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...

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