow it down a little, but then decided that it was crazy. Why not just ask the guys for their help?

So I did. Since I also receive the press releases for El Paso Locomotive, I reached out to them to find out if Nick Ross, who is from Inverness, Scotland and played for Inverness Caledonian Thistle (different time than Fon Williams) and Dundee, would be interested in answering some questions too. Which he obliged.

So I asked each guy some questions to find out what they liked and disliked about the league, what stadiums they enjoyed or hated, and even how the SPFL differs from American leagues. All in a hope that it would help narrow down the team that I wanted to support. Which it did, but that comes later. Due to the questions that I asked them, I also have a diversion discussion about stadiums. 

ALT: Do you have a (or more than one) SPFL team that you currently root for and why?

Nick Ross (Ross): "I always follow the Inverness scores as that’s my home town team. Growing up I liked Rangers too so I try to follow how they’re doing as well."

Nicky Law (Law): "Team I root for are obviously Rangers and Motherwell as I spent time with both, I always say the 2 years I spent at Motherwell were my favorite of my career by far; great family club, great people, had a brilliant relationship with the fans (until I left for Rangers), and mostly a fantastic manager staff and group of guys to share a dressing room with. Friends for life were made there and we were very successful.

Steven Stewart (Stewart): "I'm from Brechin, Scotland, so I'm a Brechin City fan. I couldn't support anyone else. Although we have just been relegated from the SPFL. We were given a stay of execution last year when the season was cut short because of the pandemic whilst we were bottom of the league. We were given a second bite at the cherry this season, but still ended up bottom and lost our playoff with Kelty Hearts. So, I don't actually support any SPFL Team anymore. My team is a Highland League team now! I don't think I can support any other team like I do my home club, apart from Scotland. I definitely have soft spots for other teams that I have a bit of a connection with. When I first moved to London, I lived in Fulham so went to quite a few Fulham games so I like seeing them do well. Camp Nou was the first overseas stadium I visited and that gave me a bit of a feeling for Barca. I saw Racing v River in Buenos Aires a few years back and the atmosphere in El Cilindro was so incredible that River have stayed with me. But I wouldn't say that I support them. Not in the same way that I support Brechin and Scotland. When Brechin and Scotland lose, it hurts. When they win, I'm punching the air with delight. I don't get that with anyone else."

Steven's response to who he supports feels very similar to mine. I root for Indy Eleven and the U.S. National Teams. I'm writing this article and reaching out to all of these guys about teams in the SPFL, but I suspect that no matter what team I choose, my connection to it will always feel ancillary at best and won't affect me the way an Indy Eleven or USWNT/USMNT result affects me. I guess we'll see that in the future.

ALT: What is your favorite and least favorite memories of your time in the SPFL?

Ross: "My favourite memory is either gaining promotion from the Championship to Premiership in my debut season or winning the Scottish cup (both at Inverness). Also at Dundee, we beat our rivals Dundee United near the end of the season which relegated them and the atmosphere at that game was special."

Law: "Favourite memories were the second place finish with Motherwell, and also playing in European qualifying rounds as a result of that achievement. We had a fantastic side. Least favourite, I don’t really have any, but I would say the cup runs we had in my time with Motherwell were my most disappointing, as those were the competitions were we underachieved. My least favourite memory is playing in bad weather, particularly snow!"

ALT: How would you describe the differences in play between the SPFL and what you have seen in the USL?

Ross: "A big difference for me is the fans. In Scotland, the fans are a lot more demanding and are not shy in letting you know if you’re playing bad! At Dundee, I lost count how many times we were booed off the pitch, even at half time, if we weren’t wining the game. Also, the speed of the game is slower here, but that’s mainly because of the weather. Games in Scotland can be pretty hectic."

Law: "I would say the USL is a slower tempo and more tactical in its approach, whereas the SPFL is high tempo, maybe not as much football played on the floor. It’s a lot of fighting for second balls etc., whereas USL is more trying to play neat football."

It's interesting to me that both guys basically provided the same response. It's also something that I observed when watching the league this Spring. There were times during games that the only way to describe them were as "frenetic." The relegation play-offs particularly had a hectic, frenetic feel to them with the stakes so high for both teams. 

I asked Nick and Nicky stadium questions before I knew that Steven was going to participate, but I'm glad that I did because they all provided me with some great insight into the Scottish stadiums. Obviously, I had already been watching games and was seeing the stadiums, but the games were being played without fans. So I was losing a major component of what can make or break a stadium's attractiveness. I had also started doing more research on them (that's what I do), so let's dig into their responses and what I found.

ALT: What is your favorite SPFL stadium to play in and why (across all levels where you may have played)? Question was adjusted slightly for Steven who has attended games, but not played, in SPFL stadiums. 

Ross: "I always enjoyed playing at the big stadiums, e.g Celtic Park (Celtic) and Ibrox (Rangers), but I’d say my favourite is Tynecastle (Hearts). They have a good crowd and the supporters are so close to the pitch so the atmosphere is always really good."

Law: "My favourite ground to play in was probably the obvious ones Ibrox and Celtic park for sheer amount of fans and noise, but special mention to Hearts, because that’s a tight stadium with the fans on top of you and they generate a great atmosphere also." 

Steven: "I really like Central Park, Cowdenbeath. It has a stock car track around the pitch. It's wild!! Don't be thinking it's anything like the amazing motorsport venues you have in the States. This is a very, very Scottish attempt at that sort of thing and it's marvelous!!"

Photo Credit - Wikipedia
I'll get to Steven's comment in a minute, but stick with me for a bit.

It amazes me that both Ross and Law separately mention Tynecastle Park, where Heart of Midlothian F.C. (or commonly known as Hearts), who play in the Premiership, have played since 1886. Tynecastle Park seats just over 20,000 fans. The stadium is an "all-seated" stadium, to comply with the Taylor Report, which is the report that resulted from the inquiry after the Hillsborough disaster. 

I have to say that having watched this YouTube video highlighting Tynecastle, and doing my research on so many of the other stadiums around the SPFL, I really wish that Indy would consider going with this style stadium design. For me, it's just a classic look that the new American stadiums don't do. The supporters are on top of the action, nearly all of the seats have some level of protection directly above them, and the sound from them should just bounce directly out onto the field, giving you the environment that Nick and Nicky appreciated.

I like the Scottish stadiums that I've looked at so far. There's a similar look to many of them, but they just have a look that appeals to me. In comparison to the sports cathedrals that we build in America, they have a very utilitarian feel to them, particularly knowing that they are stadiums associated with the top tier of Scottish football. This is not intended to denigrate the Scottish stadiums, they're just a different style than we build here. Some Indy supporters have dubbed Carroll Stadium, "American Soccer's Greatest Dive Bar," and I think a Scottish style stadium would be a way to lean into that part of Indy's history. As I said, there's a utilitarian appearance to the stadiums that fits nicely into the idea that I mentioned in my "Indy Eleven and its place in the American Lower Division Soccer Landscape" article about Indy "punching their weight." I like the idea of building a stadium that reflects Indy. Maybe many in Indy strive to consider Indy a "high class" city, but are we, really? Don't get me wrong, we have some really nice things, but deep down we're a tenderloin, root beer (or beer), and a day at the track kind of people. Let's be honest, a utilitarian stadium fits us well. Field, seats, a little protection from the Indiana weather, a place to be safe from the more extreme Indiana weather, and corn dogs and nachos in the concession stand. All that fits nicely into a Scottish style stadium. Yet I know architects and I know the architects that typically get hired to design American stadiums (e.g. Populous) and they would look at one of the Scottish stadiums and cringe. Either way, I suspect an architect is either already under contract to design the next iteration of Eleven Park and it won't be anywhere close to this style. So just to humor myself and educate you a bit more on Scottish stadiums, here are a couple more examples for you to to peruse.

Pittodrie Stadium - Aberdeen FC (Google Earth image)

Fir Park - Motherwell FC (Google Earth image)

Photo Credit - Central Fife Times
For those of you who couldn't read a word I just said about Tynecastle or Dive Bars or Populous, because you were stuck on the fact that Steven mentioned that Central Park for Cowdenbeath has "a stock car track around the pitch," I have you covered. Cowdenbeath F.C. plays in the Scottish League Two, with Central Park (link to YouTube video of drone footage of stadium) having a seating capacity of just over 4,300. 

I, erroneously, assumed that Steven meant there was a track on the outside of the stadium, similar to the railroad tracks that run immediately adjacent to Pittsburgh's Highmark Stadium. Man was I wrong. It's one thing for Indy Eleven fans to complain about a running track between the field and the stands, but this is on another level. Also, I think we may have found Peter Wilt, Andrew Retz, and Peter Evans' "spirit stadium." Soccer and small track racing in one location. All those folks who have said over the years that the stadium should be built inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you were thinking too big. Lucas Oil Raceway on the west side of Indianapolis would work nicely and they have experience with large crowds too since they host the NHRA U.S. Nationals every Labor Day weekend.

 I digress...

ALT: Which stadium has been your favorite to draw? (Note: In Steven's response, for the stadium name, I have linked a photo or video where I could find a good one and for the team name, I have a link to his artwork for the stadium.)

Steven: "Ooh. I strangely like the ones that have more of the surrounding area contained within them. Cappielow Stadium (Greenock Morton FC) showing the huge shipbuilding crane in the background; Christchurch Meadow (Belper Town FC) showing the Nail Factory; Grange Lane (North Ferriby) has the Church, Allotments, and Humber Bridge. I like these as they capture the local area and a bit of the community that the grounds are in. I am far more drawn to old traditional grounds as opposed to the newer out of town stadiums. I like grounds with a bit of history about them. I love that about The Mike and the athletics history that has happened there."

ALT: For somebody who is just getting into watching the league, what should I know and what team should I consider supporting and why?

Steven: "This is a tough one. I'd probably say to see if you can find any family connection at all with a Scottish town. If no family connection, just find any connection at all and then find the closest club. Don't worry about the club size, don't worry about their success, don't worry about the team colours or name. Just find a connection and then that'll help to create an initial bond. If you do end up with a team in the lower leagues you are in for a treat. The leagues are so competitive and things can change so quickly. Promotion and relegation means there is usually always something up for grabs for your chosen team."

Law: "If you speak to Cammy, he will push you to Aberdeen, that’s his hometown and favorite team. I would suggest Motherwell. As I say, family club with good values, an underdog that likes to over achieve."

Going into these questions with these guys, I had a couple of teams that I was finding myself drawn to and interested in watching their games; Aberdeen and Kilmarnock. I didn't mention it to them, but my second level of teams of interest included Motherwell. When I asked Steven about if there was any reason I shouldn't support Aberdeen or Kilmarnock, this was his response:

Steven: "Other than continuous crushing disappointment? haha. But that's Scottish football for you! Absolutely no reason at all not to support any of them. Kilmarnock have just been relegated from the top flight so they will be hoping to bounce back so you should have a pretty exciting first year supporting them. [Editor's note: I was aware of this as I watched the relegation play-off with great disappointment that the team I was considering supporting was outplayed by Dundee and was going to be dropped from the Premiership.] Aberdeen have just appointed a new coach, Stephen Glass, he has most recently been working with Atlanta, and there is now talk of Aberdeen building a new stadium in town rather than moving out of town. So that could be quite exciting. [I was also aware of the Stephen Glass hiring - see my Martin Rennie departure article - and Aberdeen's connection to Atlanta United was one of the reasons that were causing me to lean away from supporting them.]

So who did I decide to support? 

I had done the wikipedia research on all the teams and learned about their history. As I said, Aberdeen was interesting and I think Pittodrie Sadium looks great, but their connection to Atlanta United turns me off. Kilmarnock's history is cool in that the wikipedia entry indicates that they are "the oldest professional club in Scotland." They are also located in East Ayrshire, and my review indicated that one of my distant relatives might (stress might) be from the general area. So following Steven's advice, I might have a connection there. 

Listening to Nicky Law, I went back and researched Motherwell again. My connection to them being Nicky. "Just find a connection and then that'll help to create an initial bond." As I re-read the wikipedia entry, I got to this... "On 28 October 2016, Motherwell became a fan-owned club when supporters club Well Society's £1 deal with Les Hutchison was concluded.[46]"

Motherwell F.C. is fan-owned. I'm in. That's my team to support in the Premiership. I think I'm still going to pay attention to Kilmarnock (my wife and kids love that it reminds them of Ragnarock), because as Steven said, this could be an interesting year for them as they try to bounce back up to the Premiership from the Championship, but Motherwell will be the team that I follow and consider my world team. Like Steven said about his support of Brechin, I suspect I'm still going to have a bit of a disconnect in my support of Motherwell by doing it across the pond and they are never going to supplant my support of Indy Eleven, but I went about finding a team by doing it the only way that I know how. I sat down, did research, and ask questions of people I think I can trust to give me honest answers.

So Motherwell F.C. it is. 

Now that I have decided what team I want to support, I need to figure out the money conversion rate and what shipping is going to cost to get a scarf or jersey. Guessing it won't be cheap.

The lesson that I learned through this process is that soccer/football is still beckoning me and my decision to support a Scottish team probably isn't much different than many people's entry into how they decided to support an EPL or Bundesliga team. It also reiterated for me that despite the toxicity that Soccer Twitter can be, there are really nice people in the soccer/football world who just love talking about the sport with other supporters. I don't know Nick, Nicky, or Steven personally, but they all took time out of their days to answer some questions.  

Thank you Nick, Nicky, and Steven for your time. You're all good people and I appreciate you taking the time to answer a random guy's questions. Thank you Nicky for leading me in a good direction for my team to support.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Indy Eleven vs Sporting Kansas City II - 08.09


- Opponent: Sporting Kansas City II
- Location: Children's Mercy Park
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 2-1 W

- Starting XI: Edwards, Ouimette, Cochran, Hackshaw, Timmer, Ayoze (C), Law, Moon, Wild, Smith, Arteaga
- Substitutions: Hamilton 70' (Ayoze); Koffie 67' (Smith); Gutjahr 86' (Timmer)
- Unused: Svetanoff, Seagrist, Sissoko, Vassell

- Scoring Summary:
IND - Law 19' (assist Ayoze)
SKCII - Mushagalusa 20'
IND - Wild 50' (assist Arteaga)

- Bookings:
IND - Law 12' (Yellow)
IND - Cochran 83' (Yellow)
SKCII - Duke 90'+2' (Yellow)
IND - Koffie 90'+5' (Yellow)

- Referee: Adam Kilpatrick
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

The post-Rennie era started with caretaker manager Max Rogers standing on the sidelines in a stadium with a gorgeous grass surface, but not a single fan in attendance. When you're the face of a three-coach conglomerate charged with getting Indy out of a three-game losing streak after the team mutually parted ways with the head coach, eliminating that external factor is helpful. Doing it without your starting goalkeeper bumps your difficulty level back up though.

Overall, there wasn't much difference between this lineup and the one that played against Pittsburgh, other than the obvious change in goal from Jordan Farr to Bobby Edwards. If the interwebs are to be believed (because I haven't received confirmation from the team), we're about to see how Bobby Edwards does full-time as Farr was out with a broken arm. So Edwards in and Moon replaced Buckmaster on the right side. Other than that, the starting XI was the same. However, it seemed to play differently. 

While it doesn't completely show up on the Average Position graph, Moon was playing a little deeper on the field, closer to a 4-3-2-1 arrangement. With Moon deeper on the right, and Timmer playing the defensive midfielder role, Nicky Law was allowed to play in a much more advanced role, which better suits his abilities. He played higher and spent a lot of the game in advanced positions on the left side of the field. This left he and Smith to function as dual playmakers to get the ball to Wild and Arteaga. The game ended with Smith tucked in more centrally than I expected, but I definitely expected to see the final result of Law as high up the field as it shows. This arrangement with Timmer as the solo defensive mid is something I would like to see moving forward. It's been joked over the years that Rennie liked to have as many defensive mids on the field as possible, "with obvious results." By simply allowing Timmer to be the only one providing cover for the backs and bringing Moon back a little more, it allowed Law and Smith to better dictate the offense moving forward. Moon still went forward and there were numerous occasions where it looked like the 3 back system we're used to seeing from Rennie, but there was a definite tweak here with Rogers, Presser, & Swift LLC that gave Law much more freedom and ability to push forward. I like it.

As Brad Hauter mentioned during Soccer Saturday yesterday, the dismissal (mutual parting) of a coach can go a couple of ways for a team. In one way, there's the thought that "if the coach can be gone, so can I" and it makes guys work harder. In the beginning of the game, Indy had a high press with a lot more energy than we've seen in the past few games. The temps and humidity drained that out of everybody quickly and it slowed down, but there was an obvious difference in the effort in the beginning of this game. 

The effort was not limited to just the defense, as it was effort that led to Indy's first goal in the 19th minute. There was a mistake by the SKCII players near midfield, which dropped the ball at Wild's feet near the touchline. He did not hesitate and immediately attacked the SKCII backline running upfield and towards the center of the pitch. As he begins his run, Ayoze (35-year old Ayoze) got on his wheels on the left wing, Law got on his wheels through the center of the field, and Arteaga got on his wheels on the right wing. As Wild gets closer to the center of the field, Law's run pulls two defenders to him, leaving a free pass to Ayoze, who one-touches it behind the backline to the 6-yard line where Law's effort allows for a relatively easy redirect into goal. Arteaga was making the back post run without any defenders around him. This entire sequence is every glimpse of talent and scoring ability that we've previously seen from Indy wrapped into a nice package.  

And then... One minute after scoring a beautiful team goal, the guys make silly mistakes and give up a goal. Let me yell this for the folks in the back, "ONE MINUTE LATER!" For a team that has had difficulty this season of coming out of the locker room ready to play, they proved they can make the mistake of not staying switched on after a goal too. Yes, one could argue that it was just a brilliant individual effort by Mushagalusa, but it wasn't stellar defending either. Ouimette goes for a slide tackle 30-yards away from goal and along the touchline, which he missed badly after trying to recover from Moon, who had left Mushagalusa to chase a ball to a player that Ouimette was already covering. Moon chases down Mushagalusa as they get to the endline, and then Mushagalusa puts Moon into the spin cycle, before firing to the far post with Edwards screened. 

Up one minute, tied again a minute later. Indy can't keep shooting themselves in the foot with these kinds of defensive decisions and mistakes.

Ouimette (25th minute) and Hackshaw (31st minute) were both denied goals in the first half from stellar reaction saves from Pulskamp and Arteaga also found himself denied a goal in the 56th minute by the quick reflexes of Pulskamp. Pulskamp had an excellent game keeping Indy from getting more than the two goals they scored. 

Speaking of keeper play, Indy's Edwards was easily Man of the Match. SKCII was credited with 22 shots, 9 of which were on target, giving Edwards 8 saves on the game. Some of those shots were right to his gut, but he also was forced to lay out all 6'-6" of his frame to get to some of them. He was twice inspected by Head Athletic Trainer Meeja Kinsey for injuries, causing back-up keeper Alex Svetanoff to start warming up. Towards the first half, there was a long examination of Edwards for concussion protocol, which she eventually determined he passed. With Farr out, Indy is going to need Edwards to continue to play well, and I think we're going to find out a lot more about his abilities since the next game is against LouCity, in what will be a much different playing environment in a packed Lynn Family Stadium. With Farr out for the foreseeable future with his injury, it does concern me a bit that Edwards looked to be injured twice in the game and an 18-year old Academy player with no professional game experience nearly had to come on and is Indy's only back-up option moving forward. I know that Ouimette was listed at one time as the backup backup goalkeeper, but that's a precarious position for the team at a key position. Edwards was also not nearly as mobile or as good with his feet as Farr, so we may see a little less play out of the back at times and a few more long clearances. That's just me being picky and letting my pessimistic side show, in what was an overall stellar performance from Edwards. 

SKCII was awarded a corner kick in the 90'+9' minute of play, which ultimately was the last play of the game, and SKCII threw everyone into the box including Pulskamp. After Edwards secured the ball and Kilpatrick blew his whistle, both goalkeepers simply laid down on the ground inside Indy's box. In 90+ temps and 90+% humidity, and after making a combined 13 saves on 16 shots on target, both keepers were spent and need of some hydration, recovery, and a long nap. While Indy came out on top, I think the #GKUnion would be proud of both of their efforts. 

One of my other concerns moving forward was Mushagalusa. Not every team is going to have a guy like him, but he was running wild against the defense. Quick guys who are unafraid to attack the backline under any circumstances may see Mushagalusa's method of operation against Indy as a prime way to attack Indy. LouCity's Jonathan Gomez comes to mind in the next game as somebody who might fit this bill. Most concerning to me was he even managed to put Hackshaw on his heels and into the spin cycle in the 2nd half that forced a save from Edwards. 

Another one of the bright spots for me was that it felt like there were flashes of offensive brilliance than we've seen in previous games. Wild's goal was a result of good team movement and build-up from Indy, including a well-weighted one-touch pass from Arteaga that put Wild in 1v1 on Pulskamp. It might have been one of Pulskamp's few bad decisions on the night to come out against Wild, but it was also started by an Indy player attacking the defense centrally. Moon brought the ball towards the middle of the field, dumped it off to Arteaga, who split two defenders with his pass for Wild to run onto just inside the 18-yard box. It was good soccer to watch.

With the exception of the mental and physical breakdown that led to SKCII's goal a minute after Indy had scored, there was a lot that Indy did better today. Moving forward, I want Timmer to continue to play the defensive midfielder role and Law to play more of the central attacking midfielder role. If there's one thing that I hope we see moving forward from the Rennie era, it's that slight adjustment in tactics.

Indy comes home with three points in their pocket, some much needed confidence, and just under a week to prepare for a trip to Louisville to face a team that is not going to be happy with the way the last game between the two ended. For now, let's dwell on the three points, because they were a much needed and much deserved three points in this game.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Bobby Edwards. I said that until somebody else took if from Law, he was going to continue to receive the GBGB. I still think Law played an excellent game and scored a goal as a result of it, but you have to give it to a guy who makes 8 saves, and helps keep the team in it through 90-minutes of regulation and 20-minutes of stoppage time. Hence the photo above. So it's fitting that Edwards was the one with the ball in his hands when the final whistle blew. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Indy Eleven and its place in the American Lower Division Soccer Landscape

In the Spring of 2014, Indy Eleven officially began their tenure in the North American soccer landscape, having joined the North American Soccer League (NASL) the previous Spring. Indy kicked off their club history by playing their first game on April 12, 2014 at Michael Carroll Stadium against the Carolina Railhawks in front of 11,048 fans. The game would end as a 1-1 draw, with Michael Ambersley getting Indy's first goal in the 43rd minute, only to give up the game-tying goal in the 50th minute to Shilawski. Indy struggled in their inaugural season, finishing 10th (last) in the Spring Season and 7th in the Fall Season. Indy did not get a single win in the Spring Season, but managed a 2-1 win against Carolina in the first game of the Fall Season. Indy famously did not get their first home win until October 11, 2014 against Minnesota United FC, a 2-0 result that spurred a celebratory storming of the field by the fans and is still considered to be one of the best moments in club history.

Photo Credit: Don Thompson
Indy did not pick up their first piece of hardware until winning the Spring Championship in 2016; a 4-1 win against the Carolina Railhawks, continuing a trend of having important games against Carolina and causing a second celebratory storming of the field by the fans. I have been recently reflecting on Indy Eleven's history since we have just passed the 5 year anniversary of that game, dubbed the "Miracle at the Mike" due to the number of factors that Indy had to overcome to win the title, such as the number of wins and goal differential scenarios with the New York Cosmos. As I have been thinking about Indy's only piece of hardware to date, I began wondering how much the American soccer landscape has changed since Indy joined the NASL and what it means for Indy Eleven and its fans. 

So I decided to find out.

So much background information...

Strap in, there's a lot of background. When Indy officially started playing in the NASL in 2014, there were three distinct levels of professional soccer in the American pyramid at the time. MLS was (is) at the top, holding Div I status, the NASL held Div II status, and USL Pro held Div III status. For simplicity, I'm going to mostly ignore MLS since it has maintained its Div I status, but the other two leagues have dealt with some issues with their status, much of their legal issues with their status is also going to be outside the scope of this article.

Let's first look at the teams in NASL and then in USL Pro during Indy's inaugural 2014 season. In 2014, NASL consisted of 10 teams:

  1. Atlanta Silverbacks 
  2. Carolina Railhawks
  3. FC Edmonton
  4. Fort Lauderdale
  5. Indy Eleven (1st season in league; Carroll Stadium; 10,465 average attendance; Coach Sommer)
  6. Minnesota United
  7. New York Cosmos
  8. Ottawa Fury (1st season in league)
  9. San Antonio Scorpions
  10. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United and the New York Cosmos finished 1st and 2nd in the Spring Season and San Antonio and Minnesota finished 1st and 2nd in the Fall Season. As a result, Minnesota and San Antonio had automatic bids into the playoffs and then New York and Fort Lauderdale entered based on their combined records between the two seasons. San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale played in the Soccer Bowl, with San Antonio winning 2-1.

Meanwhile, the 2014 USL Pro consisted of 14 teams:
  1. Arizona United SC
  2. Charleston Battery
  3. Charlotte Eagles
  4. Dayton Dutch Lions
  5. Harrisburg City Islanders
  6. LA Galaxy II (1st season in league)
  7. Oklahoma City Energy FC (1st season in league)
  8. Orange County Blues FC
  9. Orlando City
  10. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
  11. Richmond Kickers
  12. Rochester Rhinos
  13. Sacramento Republic FC (1st season in league)
  14. Wilmington Hammerheads
Harrisburg and Orlando City ultimately competed in the USL Pro Championship game, with Orlando City coming away with the victory. This was also Orlando City's final season in USL as they made the move to MLS the next season. 

When Indy Eleven joined the landscape, there were 24 teams between the Div II and Div III levels. The 2015 season is where things begin to be interesting. Internally, Indy Eleven dismissed Coach Sommer mid-Spring Season and continued with interim Coach Tim Regan for the rest of the year. Externally, NASL added one more team with the Jacksonville Armada. However, USL Pro added 12 more teams, bringing the league to 24 teams after Orlando City's departure to MLS and Dayton Dutch Lions departure to the PDL (additional note, the Charlotte Independence obtained the franchise rights from the Charlotte Eagles). Combined with NASL's 11 teams, the total lower division professional soccer total was dramatically increased to 35 teams. A large part of this expansion was a result of USL Pro adding "2" teams that were directly connected to MLS teams. USL Pro added the following teams that season:
  1. Austin Aztex
  2. Colorado Springs Switchbacks
  3. FC Montreal (MLS II Expansion)
  4. Louisville City FC (obtained the USL franchise rights from Orlando City)
  5. New York Red Bulls II (MLS II Expansion team)
  6. Portland Timbers 2 (MLS II Expansion)
  7. Real Monarchs (MLS II Expansion)
  8. Saint Louis FC
  9. Seattle Sounders 2 (MLS II Expansion)
  10. Toronto FC II (MLS II Expansion)
  11. Tulsa Roughnecks
  12. Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (MLS II Expansion)
The 2016 season continued growth for both leagues as USL Pro added Bethlehem Steel FC, FC Cincinnati, Orlando City B, Rio Grande Valley FC, Swope Park Rangers, and San Antonio FC, but Austin Aztex went on hiatus. NASL growth was much more modest as they added Miami FC, Rayo OKC, & Puerto Rico FC, but lost Atlanta and San Antonio. From an Indy Eleven perspective, they hired Tim Hankinson to be their new manager and drastically adjusted their roster, leading to the above mentioned Spring Season hardware.

The 2017 season is where things get even more interesting. NASL was able to maintain their Div II status, despite having only 8 teams after adding San Francisco Deltas, but losing Minnesota to MLS; Tampa and Ottawa leaving for USL, and Fort Lauderdale and Rayo OKC folding. At the same time, USL was given provisional Div II status, having added Reno FC, Tampa Bay and Ottawa from NASL, but losing FC Montreal. 

So the 2017 American soccer landscape had two separate leagues at the same level in the pyramid that looked to be going in opposite directions. By the time the 2018 season rolled around, NASL were no longer operating, finding themselves in a legal battle arguing against US Soccer's decision to place NASL as a Div III league. Conversely, USL obtained full Div II status, losing the provisional designation, but was not without some team adjustments of its own. Atlanta United 2, Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights, and Nashville SC were added as expansion teams and Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC moved between the leagues. Orlando City B and Rochester went on hiatus and Vancouver 2 folded.

It's at this point in the Indy Eleven timeline where everything changed. Indy Eleven had joined a new league. They hired their third (non-interim) coach in its history, bringing in Martin Rennie. Home field advantage was shifted from Carroll Stadium to Lucas Oil Stadium. A new roster was created in a very short amount of time, with a large majority of the 2017 roster gone. Indy had some familiar foes as it transitioned into USL, including Louisville City FC, who they had faced regularly while in separate leagues. 

Where are they all now?

With all that extensive (and unnecessary?) background behind us, we can begin the main point of this article. When Indy Eleven began playing, there were 24 teams playing in lower divisions of American professional soccer. Of those 24 teams, there are 6 teams that have ceased operations; 2 are on hiatus; 2 have moved up a tier into MLS, 2 are in USL League One, 1 is in USL League Two, and the final 11 are in USL Championship (3 former NASL; 8 USL Pro). Here's a reminder of those teams and their status:
  1. Atlanta Silverbacks - defunct
  2. Carolina Railhawks - rebranded, moved leagues to USL, and now playing in Div III USL League One
  3. FC Edmonton - defunct
  4. Fort Lauderdale - defunct
  5. Indy Eleven - moved leagues to USL and playing in Div II USL Championship
  6. Minnesota United - moved to MLS
  7. New York Cosmos - NISA, but on hiatus
  8. Ottawa Fury - defunct
  9. San Antonio Scorpions - moved leagues and playing in USL Championship
  10. Tampa Bay Rowdies - moved leagues and playing in USL Championship
  11. Arizona United SC - rebranded to Phoenix Rising and playing in USL Championship
  12. Charleston Battery - playing in USL Championship
  13. Charlotte Eagles - rights transferred to Charlotte Independence, playing in USL Championship
  14. Dayton Dutch Lions - currently playing in USL League Two
  15. Harrisburg City Islanders - rebranded as Penn FC; now defunct
  16. LA Galaxy II - playing in USL Championship
  17. Oklahoma City Energy FC - playing in USL Championship
  18. Orange County Blues FC - playing in USL Championship
  19. Orlando City - moved to MLS
  20. Pittsburgh Riverhounds - playing in USL Championship
  21. Richmond Kickers - playing in USL League One
  22. Rochester Rhinos - indicated to be "on hiatus"
  23. Sacramento Republic FC - playing in USL Championship
  24. Wilmington Hammerheads - disbanded (continues as youth academy)

How do you judge success?

Keeping in mind that list of teams who were around in 2014, but has dramatically changed to date, how do you judge success of a club?

If you judge success as just surviving in lower division soccer in America, then Indy Eleven has navigated the many twists and forks-in-the-road as well as can be expected. They are one of only four NASL teams from that inaugural season that have found a way to stay in at least the second tier of American professional soccer, despite their original league failing. There's something to be said for just surviving and existing that can be commended.

However, if you judge success by winning and championships, then success has been much harder to achieve for Indy Eleven. To be fair, not many in the above list have been able to achieve that level of success either. Of Indy's seven completed seasons, Indy has only made its league's playoffs in 2016, 2018, and 2019. Beyond the 2016 Spring Championship hardware that Indy won with the 3rd tiebreaker with the Cosmos, Indy has made just one Final game (the Soccer Bowl in 2016 in NASL where they lost to New York) and one Conference Final (in 2019 in USL where they lost to Louisville City FC) with 2016 being the only time that Indy has finished in the top two in the table. Comparing that to Louisville City, Indy's now regional rival, during that time, Louisville City FC has been in 6 conference finals and 3 league finals, winning 2 of them. 

If you judge success by stadiums, Indy has continued to lag behind in that area too with Louisville. Indy began talking about the desire/need to have a dedicated soccer specific stadium in 2013 before they had ever kicked a ball. Since that time, they have played at Carroll Stadium from 2014-2017, at Lucas Oil Stadium from 2018-2020, and back to Carroll Stadium for 2021 and the foreseeable future. In 2019, Indy managed to get legislation passed that will facilitate the construction of a new stadium and a multi-purpose development with the expectation that the stadium would be in the range of 20,000 seats as required for entry into MLS, which has been a stated goal in the past from the team and owner Ersal Ozdemir. However, in 2020, CEO Greg Stremlaw indicated that the stadium could actually be built closer to 12,000 seats, with the ability to expand. In 2021, Indy was able to get further legislation passed that extended the deadline needed to build the stadium/development as the 2020 pandemic affected everybody's schedules. To date, no announcement has been made indicating where the stadium
Photo Credit: Louisville City FC
will be located, what it will ultimately look like, how many seats it will hold, nor when it might actually come to fruition. Louisville City's schedule for their soccer specific stadium was much more advanced. After coming into USL in 2015, they announced that they would be constructing a new stadium in April 2017. While they continued playing at Slugger Field, their dedicated soccer specific stadium had its groundbreaking in June 2018. A limited number of fans were able to attend games in the new Lynn Family Stadium in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The official "Grand Opening" of the stadium recently took place in June 2021. 

If you judge success by expansion of your brand, Indy has also lagged behind in this too. Indy had an NPSL team for a season in 2016 as a way to expand and to develop young players. It lasted a season. It has signed Academy players during Coach Rennie's tenure, but with the exception of Josh Penn, none of the others have ever seen any first-team minutes. The club has talked about a women's team since the beginning, but have continually stated that they will be more receptive to forming a women's team once they have their own stadium, claiming that the financial aspect of having a women's team will make more sense at that time. Indy Eleven do now have an academy connection as part of the USL Academy, where, "Indy Eleven will partner with the acclaimed Indiana Fire Academy (IFA) program in establishing squads that will represent Indiana’s Team in the regional USL Academy League (eligible for U-15 through U-19 players) and the national USL Academy Cup (U-13 and U-17 Teams)." On the flip side, Louisville City has a women's NWSL team that began play in 2021 after being announced in 2019 as an expansion team for the league, plus their own Academy teams. 

What does it all mean (A.K.A. What's my point)?

Is Indy Eleven a successful club? Yes. However, if you compare them to their geographical rival in Louisville City FC and what they have been able to achieve, then I would argue "no." Indy falls behind Louisville in all the above categories and in the record books, which I didn't even mention anywhere above. Maybe that is an unfair comparison since by looking at all the background data above, nearly every team that has existed in the lower divisions of soccer in the past decade has been unable to obtain the success that Louisville has managed to achieve. 

Photo Credit: EM Dash
Indy has always said that their goal is to be a top-level organization, regardless of division and that includes Div I. I suppose there are wide ranges of what constitutes "top-level," and there are a lot of things that Indy does right. I've never seen the inner workings of a "top-level" organization, so I don't have anything to compare Indy against. Make not mistake, Indy is my team. I'm XI til I die (or until they cease operations). However, this photo comes from the most recent game against Louisville City and it looks exactly like how you would expect a team that has not had a ton of recent success against another team would react during a run-of-the-mill regular season game. Though the late game fashion of the win probably played more into it than the history, since only a handful of these guys have seen the rivalry in action before the game. Yet, as I witness Indy's struggles this year, despite their first victory in the LIPAFC (Louisville Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest) in some time, I have been wondering what it will take to get them over the hump from "good" to "great." 

For awhile, I thought it was consistency in coaching since the first few years saw three different coaches, but Indy is now into year 4 with Coach Rennie. For full disclosure, I always thought that Coach Hank was unfairly shown the proverbial door after a rash of injuries to the 2017 roster (that was basically the same as the hardware winning 2016 roster) hampered the team's ability to get results . Yet, Coach Rennie's tenure of 4 seasons has produced a first-round exit from the playoffs in 2018 (again, to Louisville), a Conference Final in 2019 (bounced by a late goal in regulation and collapse in Extra Louisville), and a missed playoff in 2020 after a string of poor results late in the season. This year's result TBD, particularly now that Rennie and Indy Eleven "mutually parted ways" on the 16th. Will the departure of Rennie create a "lost" season as Indy searches for a new coach and as the players that Rennie selected adapt to a new coach with a likely different style of play? 

For awhile, I thought it was consistency in players, which Louisville has had during their tenure, but is something that Indy has never had for more than 2 seasons. Scorched Earth rebuilds have been a regular occurrence for Indy, with this year being no exception. 

For awhile, I thought it was talent in players. On paper, Indy have had some of the most talented rosters in their leagues (2014 & 2015 notwithstanding, due to a single player hamstringing the majority of the budget in those years). This year seems to be no exception.

Or maybe it's just really damn hard to win. Players, coaches, injuries, and even your opponents' players, coaches, and injuries factor into what a "successful" season is for any given team. Maybe Louisville has just been able to minimize the negative factors while maximizing the positive factors and have seen success on the field. As a result, it's easier to move forward with some of the other things like a second professional team and a stadium, etc. 

However, I can't eliminate the factor of "punching your weight." Maybe Louisville have decided to be the best they can be in their division, hoping that success can lead to a promotion to the next level at some point in the future. Whereas Indy's periodically stated goal of MLS has kept them from realizing that they likely need success in Div II before they will get the attention of MLS. I'm not convinced that Indy have figured this out yet. You don't have to initially build a 20k seat stadium that has to be maintained when you are averaging in the vicinity of 10k in attendance. Don't talk about what you want to do. Talk about what you are doing. Punch your weight until you can punch harder.

I honestly don't know the answer and I'm just a supporter with a modest platform to say what I think. As a Cubs fan, I know that eventually the factors can fall into your favor and a championship is possible. From what I have seen of Indy Eleven this year, I don't see the factors falling into place to get them to that level this year, but a lot can happen before the season ends.

Indianapolis has a team and not every fan base that was around when Indy Eleven starting playing can say the same thing. After the first couple of seasons, Indy have mostly had a good team and not every club can say that. Indy Eleven front office staff keep saying that a stadium is coming and not every club can say that. When (if) it does, a women's professional team might follow afterwards and not every club can say that is a possibility for them.

I have a local team to support and for that I'm grateful, particularly having gone through this exercise of seeing how much the American lower division professional soccer landscape has changed since Indy Eleven first took the field.

Maybe I'm just ready to see them punch harder.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Mutually Parted Ways - Martin Rennie

The thing about being a supporter for a North American professional soccer club, but particularly for a lower division soccer club, is that you have to be impervious to change. Change is going to happen. It isn't a matter of if, but when, and to what extent. Players come and go, many playing for your club for one or two years, sometimes even less. Players that are around for longer than that are generally rare and usually become part of the lore of the club. In Indy, that has been players like Ring, Smart, Mares, Franco, Miller, Ouimette, Farr, and Ayoze. Some guys find their way onto that kind of list with much less time, but those often are consistent with winning seasons/championships or are just great personalities. 

Managers/Coaches are no different. Long-term tenures with a club often change as rapidly as the players. Many times, the changes coincide. New coaches bring new players. Sometimes in mass. 

For both players and coaches, your tenure at a club can be short no matter what the results of the team. Team does well, other teams want you and give you more money. Team does poorly, team doesn't want you. There's a reason it's often referred to as a carrousel.

Photo Credit: Don Thompson
Today, the carrousel affected Indy Eleven and Martin Rennie.

After last night's 1-nil defeat to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Rennie said, on-air:

"I've been struggling to coach well on this field, and I don't know that I'm the right guy to take it forward so I'm thinking I need to speak to the owner and to Greg [Stremlaw], but I've had a great time here with Indy. It's been a lot of fun and we've had a lot of great results, but here at Carroll, I find it difficult to get the team playing the way I want them to play. I have a real idea how my team should play, how we should pass, how we should move, and it's very difficult to control the ball, even just normal situations. So I'm looking at that now, but certainly want to thank everybody for everything they've done while I've been here and, obviously, I need to speak to the right people before I say too much more. But that's kind of where my head's at the moment." 

This statement raised a bunch of antenna all across the Indy sports landscape, even getting the attention of the sports reporters who never cover the team. While all my inquiries after his post-game came up empty-handed, there was a definite feeling that Rennie was going to be gone sooner, rather than later. Less than 12 hours later, Indy officially announced they were "mutually parting ways" with Rennie. As one source said to me, "that's rarely the case, but it might be here." Another source told me that there was a long conversation between owner Ersal Ozdemir and Martin Rennie during the post-season, presumably about Rennie's return for his fourth year after Indy's collapse at the end of the 2020 season that kept them out of the playoffs. I have a gut feeling that Rennie was given a small window for error during that conversation and with the start to this season, with guys Rennie had hand-picked in his third scorched Earth rebuild of the roster, the window closed. Whether Indy closed that window or Rennie closed that window himself may remain a mystery to fans, but it closed nonetheless.

Photo Credit: Don Thompson
Martin Rennie was announced during the flurry of activity in 2018 as Indy Eleven made the transition from NASL to USL, from Carroll Stadium to Lucas Oil Stadium, from Tim Hankinson to Martin Rennie, and the corresponding 1st scorched Earth roster rebuild. Three years, 5 months, and 0 days later, Rennie exits Indy Eleven as the longest tenured coach in the club history. Officially, Rennie led the team in 99 games, with a 45W-35L-19D record, or a 45.5% win percentage (or getting at least a point from a game 64.6% of the time). Counting a win in a friendly against Detroit City FC in August 2019, Rennie officially reached the #CenturyClub for Indianapolis. For comparison, Coach Hank finished his tenure in Indy with a 25W-21L-24D record, or a 35.7% win percentage (or getting at least a point 70% of the time). 

Many fans have been wanting Rennie to leave for awhile, some as far back as that first season. However, whatever you thought about his tactics, he has achieved positive results for the majority of his tenure in Indianapolis. For some additional stats (including the unofficial friendly), Rennie's teams have scored a total of 127 goals, while giving up 108. This gives Indy a 1.27 GF/GP average and a 1.08 GA/GP average, the latter being the best by an Indy Eleven coach. 

Coach Rennie took Indy Eleven to the playoffs in 2018, falling to Louisville City in the first round. Then Indy made it to the Eastern Conference final in 2019, ultimately falling, again, to Louisville City as a result of a last second goal in regulation and then a collapse in extra time to lose 3-1. Indy's inability to make the playoffs last year is likely part of what precipitated the small window and Rennie's frustrations that led to today's announcement.   

Whatever you think about Martin Rennie the coach, I had enough interactions with him over the years to know that he was a good man. He may have not been able to get the best out of his players to achieve the ultimate desired successes, but he was a good steward for Indianapolis and cared about its supporters and its residents.  

I don't know the next challenge that lays ahead for Martin Rennie, but I wish him the best of luck. Earlier this year, I saw an article in the Evening Express, a news site in Aberdeen, Scotland where a former Aberdeen FC player, Brian Irvine, felt that Martin Rennie should be on Aberdeen's radar for their next manager. The job ultimately went to former Atlanta United 2 coach Stephen Glass, who was a former Aberdeen and Newcastle United winger, and "Aberdeen had entered into a strategic partnership with Atlanta United in November 2019." 

Brian Irvine said: 

“Martin Rennie definitely has the credentials to manage Aberdeen and do well.

“He has had a very successful managerial career and is doing very well in the United States.

“I have high regard for the way he works from the youth set up all the way to the first team.

“Martin has a great footballing knowledge and knows how to get the best out of players.

“It is a scenario similar to Jose Mourinho in that he didn’t have a real history as a player but has been highly successful as a manager.”


Rennie, 45, was born in Thurso and raised in Bettyhill, a small village on the North coast of Scotland. 

He began coaching in the United States in 2005. 

Irvine said: “Martin has a good head for how a club works in terms of infrastructure  – but more importantly he has a good head for how players work. 


“Martin may be an unknown name to many of the Scottish public but he is a fully qualified UEFA licence holder. 


Irvine insists Rennie remains clued up about Scottish football despite being based in the States. He said: “Martin understands the game in Scotland. 

“He lives for football. 

“When we were out in Korea we were following the Scottish game as regularly as if we were back home. 

“No-one has been at games over the last year due to Covid but that doesn’t stop you following the football.”

I don't know if a move back to Scotland is in the cards for Martin Rennie, but I wish him the best. It's not easy being a coach in American professional lower division soccer and I believe he was doing what he thought would win games, regardless of what the supporters thought. I have often questioned his decisions (some of which I can't speak about), this year more than most, but I don't begrudge his time here in Indianapolis. As I said, Martin generally seemed like a good man and cared about Indianapolis.

"Mutually parted ways" doesn't mean that you can't still be #IndyForever.

Good luck Martin moving forward.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Indy Eleven vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds FC - 08.08


- Opponent: Pittsburgh Riverhounds FC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 4,999
- Final Score: 1-0 L

- Starting XI: Farr, Ouimette, Cochran, Hackshaw, Timmer, Ayoze (C), Buckmaster, Law, Wild, Smith, Arteaga

- Substitutions: Seagrist 70' (Ayoze); Moon 70' (Buckmaster); Hamilton 75' (Ouimette); Malic 88' (Smith)
- Unused: Edwards, Koffie, Vassell

- Scoring Summary:
PIT - Williamson 37'

- Bookings:
PIT - Griffin 25' (Yellow)
PIT - Peters 59' (Yellow); 62' (Yellow) - RED
PIT - Williamson 59' (Yellow)
IND - Ayoze 65' (Yellow)
IND - Seagrist 89' (Yellow)
PIT - Dixon 90' (Yellow)
PIT - Dikwa 90'+3' (Yellow)

- Referee: Chris Ruska
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

The starting lineup carousel continued tonight as Buckmaster got his first minutes since game three against Sporting Kansas City II and his first start since the opening night against Birmingham. Rennie also decided to keep as many defensive players in the game as possible by including a back three of Ouimette, Cochran, and Hackshaw, and placing Timmer in the holding midfielder role next to Law.

The good news is Indy didn't let Pittsburgh score in the first 5 minutes of the first half. Given that is the first time they have done that in 3 of the previous 4 halves, that's a positive. However, there aren't too many other positives to be taken from this game. This was not the kind of game that you expect from a team who is playing at home on six days rest.

A suspect foul was called just outside Indy's box that gave Pittsburgh a free kick in the 37th minute. As the ensuring kick pinballed off Ayoze and then Timmer, Farr was only able to watch in disbelief as his momentum, once again, was headed in the wrong direction and prevented him from being able to make a save. 

Wild put a shot off the post from a free kick about ten minutes before the Pittsburgh goal, which doesn't count as a shot. That was the only thing that resembled a shot on target all night from Indy. Indy finished with a single shot on goal, but 6 offside calls. Six offside calls is inexcusable. Four of them were by Wild. You have to figure out how the defense is playing their line and pay attention. I appreciate Wild's propensity to attack the defense with his dribble, but every offside call kills momentum and the number of the calls against him shows he either wasn't learning or wasn't paying attention. Neither is good.

Worse than that... 

Pittsburgh's Peters picked up a second yellow in the 62nd minute, which meant that Indy spent more than 30 minutes with a man advantage. It also meant that Indy spent more than 30 minutes looking like they were completely unsure on how to break down the Lilley Bunker (TM). Long balls were easily gobbled by Pittsburgh's back 5 or Leeker. There didn't seem to be anything creative to break down the Pittsburgh defense and everything was taking too long. Pittsburgh easily rotated their players to cover Indy's attack. 

Brad Hauter said it best - "Slow pass, multiple touches, everybody shifts back over." Indy did not, or could not, move the ball fast enough to break down the Pittsburgh defense. There was a hint that Rennie was blaming the field on that during the post-game press conference. To paraphrase, "we're not able to play in this stadium the way we want to play." We've seen this style of play from them in every stadium this year.

He also said some odd things about talking to Greg (Stremlaw) and (paraphrasing again) that he isn't the coach to be able to get it done here. I'm not sure what all that means, but it was a level of frustration and language that I've never heard from him in post-game press conferences. Guess we'll see how that plays out in the coming days or weeks.

Rennie keeps saying how many goals Arteaga and Hamilton scored in preseason, but we know the caliber of competition during preseason. There have been flashes, but Indy couldn't get these two guys on the board when Indy had a man advantage for more than 30 minutes of game action.

A three game losing streak is rough. This stretch of games was always going to be a challenge, but to get 1 point out of four games after "winning" against Louisville City makes a look a the schedule feel like an effort in futility. With the way this team is playing right now, where does the next win come? Maybe SKCII this coming Sunday and then it's Louisville, Birmingham, and ATL2, all of the teams that are above Indy in the standings.

I saw nothing tonight that makes me feel confident moving forward. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Nicky Law. Until somebody else takes it from him, Law is the GBGB winner. He is the class of this team. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Indy Eleven vs El Paso Locomotive FC - 08.07


- Opponent: El Paso Locomotive FC
- Location: Southwest University Park
- Attendance: 5,189
- Final Score: 2-0 L

- Starting XI: Farr, Ouimette (C), Cochran, Timmer, Koffie, Law, Seagrist, Moon, Wild, Smith, Hamilton

- Substitutions: Gutjahr 45' (Koffie); Arteaga 61' (Moon); Ayoze 62' (Ouimette); Law 78' (Vassell); Sissoko 85' (Wild)
- Unused: Edwards, Malic

- Scoring Summary:
ELP - Ross 2' (assist Solignac)
ELP - Lung 49' (assist King)

- Bookings:
IND - Koffie 6' (Yellow)
IND - Smith 40' (Yellow)
IND - Ouimette 44' (Yellow)
ELP - Rebellon 57' (Yellow)

- Referee: Jon Freemon
- Adage goals: Two

Thoughts and Opinions

The number of games the Eleven have played in the past week and a half is the busiest stretch of the games they are going to face all season. Since the Louisville game, Indy played OKC, Memphis, and El Paso and finished with a 1W-1D-2L record, and a -4 goal differential, looking increasingly worse as the run of games progressed. It's difficult to look at Indy's passing accuracy stat of 87% against El Paso and reconcile it with the fact that they were not the better team on the field. I indicated after the Memphis game that I didn't think Indy could win in El Paso and that, unfortunately, came to fruition in a frustrating 2-nil loss. A loss that started much the same way that the Memphis game started.

Before you could get fully comfortable in your couch with your beverage of choice and some snacks. Indy found themselves down a goal in the second minute from a Macca King cross to a wide open Nick Ross, who calmly placed the ball out of Farr's reach whose body weight had him leaning the wrong way. Getting yourself down that early against a team like El Paso is a formidable task during the best of situations. When it's 100-degrees at game time and you have had plane issues that forced you to get into El Paso at 2:00 AM (Indy time), the prospect of getting a positive result goes down drastically. 

"It seems like after these stretch of games that we didn’t have that extra energy we needed to get the goal." - Coach Rennie

Not going down a goal within the first 5 minutes of games would drastically help not having to chase games and Indy have done that in back-to-back games. El Paso's 49th minute goal (proving Indy came out of the halftime locker room as slow the first half), can be chalked up to an individual effort from Luna and getting a 30-yard blast through traffic with Farr having his vision blocked. However, and I hate to single guys out like this, but the first goal was because of poor communication (and effort) from Moon and Ouimette.

As the play begins, the three CBs have a single ELP player covered, with Nicky Law covering the ball and forcing the player away from goal and the middle of the field. El Paso's Nick Ross is making the run on the left side of the field and Moon is behind him, watching the ball. Former Indy Eleven player Dylan Mares is near the ball, but is making a run towards goal as the ball gets recycled out to the right side to former Indy player Macca King.

As King gets on the ball and makes one of his 5 crosses for the game, Dylan has now joined his teammate and are occupying Indy's CBs. Moon is still lagging behind the play and still watching the ball.

The headed ball gets dummied (or missed) and heads to Ross, who has yards of space around him to control the ball, compose himself, and put the ball back across goal as Farr tried to recover. Moon never closed out on Ross or let Ouimette know if Ross's presence so Ouimette was unavailable to get to Ross, even though Timmer and Cochran could have been covering the other ELP attacking players.

I'm not a soccer savant, but it's not difficult to see where the play broke down when watching the replay. This kind of breakdown on defense can't happen that early in the game and indicates to me that the players didn't come out ready to go. It's also disheartening as an Indy fan that the breakdown occurred between two of the returning players, so it can't be rationalized as the new guys still needing time to gell.

Though the way that the starting lineups have changed in the past week and a half, it's no wonder that guys aren't sure where to be at any given time. Lineups and pairings have been tested during this run and not all of them have been good. Additionally, in the early parts of this game, Indy was playing a back four, with Seagrist dropping deep with Ouimette, Cochran, and Timmer to play the ball out of the back. Based upon the Average Position graphic on the USL match center, the tactics evened themselves out to what we have been seeing of the 3-5-2, but Coach Rennie was clearly concerned with the ability of El Paso to get forward. So the Rennie Bunker (TM) was enacted to start the game and it failed regardless. 

As the guys and Rennie have said since Wednesday, this run is on them and they need to do better. They're professionals and shouldn't use excuses for the results. That being said, Coach Rennie indicated that he does factor into how he looks at a stretch of games not just by the results, but by the circumstances. There is something to be said for that, but this run could see them drop far down the table depending on this weekend's results.

I want to remain optimistic, but the team does not look like a team yet and we're 7 games into the season. The tactics and lineups have been cycled through at a staggering rate, communication is still not there between defenders nor between attacking players, and the best player on the field so far (in my opinion) came to Indy mid-season from his team in England and is 33 years old, so I question his legs towards the end of the season. The team has also not looked like a cohesive unit without Hackshaw on the left side and this might not be the last time the team is without his services this year as he plays for Trinidad & Tobago. This difficult run of play may not be the last one we see from this team, particularly if history is any indication with a Rennie coached Indy squad.

Indy return to the Mike on Tuesday night to take on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who have also not had a great run of form to start the season. Will a longer run of rest days help Indy recover from this stretch to get them back in the win column? Or will Indy again start slow and get down early, allowing teams to clog the middle and dare them to play over the top as they have been forced to do recently without any success? We all know that this stretch of games have forced the team into player management mode, but now that these games are in the rearview mirrow, I think we're about to see exactly what players Rennie thinks are his "starters" and who are "depth."

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Photo Credit - EM Dash (from Louisville game)
While his goals against average isn't spectacular and he hasn't been able to keep a clean sheet since the Sporting Kansas City II game, I don't think too many people would argue that many of the goals haven't been Farr's fault. As Rennie put it in the post game, "The score line shouldn’t detract how good his performance was." In this run of 4 games, Jordan has been forced into 16 saves and so I think it's time he get some GBGB credit.