Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Indy Eleven vs Memphis 901 FC - 07.01


Summary

- Opponent: Memphis 901 FC
- Location: Memphis AutoZone Park
- Attendance: 8,571
- Final Score: 4-2 W
- Starting XI: Newton, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Conner, Gibson, Ayoze, Haworth, Carleton, Pasher, Contreras
- Substitutions: Moon 63' (Contreras), Ilic 70' (Carleton); Watson 86' (Pasher)
- Unused: Farr, Antley, Osmond, Lindley
- Scoring Summary:
  • MEM – Allen (unassisted) 9’
  • MEM – Carroll (Burch) 16’
  • IND – Ayoze (Haworth) 45+3’
  • IND – Pasher (Moon) 69’
  • IND – Pasher (Moon) 72’
  • IND – Haworth (Pasher) 83’
- Bookings:
  • IND – Contreras (Yellow) 11’
  • MEM – Burch (Yellow) 12’
  • IND – Carleton (Yellow) 13’
  • MEM – Muckette (Yellow) 17’
  • IND – Ayoze (Yellow) 88'
- Referee: Matthew Thompson
- Adage goals: None

Thoughts and Opinions

I didn't watch the game in real-time, but was still receiving Twitter updates and texts from family and friends about the team's play. From what I received, being down two goals in under 20 minutes, I expected the team to be playing terribly once I managed to watch the game. To my surprise, it wasn't as bad as I expected. Yes, being down by two goals within the first 20 minutes is not ideal, but it wasn't like they hadn't seen a very similar situation during preseason when they went down by two goals within the first 25 minutes to Bridges FC. Who would have guessed that the first game of the preseason against an amateur side would be able to be used as a learning experience in the first game of the regular season? What the team didn't learn from the game against Bridges FC is that easing into the game can sometimes put your back against the wall for the next 70 minutes. I hope that Memphis 901 FC brought that lesson home a little more than Bridges FC.

Indy's slow start, in combination to Memphis' early high press, put Indy behind, but both of Memphis' goals could have been prevented. The first one was a long pass from the wing to Allen, who was defended by Hackshaw and Ayoze and with Newton in reasonably good position. Nobody closed out Allen, who took a couple touches and put a ball in such a perfect position that Newton didn't even bother making much effort to reach it. So slow defending and down a goal.

The second one, off a Memphis corner kick, again, didn't have much to do with Memphis' press. It did have much to do with poor defending. Carroll had so much time on the far post as the ball came to him that he could have knitted himself a sweater. It probably could have been prevented too. Defenders on the post or no defenders on the post? That's the question. Indy started with Ayoze and Haworth on the posts. Ayoze stayed in his position on the back post, but Haworth drifted away from his position.


If Carroll had managed to push his header a little wide of goal, even further out of Newton's outstretched hands, Memphis had a guy making that run with no Indy defender in position and being held onside by Ayoze on the line. Goalkeepers and teams vary on whether they want players on a post or both, but Indy might rethink their positioning moving forward.


That's not a great way to start a game...

Luckily for Indy fans, Haworth made amends in stoppage time of the first half when he decided to forego a cross into the box and instead placed a pass across the top of the 18 yard line. An on-rushing Ayoze managed to adjust to the bouncing ball affected by the turf of the baseball diamond (have I mentioned I dislike soccer played in baseball stadiums...) and placed a low scorcher to the right side of the goal out of Howard's reach. Who would have known that Ayoze's goal wouldn't be the only goal against the former men's national team goalkeeper?

With momentum going into the locker room and only a one-goal deficit, Indy prevented Memphis from coming out after the halftime break and parking the bus. Memphis had to  maintain their game plan and Indy adjusted to their high press and seemed to wear down Memphis as the game progressed. Indy has played a defense first, counter offense under Coach Rennie and Indy's second goal by Pasher in the 69th minute was the epitome of that play. Moon stole the ball near the sideline about 10 yards from the endline, took a couple of touches before sending a leading pass to Pasher, whose first touch was at the halfway line in stride and at full speed. Two touches towards the center of the field, a third back to his left to spin the defender, a fourth to get inside the box, and a shot between another defender and Howard to the right side of the goal and Indy had tied the game at two apiece.

A couple minutes later, a Memphis defender misplays a ball, Moon collects, takes two touches, looks up to see Pasher breaking for the goal and slots a ball behind another Memphis defender but far enough out that Howard can't go to it and Pasher completes the comeback. Haworth's goal in the 83rd minute was just the icing on the cake for Indy fans.

Going down by two goals early could have lead to back-to-back years of Indy starting the season with a road loss, but they found a way to not only claw their way back to getting all three points. It's a long season and an emphatic come-from-behind win on the road is a good way to build some confidence in both the ability to make adjustments defensively and in the ability to put some goals on the board.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

This game's Game Beckons Game Ball isn't going to the player you might suspect. Yes, Tyler Pasher scored twice, including the game tying and game winning goals, and had an assist. Yes, he made the Team of the Week and is in the running for Goal of the Week. He's going to get some love this year.

I'm going to give the GBGB to two players not named Pasher. First off, Evan Newton was credited with 3 saves on 5 shots on goal. Two of those were in the first half and helped stem the tide and keep Indy in the game. Both were from close range and were great reaction saves. The third was as time was winding down and likely wouldn't have affected the final result, but in the 95th minute, Newton was at full stretch to parry away a ball that looked destined for the upper 90. All three saves were big.

Getting the other GBGB was Nick Moon. Last year, Moon was playing for Lansing Ignite in League One. In just his first game with Indy Eleven, he was credited with two assists (though, admittedly, the one on Pasher's 50-yard sprint to the goal could be considered a bit generous as an assist), and  nearly had his own goal by being a split second too late on Pasher's cross that became Haworth's goal. However, I feel like the energy that he brought into the game when he entered in the 63rd minute was exactly what the team needed. Within 10 minutes of him entering, the team scored two goals, both of which he was key in providing. In 27 minutes of action, he had 9 touches. That's efficient. So for the spark, the assists, and in his first game with Indy Eleven, I'm going to reward his effort. Great job Nick!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Will Eleven Park still be downtown?

In just over a week, the USL Championship season will begin, with the Indy Eleven kicking off the season March 7th in Memphis. At which point, my focus on this site will return to talking about on-field items and less about off-field items. Before that happens though, I have one more post about Eleven Park that I want to discuss. Stay patient through the text heavy first half of this post, the graphics will make their appearance in the second half.

Photo: Indy Eleven
For as long as I have been discussing the Indy Eleven stadium on this site, I have always maintained that I fully believe the stadium will be in downtown Indianapolis. Whatever advice Ersal Ozdemir is no longer heading from Peter Wilt, I have always felt that Peter ingrained in Ersal that part of the problem with the Chicago Fire ended up being its location in Bridgeview without any public transportation to the facility. Suburbs are great, but it seemed to hurt attendance at the games when they weren't being successful on the field. So despite other locations periodically being presented as possibilities, the Lafayette Square Mall location and the former Broad Ripple High School location for example, have always felt to me that those were posturing to be able to say, "we're looking at all locations." Recently though, Indy Eleven President and CEO Greg Stremlaw has taken to stating that "while we have narrowed the sites for Eleven Park...to three locations inside Marion County, we will not be commenting on any specific sites as this process continues."

"Within Marion County..." He does not say "within downtown Indianapolis." Probably intentionally vague, but factual. When Senate Enrolled Act 7 went into effect, some potential sites in the donut counties around Indianapolis went off the board because the language in the law required the stadium to be located within Marion County. However, Marion County consists of 403 square miles of land (or 257,919 acres) available for a stadium development that probably, ideally, could be done with around 20 to 30 acres.

Last August, I sat down and placed the Eleven Park rendering on some of the more higher profile sites that have been discussed to determine if the team's latest stadium rendering would even fit on the sites, with and without the ancillary development pieces. Some work, some do not. Earlier this month, I updated that post with the announcement in the IBJ that the Diamond Chain plant was going to be shuddered, leaving the property to be available for future development. The favorites continue to be the old GM Stamping Plant, the old Valspar lot, and the Lafayette Square Mall site, with the Diamond Chain site gaining some momentum after the article.
  • The Stamping Plant site is now potentially going into legal action between the City of Indianapolis and the current owner, Ambrose. This could be a long, drawn out process that I think the team will want to avoid. 
  • The Valspar lot is now owned by the Indiana Finance Authority and recent IBJ articles have indicated that the Indy Eleven have not been in contact with them regarding the site. What has never been conveyed, and I'm sure that I would never be able to get anybody to indicate on record, is whether the Keystone Group has ever been in contact with the Indiana Finance Authority. The Keystone Group being Ersal Ozdemir's other company and would allow him to discuss the site with the IFA and be able to have all parties say that the Indy Eleven have not been in contact. With the Eleven Park now incorporating a development, only a part of which will include the stadium, this seems like something that could have occurred. However, if we take it at face value that the team and the IFA haven't discussed the site, this would seem like it isn't a possible location for the stadium as those conversations should have happened by now.
  • The Lafayette Square Mall site is massive and in need of a lift; a "transformational neighborhood development," if you will. I'm becoming less and less convinced that this isn't one of the front-runners, but that's mostly because of the downtown sites' issues.
  • I'll briefly mention the Diamond Chain site here because I don't think it's in the running. For one, it's a recent addition and Greg Stremlaw has repeatedly said that they "have narrowed the sites for Eleven Park...to three locations inside Marion County" long before this site seems to have become available. Additionally, the IBJ article about the Diamond Chain site indicated that the company was going to take roughly 2 years to complete the closing process. Indy Eleven aren't going to wait that long for that site. 

So I'm starting to reconsider my stance on the Lafayette Square Mall site because I felt it was too far away from downtown Indianapolis, but I'm still not entirely convinced it's one of the favored locations. However, if I'm willing to expand my thinking beyond the downtown area, I recently stumbled upon some property that might make more sense and still check all the boxes. So what does the site need and what are some of the goals that have been mentioned through the years?
  • A "transformational neighborhood development"
  • Within Marion County
  • Access to public transportation
  • Significant amount of acreage to allow for stadium, development, parking, hotel, etc.

What if that property was near the Indianapolis International Airport?

"By the airport?," you say. We've been down this road before.

True. There were quite a few odd things about that proposal and the developer in charge of it. As a reminder though, here were the highlights of that proposal:
  • $500M sports medicine complex
  • 5 medical office building
  • Two 250-room hotels
  • 20,000 seat stadium
  • Located between High School Road and I-465, north of Sam Jones Expressway

Now let me remind you of a few highlights about Eleven Park:
  • $550M development
  • 150,000 square feet of office space
  • 100,000 square feet of retail space
  • 600 apartment units
  • 200 room boutique hotel
  • 20,000 seat stadium

Eerily similar (or not), don't you think? Well that original property by the airport has already been purchased and is currently under construction for two large office buildings. What if, though, there were some other land available around the airport (and obviously within Marion County), in a neighborhood that could use some "transformational development," and also has public transportation around it? Oh, you mean like all of this land north of the Airport, wedged between the railroad, Washington Street, and High School Road?

Owned by the Indianapolis Airport Authority...
MapIndy
Yes, that is a lot of acreage owned by the Indianapolis Airport Authority. Land that I was told the IAA was forced to buy for noise separation between the airport and homes. Land that I can't imagine they want to hold onto for very long. Land that somebody might be able to purchase for significantly cheaper than land in downtown Indianapolis.

So while the last airport development proposal seemed to be an unrealistic venture, this may not be as far-fetched as I originally suspected. All that things that the previous developer's plan was missing at that time, Ersal Ozdemir now has thanks to Senate Enrolled Act 7.

With so much land available, I just found a location within it to place the stadium with dozens of acres still available for hotels, office space, retail space, parking, etc.
Screen Capture: Google Earth
In addition to being right next to the airport for visiting teams, the properties have easy access to I-465, I-70, I-65, and they sit along the proposed IndyGo Bus Rapid Transit Blue Line
Photo: IndyGo
"Nobody wants to go watch a game in that part of town, particularly the people from the North side of Indy."

Maybe, but what if I told you that from Grand Park (chosen since it's Indy's current training facility and a convenient stand-in for those northside residents) to Lucas Oil Stadium was estimated on Google Maps as a 34 minute drive?
Screen capture: Google Maps

What if I then told you that from Grand Park to the Indianapolis Airport area was estimated on Google Maps as a 34 minute drive?
Screen capture: Google Maps

Or that from the Fort Harrison area to the Indianapolis Airport development was estimated on Google Maps as a 30 minute drive?
Screen capture: Google Maps


I'm not saying that this is one of those three locations that Greg Stremlaw has referenced within Marion County, but going through this exercise for myself with the property, I'm not convinced it isn't either. For all of the advantages that the IBJ staff have over me in getting staff from the Indy Eleven to talk, when it comes to the stadium, the answers they receive are the same ones I receive. So it's really anybody's guess on where the team is looking to place the Eleven Park development. At this point, near the Indianapolis Airport seems just as logical as anywhere else I've evaluated over the years. 

The team announced last year that they wanted to be able to announce a location by the end of last year. With a clock ticking towards having "a tax area...initially established not later than July 1, 2022," this year should provide some kind of direction on where the development will be located. 

I think the area around the airport might be moving up in my list of top locations. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Two Sides of the USL

US soccer is a weird place. There's Major League Soccer (MLS), USL and its varying levels (USL Championship, USL League One, USL League Two, and the USL Academy), National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), National Premier Soccer League (NPSL)... In fact, go check out this 2018 article from the guys over at Soc Takes giving a very good breakdown of the leagues in the United States. That doesn't even get into the numerous amateur and semi-pro leagues and indoor leagues around the country. So there's a lot of soccer in this country.

Which isn't the weird part.

Monday, Jeff Rueter tweeted that Atlanta United "is working on a deal to send Andrew Carleton on loan to [Indy Eleven] of the USL Championship...[that] would run for the full 2020 season."

Which still isn't the weird part. Alex Crognale started the 2019 USL Championship season with Indy Eleven on loan from Columbus Crew before injuries forced the Crew to recall Crognale for the rest of the season after 8 games with Indy. USL Championship's current preseason "Transfer Tracker" is littered with guys moving from MLS teams to USL Championship teams (Alex Crognale now going to play for Birmingham Legion) and USL League One teams to USL Championship teams (Indy have signed Nick Moon from Lansing Ignite and Conner Antley from Tormenta FC and notably potential announcement of Brian Sylvestre from Forward Madison FC to Miami FC) and USL Championship teams down to USL League One teams (former Indy Eleven forward Wojciech Wojcik from Hartford Athletic to Forward Madison FC) and that's just the tip of the iceberg as examples that Indy fans know about.

Here's a weird part.

Andrew Carleton was signed to a Homegrown Contract by Atlanta United just a few days before he turned 16 years old. Atlanta United has a 2nd division team in the Atlanta United 2. The Atlanta United 2 play in the USL Championship as Eastern Conference opponents of the Indy Eleven. So Atlanta United (who has the contract with Carleton) is potentially loaning their first ever Homegrown Contract player to a direct opponent, and potential conference front-runner, in Indy Eleven.

While you think about that, here's the weirdest part for me.

The two proceeding days before the rumors started swirling around that Andrew Carleton may be playing in Indianapolis, the Indy Eleven held open tryouts. That's right, Indy rented a facility and had players of varying levels and experience pay $175 to demonstrate their abilities in front of the Indy Eleven coaching staff and Indy aren't the only USL team to go this route to locate players. Last December, Louisville City FC, the team that has been in the past 3 USL league championship games and won two of them, held their own open tryout.

The USL Championship teams are in an odd position where they have the ability to sign well-known players, competing on their nation's national teams, yet they also feel like they can (or have to) hold open tryouts to help turn over every rock for players. While Indy's open tryout last year produced a player in Alioune Diakhate and he managed to play significant early season minutes and even score a goal, his signing is an anomaly and not typical.

Yet despite the unlikely probability of finding a "diamond in the rough" through this process, Indy Eleven, Louisville City FC, and other teams like them in the country's second-tier level of the "pyramid" continue to utilize the open tryout format to try and fill out their roster with low cost players. That's part of why I usually see open tryouts as a money grab by the teams. A way to make $15 - $20,000 in registration fees (at least in Indy's case this year for that dollar amount).

This year's Indy Eleven open tryout, again held the two days proceeding the Andrew Carleton rumor release, had more than 100 players (update: per club sources, the official numbers were 136 players, up from 110 last year) looking to make an impression on not just the Indy Eleven staff, but also the staffs of Fort Wayne FC from NPSL, Detroit City FC from NISA, and South Bend Lions FC and Mississippi Brilla FC from USL League Two. Indy's open tryout gave players with far less known names than Andrew Carleton the opportunity to showcase their abilities to 5 different teams.
Update: Mr. Kremers indicated that "The average age of the tryout was around 22-24. A lot of these players have, at most, semi-professional experience in the way of NPSL/USL League Two/UPSL/Etc. The rest were from the collegiate playing ranks while a small few had foreign professional playing experience." They had players "coming in from both coasts, California, Florida, North Carolina.  Some did come from other countries, but not just for the tryout."

There may be a bit of a money grab by Indy Eleven, but this type of arrangement with regional teams (more on that in a minute) gave players multiple chances to impress a coaching staff and not just a single coaching staff. Where the Indy Eleven may be looking for very specific types of players to fill out their roster depth and may pass on a player as a result, there were four other teams who may have that exact type of player in mind. Indy Eleven's Director of Youth Development/Club Liaison, Josh Kremers, stated that "as far as I can tell, all of the players left satisfied that they were given their fair shake," with Senior Director of Communications & Marketing, John Koluder, adding "from all accounts it was a success from a numbers and quality standpoint."

At the time of this article, the team was hesitant to say whether any of the players would be joining the Indy Eleven staff either as full-time additions to the roster or as preseason trialists. However, Mr. Kremers stated that "I have already been notified that players have been offered positions on a couple of teams, as well as a great deal of interest in many other players." Mr. Koluder further stated that "there was no 'first dibs' arrangement regarding tryout participants. All were free to be approached by coaches as they saw fit." While there was no sharing of the registration fees between the five teams "as every aspect of the tryouts was prepared and performed by our [Indy Eleven] staff," players basically had an open tryout with five different teams, it just took place on two days in one location.

For fledgling clubs like Fort Wayne FC and South Bend Lions FC and a club like Detroit City FC who is moving from an amateur squad to a professional one, the ability to participate in an event organized by Indy Eleven is an invaluable opportunity to evaluate more players than may have attended their own open tryouts (DCFC have their own open tryout January 25th and Fort Wayne FC have one on March 2nd). You may have forgotten, or never knew, that Mississippi Brilla FC (Indy Eleven's U.S. Open Cup opponent in 2018) is coached by Luke Sanford, who is also the head coach for the Indiana Wesleyan University men's soccer team, where Josh Kremers has been an assistant for 4 years. Indy Eleven's tagline of "The World's Game, Indiana's Team" may have been reduced a bit with the addition of these other teams, but Indy is still showing a desire to help grow the game within the state with all of these regional connections (don't forget that DCFC is coached by former Indy Eleven assistant Trevor James).

So, yeah. U.S. soccer is weird.

Where else can you have a second-tier team organize an open tryout for players and invite four other teams that have regional or direct connections to the team, while also finding themselves in rumor discussions for a player that has been in the national team system and was signed by the first-tier affiliate of their second-tier conference opponent?

The two sides of being in the USL.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Indy Eleven 2019 Recap & 2020 Off-Season Outlook

In the past, my recap and outlook posts have come before the team have made any announcements about the next season, but the Eleven are a bit ahead of schedule this year. Therefore, I'm behind and will have to adjust some of my comments accordingly.

The 2019 season took 2018 another step further. As the team is quick to point out, "the Boys in Blue concluded the 2019 USL Championship season with the most regular season wins (19), most points (63), most regular season away wins (6) and most goals scored (50) in franchise history. [editor's note - from the USL stats, the team scored 48 regular season + 3 playoff for 51 league goals. By my stats, the 2016 team scored 51 + 1 league goals for 52.] ... the club’s longest home undefeated streak at 27 matches across all competitions, including Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and postseason play. The ... side has not lost in regular season play in its last 25 matches, a streak dating back to July 2018 and among one of the best records in league history." With more time to build a roster than he had in 2018, Rennie returned just a handful of guys from 2018 and signed 22 new players throughout 2019. Guys that fit into the tactics he wanted to employ and that he thought would buy into the culture he wanted to create. With a top 4 finish in the Eastern Conference, the ability to host a home playoff game, and two playoff wins, Indy improved upon last year's 7th place regular season finish and its early departure from the playoffs.

With the exception of, once again, losing to Louisville City FC in the playoffs, the 2019 season can be considered a success. They may not have achieved every team's goal of winning the regular season and the playoffs, but they took important steps forward.

However, there were still some things that the team will want to improve upon moving forward in the 2020 season. Most notably, Indy's away form was less than ideal. While Indy finished the regular season undefeated at home (13W - 4D - 0L), obtaining positive results on the road was more difficult (6W - 2D - 9L). Digging deeper into those results indicates that against the top 6 finishing teams in the Eastern Conference, Indy's away form was even worse, not able to get a single win on the road (0W - 2D - 3L) against those teams (Pittsburgh, Nashville, Louisville, Tampa Bay, and New York Red Bulls II).

That will be an important piece for the team to improve next season. Indy's four-game road losing streak at the end of the season likely prevented them from having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While Indy managed to get a win in their away playoff game in Nashville, having to not travel at all would have been preferable.

So there was progress, but still some things to do in the off-season.

Looking to 2020


Stadium

For the first time in the team's history, there was actual tangible progress made on the stadium side of things. 2019 was the longer legislative budgetary session that happens every two years and Indy was able to tie their hopes in with another sports related bill that was going through with the Capital Improvement Board and the Pacers. This proved to be an effective strategy and Senate Enrolled Act 7 gives the team the ability to finally move forward with a stadium development with some financial assistance from the State. I provided a detailed analysis of my thoughts about this in April and then provided some additional thoughts on locations in August so I'm not going to rehash all of that here. I'll summarize just a few key points:

  • The ownership group finally agreed to provide a more significant amount of the cost of the stadium in their proposal, which was a piece that I've said since the beginning was going to be necessary for this to become a reality.
  • Incorporating the stadium into a larger development (also something I recommended for some time) also helped during this go around.
  • There is a key component in Senate Enrolled Act 7 that allows the stadium and the development to be "discontiguous," but within a 1 mile radius of each other. I have a feeling that this might come up later and could be another sticking point with the State, City, and the CIB if the team does attempt to have the stadium and the development in different locations. 
There was a recent report that the City had been in discussions with the team about being in the GM Stamping Plant location after the most recent developer, Ambrose, has decided to back out of building there. Many foresee a lawsuit and I doubt the ownership group will want to get involved in it and potentially wait until it is all resolved. The team had previously indicated that they would like to make an announcement on a location by the end of the year. I have reached out to the team for an update, but have not yet received any information. I do know that the team intends to use Lucas Oil Stadium "for the foreseeable future," which is at least 2 years, maybe 3.

I see this as a major issue with the team moving forward due to the likely possibility that the playoff issues that the team saw this year will occur year-after-year until they have their own facility. Lucas Oil Stadium has another primary tenant who supersedes any desire from the Indy Eleven, as well as being booked by other yearly events like the Indiana State School Music Association marching band finals and the Bands of America events. This means that any home field advantage that Indy develops during the regular season goes out of the window when they have to move to Carroll Stadium for playoff games. If I were the team, I would try to schedule a few more training sessions during the year at Carroll, just to get a better feel for the place instead of waiting a week before the first playoff game. I have also reached out to the team about their thoughts on the use of The Mike for the playoffs and am still waiting on a response from those questions as well.

Coach


Much like last year's announcement about Coach Rennie returning being met with a "ho-hum" response from most fans, unless he decided to move to another team, there was little doubt that he would be coming back. Indy have cycled through coaches every couple years in its history, but back-to-back playoff qualifying teams makes it difficult to rationalize firing a coach unless he's completely lost the locker room. I've heard of some questioning of the coach, but nothing close to a locker room mutiny.

So while the announcement is an important one from a continuity standpoint and will make Coach Rennie the longest tenured coach in the club's history, it was not unexpected. I am curious to see if there are any changes in the assistant coaching staff as we move forward. I'm interested to see if Juan Guerra stays on for another season or if he moves on.

I would like to see Coach Rennie take a step back from the Technical Director role that he is also filling and see the team hire a dedicated person for that role. Though I don't expect to see that happen.

Players

As I stated in my introduction, the team has already been busy announcing players with additional players expected to be announced this week and next. So we already know 11 guys that are returning or joining the team.

Announced as returning:

  1. Barrett, Gibson, Hackshaw, Ilic, Newton, Ouimette, Walker - As I indicated on Twitter after the announcement, with the exception of Ouimette, the other six guys were the first six signed for the 2019 roster. This seems more like a "these are the guys who signed 2-year contracts that will return next year" type of announcement to me. Ouimette joined the team at the same time as Rennie and was a stable on the right side of Rennie's three-back lineup. I can see Rennie wanting all of these guys back from a consistency standpoint as they accounted for 46% of the team's regular season minutes.
  2. Watson, Farr, Ayoze - These were the next three to be announced and only the re-signing of Farr slightly surprises me. Watson has been with Rennie in a number of locations. He and Ayoze's ages make them less likely to want to make drastic changes to other locations as long as they are reasonably happy, healthy, and playing well. Both are playing well and seem to be healthy. With the announcement of these three players, the percentage of the 2019 minutes jumps to 59%. If you're looking for consistency, there's only one glaring piece missing from the announcements and everybody is waiting on pins and needles for that one. My only question with Farr was whether he was willing to sit behind Newton again for another season. I still fully expect Rennie to consider Newton the #1 goalkeeper going into next season, meaning Farr's abilities will be sitting on the sideline as the team's most enthusiastic cheerleader. Moving forward with Newton and Farr on the roster, I (and others) would like to see Coach Rennie rotate them more throughout the season. There was no reason for Newton to be playing in the first Open Cup game (a game where Newton picked up a red card) nor try to play every game in some of those multiple games in a week stretches when Farr was available. With Newton's injuries the past two seasons, giving him some additional rest days would be helpful. Though that is something that Rennie could/should do with more of the players, but I don't see that in his mode of operation. 

Announced as joining:

  1. Conner Antley - This season's Defender of the Year in the USL League One was announced at the end of the week. Indy paid a transfer fee to get him on the roster as he was under contract with Tormenta FC for this next year. This is a big deal for the team and the league and shows that the team may have concerns about its depth in the back. I recall a time this year where Hackshaw had just returned from international duty and wasn't planning on being played. However, Osmond picked up a early first half yellow and a number of referee discussions and Coach Rennie felt that they had to get him out of the game and not risk picking up a second yellow and playing a man down. He had to play Hackshaw because he didn't think he had any other good options (I would have shifted Ayoze back and adjusted from there, but that's for another time...).

Others I expect to return:

  1. King - Coach Rennie often spoke highly of King and thinks he is poised for a breakout season. 
  2. Farias - He'll be competing for time with King, but the team could use the two of them the way they did this year when they were both healthy. Assuming Pasher returns (see below), Indy needs a more consistent attacking presence on the right side of the field to counteract the Ayoze/Pasher left side and both Farias and King showed glimpses this year.
  3. Conner - Conner was a spectacular mid-season find and he seemed to fit in nicely with Rennie's system. He's a little more box-to-box, which is something that the team needs; a defender who also likes to push forward.
  4. Novoa - His pace was a good compliment to Pasher's, but his size is going to prevent him from being any kind of target forward for this team. Despite that, I think Rennie keeps him around.
  5. Osmond - The fourth "starter" in the three back system, Rennie isn't going to want to sign Antley for depth just to get rid of his current depth.

Unknown:
I'm not sure the last time I had so many guys on the unknown list, but it's because I think it's anybody's guess on whether they stay or leave for a number of reasons.

  1. Pasher - Pasher's stock rose exponentially this year and I'm sure he was on the 2nd year of a 2 year contract so he and his agent would be foolish to not shop him around. Even if it was just to be able to negotiate more money here. Rennie needs him back. Fans want him back. Still might not be enough to keep him around.
  2. Starikov - Similar to Pasher, I think he was probably on the 2nd year of a 2 year contract and is now a free agent. His injury and its duration hampered him through most of the year, but even after his return, he struggled to get minutes. I often thought he looked frustrated at not getting time and am curious if that causes him to look for another team.
  3. Kelly - I can go either way with Kelly. There were glimpses all season of his goal scoring abilities. There were example after example of his inability to score this year. He might not be the right forward in Rennie's system. Enevoldsen struggled in Indy, but scored 10 goals in 15 games in Sacramento. Being in the right system and being happy can make all the difference in the world. Whether the team and Kelly all want to try for another season is yet to be seen.
  4. Diakhate - He was a feel-good story at the beginning of the season. He was an after-thought towards the end. He is likely inexpensive depth though.
  5. Nieto - Remain on an Academy contract? Maybe.
  6. Brown - Remain on an Academy contract? Maybe. 
  7. Rodrigues - To say he struggled would be an understatement. Despite his size, he was frequently bullied out of position and was not the target forward many fans expected he would provide. My guess is that he doesn't return, but could depend on what happens with Pasher/Kelly and a desire for depth.
  8. Perea - My gut says he is gone too, but I think it may depend on the size of the contract. 

More player news will be coming this week. Whether those include signings or announcements of departures or both is yet to be seen.

Final Thoughts:

I've decided to not dive into some other topics I would like to discuss as it relates to players and coaches. It's a long off-season so maybe they will get discussed later. For now, 2020 is looking like Indy is going to be a strong team again, vying for a playoff position and conference title. Whether they can take that next step (or two to a league final) is yet to be seen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Louisville City FC - 06.37 - USL Playoffs (Conference Final)

- Opponent: Louisville City FC
- Location: Indianapolis
- Attendance: 7,171
- Final Score: 1-3 L
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Watson 68' (Conner), Novoa 83' (Kelly); Starikov 98' (Walker); Ilic 98' (King)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea
- Goals: Pasher 67' (assist Kelly)
- Bookings: Barrett 45'+1' (Yellow); Ouimette 90'+2' (Yellow); Hackshaw 102' (Yellow); Watson 119' (Yellow)
- Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
- Adage goals: Two

I said it in my review of the semi-final game against Nashville. If you want to be the King, you have to beat the King. Until somebody proves otherwise, Louisville City is the King of the Eastern Conference. Five straight Eastern Conference finals and now three straight league finals. They are now in a stretch of not having lost a playoff game in 3 years. Yet...

Indy was close to taking down the King. The bubble popped 3 minutes and 4 seconds into a questionably allotted 4-minute stoppage time when LCFC's Hoppenot took a first-time rip at the ball off of a corner kick that took some nice turf bounces over the head of a falling Barrett and under the right arm of Farr who had been going to his left. It's the kind of cruel goal that changes momentum.

It's the kind of goal that keeps the King on his throne and the rest of the conference wondering what it's going to take to remove him from it.

With momentum fully shifted to LCFC after an early goal in extra time by Rasumussen, Indy was forced to throw attackers into the game as Starikov and Ilic were brought into the game in place of Kelly and King. When Spencer scored an insurance goal from the spot in the 113th minute, all that was really left was for the clock to wind down. The King doesn't give up a two-goal lead that late in the game, even playing on the road.

The moderate upside for Indy is that for long stretches of the game, they looked like the better team. Possession may be 9/10th of the law, but neither team seemed to be able to have it for any extended duration. Louisville was shown to have the final possession edge at a nearly 60/40 ratio, but Indy seemed to do more with their possession than did LCFC. They had more shots and shots on target. Jordan Farr wasn't credited with a single save for the game as LCFC had 3 shots on target and had 3 goals.

Indy had chances that they missed, including one from Watson in the 89th minute that just crept over the bar and landed in the top netting. Twelve inches lower and Indy would have been celebrating at the end of the game instead of LCFC.

My only objections to Indy's game was, possibly, the substitutions and when those occurred and for whom. Yet even those fell in line with the way that Coach Rennie has been utilizing substitutes at the end of the season. However, within a minute of Pasher scoring the opening goal of the game in the 67th minute, Coach Rennie pulled Conner for Watson, which had the feeling of an offense for defense substitution. It seemed a bit premature to me to begin the Rennie Bunker (TM) at that point in the game. Twenty-two minutes is a long time to defend against a team like LCFC in a win-or-go-home scenario, even for this team.

I also question the Novoa for Kelly sub in the 83rd minute. Though, again, the time and substitution was in line with recent patterns. I just felt that the things that Kelly was doing well for the team at the time could not be achieved by Novoa and it also pushed Pasher further back into the Bunker. Novoa does not have Kelly's size to be able to stay up top and bring a ball down with defenders on his back. He can run around like a madman trying to disrupt LCFC's defenders, but I didn't think that was what would have helped ride out the remaining minutes of the game.

When it comes to playoff soccer, it's not always the better team that wins. Sometimes, it's not even the better team on the day that wins. It's the team that makes good on their chances and for this game, that was Louisville City.

It does disappoint me that the Eleven spent all season creating a home field advantage in Lucas Oil Stadium only to see that advantage go out the roof because the stadium had already been reserved for other users. Notably one that I believe wasn't even using the facility for the NYRBII game, but has a clause that limits users to a certain duration ahead of their use. Carroll creates a great atmosphere particularly with so many traveling fans, but the weather and the turf affected the game and took away some of that home field advantage. Whether anybody in the team will publicly admit it, playing at Carroll Stadium was not an advantage. There's my little plug for an increased desire for Eleven Park because Indy could find themselves in this exact same situation every year until they have their own stadium.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

Ouimette gets the Game Beckons Game Ball in the loss. It's like losing twice for him...

Photos:
















Sunday, November 3, 2019

Indy Eleven vs Nashville SC - 06.36 - USL Playoffs (Conference Semifinals)

- Opponent: Nashville SC
- Location: Nashville
- Attendance: 4,145
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Novoa 70' (Kelly), Watson 86' (Pasher)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea, Starikov, Ilic,
- Goals: Pasher 59' (assist Gibson)
- Bookings: Ayoze 22' (Yellow); Ouimette 24' (Yellow)
- Referee: Elton GarcĂ­a
- Adage goals: None

Through the first week of the USL Championship Playoffs, the Western Conference was a veritable roller coaster ride full of lower seeds upending the higher seeds, including 8th seed Austin Bold taking Phoenix Rising to penalty kicks just days after having to play in the Play-In Round. The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, proceeded mostly according to script with all 4 of the top seeds advancing past their conference quarterfinal matches.

Week 2 of the Playoffs began the same way as Week 1 with Real Monarchs finishing the job that Austin Bold was nearly able to do the week before and send Phoenix Rising, the odds-on favorite to win it all before the playoffs, exiting the tournament without even making it to the conference final. With the other Western Conference results, by the time the #3 Indianapolis - #2 Nashville and #1 Pittsburgh - #4 Louisville games started, everybody knew that the final was going to go through one of the Eastern Conference cities yet again.

 As Austin Bold can attest, keeping a clean sheet in the playoffs doesn't guarantee success when it can be undone by penalty kicks. However, playoffs are often the time when defensive efforts are rewarded and the Indianapolis vs Nashville game matched the top two defenses in the league. It was the kind of game where the expectation was that a single goal could be enough to be the winner.

In the early part of the game, all signs pointed to Indy being the winner who held the early advantage in shots, possession, and corners. Action evened out a bit just past the 20th minute when a kerfuffle arose after a hard Ayoze challenge and Nashville increased their intensity. Ayoze's challenge and the resulting pushing and shoving provided the game with 3 of its 5 total yellow cards, as Ayoze and Ouimette received cards, as well as Nashville's Washington. After that, both teams settled in and finished the half with 50/50 possession, but Indy had more shots on target than Nashville.

Jordan Farr, continuing his excellent play in replacement of Evan Newton, was forced to make one of this 3 saves early in the second half. As the game progressed and the defensive strengths continued for both teams, a moment of brilliance looked like it might be the deciding factor. Then in the 59th minute, Tyler happened.

"'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'
My man John Keat's said that."
Tyler X 2 to be more exact.

Tyler Gibson, the team's iron man in starts and minutes this year, picked up the ball near midfield, picked his head up, and spotted Tyler Pasher about to make a Tyler Pasher run. Gibson put an absolutely perfect ball over the top that would land just inside the 18-yard box where Nashville's Pickens couldn't come out to get it, but where Pasher could run onto it. Pasher one-touched the ball with the outside of his left foot past a stranded Pickens and just inside the left goal post. It's the kind of shot that Indy fans have seen numerous times this year just dribble agonizingly on the wrong side of the post, but it squeaked in for Pasher's 5th game winner this season.

Indy continued to play within their game tactics, but the 70th minute substitution of Novoa for Kelly indicated that things were getting adjusted for the visitors. Novoa was left up top to chase down real estate clearances and Pasher (and then his 86th minute substitute Watson) dropped further and further back to help defend and solidify the Rennie Bunker (TM). By the time the game ended, Indy fans knew that the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket was already filled by Louisville City FC. It took until the conference semi-final games, but the lower seeds both prevailed, providing Indy and Louisville fans with a #LIPAC with some conference hardware on the line.

Indy return to #TheMike on Saturday November 9th with a 3:00 in the afternoon start time to continue this I-65 rivalry. LCFC are the back-to-back reigning champions and haven't lost a playoff match in 3 years. To be the King, you have to defeat the King. Until somebody does that to LCFC in the playoffs, they are still the team to beat in the east. Indy will look to use the good run of form and their home crowd to do just that; be the new King.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I'm not sure that I've given him enough credit this year for all that he does, but I can remedy that by giving Tyler Gibson this game's Game Beckons Game Ball. He:

  • Leads the team in minutes played (3,234; more than 500 minutes more than any other player)
  • Leads the team in Starts (36) and Games Played (36), which is the only field player in Indy's history to do so.
  • Leads the team in Passing Accuracy (87.8%), 
  • Leads the team in Long Pass Accuracy (63.1% - not counting Starikov who has only attempted 5), 
  • Is 2nd in Passes per 90 mins (59.1), 
  • Is tied for first in Passing Accuracy in the Opponent's Half (83.7%), 
  • 2nd in Passing Accuracy in Own Half (91.4%), 
  • Leads the team in Interceptions (42), and 
  • Is even 2nd in fouls won.
He's been the right guy to do what Coach Rennie needed him to do and he's doing it consistently and at a high level. Indy have utilized the ball over the top effectively all year, but Gibson's play versus Nashville highlights his ability and Tyler Pasher rewarded him for that ability.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Indy Eleven vs New York Red Bulls II - 06.35 - USL Playoffs (Conference Quarterfinals)

- Opponent: New York Red Bulls II
- Location: Indianapolis (Carroll Stadium)
- Attendance: 5,175
- Final Score: 1-0 W
- Starting XI: Farr, Hackshaw, Barrett (C), Ouimette, Gibson, Walker, Conner, Ayoze, King, Pasher, Kelly
- Substitutions: Watson 76' (Kelly), Novoa 85' (Pasher)
- Unused: Brown, Osmond, Perea, Starikov, Ilic,
- Goals: Ouimette 27' (assist King)
- Bookings: None (for either team...)
- Referee: Michael Radchuk
- Adage goals: None

With ten days rest and planning for this game, Indy faced New York Red Bulls II in their first game of the USL Championship playoffs and their first game at Carroll Stadium since the end of the 2017 season. For all of its charm, and there were many fans ecstatic to be headed back to Carroll Stadium for this game, The Mike can be torture on game plans and tactics when the weather becomes a factor.

The weather became a factor.

A constant rain throughout the day created a surface that was soaked and fast. As Brad Hauter indicated on the telecast, "make the mistakes in your opponent's half of the field."

To his point, Indy often played the ball over the top with long passes, with a season low effectiveness to show for it. Indy played long passes nearly 33% of the time, but passes routinely skipped away from receiving players. The Eleven managed just 48.8% passing accuracy, while RBII managed just slightly better at 58.2%. Indy's accuracy in RBII's half plummeted down to a paltry 36.1% success rate. Some of that was the weather, some of that was the result of the Rennie Bunker (TM) and blast at the end of the game, but Indy also made a clear choice in how they wanted to play on that surface and where they were willing to make mistakes.

One of those long passes came off a restart that RBII also blasted out of their area only to have Paddy Barrett recycle it back into the mix on a long diagonal ball towards King. King perfectly one-touched his centering pass, and Ouimette showed his skill level with a side volley that went opposite side netting past Louro. NYRBII pleaded for an offside call, but it appears that King timed his run well to get to Barrett's pass. I've watched Barrett practice these long diagonal balls before games so it is clearly something that is part of the plan and something that he has learned to do well. When his pass doesn't reach its intended target it is generally met with a frustrated reaction from Barrett.

Ouimette's 27th minute goal proved to be the game winner as Indy could never find another goal, managing just 5 shots (1 on target), while also limiting RBII to just 9 shots (also just 1 on target). In a night of high scoring playoff games in which the winning team scored 3 or more goals in 5 of the 8 games, Indy held on for a 1-nil win. Given that RBII were the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference and the 3rd highest in the league, it's all the more impressive that Indy kept them scoreless. RBII were shutout just 6 times all season. Two of those were against Indy. If the old saying that "defense wins championships" is true, Indy's ability to keep RBII off the board may serve as a springboard for the rest of the playoffs.

What can we take from this win against NYRBII? Confidence, but that may be about it. It was an ugly game under poor conditions on a field that was basically new to all 27 guys who took the field. It's doubtful that Indy will want to continue next week versus Nashville conceding so much possession or continue to spray balls long one-third of the time they touch it. Indy played Nashville to a nil-nil draw in May in Indy and then played to a 2-nil loss in July in Nashville.

The point of the playoffs is to survive and advance and Indy did that against RBII under adverse conditions and can now set their sights on Nashville SC. Indy will look to remedy their road form against a team who finished the regular season on a 6-game undefeated streak and a 4-game win streak. Including their recent home playoff game, Nashville played their final three regular season games at home and have scored 10 goals in that four game stretch. Again, if Indy wants to move forward in the playoffs, their stingy defense is likely going to be the main reason they advance against Nashville.

The Game Beckons Game Ball

I thought about this for awhile and could never really settle on a single player that I felt should get the game ball. Ouimette for his goal. Farr for a clean sheet in his first playoff start. Kelly and Pasher for continually chasing down long balls. Ayoze's and Conner's effort. Walker's and Gibson's help defense in front of the back 3. Hackshaw, Barrett, and Ouimette for helping facilitate that clean sheet for Farr. This game truly required a team effort against a top team in bad conditions. So, in what I believe is a first for me, I'm going to give this game's Game Beckons Game Ball to the entire team.