Sunday, September 24, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Rio Grande Valley FC - 10.31


- Opponent: Rio Grande Valley FC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 10,316
- Final Score: 1-0 L

- Starting XI: Trilk, Boudadi, Jerome, Diz Pe, Rebellon, Blake, Lindley, Asante, Robledo, Guenzatti (C), Pinho

- Substitution: Dambrot 45’ (Rebellon); Martinez 45’ (Pinho); Velasquez 62’ (Robledo); Molina 76’ (Blake)

- Unused: Crawford, Reveno, Vazquez

- Scoring Summary:
RGV – Lopez 18’ (assist Davila)

- Bookings:
RGV – Knapp 8’ (Yellow)
IND – Blake 12’ (Yellow)
RGV – Benitez 18’ (Yellow)
RGV – Ricketts 22’ (Yellow)
RGV – Lopez 45’+ 3‘(Yellow)
IND – Dambrot 46’ (Yellow)
IND – Robledo 55’ (Yellow)

- Referee: Thomas Snyder
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

The magic number for Indy to make the playoffs keeps going down thanks to the other results in the conference even with Indy’s recent run-of-form in the last three games, but Indy knew coming into this game that if they can get six points out of their final two home games this week, then they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2019. With a little more help from Tulsa, and a win tonight Indy would have solidified their place in the playoffs. As a result, Indy came out of the gate on the front foot, hoping to put this game to bed before Rio Grande Valley could find their footing in the eastern time zone.

After the flurry of activity from Indy in the opening minutes all in RGV defensive half of the field, a defensive turnover in Indy’s half of the field led to a break for RGV that resulted in the first goal of the game in just the 18th minute. 

RGV found their footing. 

As has been a recurring theme for Indy through the early part of the season, Indy found themselves trailing and searching for an equalizer to make their early effort mean something. As the half progressed, Indy had some close chances, but the effort in the final third was just slightly off as shots went off the post or passes were unable to find their intended target. It felt like Indy lived in RGV’s half of the field, but were unable to break through.

The first half was a half of restarts as referee Thomas Snyder’s whistle was active. There were 27 fouls conceded in the half, with 5 yellow cards issued between the two teams (4 to RGV, 1 to IND), and another 5 offside calls. As a result, the flow of the first half was very disconnected and start-and-stop. Both teams each managed just a single shot on target, but Indy was the more dangerous side around goal and held a 60/40 possession advantage. 

Knowing the importance of getting points in this game, but more specifically three points, Coach Lowry made immediate substitutions coming out of the halftime locker room. Martinez replaced Pinho to give a different look up top. Rebellon came out in place of Dambrot, which allowed Boudadi to shift over to the right side, where he and Asante have developed a good partnership on that side in recent weeks. Dambrot then went full Drew Conner mode and picked up a yellow card within seconds of being on the field with his first effort in the game. The active whistle continued, causing the game to remain as a game of restarts instead of a smooth flowing game. In the end, there were 50 conceded fouls, 7 yellow cards, and 9 offside calls. There was just never a good rhythm to the game.

As the game continued, the play became more and more stretched with counter attacks being the primary method of offense. In the moments when Indy attempted their counter attacks, the RGV defense retreated in mass, creating moments where there were 7 to 9 guys behind the ball, mostly tucked into the middle of the field, making passes and crosses difficult. Indy could never find a way to get through the orange wall that RGV presented once they had their goal.

Indy will likely still make the playoffs, despite this loss, but it’s going to be as much a function of other team’s results as it is Indy’s. However, the loss makes the chances of hosting a playoff game nearly impossible. Indy return to Carroll Stadium on Saturday for their final home game of the season against Detroit City, who have scrapped their way back into the playoff race, and could, depending on the results of their game on Wednesday, leap frog Indy. 

Aodhan Quinn has missed the past three games, and Indy are a 90'+5' goal awayfrom losing all three games. That's just a coincidence, right?

The Game Beckons Game Ball
I think this is going to be another one of those awards for their play over the span of a few games instead of just tonight's game, but Jerome has been playing well recently. He looked absolutely shaky during the early part of the season, and not in the form that I saw from him during his time in El Paso. With more regular minutes due to the backline injury and suspension issues, he seems to have finally settled back into his pre-Indy form. So Jerome gets tonight's GBGB.

Additional Photos (Don Thompson Photography)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Phoenix Rising - 10.30


- Opponent: Phoenix Rising FC
- Location: Phoenix Rising Stadium
- Attendance: -
- Final Score: 1-1 D

- Starting XI: Trilk, Boudadi, Jerome, Diz Pe, Rebellon, Blake, Lindley, Asante, Robledo, Guenzatti (C), Pinho

- Substitution: Vazquez 61' (Rebellon); Martinez 66' (Robledo); Reveno 76' (Pinho)

- Unused: Crawford, Dambrot, Molina, Velasquez

- Scoring Summary:
PHX - Harvey 80' (assist Trejo)
IND - Diz Pe 90'+5' (assist Lindley)

- Bookings:
PHX - Uzochokwu 16’ (Yellow)
IND - Pinho 31' (Yellow)
PHX - Arteaga 40' (Yellow)
PHX - Fuenmayor 62' (Yellow)
IND - Blake 75' (Yellow)
PHX - Hernandez 90'+2' (Yellow)

- Referee: Abdou Ndiaye
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

Each team in tonight's matchup had a player in the starting lineup that was recently wearing the other team's crest. Manuel Arteaga faced off against Indy for the first team since moving west to Phoenix and was given the captain's armband from former Indy player and now manager Juan Guerra, while Solomon Asante took the field against his former club after joining Indy last season. Arteaga came into the game in third place in the league with 15 goals on the season, just behind his teammate Trejo and Pittsburgh's Dikwa, who both have 17. Asante was a 2-time MVP award winner during his time in Phoenix, accounting for 150 points (54 goals + 42 assists) in his 113 games in the Valley of the Sun. Apparently the desert air is good for scoring goals. Throw in manager Juan Guerra into the mix, and the game pulled at Indy fans' #IndyForever heart strings.

Indy did manage to field a full 18 for tonight's game, giving Coach Lowry some more options, but they were still without the team's second leading goal scorer in Quinn, joining Chapman-Page and King on the injury list. Boudadi returned from his yellow card suspension, pushing Dambrot to the bench, and Robledo started in lieu of Velasquez. Otherwise, tonight's starting lineup was the same as the one Lowry fielded against New Mexico this past Friday.

No matter the result tonight, Indy was going to remain in 6th place in the standings, with no ability to leapfrog either Louisville or Memphis, despite Louisville losing to Miami tonight and Memphis drawing Birmingham. Thanks to the results over the weekend though, the magic number did go down, but Indy can't rely on other results to go their way to get into the playoffs. The Miami result against Louisville proved that. 

Halftime Heat Map
If you stayed up late on the East Coast hoping to see a high octane game against a team with two of the top three goal scorers, you were sadly disappointed. The first thirty minutes of this game, which is when the first shot on goal occurred (by PHX), was a tactical chess match full of defensive low block and two teams trying to hold possession. Indy managed their first shot on target a few minutes later and then a Guenzatti hit the crossbar a few minutes after that. Otherwise, Los Bandidos were making some noise, but it was a relatively quiet crowd as the game crowded around the center stripe with just some small bursts of activity around each goal. Indy nearly gave themselves a late first half hole to dig out of when Rebellon made the decision to try and pass the ball to a teammate while standing on the 18-yard line with two PHX players around him. Arteaga managed to get a shot off that went wide, but he was probably correct in asking for the foul from Diz Pe who had to scramble to cover the mistake from Rebellon. There's a time to play out of the back, but that was not it. Clear the danger and reset your lines. Indy was fortunate the shot went wide and the game remained scoreless going into the break.

After the break, PHX began to tilt the field in their favor, while Indy tried to take the air out of the game even more. Lindley had his second "injury" of the game. Trilk countered with his own "injury." Indy wasn't able to take enough air of the game and Juan Guerra's second half substitutions looked like they were going to be more effective than Lowry's substitutes as Phoenix found the apparent game winner in the 80th minute as the levee broke and Harvey found his head to a Trejo cross to give PHX a 1-nil lead. 

Indy managed just two shots in the 2nd half. They lost the possession battle. They looked like a team that were playing for a draw on the road in the Pacific time zone, and then found themselves staring at a loss with minimal time left on the clock. A late stoppage time corner kick allowed Lindley to give a driven ball to the six-yard box that Diz Pe solidly headed back across goal and past Rios Novo, salvaging a draw and helping reduce that magic number. If I was a Phoenix fan, I would call it a stolen draw; as an Indy fan, I call it a gritty point. I then get the hell on the plane and come back to Indy.

A rare Sunday game awaits the team as the face their third Western Conference team in a row, though this time at Carroll Stadium. If Indy can take protect home field in their final four games, they make the playoffs. Getting a home match to start the playoffs seems unlikely at this point, but who the hell knows with this team lately. I had started writing this game off as a loss and had to adjust. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball
This is easy. There was a moment in the game against New Mexico where the announcers were talking about the height of Diz Pe and they said he is listed as 6'-3". The response to that statement was, "yeah, if he's in a hole." Classic.

Diz used all 6'-3"-ish of his frame to get to the ball that he forcefully headed past Phoenix to salvage the draw. All that after defending Juan Guerra's kitchen sink attack adjustment for the entirety of the second half. I don't care what his stats show. I didn't even look. Diz gets tonight's GBGB for being clutch when the team needed it most. 

Lindley gets a nod too for that corner delivery. The ball was on a string, like it was directly connected to Diz's head and could have gone nowhere else.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Indy Eleven vs New Mexico United - 10.29


- Opponent: New Mexico United
- Location: Isotopes Park
- Attendance: 8,527
- Final Score: 3-2 L

- Starting XI: Trilk, Rebellon, Jerome, Diz Pe, Dambrot, Blake, Lindley, Asante, Velasquez, Guenzatti (C), Pinho

- Substitution: Vazquez 70' (Pinho); Molina 81' (Dambrot); Robledo 81' (Blake)

- Unused: Crawford, Reveno

- Scoring Summary:
IND – Guenzatti 9’ (assist Lindley)
NM - Rivas 44' (assist Hernandez)
NM - Hernandez 64' (assist Bailey)
NM - Portillo 86' (penalty kick)
IND - Vazquez 90'+4' (unassisted)

- Bookings:
NM - Portillo 27’ (Yellow)
NM - Ryden 27' (Yellow)
IND - Blake 39' (Yellow)
IND - Trilk 84' (Yellow)
IND - Vazquez 84' (Yellow)

- Referee: Brad Jensen
- Adage goals: Two

Thoughts and Opinions

Direct quote from my last article for the Miami game
Diz has time to recuperate before the next game, which won't be until Friday the 15th at New Mexico, but not having guys available for selection is rearing its head again. Boudadi received a 27th minute yellow card, putting him out for the NM game. Callum-Page picked up a hip injury before the Miami game that might leave him out for a few weeks according to team sources. Martinez picked up a knock that kept him out. King is out indefinitely. If Diz is unable to go in two weeks, the backline is once again going to be light. Though getting Vazquez back helps, but he's only played 14 minutes since returning and probably still isn't fully match fit. 

The roster for tonight's game came out and missing from the lineup were Boudadi (of course, yellow card accumulation will do that to your ability to play), Callum-Page, Martinez, King, Walker, and Quinn. Indy had just four field players on the bench and Academy player Crawford as the backup goalkeeper. Indy's game day roster was reminiscent of so many other games earlier this season. Coach Lowry has talked to me about how the injuries and suspensions take away his ability to affect a game with substitutions (when and whom). Tonight was no different. Throw in a weather delay before the game could even get started and a game on a baseball field, and my concern about how this game would go was already skewed to the pessimistic side before it even reached 9:00 EST.

Amazingly, with the loss, Indy proved my pessimism to be founded and, at least temporarily, could have found themselves in 4th place in the table. Memphis, Louisville, and Birmingham still have games to play this weekend that could have a say in that ranking, but with the way Indy has hovered around the playoff cut line this season (never higher than 7th starting in week 6 until week 23, with 6 of those weeks sitting out of the playoffs), the fact that 4th place was attainable at all demonstrates the run-of-form this team had been on in recent weeks and the absolute unpredictability of results in the league.

I appreciate the need to play out of the back, but the field at Isotopes Park is too narrow to make some of the plays Indy were attempting early in the game after the first goal when NM were trying to immediately claw one back. With the compactness of the field, defenders don't have to go very far to press the ball, and as more defenders get into the press, it's okay to lob the ball up the field to release the pressure. Trilk and the CB duo of Jerome and Diz Pe put the team in some nervy positions early.

In the 26th minute, Indy were awarded their first penalty kick of the season where Quinn was unavailable to take it. Lindley did what he normally does and held onto the ball like he was going to be the one to take the kick, and then proceeded to hand the ball off to another player. Tonight, in Quinn's absence, that player was Guenzatti. Guenzatti is more than capable of scoring from the spot, and having scored once tonight and each of the previous two games, it seemed Indy would be up 2-nil within the first 30-minutes of the game. However, Thomas guessed the correct direction and was able to collect Guenzatti's shot, keeping NM in the game.  

Just before halftime, Indy had a wayward pass find its way to the feet of a NM player, and despite Indy being in good defensive shape at the start of the loss of possession, NM quickly countered through some lunging Indy defenders to find Rivas on the right side of the goal. Trilk managed to get something to it, but it still found its way behind him and into the goal, leveling the evening's affairs right before the halftime whistle. The missed penalty kick from Guenzatti in the 26th minute now loomed large as the two teams were level heading to the locker rooms with another half to play, at elevation, with just one forward and one midfield attackers left on the bench for Indy to make in the second half to try and get a win on the road.

Twenty minutes after the teams returned from the locker room, NM completed the comeback, getting a goal from Hernandez, who had streaked forward. As he received the ball, he had acres of space before Lindley came rushing back to defend. Hernandez put Lindley in the spin cycle, took another touch, and placed his shot nicely out of reach of Trilk who was leaning the wrong way. Indy then had 26 minutes to find their own equalizer. Unfortunately for Indy fans, Indy went 50 minutes without a shot (on or off target) going from the 30th minute to the 80th minute. Indy's only shot in the second half was the 90'+4' goal from Vazquez. New Mexico's high press worked perfectly. They allowed Indy to pass around the back line trying to probe for the next pass through the NM front line, but were slow enough about it to allow the NM team to organize their press. When the press worked, NM went at the Indy goal fast and with numbers. Those numbers led to goals.

New Mexico finalized the important part of the evening's proceedings in the 86th minute with a penalty kick goal after Trilk was forced to make a play on the ball and caught more of the man than the ball. Portillo calmly put his attempt in the goal and the game out of reach. Indy found a stoppage time goal in the 90'+4' to make the scoreline look a little better, but it didn't matter as the ref blew the whistle shortly after the restart. 

The loss brings the undefeated streak to an end with a disappointing thud. Indy's magic number remains at 10 with just five games remaining. Playoffs are still achievable, but this was a game were Indy could have found points to help their cause. As it stands, Indy didn't move up or down the conference table, but Birmingham could have something to say about that by the end of the weekend. 

Indy return to action on Wednesday on the road to take on the Juan Guerra-led Phoenix Rising, with former Indy striker Arteaga near the top of the league in goals behind only his teammate, Trejo, and Pittsburgh forward Dikwa ahead of him. Arteaga and Trejo by themselves have combined for 29 goals for Phoenix, or 78% of Indy's total. The Indy defenders are going to need to have good games on Wednesday.

The Game Beckons Game Ball
This is another one of those games where I have a hard time picking the GBGB. Players had moments, some good, some bad. Guenzatti stands out due to his amazing first goal, but then also his failed penalty kick goal. He also managed 3 of the teams 4 shots on goal. By a thread, Guenzatti gets tonights GBGB in the loss.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Indy Eleven vs Miami FC - 10.28


- Opponent: Miami FC
- Location: Carroll Stadium
- Attendance: 10,175
- Final Score: 1-0 W

- Starting XI: Trilk, Boudadi, Jerome, Diz Pe, Dambrot, Blake, Lindley, Quinn, Asante, Velasquez, Guenzatti (C)

- Substitution: Rebellon (Dambrot 76'); Pinho (Velasquez 76'); Vazquez (Diz Pe 77'); Robledo (Blake 85'); Reveno (Asante 90'+6')

- Unused: Walker, Molina

- Scoring Summary:
IND – Guenzatti 72’ (assist Boudadi)

- Bookings:
MIA - Segbers 20’ (Yellow)
IND - Boudadi 27' (Yellow)
MIA - Salazar 33' (Yellow)
MIA - Akinyode 36' (Yellow)
MIA - Stanley 88' (Yellow)
MIA - Neal 89' (Yellow)
IND - Robledo 90'+2' (Yellow)
MIA - Craig 90'+3' (RED)
IND - Quinn 90'+9' (Yellow)

- Referee: Elijio Arreguin
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

Photo Credit: Matt Schlotzhauer
In a week where the temperatures were relatively reasonable for late August, temperatures increased again for gameday to the point where first and second half hydration breaks were required. The heat slowed the game at times as players tried to make it through the game. Players, particularly towards the end of the game, routinely took every chance they could to stretch out calves trying to stave off the impending cramps and grabbed water whenever they could. One of those that that couldn't make it through the night due to an apparent, and hopefully minor, injury was Diz Pe. However, before he made way for Vazquez in the 77th minute, Diz topped the 10,000 minute mark in regular season USL Championship games. Joining him in that category was Lindley, who also broke the 10k minute mark, as he went the full ninety minutes. The two are now separated by just 20 minutes in league history.

Diz has time to recuperate before the next game, which won't be until Friday the 15th at New Mexico, but not having guys available for selection is rearing its head again. Boudadi received a 27th minute yellow card, putting him out for the NM game. Callum-Page picked up a hip injury before the Miami game that might leave him out for a few weeks according to team sources. Martinez picked up a knock that kept him out. King is out indefinitely. If Diz is unable to go in two weeks, the backline is once again going to be light. Though getting Vazquez back helps, but he's only played 14 minutes since returning and probably still isn't fully match fit. 

Photo Credit: Matt Schlotzhauer
Hopefully, Diz and the guys can stay healthy for this stretch run because they are playing some of their best soccer of the season, and within the league. Right now, they have the longest undefeated streak in the Eastern Conference (at 6 games) with Tampa Bay's 4-game win streak being the best behind them. Only San Antonio's 7-game undefeated streak, and Orange County's 8-game win streak are better than the run-of-form that Indy is currently experiencing. With the win against Miami, Indy move, at least temporarily, up to 5th place in the standings. As Indy rests the for the next 13 days, the table will change since the teams around Indy have games in hand on them. Indy's recent success means that only Memphis can bypass them in the standings as those teams catch up to be even in games. Indy currently have a 12-point cushion on the team sitting outside the playoff line with 6 games to go. What seemed like an improbable destination just a few weeks ago as the team hovered around or below the playoff line, now seems more likely. If Indy can get 10 points out of 18 in their remaining games, including a win against Tulsa, I think Indy make the playoffs. They would rather be higher up the standings when the dust settles, but as I've said before, making the playoffs is the first step. Ten points seems doable at this point.

More to the point of this game though...

Purely looking at the stats tells you that this was a close game. Same shots on target, 4. Basically 50/50 possession. The eye test tells basically the same thing. This was a close game, separated by a single goal that resulted from beautiful interplay between the Indy Eleven players. Guenzatti gets credit for the goal and Boudadi gets credit for the assist, but this goal started at half field with Jerome. 

Photo Credit: Matt Schlotzhauer
Jerome sent a routine pass to Boudadi on the wing. Boudadi went forward a little before sending a pass to Lindley who was coming towards him. Lindley one-touched it back and continued his run to the touch line, leaving his defender and Boudadi's defender with Boudadi. Boudadi passed the ball to Velasquez, who sent the ball through a channel to Lindley that was created when the defenders stayed with Boudadi. Boudadi began running towards goal with Velasquez's pass, leaving the defenders behind him. Lindley, once again, one touched it just out of the reach of Boudadi, but the ball went directly to Asante, who one-touched it to Boudadi who had continued his run towards the end-line. Boudadi one-touch crossed the ball towards the opposite side of the six yard box on a string, preventing Zendajas from being able to leave his line, and Guenzatti beat his man to the spot where the ball was going to be and stretched out to get just enough to the ball to redirect it into the goal.

The goal is everything fans expected to see from a team with this much talent. Crisp, one-touch passing. Quick, defined movements that forced defenders into bad positions. Effort. John Keats originated it, but Junior in White Men Can't Jump is how I hear it said, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." That goal was a thing of beauty. That goal may also be what gets Indy into the playoffs by solidifying their tiebreaker status over Miami. 

Indy now have 13 days to get guys back healthy and prepared for a trip to the Land of Enchantment (and my birthplace). Indy only play two more games against Eastern Conference foes in their remaining six games, both against teams below them near the playoff cut line. So Indy are going to need to get points against teams from the Western Conference, something that's been hit-and-mostly miss during the first part of this season with a 2W-2D-4L record against those teams. Indy is in a different place, mentality and physically, than they were in the majority of those games, so I'm feeling more confident they can get points. 

The Game Beckons Game Ball
The official stats say that Indy lost the Aerial Duel battle by a wide 85 to 15% margin. With Diz Pe on the field, I don't know how that is even possible. His stats indicate that he had 0 aerial duels won and 0 aerial duels lost. I'm not going to watch the entire game to prove either of those stats wrong, but I'm going to not accept that manufactured reality. I watched the game, and I've watched enough of Diz Pe this season to know that those stats are wrong. Diz took a hit from Trilk in the 28th minute and Trilk doesn't do anything half-assed, so I know Diz felt the brunt of that collision. It was also Diz's leg that seemed to be his issue when he left the game, which means he was probably fighting through a couple things before he exited the game. His effort remained throughout, and his effort was enough for me to give him the nudge for the GBGB.