Sunday, August 28, 2022

Indy Eleven vs San Antonio FC - 09.25


- Opponent: San Antonio FC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 10,081
- Final Score: 1-0 W

- Starting XI: Trilk, Dambrot, Cochran, Jerome, McQueen, Brown, Hackshaw (C), Rebellon, Aguilera, Tejada, Asante
- Substitution: Vazquez 10’ (Cochran – injury); Pinho 73’ (Aguilera); Ingram 73’ (Dambrot); Michael 89’ (Tejada); Timmer 90’+4’ (Rebellon)

- Unused: Lewis, Rivera

- Scoring Summary:
IND – Dambrot 40’ (assist Tejada)

- Bookings:
IND – Tejada 14’ (Yellow)
IND - Brown 45’+4’ (Yellow)
SA – Khmiri 79’ (Yellow)
SA – Abu 86’ (Yellow)
IND – Trilk 90’+8’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Calin Radosav
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

Ayoze was honored tonight before the game in recognition of his becoming the club’s appearance leader, surpassing Brad Ring, but he did it in street clothes with another injury suffered last weekend. Indy’s Injury Report looks like a list of “what-ifs” and “what could have beens.” Arteaga (who could be out the rest of the season), Ayoze, Briggs, Meredith (also likely the rest of the season), and Lewis as questionable. I’m told Pinho was supposed to be a starter tonight, but felt something during pregame that pushed him to the bench. Cochran went down with an injury in the 7th minute and Indy was forced to burn an early substitute. That makes it difficult to keep consistency and fluid thought processes, both offensively and defensively. It’s not difficult to see how this affects the squad as you watch passes go to nobody because one player thought another was going to make a run that they didn’t make (strangely, several times Aguilera was that guy that didn’t go where other players expected him to go). Or defenders who make the wrong read on a pass, letting an opponent get in behind them. 

Indy fans had hoped that Jordan Farr’s return to Indy would have been full of storylines about two top teams competing to stay near the top of their respective tables, and a good performance by Farr that ultimately went for naught as Indy won the game. What Indy fans received, however, was Farr’s San Antonio leading the Western Conference while Indy sits so far out of the playoff picture that the math says they have a chance, but all other evidence points to a final game against Birmingham on October 15th. While the playoffs look to be out of the question at this point, Indy fans were treated to see Indy Eleven's first win since June 4th, and postponing San Antonio’s ability to secure their place in the postseason, which they could have done tonight, by getting a 2-1 win over the Western Conference leaders.

IIndy looked like they were going to make it through the first half nil-nil, by dealing fairly well with San Antonio’s press. Indy spent enough time in SA’s defensive half to prove Lowry's belief that they can compete with any team in the league. A spectacular reaction save from Trilk in the 37th minute was a key part of keeping that first half clean sheet as he pushed the ball over the crossbar. Then pure effort by Dambrot in the 40th minute put Indy ahead 1-nil, and in a position they haven’t found themselves lately; ahead and ahead against a top team. After that, San Antonio ratcheted up the pressure as they tried to find the equalizer. Despite a nervy moment right before the halftime whistle where Indy gave up a free kick just outside the 18-yard box and picked up a yellow card by Brown that will force him to miss the next game due to yellow card accumulation, Indy’s defense kept San Antonio off the board. 

After the halftime break, it was good to see that Indy didn’t immediately go into a bunker in the hopes of defending for 45 minutes. That’s not Lowry’s style to bunker at that point in a game, but that is a tactic that Indy fans have seen many times over the years, regularly with predicable poor results. The lack of a bunker forced the Indy players to be switched on tonight for the entirety of the game and it allowed them to beat a very good San Antonio team. With the exception of the shots/shots on target advantage for San Antonio (12/6 to 5/2, respectively), every other statistic indicates that Indy went toe-to-toe with the Western Conference leaders.

There have been games this season where Hackshaw has not looked like himself, but he was playing inspired ball tonight. Hackshaw played in the defensive midfield role next to Brown, and it was effective tonight. In his captain role, he found good times to go forward, to be fully defensive, and when to use his captain armband to get in the referee’s ear. Jerome also looked like a different player tonight. No, I take that back; he looked like the Jerome that I saw in dozens of games for El Paso. It’s been a subtle difference between Jerome’s play in ELP and his play here, but he looked like the player that I saw more often in ELP. It was a good performance from the veteran players.
This was a good game for Indy. Indy played like a team that was not afraid of the fact that they were playing the team that has reached 50 points faster than any team in USL Championship history. They looked like the team that Lowry has hoped they would be. 

When asked why the team was successful tonight, Lowry indicated, 
"We had a plan to neutralize San Antonio's long balls. They have three big forwards; three big centerbacks. Definitely goes end-to-end very quickly. ...We knew we could control the second balls. It's been over the last three of four weeks, we're sticking to the strategy that we've been going on with the system and how we've been playing in general has been pretty good the last three games. So, it was coming."

Louisville comes to town on Wednesday, having lost to Miami tonight. Louisville isn't going to want to make it two losses in a row and are going to be more motivated then normal. Could tonight's win against a Western Conference opponent come at a price when the Eastern Conference leader comes to town? San Antonio is a physical team and Cochran went out with an injury in the 10th minute with a leg injury and was supported by the training staff on his way to the locker room after the game. Rebellon went off in the 89th minute after a few knocks. Tejada will likely be under concussion protocol after taking a hit to the head late in the game. With an already depleted bench, a midweek game against a motivated Louisville team who statistically dominated Miami but still lost, could make for a frustrating night for Indy if the player rotation can't be done for Indy. Luckily, Louisville will be on short rest as well.

For now though, Indy fans can celebrate a victory against one of the best teams in the league. Lowry has said Indy can compete against the best teams, and tonight I agree that they did just that, and not just for moments. Indy competed against one of the best teams for the entire game.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Dambrot started a home game for the first time, with his family in attendance. He hustled his way to a shot on goal that he put past Jordan Farr, who has 10 clean sheets in 26 games. The rest of his stats aren't any more eye catching than the other Indy defenders, but Dambrot provided the goal that gave Indy a win for the first time since June 4th. That alone might have warranted him getting the Game Beckons Game Ball, but it was the effort from him that he displayed to get that goal that pushes him over the edge. That's the kind of effort that this team needs for the final 9 games of the season.

Additional Photos (@DLTPhotog)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Indy Eleven vs FC Tulsa - 09.24


- Opponent: FC Tulsa
- Location: ONEOK Field
- Attendance: 5,082
- Final Score: 1-0 L

- Starting XI: Trilk, Timmer, Vazquez, Jerome, Ayoze (C), Brown, Rebellon, Ingram, Aguilera, Asante, Pinho
- Substitution: Hackshaw 21' (Ayoze); Tejada 66' (Aguilera); Dambrot 86' (Rebellon); Rivera 86' (Ingram)

- Unused: Lewis, Cochran, Vostal

- Scoring Summary:
TUL - Ramirez 90’ (assist Torres)

- Bookings:
TUL - Diz Pe 28’ (Yellow)
TUL - Bird 33' (Yellow)
TUL - Powder 74' (Yellow)
IND - Hackshaw 80' (Yellow)
IND - Tejada 84' (Yellow)
TUL - Ramirez 90'+1' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elton GarcĂ­a
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

There's usually a point in the season where I have no motivation to discuss a game. This is that point. I didn't even watch it live. Spent the evening catching up with friends. Based on the way the game finished, I made the right decision. 

Indy absolutely needs every single point, and more wins, to make this season feel like they salvaged something from this unfathomable downturn in results. Yet, Indy gave up a 90th minute goal to lose by a one-goal differential for the TENTH time this season, including 6 of them in this now 12-game winless streak. With the upcoming games against the #1 rated team in each conference, the Western Conference's San Antonio on Saturday and the Eastern Conference's Louisville City next Wednesday, and the way that results have gone, there is a very real possibility that Indy will go the entire months of June, July, and August without getting a win. Would it surprise anybody if Indy went well into September before getting another win with games against Detroit (7th in the East) on the road, Birmingham (4th in the East), and on the road to Monterrey Bay before coming home to play against somebody with a worse record than them in Loudoun (and that's just barely worse...). 

Indy need a win in the worst way, but the shots aren't falling and the defensive mistakes keep happening. On the Tulsa goal, Vazquez did the below lunging defensive effort; late and completely ineffective. Timmer let Torres get goal side of him. Dambrot let Ramirez get goal side of him. Bounces go Tulsa's way, and Indy's slide continues. 

I honestly don't know how this winless streak ends.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
I just can't.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Lowry on the hot seat?

Photo: Don Thompson
As the Indy Eleven losses continue to pile up like an interstate accident in winter, I keep getting asked a version of the same question; "Is Lowry on the hot seat?," "Is Lowry in trouble of being fired?," "Is Lowry the right coach?"

The answer I continue to give, and continue to believe, is that Lowry is too good of a coach to yank him this fast. This has been a historically bad stretch for Indy Eleven and that is saying something given the history of the club. However, even Sommer was allowed to go into a second season, even though it felt like very early that Sommer might have been out of his depth. I remember catching Peter Wilt's eye in the press box after a 90'+8' rocket from Kyle Hyland salvaged a draw against Tampa Bay on a night where a +2 hour weather delay forced a near midnight finish and Indy had a man advantage for the final 17 minutes of the game. It was a look of "this isn't good enough." Sommer spent the post-game telling the guys that very same thing and that all their jobs could be on the line. The very next day, Sommer was let go by Wilt

Even as much as that first (and second) team struggled, they never had a streak where they went on an 11 game winless streak with 9 losses in that streak. What makes it baffling is that Sommer had never coached a team at this level, and Lowry has been highly successful at this level. To narrow down why this season has gone like it has leads you on a sad trail of infrequent shots, fewer shots on target, and at least one or two major mistakes every game by the defense that opposing teams capitalize upon and win the game. As with all teams, where does the blame start and finish when these are the things that are happening? Is it the coach or is it the players? It's obviously easy to put it on the coach, in that a change there fires one person, whereas if it's the players, multiple firings have to take place. Some of which has occurred and the results have been about the same. In fact, in this last game against Hartford, we watched Hackshaw make a pass that was intended for Vazquez, who was clearly not on the same page and the ball easily went to Barrera. Then Hackshaw, Vazquez, and Dambrot all stood and watched as Barrera dribbled up the field uncontested, took a shot uncontested, and scored a goal uncontested. Two of those three players are new additions to the team. Were they the wrong players (selected by Lowry), were they not in sync with each other yet, or was it something else altogether? For me, in that case, that's a mistake by players and not a mistake by coach. I've never played at a high level and even I know that if nobody stops the ball, bad things can happen.

Photo: Don Thompson
For now, I still have faith in Mark Lowry. From my discussions with him, he is fully aware that the entire squad, from coach to assistant to starters to bench players, are at risk and are responsible when things are going poorly. That includes him and he has said as much to me. He has said exactly what Sommer told that team after the Tampa Bay Rowdies game in 2014. Everybody's job is on the line, including his. I don't see him "pulling a Rennie," and exiting the club during a post-game interview with Rakestraw and Hauter, but I have waited on the field for him to come back from the locker room after enough games recently to know that he is not enjoying this stretch of games any more than we're enjoying watching them. 

Yet, it got me thinking. How does this stretch of games rank in club history? So I did what I do, and I started digging into my stats to find out. Below, I present the data for the worst winless streaks per season and then each coach's record in their first 24 games, which is where Lowry stands right now when you include the Open Cup game. Below that I'll highlight what I find interesting about the data.

Worst Winless Streaks each Season

  • 2014 - Sommer
    • First nine games - 0W-4D-5L
    • 0W-2D-4L streak in Fall Season
  • 2015 - Sommer/Regan
    • 1W-4D-3L to start Spring Season (Sommer)
    • 0W-1D-4L in Fall Season (Regan)
    • 0W-2D-3L in Fall Season (Regan)
  • 2016 - Hankinson
    • 0W-2D-3L stretch in Fall Season
  • 2017 - Hankinson
    • 0W-7D-4L to start Spring Season
    • 0W-1D-4L
    • 0W-2D-3L to end season
  • 2018 - Rennie
    • 0W-1D-3L to end season
  • 2019 - Rennie
    • 0W-0D-4L (games 28-31)
  • 2020 - Rennie
    • 1W-1D-5L to end season
  • 2021 - Rennie/Rogers
    • 0W-1D-3L (Rennie)
    • 0W-3D-2L (Rennie/Rogers)
    • 0W-2D-4L (Rogers)
  • 2022 - Lowry
    • 0W-2D-2L to start season
    • 0W-2D-9L (including 6 losses in a row and another 3 losses in a row)

Coach Records through First 24 games

  • Sommer (includes 2 Open Cup games)
    • 4W-7D-13L (win percentage = 16.7%)
    • 34 GF; 47 GA = -13 GD
  • Regan (in 23 GP; includes a friendly)
    • 7W-6D-10L (win percentage = 30.4%)
    • 28 GF; 37 GA  = -9 GD
  • Hankinson (includes 2 Open Cup games & a friendly)
    • 12W-9D-3L (win percentage = 50.0%)
    • 37 GF; 22 GA = +15 GD
  • Rennie (includes 1 Open Cup game)
    • 10W-6D-8L (win percentage = 41.7%)
    • 30 GF; 28 GA = +2 GD
  • Rogers  
    • 6W-7D-11L (win percentage = 25.0%)
    • 25 GF; 38 GA = -13 GD
  • Lowry (includes an Open Cup game)
    • 6W-4D-14L (win percentage = 25.0%)
    • 25 GF; 39 GA = -14 GD
Let's start with the winless streaks. Even when it has been bad for Indy Eleven through the years, the longest string of losses has been 4; in the beginning of the 2014 season with Sommer and in the 2019 season with Rennie. The worst number of losses in a winless streak was 5, again with Sommer in 2014. I included a streak of games where the 2020 Rennie-coached season finished the year on a 1W-1D-5L run, which kept them out of the playoffs. Following both of those 5 loss stretches, both coaches made it to game 8 of the next season before being fired/quitting. This year's team's winless streak makes those earlier streaks seem like happy times. That doesn't look well for Lowry.

Photo: Don Thompson
Looking at how Lowry's first 24 games compare to previous Indy Eleven coaches doesn't look well for him either. Obviously. What is interesting though, is that he has nearly identical records and goals for/goals against/goal differential as Indy's two caretaker managers, Regan and Rogers. Those two guys were forced to continue the season with players selected by somebody else, whereas this team, with a few notable exceptions, were guys selected by Lowry. Sommer clearly had the worst start to his tenure of any coach, but Lowry's start most compares to the records of the men that were figuratively thrown into the lead role. That's not a good look.

What if I told you, though, that in Coach Lowry's inaugural season with El Paso in 2019, the team had a 
1W-4D-6L stretch between June 22nd and September 4th
? Admittedly, that team didn't dig themselves the early season hole that Indy did this year, but that ELP team still made the playoffs and advanced to the Conference Finals. Or that in Lowry's 1st full season as head coach with Jacksonville Armada in 2017, that team went on a 0W-4D-4L stretch across the end of the Spring Season and start of the Fall Season from July 8th to August 19th? Or that after he was announced as the interim coach in 2016, the team went on a 1W-5D-2L streak to start his tenure from August 17th to September 28th

Maybe Coach Lowry just has some summer struggles in his first season? Maybe by that point in the season, he has a better understanding of what the guys are capable of doing, the guys have a better understanding of how Lowry really wants to play, and in trying to enact those tactics, the teams go through some growing pains in the summer? I honestly don't know, but ELP turned into a perennial winner in his time there and that summer bump in the road isn't really mentioned by anybody except the ELP fans. With some insight from Seriously Loco Soccer Pod, a group that provides content for, and by, El Paso supporters, that 2019 stretch was "a combo of things with Jerome Kiesewetter being hurt for a bit, Mechack Jerome suffered a season ending injury at the Gold Cup, and some issues with goal scoring more generally that eventually were sorted out." Sounds familiar, right? Insert Arteaga and Pinho in for Kiesewetter, long-term injuries to Briggs and Meredith (which forced another shuffle with the goalkeepers), and issues with goal scoring. We can only hope that Indy does the same as that ELP squad and gets their goal scoring sorted out too.

As I said before, this stretch of games has been historically bad for the club and there's no way around that. I will also reiterate that I still have faith in Lowry. There are still too many mistakes that are being capitalized on by opponents, and Indy is still struggling with getting enough shots on target, but their summer slump included an entire month away from home and games against some of the best teams in the league. That was always going to be a tough stretch even without the constant changes in the goalkeeper position, the injuries to key contributors, and some unlucky bounces and calls (I'm specifically thinking about the one shot/one goal fiasco in the first Pittsburgh game and the goal that wasn't allowed in the second Pittsburgh game). 

Yet, I've also seen improvement in the play recently, even if the results haven't followed. If Indy can't get a win by the end of the season, Lowry will, unfortunately, be gone. However, against my pessimistic nature, I believe the results will get better even if they don't make the playoffs, and Lowry should be allowed to return next season.

Until, at least, the 8th game...

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Indy Eleven vs Hartford Athletic - 09.23


- Opponent: Hartford Athletic
- Location: Trinity Health Stadium
- Attendance: 4,924
- Final Score: 2-1 L

- Starting XI: Lewis, Dambrot, Vazquez, Jerome, Timmer, Hackshaw, Ayoe, Rebellon, Tejada, Aguilera, Asante
- Substitution: Pinho 58' (Dambrot); Ingram 74' (Rebellon); Rivera 74' (Tejada); Cochran 86' (Hackshaw)

- Unused: Trilk, Brown, McQueen

- Scoring Summary:
HFD - Barrera 19’ (unassisted)
HDF - Martinez 26' (assist Saydee)
IND - Ayoze 45'+2' (Penalty Kick)

- Bookings:
IND - Dambrot 33’ (Yellow)
IND - Hackshaw 43' (Yellow)
HFD - Barrera 53' (Yellow)
IND - Rivera 84' (Yellow)

- Referee: Benjamin Meyer
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

After a June that saw Indy spend the entire month away from home, and a July that bounced between home and away matches before settling into a 3-week homestead that concluded last week with a 2-nil loss to Pittsburgh, Indy began a two-game road trip on the road tonight against Hartford Athletic, one of the few teams in the conference with a similar current winless streak (Hartford at 7, Atlanta at 8, & Indy at 10). With two struggling teams, both teams go into the game feeling that they have a chance to get three points. The game taking place in Connecticut was one of the few spots where you could clearly give the advantage to Hartford. 

Indy allowed that advantage to solidify by giving away two goals in the first 26 minutes. Literally, gave them away. Hartford's first goal by Barrera was another goal where Indy simply did not close down the ball, and so Barrera dribbled the ball closer and closer to the goal until finally deciding that taking the shot himself was not only a good option, but the best option. At no point in the sequence did an Indy defender put himself in a position to slow or prevent the shot. The second goal was on a break and Martinez attacked faster than the Indy defenders and was left alone for an easy pass from Saydee. It was too easy for Hartford to find the opening goal and then expand their lead. 

Indy's touches and ball movement had my regular refrain this season; there were moments when they were really effective. One touch passes, working through Hartford. However, there were just as many moments where everything moved too slowly, and too predictably. It wasn't until late in the first half where Asante switched to the left side of the field where the ball was moved effectively, with purpose, and in a dangerous area. The ball eventually found its way to Dambrot who was bailed out from not taking a first-touch shot, when Jadama slid in and took Dambrot out, setting up a stoppage time penalty kick. In the game where he became the club's leader in appearances, Ayoze stepped up and buried Indy's first penalty kick of the season. The goal pulled Indy back within striking range going into the halftime locker room, but it shouldn't have changed Lowry's halftime speech.

Indy looked better after the break. Not sure I would call them the "dominant" side after the break, but there was definitely an uptick in their performance. Though, not counting the goal from Ayoze, Indy had another half where they had only one shot on target, so getting more than that in the second half was an improvement, All the shots were from distance and didn't significantly test Oettl, but they were on frame. 

Indy has added and removed players, moved players around, adjusted tactics, and continue to have issues around the box. The distribution chart for the game shows so much effective passing in their own half and even into Hartford's half, but once they reach a certain point in the field, they just can't break through. Shots, crosses, passes, all turn to red at that point in the field. As I said earlier, it gets predictable and easy for teams to defend. Another one of my refrains this season (and club history...) is that there is too much talent to get these kinds of results. Yet, game after game, right now those are the results that we're seeing. 

Indy haven't score more than one goal in a game since the Colorado Springs Switchbacks game, which is the first loss in this winless streak. Tonight's goal, from the spot, was just the third goal in nine games. Hartford and Indy had similar totals in shots and shots on target, but Hartford was more clinical, and capitalized on Indy's defensive mistakes. Coach Lowry continues to reiterate that this team is showing that it can complete with the best teams in the league. I continue to reiterate that this team is showing it can compete for small stretches with the best teams in the league, but can equally struggle against the worst teams in the league, and New York Red Bulls II and Hartford certainly qualify for that title.

The small optimistic side of me wanted to believe that Indy could make a run at the playoffs as the level of competition drops in the late part of the season. After tonight's results around the league, Indy sits 14 points out of the last playoff spot. It's nearly impossible to fathom a scenario where Indy make the playoffs this year. To make matters worse, if Indy can't get a win next week in Tulsa, there is a distinct possibility that Indy will go, at least, two full months without a win, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Indy not get a win until mid- to late-September when Indy play Monterrey, Loudoun, and Atlanta in consecutive weeks. The four games before that are all playoff teams.

This is difficult to watch.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
I currently dread the Game Beckons Game Ball right now. For setting the clubs appearance record, moving to within 1 game of Ouimette's start record, and tying Kleberson for the club record in made penalty kicks, tonight's GBGB again goes to Ayoze.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Indy Eleven vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds - 9.22


- Opponent: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 9,839
- Final Score: 2-0 L

- Starting XI: Lewis, Ayoze, Vazquez, Jerome, Timmer, Hackshaw, Ingram, Rebellon, Arteaga, Asante, Tejada
- Substitution: Pinho 64’ (Rebellon); McQueen 72’ (Timmer); Danbrot 83’ (Ayoze); Rivera 83’ (Ingram)

- Unused: Trilk, Brown, Cochran

- Scoring Summary:
PIT – Cicerone 13’ (assist Rovira)
PIT – Cicerone 52’ (assist Dikwa)

- Bookings:
IND – Arteaga 43’ (Yellow)
PIT -Ybarra 44’, 54’ (Yellow, Yellow - RED)
IND – Indy Bench 48’ (Yellow)
IND – Ayoze 77’ (Yellow)
PIT – Kelly 87’ (Yellow)
IND – Vazquez 90’ (Yellow)
IND – Hackshaw 90’+1’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Eric Tattersall
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

With tonight’s appearance, Ayoze ties club legend Brad Ring, with 115 appearances for the club. Ayoze’s next start will put him to within two of the Games Start record held by Karl Ouimette, and entry into the exclusive Century Club in starts. When the club finally creates a “Ring of Fire” (no pun intended), one or all these guys could be in the inaugural, or second, class. I don’t know how Ayoze’s body is holding up with this many games on the proliferation of turf fields on which he has played the last several years in the NASL with the New York Cosmos and in the USL with Indy Eleven, but I wish he would spill the secret of where the Fountain of Youth is located. 

Indy’s starting lineup tonight looked very similar to last week’s lineup against Tampa Bay, with notable adjustments as Aguilera watched from the stands due to yellow card accumulation, and Arteaga slotted back into the front line after his injury. Vazquez’s addition to the club has pushed Cochran to the bench as Lowry feels that the CB pairing of Jerome and Vazquez is a better combination at this stage of the season. Recent signing, and former Riverhound, Danbrot also made the bench tonight, and saw the field in the 83rd minute.

The starting lineup also brought back Rebellon, who has been struggling with injuries all season. Coach Lowry brought him from El Paso for a reason, and has routinely stated that the team has missed what he brings to the right side of the field. "Bryam gives everything in every single moment. That's why, whenever he's fit, he will always be on the field for me. He's always been on the field the last four years. He's in my best team because he gives everything, every single moment, every single second. Doesn't take a play off, doesn't lose concentration. He fights. He makes mistakes, but it's just through a desire to try, and triers and doers make mistakes." If you want to be on the field right now for Coach Lowry, he just told me how you do it. Whether you stay there will be a function of your performance, but it sounds like it is always going to start with your effort.

Pittsburgh put themselves on the board in the 13th minutes because nobody stepped to the ball as Rovira advanced up the field. With as much time as he wanted, Rovira found Cicerone near the six who had separated away from Vazquez. With Indy's first significant defensive mistake of the game, Indy was forced to begin chasing the game. Minutes later, Arteaga missed a shot high from the 6-yard box after the ball bounced slightly and threw off his connection with the ball. It’s the kind of shot from Arteaga that you don’t see him miss very often. Arteaga had enough time to actually take a second touch on it, but in the moment, you can see why he was trying to put the ball on target with his first touch. 

At that stage of the game, and the way the season has progressed, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to Indy fans that down a goal early, Arteaga missed a shot from that distance. It's the way this season has gone. If it can go badly, it seemingly has done so. I keep stating it, and mentioned it on Twitter this week, but Indy is last in the entire league in shots. While Indy managed 13 shots tonight to PIT's 7, there was only a single Shot On Target. That shot occurred in the 90'+6' by Asante from a set piece after a foul. For all the things Indy did right tonight, and there were a lot more than we've seen lately in this string of bad results, Indy's margin for error is basically zero when they only put a single shot on target. For the season, Indy is averaging just over 3 shots on target per game. Indy has to be more clinical with their shots and their shot selection. Going the entire game without forcing the opposing goalkeeper to make a save is never going to get it done. Indy has too much attacking talent for this to even be a thing, but it's where we find ourselves twenty-two games into the season.

Around the time of the first half hydration break, the level of physicality in the match made a noticeable uptick, and both sidelines were not happy about it. Apparently, the referee didn't take the opportunity during the hydration break to consult with his colleagues about his calls, and he didn’t alter his opinion on what did or did not constitute a foul as the physicality remained, and maybe even turned up another notch or two as bodies began to pile up around the field. Each time a player found themselves on their backside, there was an exacerbated look towards the referee that was met with a blank stare or the ubiquitous “play on” hand motion. Yet somehow, both teams were not able to go into the halftime locker room without a single yellow card being shown, as Arteaga picked up a card in the 43rd minute and Ybarra got one a minute later, on tackles that didn’t look any different than most of what had proceeded before it.

Ybarra picked up his second yellow card in the 54th minute, which should have worked in Indy’s advantage. However, just before Ybarra saw the yellow card from the referee, PIT had put a second ball into the goal on a break. This time is was Timmer who lost track of Cicerone and a centering pass was easily directed past Lewis by an on-rushing Cicerone. With Ybarra's departure from the game as his collection of yellow cards in the game turned to red and gave him some early time in the locker room, Indy should have felt like a positive result from the game was still attainable. What Ybarra's exit actually did with Indy's 2-goal deficit, was put Pittsburgh into bunker mode for the last 36 minutes. A bunker that took a normal five-player backline of PIT, and made it a 9-player block with former Indy Eleven player Dane Kelly as the lone outlet up top. That Lilley Bunker(TM) was too much for Indy, who managed to spend the majority of the 2nd half in PIT’s half of the field, but PIT's organization and effort kept Indy off the board, and, again, without a single shot on target until the 90'+6' mark.

A missed call in the 87th minute by the referee and the assistant referee helped with that, as video replay indicated that a Pinho header crossed the line ricocheted off the crossbar, over the line, and spun out. With bad memories of the Memphis game last year, Indy fans once again feel like the calls, the fortunate or lucky bounces, just aren't going the team's way. Since Indy have such narrow margins due to their lack of shots on goal per game, when they do get one, it makes it even more difficult to watch knowing that Indy finally broke through the Lilley Bunker(TM), and yet the score board continued to read 2 to 0.

Yet, if we zoom back from that image, we see yet another issue. Coach Lowry has regularly said that he wants his teams to take multiple bites out of the proverbial apple when they get shots. In that sequence, and I don't necessarily fault Rivera for the cross, there was little chance for more than one bite. Arteaga didn't make it into the box until after the shot, McQueen is 25-yards out, Asante must have been having a chat with the bench, and four PIT defenders are ready and waiting to clear the ball. Admittedly, at that point in the game in the Lilley Bunker(TM), I'm surprised there are only four PIT players visible. And if we're honest about Asante's location on that cross, at 5'2", he wasn't going to be winning any headers against PIT's backline, which included Jelani Peters at 6'5". Asante isn't winning most of those balls.

Coach Lowry was happy with the way the team played. Obviously not the result, but he liked the effort, the possession, the style of play, the chances they created, the limited chances that PIT had, and the way that he thinks they showed they can compete with the best teams in the league. Yet, Indy made two major defensive mistakes in this game, and Pittsburgh capitalized on both. Indy had a man advantage for 36 minutes, and managed a single free-kick shot on goal in late stoppage time. I said it before and I'll say it again, Indy has shown they can compete with the best teams for stretches, but they are still not able to do it for an entire game. The good news is that the games against the top 4 teams in the conference are nearly complete and maybe Indy can pull enough points from the other parts of the bottom half of the table to put themselves in the conversation for the final playoff spot. The bad news is they are running out of games to do that, as well as the fact that getting into the playoffs in that last playoff position means playing one of those top four teams in the first game. Unless the shots, and some luck, start to happen more frequently, Indy's season could be winding down early.

Tonight's game also included another induction of Century Club members. A full list of members can be found here

The Game Beckons Game Ball

It's easier to give the GBGB when the team is successful, and much harder with losing results, but I can't keep saying I'm not going to do it. The team played better. They did. Not good enough, but there was some progress tonight. Tonight's GBGB goes to Ayoze. He's been one of the more consistent good things for this team, particularly after his early season injury, but he regularly put good balls into the forwards, giving the team opportunities for chances on goal. Those opportunities didn't always pan out, but Ayoze was effective getting up and down the left side. 

Additional Photos (@DLTPhotog)