Sunday, April 30, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds - 10.07


- Opponent: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 10,009
- Final Score: 1-1 D

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Vazquez, Diz Pe, Dambrot, Rebellon, Lindley, Quinn, Asante, Robledo Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution: Martinez 63’ (Rebellon); Blake 63’ (Lindley); Tejada 72’ (Robledo); Rissi 90‘ (Vazquez)

- Unused: Trilk, Jerome

- Scoring Summary:

PIT – Dikwa 18’ (assist Biasi)
IND – Blake 81’ (unassisted)

- Bookings:
IND – Boudadi 20’ (Yellow)
PIT – Blackstock 24’ (Yellow)
IND – Lindley 25’ (Yellow)
PIT – Dos Santos 80’ (Yellow)
IND – Diz Pe 87’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Jeremy Scheer
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

Indy Eleven entered this game needing a win and needing it badly. The team finally saw a ball go into the opponent’s goal last week against Monterey, allowing the BYB to release their first goal scoring smoke of the season. However, as that smoke dissipated into the chilly April air, so too did Indy’s chances of getting their first home win of the season after conceding two goals in the second half to lose 3-2. Indy came into the game with a 3-game league losing streak, and a 4-game losing streak in all competitions after falling to a better Columbus Crew side in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. Needing a win, a game against the physical nature of Lilleyball and Pittsburgh, was a daunting prospect when a win was needed as badly as it was coming into this game. 

Indy and Pittsburgh play drastically different styles of game, with Indy first in the Championship with a 64% possession rate, while Pittsburgh ranks third from the bottom with 43%. Where Pittsburgh gives up possession, they make up with physical play, leading the Championship with 115 fouls committed. Both teams also came into this game after a string of games against Western Conference foes; Indy a four-game stretch against Las Vegas, Oakland, Orange County, and Monterey Bay; and Pittsburgh a three-game stretch against Colorado Springs, Rio Grande Valley, and El Paso. Indy finished that stretch with a 0W-1D-3L record, and Pittsburgh finished their Western Conference stretch with a 1W-0D-2L record, so a game against an Eastern Conference opponent was a welcome change of pace for both teams.

Pittsburgh’s goalkeepers are coached by former Indy Eleven player Jon Busch, and Pittsburgh had not conceded more than 1 goal in any of their games until last week’s loss to El Paso. Pittsburgh has always been a stingy team when it comes to conceding goals, but having Busch sharing his knowledge with the goalkeeping core in Pittsburgh can only make them better.

Pittsburgh’s 18th minute goal meant that Indy’s frequent refrain of “chasing the game” occurred once again. For a team that doesn’t concede much like Pittsburgh, getting down to them makes for a difficult chase. Indy nearly gave up a second within five minutes on a counter when Lindley couldn’t come up with a header and then fell a little too easily with minimal contact. Pittsburgh never slowed down and an Oettl kick save maintained the one-goal deficit.

Indy Eleven want to play the beautiful game beautifully. However, in the offensive third of the field, near the opponents’ goal, I would like to see Indy play ugly. I want to see them stop looking for the beautiful pass, or beautiful assist, or beautiful shot, and just put a ball into the mix to see what happens. Allow the other players to work off a deflection or a parried ball from the keeper, or just let the number of players in the box block the goalkeeper’s vision. Guenzatti and Asante hinted at doing that in the 38th minute with a long-range shot from Asante after a blocked shot from Guenzatti, but Indy came up short as Waite pushed the ball to the side. The idea, though, was what I want to see. Stop trying to get the ball to within 6-inches of the goal line. Make the defenders and the keeper do their jobs and force them to make a good play or force them to make a mistake. With the team struggling to score goals playing beautifully, I think it’s time for Indy to play a bit uglier at times. Everything is too slow and trying to be perfect. It’s almost like the talent level of this team has risen to a point where they forget that it’s okay to play gritty, to play ugly, to play “below” themselves. At this point, with results not consistent with how dominant the team is in every statistic except the scoreline, what does it hurt?

You could have timed Pittsburgh’s attacks with a stopwatch. You could have timed Indy’s attacks with an hourglass. Touch. Pass. Switch by Pittsburgh’s defense to get in position. Touch. Pass. Switch by Pittsburgh’s defense to get in position. Rinse. Repeat. With a team like Pittsburgh, you have to move the ball faster. Pittsburgh is just too disciplined defensively. Until time was absolutely running out of the game, Indy’s defense was predictable and patient.

Seriously, I don't understand the fight over
the ball after a scored goal. It really doesn't
speed the game any to get the ball to the
center circle, and could/should result
in a yellow card more often.
Indy’s equalizing goal in the 81st minute? Dambrot sent a cross in that forced Waite to make a decision and came off his line to parry the ball away, but only as far as Blake who one-timed it with his left foot in the wide-open goal that was left available with Waite laying on the ground between his six-yard line and the penalty spot. Blake’s shot was not an easy one, but when the goalkeeper is out of position, your chances increase. Again, put the ball in a position that forces the defense to make a good play or forces them to make a mistake. 

Indy Eleven pulled a point out of the game late to help stem the season bleeding, but Coach Lowry said it after the game, and it’s a fair assessment. A draw at home with the control that this team is able to do with games is a “disappointment.” In game after game this month, somebody in the post-game interviews has said something about “a lack of concentration in the moment” or “lack of discipline.” Indy has definitely been punished for nearly every single defensive mistake they have made, and at some point, water will find its level so that Indy doesn’t have to play a perfect game to be able to get positive results, but until that happens, Indy can control their concentration and their discipline and they need to do that.

While Indy Eleven’s offense is patient, their fans are going to quickly become impatient with how this season is progressing with its most, on paper, talented team. Indy had 2 shots on target to Pittsburgh’s 5 (out of 6 total shots for an 83.3% accuracy for the Riverhounds). With the amount of possession that Indy has every game, they have to be able to convert that control of the game into more than two shots on target in 90 minutes. If they do, they increase their odds to score goals, and the odds that a mistake costs them points decreases. Right now, through 7 league games, Indy is averaging 9 shots and 2.5 shots on target, while their opponents, who are seeing significantly less of the ball than Indy, are averaging 6.5 shots and 3.29 shots on target. Indy's opponents are doing a lot more with a lot less.

Indy heads on the road the next two weeks to play Loudoun and Sacramento. Given Loudoun’s early success this year and Indy’s recent lack of success against California teams, Indy’s return to The Mike against Colorado Springs may mean Indy will be in desperation mode before we reach the month of June.

Parting Thoughts
Last night's game against Pittsburgh marked the final duties of John Koluder...again. John was one of the first four employees of the team, took a break for a bit, and returned the past few years. John's departure leaves very few remaining people from those early days. By my count, I know of two full employees remaining, at least one more that was around but not officially employed by the team. It's getting much harder to find people in the organization where we can discuss "the old days." Which is why it's important for the fans (the BYB and writers like me) to help keep track of the history of the club. Thanks John for all the help over the years and being patient with my endless questions, complaints, and discussions. It has been a pleasure.

Post game, for probably 20 minutes, Bob Lilley pulled the Riverhounds team into a group near midfield and either coached or belittled his players. I was unable to hear all that was said, but there were definitely individual players and plays being discussed. I received mixed opinions on whether that is something that should be done on the field in front of all of the opposing team's fans or whether that is better to take place in the locker room. I understand the idea that all players are to be held accountable for how they played, but I'm not sure that diving into ALL the mistakes the team made on the field after a road draw is ideal. Lilley has players on the roster that have been playing for him for multiple seasons so it's clearly not a deterrent to a certain type of personality, and is not an unknown thing about him at this point. He has been doing this for as long as I've watched Indy play Pittsburgh. However, it still periodically catches me off guard though on how long his post-game lessons last.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Was Jack Blake the most important player on the field tonight? Maybe not, but he was definitely the most impactful player due to his high level shot on goal that salvaged a point for Indy late. I know my GBGB's this season have been underwhelming, but I think it is a function of the team. This is the kind of team where every player's credentials coming into Indy are well known and documented. As Brad Hauter has stated, "this team doesn't need any single player to play above themselves, they just need to play to their reputation, and the team should be successful." Tonight, the player that did his job, and allowed Indy to walk off the field with the point was Jack Blake.

Additional Photos (Don Thompson Photography)

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Columbus Crew - 2023 U.S. Open Cup


- Opponent: Columbus Crew
- Location: Field
- Attendance: 2,000ish
- Final Score: 0-1 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Rissi, Jerome, Vazquez, Dambrot, Lindley (C), Blake, Quinn, Robledo, Martinez, Tejada

- Substitution:  Guenzatti 66’ (Tejada); Asante 80’ (Robledo); Boudadi 80’ (Martinez); Rebllon 80’ (Dambrot)

- Unused: Trilk, Diz Pe

- Scoring Summary:
CLB - Farsi 83’ (assist Moreira)

- Bookings:
IND - Vazquez 88’ (Yellow)
CLB - Degenek 90'+ (Yellow)

- Referee: -
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

I'm not sure what Paul Lowry* could have done differently in this U.S. Open Cup game against the MLS's Columbus Crew. Indy Eleven defended, and generally defended well, for the majority of the game. Paul Lowry*, seemingly, didn't go into the game against Columbus with the same kind of game plan that he has been employing this season during the league games, which is possess, possess, possess, and try to find a seam in the defense to get a goal. I wouldn't call it a full Lowry Bunker (TM), but the team looked to be more content to defend, defend, defend, and counter at appropriate times. 

Unfortunately, Columbus just looked like a better, faster team. When the team did try to counter, Columbus' defenders were more than capable enough, and faster than the Indy forwards, to quickly squash the Indy opportunities, which weren't very many. All of Indy's players defended well enough to take the game to the late minutes in a scoreless fashion, but the one time that both the defenders and Oettl failed to make a stop in the same play, CLB's Farsi put the home team up and sent Indy Eleven home.

Despite continuing to have a short bench due to the recent injury to Fjeldberg (a toe injury that will likely keep him out for a few weeks) and the unspecified disappearance of Torres (that I questioned after the Monterey game could be an impending loan/trade), Coach Paul Lowry* was able to rotate a few players and get some minutes for guys that are returning from injuries. Indy's U.S. Open Cup failures are consistent from season to season and from coach to coach, and lower division teams beating MLS teams doesn't happen very often, so Paul Lowry* isn't going to get fired for a 1-nil loss to Columbus. Indy fans can be disappointed the team has never won more than one game in a season in the tournament, but Indy's recent league struggles are probably more worrisome at the moment. A quick turnaround game against Pittsburgh at home concerns me more than a loss to the Columbus Crew on the road.

 Indy return to Carroll Stadium on Saturday to play the Riverhounds in an attempt to stop the losing streak, which now sits at 3 in a row in league play and 4 in a row in all competitions. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Many times, people have the tendency to say, "if it wasn't for the play of [insert goalkeeper's name here], this game would have been a lot worse." That's why teams play with 10 field players and a goalkeeper and not just 10 players. Defenders would play a completely different style of game if there wasn't a goalkeeper behind them. Against Columbus, Indy went with the crazy tactic of playing with all 11 players. That 11th player, Oettl, played a stellar game, making a total of 7 saves on 8 shots on target. In a game where Indy defended for large stretches of the game, the defenders were inclined to have some mistakes, and Oettl was there nearly every time to keep the mistakes from turning into goals.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Monterey Bay - 10.06


- Opponent: Monterey Bay 
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 10,038
- Final Score: 2-3 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Vazquez, Dambrot, Rebellon, Lindley, Blake, Quinn, Fjeldberg, Asante, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution:  Martinez 37’ (Fjeldberg - injury); Jerome 68’ (Boudadi); Robledo 68’ (Blake); Tejada 8’ (Quinn)

- Unused: Trilk

- Scoring Summary:
MB – Robinson 17’ (assist Dixon)
IND – Asante 23’ (assist Quinn)
IND – Guenzatti 40’ (assist Asante)
MB – Volesky 58’ (assist Doner)
MB – Yoske 63’ (assist Volesky)

- Bookings:
IND – Blake 45’+1’ (Yellow)
IND – Martinez 78’ (Yellow)
MB – Boone 85’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Greg Dopka
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

The last time Indy and Monterey Bay faced off last year, Indy was routed 5-nil, in far better weather conditions than what they teams dealt with today with temperatures in the 40s and a steady wind whipping from west to east across the field. Tonight’s game against Monterey Bay also marks Indy’s fourth game in a row against Western Conference competition and the third in a row against teams from California, with two more California teams to play during the remainder of the season. Indy finished this run of games against the opposite conference with a 0W-1D-3L record, scoring 2 goals against the competition's 7, meaning Indy will be looking forward to some Eastern Conference competition next week when Pittsburgh comes to Carroll Stadium just to face a team in their own conference.

Diz Pe and Rissi weren’t shown on the official match day injury report, but I found out that both are nursing hamstring issues. I’m also not sure why Indy only suited five subs with an upcoming game against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday and the game against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Notably missing from the game day lineup was Alann Torres who hasn't been on a game day lineup in a couple games. With a short bench tonight, I wonder if his absence means something is in the works for another loan. Indy came into the season with a roster rebuild designed around quality over quality, but a couple of injuries and an "unknown status" severely hampers Indy’s options off the bench, particularly after a late first half injury by Fjeldberg that forced a substitution before halftime.

Since the first game that Eleven have played in Carroll Stadium, fans have stopped their feet on the metal bleachers to make noise during the team’s corner kicks and set pieces with goal scoring chances. Tonight’s crowd took to the feet stomping tactic early in the game even when the team had the ball in their defensive third. Having not seen the team score a goal at home this season, and not having scored since the second game, Indy fans were getting restless so see some kind of positive result from the team’s possession advantage. Then Monterey Bay scored in the 17th minute, not really against the run of play, and Indy once again were chasing a game, and the noisemaking fans were left to wonder if Indy were going to ever find a goal.

Lindley showing how much it meant 
for the team to finally get a goal.
Fortunately for Indy fans, that chase didn’t last very long. Indy, on a set piece deep in their offensive third (basically a short corner, which is how Indy scored their goal against Detroit), scored when Quinn put a ball between the 6-yard line and the penalty spot that Asante redirected into the opposite corner away from Herrera. Not too many games ago, I questioned why Asante was in the wall on opponent free kicks, and he yet he has continued to show he can get to set piece headers on the opposite end of the field. At 5’-5” tall, that has to be good positioning, because he shouldn’t be able to out-jump most defenders. He did indicate that he's been working on that part of his game. Of being better at finding the pockets of space to give him  the best chance of getting a head to it.

Indy spent much more of the first half in their own defensive half, with the Crisp and Kelp (seriously…it’s their nickname) holding the rare possession advantage against Indy for the majority of the half (Indy squeaked into a modest advantage by the end of the half). A well-timed break and an inch perfect pass from Asante allowed Guenzatti to open his scoring tally for Indy in the 40th minute. Prior to this game, Indy had dominated possession with nothing to show for it. In the first half of this game, Indy had less possession, but went into the locker room with a 2-1 advantage. Proving, once again, that possession is only as good as the finishing touch, which was markedly improved in the first half compared to recent games.

The second half started with both teams trying to take control of the game, with neither team succeeding very much. There were a lot of rough tackles in the midfield and lost possession. Yet it was Monterey Bay who found their equalizer goal in the 58th minute from a break through the center of the pitch. Just five minutes later, Oettl sent a line drive pass up the field that Monterey Bay intercepted, and quickly attacked. A couple of passes later, and a shot to Oettl’s left slide found Indy once again chasing a game to get a positive result suddenly down 3 - 2. 

Another five minutes later, and Tejada found himself as the lone remaining substitute available warming up (not counting Trilk) after Coach Lowry brought in Jerome and Robledo to inject some fresh legs. Tejada eventually found his way into the game in the 85th minute, expending all Indy’s field player substitutes, but to no avail as Indy fell to Monterey Bay to extend the early season losing streak to three games.

Seriously, does Indy really have to play another California team this year?

The good news is that Indy didn't get blanked and shutout this year by a 5 goal differential against roughly the same squad, personal wise, that beat them last year. The other good news is that Indy finally saw the ball go behind the opposing goalkeeper twice. The bad news is that Oettl dug three balls out of his own goal to negate Indy's successes. 

On a cold April night, the chances of Indy working out of this stretch looks just as cold. Indy play Pittsburgh next week at home, followed by a Loudoun team that is currently in a playoff position on the road, and then a currently undefeated Sacramento team. Unless Indy can figure out a way to get a win next weekend against Pittsburgh (not counting what might happen on Wednesday in Columbus in the U.S. Open Cup game), Indy's most talented team on paper is going to reach a dubious failure distinction. Despite some of the unsuccessful teams and rough stretches Indy has had over the years, there have only been three times that Indy have had >3 game losing streaks. The first was in the Spring season of the 2014 inaugural year. The second was in 2019. The third was, obviously, last year's deep depression, which had two separate runs of >3 losses. This team does not want to join that group.

Oh, and one more thing. Indy's successful games this season? A draw against a 1W-2D-3L Tampa, a win against a 1W-1D-5L Detroit, and a draw against a 0W-4D-0L Las Vegas Lights. All teams sitting below the playoff line, or in the case of Las Vegas, at the bottom of the table.Indy needs some good wins, and they need them soon.  [Update: after the games on Sunday, all four of these teams are at the bottom of their respective tables. LV at the bottom of the Western Conference; Indy, Tampa Bay, & Detroit (in that order) at the bottom of the Eastern Conference

The Game Beckons Game Ball

He looked like the Asante we expected to see when he signed with Indy last year. A goal and an assist, some good crosses, some good shots. He was honest during the post-game press conference where he looked like he was absolutely freezing. Solo gets the GBGB.
"I think we lost concentration, and in these games, you cannot slip. Coach told us any time there's a free kick, any time there's a throw in, anything like that, we need raise the concentration. But I think we didn't do it and we lost concentration. ... I feel so sad. I feel so bad. Playing at home and then losing at home. Our families are here. Our fans. I feel so bad, but we are going to try our best to rectify the mistakes and come back stronger."

Additional Photos (Don Thompson Photography)

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Orange County SC - 10.05


- Opponent: Orange County SC
- Location: Championship Soccer Stadium
- Attendance: 3,977
- Final Score: 0-1 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Diz Pe, Vazquez, Dambrot, Lindley, Blake, Quinn, Martinez, Robledo, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution: Fjeldberg 65' (Martinez); Asante 65' (Robledo); Rebellon 75' (Boudadi); Tejada 79' (Blake)

- Unused: Trilk, Jerome, Rissi

- Scoring Summary:
OC – Iloski 30’ (Penalty Kick)

- Bookings:
IND – Dize Pe 23’ (Yellow)
IND - Blake 36' (Yellow)
OC - Jamison 56' (Yellow)
OC - Scott 73' (Yellow)

- Referee: Ricardo Fierro
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

To say that Indy's previous two trips to California in 2022 were not pleasant, is an understatement. Indy lost to San Diego in June by a score of 5-nil, and then traveled to Monterey Bay in September and returned back to Indy with another 5-nil loss. So the west coast wasn't friendly to Indy. Indy did play tonight's opponent, Orange County SC, in April to a 3-1 win, but did so from the friendlier confines of The Mike.

This, however, is a different Indy Eleven team. Basically from top to bottom. Of tonight's starting lineup, only Dambrot and Vazquez were a part of either of those two games' starting lineups. None of Indy's scorers in the Orange County game are still on the team. However, the results were the same. Different team, same flight home without any points. 

Orange County was awarded a penalty kick in the 29th minute awarded, against the run of play at that point of the game, which felt exactly like a repeat of last week's game against Oakland. Iloski stepped up and hop skipped his run-up to his shot that sent Oettl the wrong way, giving Orange County an early lead. After the goal, the game opened up as OC began to realize they could win the game, and Indy searched in vain for the equalizer or winner. Indy couldn't break down the OC defense, and OC couldn't unlock Indy's for a second goal. So a 1-nil loss is how Indy finished their first west coast road trip of the season.

Which leads us to an important question.

Is the beautiful game "beautiful" if you can't score goals and win goals? 

I would argue no. It was absolutely frustrating to watch Indy not convert any of their possession nor shots into actual goals. Did I accidentally post a blank image from the USL match center? Nope. That was Indy's shots on target in the first half. With a roughly 60/40 advantage in possession, Indy managed to add just 2 shots on target in the second half when they were chasing, but considering that they had 39 crosses, 26 of which came in the second half, Indy gave themselves plenty of opportunities to test Orange County's goalkeeper, but continually didn't do that. Cropper finished the game with just 2 saves. Indy have just been extremely poor in their finishing, if they even shoot. At this point in the season, Indy haven't translated their possession into enough shots, and certainly not enough goals.   

Tonight's loss brings Indy's recent California trips goal total to 11-nil. The bad news is that Indy have to return back to the Golden State in May to play Sacramento. Before that though, Indy return home to play another California team in Monterey Bay on the 22nd. I wasn't worried in the beginning of the season about the possession not translating into goals, but we've reached a point where goals, or at least chances on goal, should be happening more often with the amount of time that the team control the ball and the game. I'm now succumbing to my pessimistic nature, and am now worried.

I guess we'll find out next Saturday.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I hope that at some point I'm able to award the GBGB to a player for their ability to score (at least) one goal and give Indy a victory. Until that happens, I have to look for other ways to acknowledge good play, despite the losses. For his burst of energy in his role off the bench, tonight's GBGB goes to Fjeldberg. In 25-minutes of action, Fjeldberg accounted for one of Indy's shot on target, 2 of their crosses, and won 66% of his duels. He immediately made an impact upon entering the game, but he too couldn't find a shot or goal.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Oakland Roots - 10.04


- Opponent: Oakland Roots SC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 9,334
- Final Score: 0-3 L

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Diz Pe, Vazquez, Dambrot, Lindley, Blake, Quinn, Martinez, Asante, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution:  Robledo 68’ (Boudadi); Rebellon 68’ (Quinn); Tejada 82’ (Asante); Rissi 82’ (Dambrot); Torres 88’ (Lindley)

- Unused: Trilk, Jerome

- Scoring Summary:
OAK – Mfeka 43’ (assist Formella)
OAK – Formella 71’ (unassisted)
OAK – Rito 78’ (assist Nane)

- Bookings:
OAK – Morad 19’ (Yellow)
OAK – Klimenta 23’ (Yellow); 83’ (Yellow) – RED
IND – Tejada 85’ (Yellow)
OAK – Tamacas 86’ (Yellow)
OAK – Hackshaw 90’+2’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Matthew Thompson
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

To complete Indy’s three games in a week run to start the month of April, Indy have welcomed former teammates and old friends to The Mike. This week, Neveal Hackshaw made his return to Indy with his new club Oakland Roots. While Hackshaw has long been a fan favorite of Indy fans, for the ninety-minutes of this game, Hack was just another player to harass. Afterwards though, the BYB called Hackshaw over to say hello, and he obliged because he's a good dude.

Both Indy and Oakland entered this game having played mid-week games as part of the U.S. Open Cup; Indy against Michigan Stars, and Oakland against El Farolito FC. Oakland played on Tuesday night and had an easier time with their opponent than Indy did with theirs. They both finished their games with 3-1 scorelines, but Indy’s victory took extra time to accomplish, meaning Indy had a day less rest and another 30 minutes of action on their legs. Boudadi, Vazquez, and Guenzatti all went the distance in the game against a physical Michigan Stars team, putting 210 minutes of game time (plus stoppage times) on their bodies this week before they played a single minute in tonight’s game. Vazquez and Guenzatti played the entirety of this game to be the week’s iron men.  

Remember when I said a couple games ago that it was unclear whether we were starting to see Coach Lowry’s preferred starters from a deep, but not large, roster? Well, four games in and I think we can definitively say we know his preferred starters. In Indy’s first 4 league games, Lowry has started 9 of the same 11 players in every single game. Oettl is the team’s #1 keeper. Vazquez and Diz Pe are the preferred centerback pairing, with Boudadi on the right side. Lindley, Blake, and Quinn are the midfield, and Asante and Guenzatti are up top. The other 2 spots in the starting lineup have been spread out between Dambrot, Fjeldberg, Martinez, Rebellon, and Rissi.   

In a rarity so far this season, Oakland controlled the early possession, ultimately forcing Oettl into more saves than he’s had the entirety of the rest of the season combined. Whereas Las Vegas and Michigan set back in an attempt to stifle Indy’s attack, Oakland came out in a much more attacking mode. When Indy had the ball in Oettl’s hands/feet, Oakland had three players in position to immediately press once he laid the ball off to the defenders or midfielders. If Indy broke the initial pressure, Oakland were quick to recover to set up a back line of 5 defenders. In the early stages of the game, Indy found it difficult to get the ball through that back line as the passing lanes closed.

Once Indy’s press became quicker and further up the field, Indy’s possession numbers began to increase, and Oakland found themselves on their heels needing to have some last-ditch defensive recoveries. Around the 15th minute, Indy began to alternate between decent chances and corner kicks. Unfortunately, none of those chances resulted in a goal, but the attack was persistent. 

Oakland found some counterattacks around the 30th minute, but they couldn’t do much with their opportunities either until the 43rd minute when Formella put a ball over the top that found Mfeka sprinting through the back line and in a spot that forced Oettl to make a decision. He was unable to get to the ball as Mfeka tapped the ball around Oettl, and he easily ushered the ball across the line, putting Oakland up right before halftime. Oakland had attempted this same play several times leading up to their goal, but had either been called offside or Oettl had bailed out the defenders by getting to the ball. In that goal scoring instance, all the things Oakland had been trying to do finally worked and had them celebrating a lead in the halftime locker. 

Oakland put a second goal on the board in the 71st minute due to a bad giveaway as Indy tried to play out of the back. The initial shot from Mfeka was blocked by Oettl, but the follow-up from Formella was blasted by both Diz Pe and Oettl who were left scrambling to get a body part in front of his shot. Neither could do anything with the shot, and Indy found themselves staring at a two-goal deficit with time running thin. At which point, Indy turned up the pressure, which further opened up the game for Oakland’s counterattack. Oakland fixed that pressure by scoring their third goal of the game, in the 78th minute, in much the same fashion as their first goal; a perfectly timed pass that broke Indy’s off-side trap, and sent Rito one-on-one with Oettl. Rito chipped Oettl who was making a run out to cut off the angle, and Indy found themselves down 3-nil. 

Spectators began their departure from the stadium, and all they really missed after that 78th minute goal was Hackshaw making his appearance into the game, and a second yellow card on Klimenta that allowed Indy to finish the game with a man advantage. Interestingly, Oakland's 3rd goal pushed Indy into a dubious milestone since the goal was the club's 400th conceded goal in club history (across all competitions, including the mid-season friendlies that don't count towards the "official" stats). If that makes you wonder, Indy have 370 goals. If that makes you wonder, Indy have had just 3 seasons with positive goal differentials, with 2016 at +21 and 2019 at +20, which not surprisingly, also coincided with Indy's two most successful postseason runs. 

Indy’s persistent inability to capitalize on their chances in the early part of the game forced them to enter the second half chasing the game. At some point, Indy’s finishing touch is going to start providing some early goals, allowing Indy to turn all their possession into something positive and start to turn the screws on their opponents. Right? Indy has seen high volume scorer after high volume scorer come thru Indy without being able to produce at the same rate, but that’s not going to happen this year, right? Right? Through four league games, Indy has scored 1 goal from the run of play, despite out-possessing their opponents by an average of 70% to 30%, being more accurate in their passing by 20 percentage points, outshooting by a margin of 32 to 22, and having a +40 advantage in crosses.

At times tonight, it felt like guys were looking for perfect windows to shoot instead of putting the ball on target to force a save or get a rebound. In theory, the pieces are there for this team to score a ton of goals this season. In practice, they’re not getting it done yet.

Indy head to Orange County next weekend who will be trying to get their first win of the season, having gone 0W-3D-2L so far in their 2023 campaign. Indy will be looking to show that they can do something with all of their possession. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball

This feels like kind of a cop-out, but I'm going to give the GBGB to Vazquez and Guenzatti simply for the 300 minutes of game action they put on their bodies this week.  

Additional Photos (Don Thompson Photography)

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Michigan Stars - 2023 U.S. Open Cup


- Opponent: Michigan Stars
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 3-1 W

- Starting XI: Oettl, Boudadi, Jerome, Vazquez, Rebellon, Lindley, Blake, Torres, Tejada, Robledo, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution:  Dambrot (Rebellon 45’); Asante (Torres 45’); Quinn (Blake 45’); Diz Pe (Jerome 64’); Fjeldberg (Lindley 85’); Rissi 105’ (Robledo)

- Unused: Trilk, Jerome, Rissi, Torres

- Scoring Summary:
MICH – Popovic 45’+2’ (penalty kick)
IND – Robledo 59’ (assist Asante)
IND – Guenzatti 92’ (assist Asante)
IND – Tejada 106’ (assist Fjeldberg)

- Bookings:
MICH - Chalbaud 15’ (Yellow)
MICH – Umeda 45’+3’ (Yellow)
MICH – Nikolla 79’ (Yellow)
MICH – Alewine 109’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Alex Beehler
- Adage goals: One

Thoughts and Opinions

There's a reason they call them Cupsets, and Indy has seen their fair share of them over the years, including most recently as Coach Lowry's inaugural year where Indy failed to score a goal and were booted out of the tournament by St. Louis CITY 2 by a score of 2-nil. Indy have only tasted victory 3 times in the previous 10 games they have played in the Open Cup. The first win was a 5-2 win at The Mike against the Dayton Dutch Lions in 2014 (these are all links to my previous articles on the games), when Blake Smith registered Indy's first club hat trick. Indy would move onto play the Columbus Crew, in Akron, before succumbing to an extra time goal to bow out of their first foray into the tournament. After that first season, Indy's success in the Open Cup was severely limited. Indy lost to a, then lower division, Louisville City in 2015 at Carroll Stadium. Indy turned around in 2016 to beat Louisville City at Carroll Stadium before losing in penalty kicks at the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. Indy lost on the road to amateur teams in 2017 and 2018, Michigan Bucks and Mississippi Brilla, respectively. Indy picked up a win in 2019 against Lansing Ignite playing at the Butler Bowl, despite a red card handed out to Evan Newton in the 21st minute, where we saw the first step of Jordan Farr's rise to his current goalkeeper of the year status (I hope I never forget the excitement from Jordan as he experienced his very first media scrum. I'm glad I get to say I was there for that first one.). Indy then fell on the road to league rivals Pittsburgh 1-nil in the next game. Two years of absence to due the pandemic, before the aforementioned loss to St. Louis CITY 2 last year at The Mike. If you're keeping track, that's technically 3W-1D-6L (the game against the Fire technically goes into the record books as a draw, but somebody has to lose in a single-elimination tournament, so the penalty kicks determines that). 

While it didn’t help Indy last year, working in Indy's benefit was that this game was at home, where Indy have managed a 3W-0D-2L record at home, and a pathetic 0W-4L-1D record on the road. Despite an hour delay in the start time, Coach trotted out a very similar starting lineup to what was seen on Saturday against Las Vegas. With a Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday week of games, Coach Lowry started Jerome, Torres, Tejada, and Robledo, in lieu of Diz Pe, Quinn, Asante, and Martinez. 

Fortunately for Indy fans, the lineup didn't take the reigning NISA champions for granted, and came out trying to get ahead early. From Coach Lowry, "our objective was to score early today, come out aggressive. And we did, but I don't think our quality in the final third was good enough. The crossing wasn't quite good enough, the final ball wasn't quite good enough, Even in the second half when we were creating a ton of chances, the finishing wasn't quite good enough."

With Sacramento’s run last year and the publicity that it brought to their club, it feels like there might be a renewed interest in taking the early rounds of the Open Cup seriously. Indy could have pulled in some of the Academy players, fresh off their Academy Cup championship, but Coach Lowry’s starting lineup made it evident that they were not taking the Michigan Stars lightly. “When you look around the scores of the Open Cup, games are tight. A couple of Championship teams lost today. These games are never easy. You just have to get through them and move onto the next round. ... Sacramento showed last year what you can do in this tournament. Kind of made it a little bit more believable for people, and we definitely have a team where we think we can make some noise in this tournament and make it exciting.”

Open Cup games are different. Mid-season elimination games create a different energy when you know that there is going to be a winner and a loser, and that the loser doesn’t get to continue playing for a trophy. Add in that these early games are generally teams of different divisions, the lower division team is motivated to have a good showing, and the higher division is trying to not be one of the Cupsets. There’s often not any kind of live stream, the number of fans are reduced, and even some of the Indy Eleven staff are left to cover other tasks. The normal color commentator, and VP of Marketing & Club Growth, Brad Hauter, had no television work to be done, so was charged with running the clock. Having no experience with running the clock, Hauter had some nervy moments as he learned his new role, but managed to do his job like, wait for it, clockwork.

If you thought Las Vegas’ compact 4-4-2 lineup was difficult to breakdown, Michigan Stars spent a good portion of their time defending in what looked like a 5-3-1 Fort Knox Bunker ™. Even when they had possession, it looked like a 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree. Indy held possession, and probed and probed, but had difficulty early in finding enough passing lanes to break through. Indy kept trying to probe from far left to far right, but it rained a lot today, and this was the first time many of the Indy players have had to deal with the wet Carroll Stadium turf so those early passes consistently skipped away from the intended recipient.

It took until the 36th minute for Indy to have a “shot on target.” I put that in quotes because there was some disagreement in the press box on whether it actually qualified as an actual shot. My contention was that it was definitely a cross, but calling it a “shot” was a bit of a stretch. 

With Hauter in the press box, I went over just before halftime and did my best Rakestraw impression and asked Brad what he thought about the first half, what Coach Lowry might tell the boys at halftime, and what the team could do differently. “Happy with the possession, but things have to move quicker. There are too many touches to get the ball from one side to the other, and Michigan is shifting too easily to cover.” 
“Would you make any player changes?”
“Not at this point.”

Then moments later, Michigan was awarded a penalty kick in the 45’+2’ minute on a clumsy challenge from Jerome in the box. Everything changed from that point forward as Indy tried to prevent themselves from becoming yet another Indy Eleven team to fall to a lower division team in the Open Cup. Lowry made three subs at halftime to try and jumpstart the attack. Asante, Dambrot, and Quinn entered for Torres, Rebellon, and Blake. 

Indy finally found their equalizer in the 59th minute thanks to quick passing and a cross. Indy made a much more concerted effort with the substitutes to move the ball faster and get the ball into the box. As Coach said, they just weren't clinical enough with their finishing to pull ahead and finish the game.

Six minutes of added time in the second half wasn’t enough, so on a night when rain forced a late start, the fans who attended the game had to go home even later as extra time started just past 10:00 in the PM.  As Coach Lowry stated after the game, "It should have been put to bed in the 50th to 60th minute, to be honest with you. When you don't take your chances and you aren't clinical, you have to play an extra thirty minutes."

Then within 90-seconds of the start of the first extra time period, Indy finally found the back of the net again. After that, it was 28-minutes of managing the clock, managing field position, and trying to hang on without giving up a goal against the run of play on a counterattack. With three games in a week, an extra thirty minutes of action on many of the guys’ legs was not what the team needed, but at least the weather was at a temperature where nobody was cramping. 

Indy put another goal on the board in the 105’+1’, and nearly put a fourth in the 105’+2’ by Fjeldberg that went inches wide as a result of a 4-on-1 break. It’s those missed chances that continue to put Indy in the position they find themselves in the early stages of the season. Plenty of possession, but struggling in the final third. Indy was punished for one of their few backline mistakes on defense, but needing 60-minutes to get a goal and extra time to finish off an opponent after dominating possession is something Indy needs to get fixed soon. Until Indy figure out how to connect in the final third, this will be a reoccurring trend moving forward. Las Vegas made it work to a scoreless draw, and Michigan Stars pushed it to extra time with generally the same tactics. Defend, defend, defend as Indy possess, pass the ball around, without any kind of significant threat on goal. There isn’t any film on this game, but another 80-90% to 10-20% possession tells teams that the tactics were the same, and that they work or nearly work. 

The good news is that Indy found a way to win and will move on in the tournament. With this kind of tournament, not all the goals for the team were met during this game, but the one that matters most happened. Coach Lowry was still optimistic about the team moving forward. "The way we're playing is fantastic. These performances have to start translating into goals and wins obviously." 

Indy return to The Mike on Saturday night to play Oakland Roots with hopes that their recent absolute domination in possession can turn into more goals to keep the team's undefeated start to the season going.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
Prior to Indy's first goal, Asante had sent in a handful of crosses trying to get the ball into the mixer in the hopes of somebody from Indy getting a good touch to it, or for Michigan to get a poor touch to it. The finishing touch wasn't there, but Asante’s presence changed the game. In addition to his crosses, he was attacking the backline with pace, which forced the Michigan defenders to react more quickly than they were forced to do in the first half. Another hat trick of A brace of assists from Asante speaks volumes to what he was able to accomplish tonight. [Editor's note: Indy's official recap credited Asante with an assist on all three goals, which was inconsistent with how it was announced during the game, but I used their value thinking I had not seen it correctly, or misheard the announcement. However, in the team's recap video, it's clear that the assist on Tejada's goal came from Fjeldberg.]

Additional Photos (Don Thompson Photography)