Sunday, March 26, 2017

San Francisco Deltas V Indy Eleven REVIEW (3/25/2017)

Tanner Thompson helped Indy Eleven avoid defeat on his debut

By: James Cormack

Not for the first time in their history, Indy Eleven were the guests at the inaugural match of an NASL expansion team. San Francisco Deltas came into this game with all the vim and vigor of a team bursting with excitement to get their season under way.

Indy Eleven had their own preparation problems to deal with going into the game and there was much deliberation amongst supporters and pundits alike about who would or should start in this match.

Injury issues with Colin Falvey and Lovel Palmer left Tim Hankinson no option but to play with an unfamiliar back four, specifically the center back pairing of Daniel Keller and Kwame Watson-Siriboe.

As mentioned in our last couple of blogs pertaining to roster development and pre-season play there were some concerns about how the more defensive looking midfield setup of Indy Eleven would translate into service and goal scoring opportunities for our attack.

Despite the advertised 4-4-2 formation for Indy Eleven it appeared we were set up and played more like a 4-5-1 (4-2-3-1) with debutant Tanner Thompson playing in behind Just Braun in attacking midfield. Ben Speas and Don Smart played wide left and right while Brad Ring and Gerardo Torrado filled the defensive midfield roles.

Last minute lineup changes made our task of finding goals look even more of a challenge. Éamon Zayed was dropped to the bench in favor of a single striker formation, splitting the usually productive pairing of Braun and Zayed in attack.

Indy Eleven's bench consisted of only four outfield players, Siniša Ubiparipovic, Craig Henderson, Anthony Manning and Éamon Zayed. Keith Cardona took the reserve keeper slot giving Indy five bench players. English forward David Goldsmith was ineligible while awaiting a work permit.

Opening night a good draw...

I had settled for taking a point in this game before it even started, obviously three points would be nice but coming out of pre-season into an opening night game away from home against an opponent we have very little knowledge about keeps the result acceptable to me.

It was not a pretty game by any means and this has to be expected. If I cast my mind back to July 2016 in Puerto Rico when we were the willing guests in PRFC's inaugural home match, it was not entirely different to this game and probably one of the worst games I have seen Indy play despite an undefeated and successful Spring season, Indy had to force a 1-1 draw with a late equalizer from Souleymane Youla.

San Francisco played the match with all the eagerness and heavy challenges you would expect from a new team on their opening night. The home side's enthusiasm was rewarded in the 31st minute when Kyle Bekker redirected an assist from Danny Cruz past Jon Busch into the Indy net.

It would be easy to assume and apportion blame on an untested Indy back four but it did all appear a little too easy for San Francisco. Deltas full back Kenny Tiejsse advance on the left side drawing Marco Franco with him, while Danny Cruz took up position in the corner drawing Kwame Watson-Siriboe away from center. The eventual cross from Cruz was not closed down and Bekker met the ball unchallenged, splitting the remaining defenders and side footed into the net for San Francisco's very first NASL goal.

San Francisco held their lead going into the half time break but lost it early in the second half. In a similar situation to the opening goal Indy Eleven found good space on the left side through Ben Speas who delivered a beautiful ball into the box that found Tanner Thompson, with his back to defense Tanner was able to head the ball into the left of the net whilst under pressure and going to ground.

It was a great opening goal for young player making his debut, Tanner Thompson did not once look in any way overawed or nervous in his first professional appearance. It brought Indy Eleven back level in the game in the 58th minute with ample time to try and push for a second.

Éamon Zayed entered the game along with new signing Craig Henderson in the 77th minute replacing Tanner Thompson and Ben Speas but the game would not see another goal. Zayed had a good look in the 90th minute but his header from a Don Smart cross went wide of goal. Both sides came away from the game with a point, not even 6 minutes of added time was enough for either side to break the deadlock.

Overall thoughts...

Kwame Watson-Siriboe one of several players making their NASL debut for Indy Eleven

The most valuable thing outside of taking a point on the road for Indy Eleven in this game is returning home with knowledge of a team we have never played against before. The match was not a great one to watch but we know more about an opponent we will play again at home in a few weeks time.

Tim Hankinson will probably be satisfied with performances from some of the new Boys in Blue, most notably Tanner Thompson, Ben Speas and Kwame Watson-Siriboe and how they perform under league match pressure. While some might wonder about our signings for 2017, Thompson made it clear despite having no professional experience he is not here just to make up numbers and he grabbed his debut chance by the throat.

I am sure some would like to see bigger name signings and a more impressive start. Remember where we began in 2014 with unknown players like Dylan Mares, his approach and attitude given a chance at professional soccer was exemplary and he was included in the starting lineup for Miami FC yesterday ahead of a midfield roster packed with talent. Tanner Thompson could well turn out to be the most shrewd signing of the off season.

Ben Speas worked well in the left side role and provides the same kind of enthusiasm and aggressiveness in midfield as we have seen from aforementioned Dylan Mares in previous years and this will only improve with more competitive game time.

Kwame looks to be a very confident player at center back and also dangerous at corners and set pieces, when Indy Eleven does see the return of Colin Falvey I think they will be a very formidable pairing.

This time last year most people felt that Indy were not ready for the season to begin, we went to Tampa Bay and came home without defeat and continued with a couple of disappointing draws before finding their feet. There have been several changes and we likely will need some time before we find our best combination and formation again.

It's very early and nothing from this game can possibly give an indication of how Indy Eleven's year is going to go. What we already know from previous experience of Tim Hankinson's team is they won't ever give up on a game so it's difficult to be cynical or disappointed with one point from this game. It's just the beginning and we are on top of the table.

Top four standings after the opening three matches all ended in draws.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

ShambleMetrics: Betting Picks and Preview (Week 1 2017)

Format: Each betting line is assigned a star (★) rating. For the purposes of ROI calculation, each star corresponds to a single unit.

2016 Results: 70-54-8 OVR / +14.14 units / +4.92% ROI)

Favorite Lines and ShambleMetrics:

Miami FC Draw No Bet (+125, ). I was burned in the opener last season by picking pre-season hype (Minnesota at the time) over the Railhawks NCFC at Wake Med. Here's to hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

Miami's roster is simply too good to pass on this amount of value in a Draw No Bet line. The additions of Michel (who I believe to be the best offseason signing in the league), Dylan Mares, and Stefano Pinho turned an already solid roster into one which is utterly terrifying. I would even go as far as to say Miami's midfield is better than several in MLS.

No team scored more goals on the road in 2016 than Miami FC (1.38), with Nesta's squad being particularly prolific in the first half (0.75 goals per game, also a league-leading metric). Carolina, conversely, led the league in first-half goals conceded at home (0.56). Miami to score first (line not available at the time of publication) could also be an intriguing play if the value is right.

San Francisco Deltas vs Indy Eleven Under 2.5 (-105, ): Since 2014, six teams have joined the NASL as expansion sides. Only one (Jacksonville) earned all three points in their initial outing. Given this, I also think there's still value to be had in Indy Eleven Win/Draw Double Chance (-160, ). If you're looking for a higher-risk/higher-reward play, it's hard not to like the Draw result at +235.

The Deltas are a team which shouldn't be slept on this season, however. A very talented roster led by a very talented coach (both of which boast a wealth of NASL experience and success) will give the Bay Area plenty to be excited about.

It's no secret the Eleven struggled on the road last season. Hankinson's men -- most of whom have returned in 2017 -- boasted the second-lowest winning percentage away from home (12.5%), as well as the highest road draw percentage (43.75%).

Indy also kept their road games low-scoring: averaging 2.06 combined goals per game. Only Rayo OKC (1.69, may they rest in peace) and FC Edmonton (1.31) had lower average totals. It's also worth noting that Indy's total is even lower if we disregard road results where backup keeper Keith Cardona was given game time (eight total goals in two games).

Puerto Rico FC Win/Draw Double Chance (-115, ):

Here's where I go against the 2016 numbers a bit. PRFC's losing percentage at home was the fourth-highest in the NASL last season (27.27%), while the Cosmos tied OKC for the highest road winning percentage (37.5%). 

It's important to note, however, that Puerto Rico had a much smaller sample for these metrics due to missing the Spring season. Even more importantly is that they were undefeated at home in their final six games (2W 4D).

Both teams have seen their fair share of roster changes while still keeping a solid core from 2016, and the Cosmos are admittedly known for their fast starts -- but I fully expect Bayamon to be a tough trip for any team in the league this year.

Have any questions about any of the numbers or terminology found in this post? Reach out to @CalebRamp on Twitter.

Remember: All gambling and betting line discussion is for entertainment purposes only. If you do choose to gamble, be sure to do so legally and responsibly.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

2017 NASL Prediction Polls

How will the clubs line up at the end of the season? Be sure to submit your prediction!

By: Brandon Cockrum

After writing our season preview, the Bloody Shambles staff submitted their predictions for the upcoming season. My picks were clearly the best and most accurate, but, to save my less-informed peers a public shaming, I have aggregated each of our six ratings into one predicted table. Without further ado, here are the Bloody Shambles' 2017 NASL Predictions:

Final Combined Standings
  1. Miami FC
  2. New York Cosmos
  3. Indy Eleven
  4. San Francisco Deltas
  5. FC Edmonton
  6. North Carolina FC
  7. Puerto Rico FC
  8. Jacksonville Armada FC

The Championship and Soccer Bowl Trophy Winner
  • Miami FC

In what seems assuredly to be a tight playoff race, our confidence in Miami taking both the combined season and championship trophies was nearly unanimous. FC Edmonton was the only other club to receive a vote for a first place finish in the combined standings. As for the the winners of the Soccer Bowl trophy, Miami received three votes, while Edmonton, New York, Indy each received one vote.

As for the bottom of the table, FC Edmonton also received one vote from a Shambler for a last place finish, but was outclassed by a league-owned Jacksonville club that collected five last place votes. 

What do you think?

We'd love to see what the fans think, so we set up a poll for you too. We'll check back after the spring and fall seasons to see how our picks are faring.

Submit your predictions for the 2017 season! 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Great Bloody Shambles NASL 2017 Season Preview

Eight teams will compete in 32 regular season games for four championship spots in 2017.

By: James Cormack, Brian Cook, Jordan Kalt, and Brandon Cockrum

FC Edmonton: (James Cormack)

The Eddies have always been known as a tough side to break down, retaining Albert Watson and Papé Diakité is an important corner stone for that team to build around. 
At the other end of the spectrum Edmonton struggled to score goals last season, if they had to rebuild a back line as well that could see them struggle. However, they have retained probably more of their 2016 squad than any other team. 

Edmonton have bolstered their attack with the addition of Northern Ireland international Dean Shiels. If Dean can bring back the form he showed at Kilmarnock and Rangers in Scotland, he could be the answer to where goals will come from, he can create just as many as he can score, if chemistry can form quickly between Shiels and Tomi Ameobi the Edmonton attack could be much more potent in 2017.

Former Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels with his son and former Kilmarnock striker Dean Shiels.

On of the biggest roster losses for FC Edmonton in the off season has been that of Matt Van Oekel who departed for MLS side Real Salt Lake. Van Oekel was easily the top goalkeeper in the league in 2016 and the smart money would appear to be on former Toronto and Timbers keeper Chris Konopka filling the void.

With 2016 being the most successful FC Edmonton have had to date and having kept together most of that squad, you would have to consider them as a potential championship playoff team once again.

2016 - Finished 3rd in combined, lost in playoffs.
2015 - Finished 7th in combined standings.
2014 - Finished 6th in combined standings.

2013 - Finished 5th in spring, 6th in fall.
2012 - Finished 8th in standings.
2011 - Finished 6th in standings.

Indy Eleven: (James Cormack)

Indy have kept a large core of the 2016 roster that made it to the championship final, but have also lost some players in one critical area. Other than not winning the final Indy Eleven know they have one area where they need to improve and that is gaining points away from home. Tim Hankinson is retained as coach after giving Indy their most successful season to date in 2016.

Dylan Mares, Duke Lacroix and Omar Gordon all shared time on Indy's left midfield and all three have now departed the team. Indy Eleven have added Ben Speas who has been playing in this position in pre season, but there is little depth for that role. The biggest changes in Indy Eleven's roster have come in midfield and it may take some time for them to find their way again. 

Mexico star Gerardo Torrado returns to Indy Eleven in 2017

Along with Speas, the Eleven have added Craig Henderson, an experienced New Zealand midfielder who has played mostly in Sweden and Norway, and young Tanner Thompson who has been one of Indiana University's best attacking midfielders in recent years.

The back line may not start as expected with Colin Falvey still recovering from surgery but with Marco Franco, Lovel Palmer, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Nemanja Vukovic in front of retained goalkeeper Jon Busch the back should be tight enough. There is a lack of depth though, Indy added Anthony Manning who has limited game time with Portland Timbers and Timbers II and can utilize Daniel Keller in central defense, any early injury or suspension could be costly.

Éamon Zayed and Justin Braun return in attack for Indy but again there is not a great deal of depth in this position should either player go missing. Indy added David Goldsmith from Butler University who has no real professional experience, and to date no sign of potential signing Dino Williams from Montego Bay, their season is still in progress in Jamaica.

Indy Eleven should make playoffs again, spring and fall positioning may depend on their performances away from home and finding chemistry with some new players. Despite some small roster shake up they still have the potential to win the NASL Championship.

2016 - Finished 2nd in combined standings, Spring Champions, Championship runner up.
2015 - Finished 9th in combined standings
2014 - Finished 9th in combined standings

Jacksonville Armada: (James Cormack) 

Jacksonville Armada have now taken on the mantle of "league owned team" after the departure of owner Mark Frisch. Not an ideal position to be in as we have seen in the past with Atlanta Silverbacks. Mark Lowry who took over as coach from Tony Meola in 2016 has been made head coach full time.

Jacksonsville's first two years as a club have been disappointing, having finished 11th and bottom in their inaugural season they again finished 11th in 2016 and escaped being in last place in combined standings thanks to Puerto Rico only coming in during the fall season.

Armada have a smattering of experience left over from 2016 in players like Mechack Jérôme, and Charles Eloundou, and have added one or two recognizable players including a full contract for Zach Steinberger along with Aaron Pitchkolan, Drew Beckie, and Jack Blake.

I'll be honest a read through the roster hardly inspires confidence, its going to take a lot of work for them to get a settled back line, their best chances of goals are probably going to come from the midfield. There are only two listed forwards, 21 year old Derek Gebhard has only had 270 mins of playing time in last two seasons and Trinidad striker Jonathon Glenn who has been playing in Iceland for four years, scored no goals in 2016 at all.

I would love to be more optimistic, and I wish good fortune for JAX but I think it is going to be a very difficult season for them and I have to peg them for last place, operating on a budget provided by the league and playing at a new location having already seen dwindling attendances in 2016, it will take a very strong team bond and a lot of belief from this team to get anywhere close to mounting a challenge for a playoff spot.

2016 - Finished 11th in combined standings.
2015 - Finished 11th in combined standings.

Miami FC: (Brian Cook)

While Miami can’t buy the Beatles love, the money they have spent in the first two seasons since joining the North American Soccer League might buy them a championship. That isn’t to knock their moves. The moves Miami FC have made since the beginning set a new standard for team building as well as raised their expectations and 2017 isn’t any different.

The addition of Dylan Mares from Indy Eleven as well as Stefano Pinho coming to Miami brings NASL experience as well as strong players (not to mention the host of other names Miami has brought in for 2017.)

The transactions by Miami FC have made it clear, they want the playoffs. Finishing last in the Spring and 5th in the Fall and 7th in the combined standings Miami FC’s transactions spell out the need to finish in the top four for the playoffs.

Money can’t buy you a title even in a league like NASL so Miami’s biggest obstacle is not to rely solely on the skill and the name on the back of the jerseys but bring the tactical awareness to utilize those names they brought in.

2016 – Finished 7th in combined standings. 

Dylan Mares and Michael Lahoud will be aiming for a starting spot on the same team in 2017

New York Cosmos: (Brian Cook)

To say the worst off season (short of Jacksonville Armada) for any NASL team was New York Cosmos would be an understatement. There was a strong possibility they wouldn’t even be in the 2017 season but thanks to the checkbook of Rocco B. Commisso we are gifted with the return of NASL’s 2016 champion.

The biggest challenge for New York Cosmos was their need to rebuild their team following all the issues regarding the future of NASL and their club. They have done just that. Walter Restrepo’s return following a short spell in MLS/USL, Jimmy Maurer, who was a member of the title winning team last season, returns again. That's just the small list of it. 

While also returning quite a few names the Cosmos also worked to bring in new players that will surely meet the Cosmos standard they have set. Khalif Alhassan formerly of Tampa Bay Rowdies and Minnesota United has signed along with former La Liga midfielder Javi Marquez who will certainly help stabilize their midfield even more, and more recently Dejan Jakovic bringing international experience to an already rich team. New York Cosmos fans should be excited to see this team in 2017

The Cosmos have done a great job to rebuild a team that was all but dead. I think if they start off strong and with the names they brought back from last year they should be right back in line for the NASL title. 

2016 - Finished 1st in combined standings, NASL Champions.
2015 - Finished 1st in combined standings, NASL Champions.
2014 - Finished 3rd in combined standings, lost in playoffs.
2013 - Finished 1st in fall standings, Fall winners, Soccer Bowl winners.

North Carolina FC: (Jordan Kalt)

Re branded and renewed in their determination to push the growth of soccer in the state of North Carolina, jeering chants of “What the hell’s a RailHawk?” are now a thing of yesteryear.

Carolina's rebrand sees the orange out and the dark blue in, no more Railhawk.

Colin Clarke is still beloved by his supporters and returns to the manager’s seat hoping to lead his team to bounce back after a disappointing mid/low finish in the 2016 table. He’ll have many familiar faces to help him improve. Austin Da Luz, Connor Tobin, Tiyi Shipalane and Brian Shriver spearhead the returnees.

With a deeply talented midfield, Clarke’s club has never relied on forwards to score their goals, but one player that North Carolina should hope to see more from will be 27 year old striker, Matt Fondy. A pickup before the Fall portion of last season following his brief and lackluster stint with Jacksonville Armada, remember that Fondy had impressed once upon a time.

Two years ago he was a crucial part of Louisville City FC’s attack. With 28 appearances and 22 goals for City in 2015 he won USL’s Golden Boot and moved (at that time) up the ladder to the NASL. During his few short months last year in North Carolina, Fondy showed glimpses of promise but certainly fell below his potential.

The majority of North Carolina’s new signings have been pedestrian, picking up several from USL’s Colorado Switchbacks and from other teams in the recently reclassified D2 league. At goal,  no move has been made to sign a replacement for Akira Fitzgerald, the “Irish Ninja” who handled the majority of goalkeeping duties for several years. So it seems likely that the young Mack Robinson, signed in April of last year, will receive further opportunity to turn his collegiate success at DePaul University into professional accolade.

Given that many other NASL clubs have improved their rosters markedly, the question for this revamped North Carolina squad is whether they’ve made the right moves to top their disappointing finish in last season’s standings.

2016 - Finished 8th in combined standings.
2015 - Finished 6th in combined standings.
2014 - Finished 5th in combined standings.
2013 - Finished 2nd in spring and fall.
2012 - Finished 4th in standings, losing semi finalist. 2011 - Finished 1st in standings, losing semi finalist.

Puerto Rico FC: (Brandon Cockrum)

Puerto Rico FC made a respectable debut in 2016’s fall season, finishing ninth out of 12 teams and near the end of the season going unbeaten in seven games. With 8 goals and 4 assists in 19 games, striker “Pito” Ramos was the club’s most outstanding player; however, the team’s offense left much to be desired, averaging only 0.86 goals per game. It’s tough to win scoring at that rate, even tougher when you concede 1.41 goals per match, as PRFC did last year.

Ramos returns to the Orange in 2017, along with defender and captain Cristiano Dias, as well as young player of the year nominees Kyle Culbertson, Sidney Rivera and “Jackie” Marrero. With their key players and young talent in the fold, club leaders looked for more experienced players to add to the roster this off season, resulting in upgrades across the board.

Forwards Conor Doyle (Derby County, DC United) and Jairo Puerto (CD Marathon, Honduran national team) bring international experience to the attack, while midfielders Walter Ramirez (Indy Eleven, Tampa Bay Rowdies) “Yuma” Monsálvez (Rayo Vallecano, Rayo OKC) and Jordi Quintile (Sporting KC, Barcelona B) bring diverse skills to give the club multiple options for situational needs. Less heralded but solid additions to the defense should help the backline improve upon their 2016 performance as well.

With participation in three tournaments since the end of the 2016 season PRFC have been the league’s most active team on the field. In early March, the squad competed in the most competitive of those tournaments, the Caribbean Club Championship, finishing second place in their group. It was not enough for them to advance to CONCACAF Champions League but the match time should help the team’s readiness for the NASL season. A strong start could give the club the positive vibes and confidence needed to gel as a team and compete for a playoff spot.

 - Finished 9th in fall, 12th in combined standings (did not play in spring)

San Francisco Deltas: (Jordan Kalt)

Workers installing seats from Candlestick Park in Kezar Stadium, home of SF Deltas.

Previewing inaugural seasons are tricky. Who is this guy? He has no identity within this team. He’s just another in a pack of assorted pieces that are supposed to be able to work together. There are no team stats to look back on. Relationships are few or non-existent between the new teammates. “Well, he formerly…” precedes the only info anyone can give you.
Looking ahead to 2017 all we can go on is what these guys have been and what they have done.

So, formerly…

Danny Szetela, of Cosmos fame, was a foundational presence in New York’s midfield and remained their rock through four years of largely successful roster changes and three championships.

Head coach Marc Dos Santos comes to San Francisco on the heels of back to back runner-up finishes. Those recent successes came with NASL’s old Ottawa Fury in 2015 and most recently at the helm of Swope Park Rangers in the USL 2016 Cup.

Two experienced Brazilians, winger Jackson Pereira and centerback Reiner Ferreira, have also signed with the club. Both are versatile players who have successfully held a variety of different roles at former clubs, notably as right and left backs. They will be joined by a couple faces more familiar to the NASL in Greg Jordan (a former Minnesota United fan favorite) and defender Nana Attakora, who has spent the majority of his years in MLS before most recently playing for the NASL’s Scorpions and Strikers.

To cap off an already intimidating squad, head coach Dos Santos has been reunited with Romauld Peiser, former Ottawa Fury star and one of the best goalkeepers the NASL has seen in the modern era.

Sure, they may be sporting the ugliest logo in the league and a questionable team name but CEO Brian Helmick and his team of techy investors have clearly worked very hard to drum up excitement for the beginnings of this club and have put the money down to back it. First years are always difficult to predict, but at the very least this team looks combustible with potential. Dangerous.


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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Indy Eleven V Louisville City FC Review (3/18/2017)

Nemanja Vukovic's late wonder strike keeps Indy Eleven unbeaten in pre-season.

By: James Cormack

One week before Indy Eleven and Louisville City's respective seasons begin the two teams met in Evansville to shake off the last remnants of offseason rust and prepare their teams for competitive football. Indy Eleven will play San Francisco Deltas next Saturday evening while Louisville entertain St. Louis in an afternoon kick off in their USL home opener.

Indy Eleven started the game with a mostly recognizable lineup. With the absence of the recovering Colin Falvey the starting back four in front of Jon Busch consisted of Marco Franco at right, Lovel Palmer and Kwame Watson-Siriboe at center and Nemanja Vukovic at left back.

Brad Ring wore the captain's armband and partnered Gerardo Torrado in center midfield with Siniša Ubiparipović at right midfield and Ben Speas out left. Éamon Zayed and Justin Braun made up the front two.

Don Smart, Craig Henderson, Anthony Manning, Keith Cardona, Christian Lomeli, Daniel Keller, Tanner Thompson and an un-named trial player made up the bench. A quick spot of google searching leads us to believe the unknown player was David Goldsmith formerly of Butler Mens Soccer (correct me if I am wrong). There was no sign of Dino Williams or Cory Miller at the game.

Éamon Zayed had a superbly chipped goal crossed off, appeared onside to everyone but the linesman.

In the first half chances were few and far between for Indy Eleven, the work rate was there but the 4-4-2 formation seemed very flat to me and not a lot of creative play. Marco Franco and Vukovic worked well in moving the ball forward into attacking areas with Ben Speas and Ubiparipović working well in combination with the backs.

Indy Eleven's best chance came from a forward pass by Vukovic to Zayed who appeared to be onside when the pass was made and chipped the ball over Louisville keeper Gregory Ranjitsingh and into the back of the net. Zayed was called offside by the linesman.

Louisville City had three good chances on target at the other end but Jon Busch was more than a match for their strikes. Louisville were very fast on counter attack and gave Indy Eleven a lot of trouble at the back positions from the start especially on our left side. Both sides drew a blank and went in 0-0 at half time.

The refereeing was at times a little suspect, but it was a pre season game. Brad Ring picked up a ridiculous yellow after making a challenge and playing the ball against his opposing player who went down over it, there was no real contact with the player.

Former IU midfielder Tanner Thompson put in a solid second half shift.

Indy Eleven made one substitution at half time bringing on Don Smart into the right midfield and removing Justin Braun which allowed them to move Ubiparipović into a more attacking role. Smart looked as sharp as ever in the second half causing trouble for the Louisville back line at every available opportunity.

The second half saw two goals, one for either side. The first came for LCFC after they were awarded a penalty from a Lovel Palmer tackle inside the box for which he received a yellow card. Lovel was a little lucky not to see a second yellow only a few minutes later after somewhat heavy challenge on the right side of midfield. Cameron Lancaster delivered from the spot kick past Jon Busch to put his side 1-0 up in the 52nd minute.

The rest of the game for Indy was mostly about giving players game time. Tanner Thompson came on shortly after Don Smart and looked very impressive for his time on the field, pacey, aggressive and and always willing to run at defenders.

Craig Henderson looked very composed, found good position and closed his opposition down well and looks like he could prove to be a very valuable signing. Keith Cardona, Daniel Keller, Anthony Manning and trialist David Goldsmith all saw game time as well.

As we saw many times in 2016, Indy Eleven proved once again they are never a team to give up on a game at any point and Nemanja Vukovic caught on to a bobbling ball outside of the Louisville 18yd box and cracked a beautiful shot into the far right corner of the net. Probably one of the best goals I have seen scored by an Indy Eleven player and scored right before the final whistle to pull off the draw for Indy Eleven.

Don Smart and trialist David Goldsmith (?) causing trouble for the Louisville back line.

Overall thoughts

I am a little unsure if this is the best formation or lineup I have seen, it is the first time I have seen the team in preseason but I think the the way we played is a little too flat. There was very little being done creatively in the middle behind the forwards and most of our chances were being created from runs into the corners.

Last year it took a few games to find the right model and I think we may see the same again this year. Hankinson has proved in the past he has no problems shaking things up even during a game, so I am not overly worried about it. For me everything was overly defensive and not enough spark in attack.

As far as being match ready the overall condition of the players and work rate seems to be there and cannot fault anyone for lack of effort, we defended well in all ares of the field and on the whole quick to close down our opposition. If I look back on how we looked going into the first game at Tampa last year, the difference this year in fitness an condition is not comparable, we look much more like a team ready for 90 minutes of competitive league play.

Most outstanding player from this game for me was probably Marco Franco, his work ethic was unquestionable in defense and attack. A lot of penetration in the opposition half taking the ball to their defense and interplay with team mates was very good throughout the whole game. Honorable mention to Ben Speas for outstanding work rate on the left side, I still think from a distance he looks like Dylan Mares.

With Colin Falvey still recovering I am a little concerned about the back line in front of goal. Lovel Palmer has a lot of strength and aggressiveness and is solid at right back, but I am a little uncomfortable with him inside the box, he could easily have been red carded yesterday and that could be a problem in competitive games going down to ten men and losing a central defender. Will require a little more caution in a real league match which I think we will see.

We are ready! Only competitive games will allow us to find the right combinations for this roster but I have no doubts we are still a team that will be very difficult to beat once this all kicks off for real.

Marco Franco is probably a worthy nominee for Man of The Match in Evansville.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Challenging Braun and Zayed key for Indy Eleven in 2017

Braun lived up to his last name by providing support for Zayed

By Brian Cook
It goes without saying 2016 was an unbelievable year for Indy Eleven fans. No one truly foresaw Tim Hankinson's first season as head coach for Indy Eleven to be as success as it was. The club's first silverware and first championship game brought fans out from everywhere and the quality of the on-field action was at an all time high thanks to the strike partnership of Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun.

The successful pairing of Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun came from the shift in formations from the first three games. Zayed struggled to connect with the three attacking midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 that the club was playing and as a result Braun moved in next to Zayed and acted as a connecter for the midfield and attacking side.

As a result of the pairing Indy saw it's best season from forwards since their inception. Zayed finished with a club record 15 goals for Indy Eleven as well as 6 assists and Braun finished with 8 goals and 5 assists. Combining for one and two on the goal sheet these two led the change for Indy Eleven in 2016.

And while all of that in a nutshell feels good and looks even better when you look back on 2016 the later parts of the season saw Zayed and Braun look tired and straining for chances. With 2017 the goal for the forwards should be simple:

Consistency and being challenged

While both Braun and Zayed brought considerable power and the obvious goals to the table in 2016 we saw towards the middle to late parts of the season and even in the playoffs that frustration and tired legs set in. Both were things that are unavoidable from a player but from the building of a team can be addressed.

Even if it weren't the case, when both were healthy Braun and Zayed were the strongest forwards the club had in 2016. It never felt like you'd see Duke Lacroix or Souleymane Youla or anyone else get slotted in there because even on their bad days Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun were your strongest strike force. Which was both good and bad when it came to Braun's injury.

Zayed provided a new level of attack in 2016

Both are the only two returning forwards from 2016, and while they filled in with every line of production inside the penalty area, it felt as the season went on Zayed more than Braun got tired, frustrated, and forced a lot of his moves. Both players felt like they struggled the later things went on and often times were the reason for goals going wide.

Obviously to require constant goal scoring is unrealistic and unmanageable by any player. Even the Messi's of the world don't score everyday. That being said, the reason was the lack of tangible depth and rotation in that position. Zayed started all but one game and Braun, who was out for a short time with injury, would have probably done the same. And while Omar Gordon brought speed and Youla brought experience, it just felt like when Braun and Zayed weren't together it was a weaker attacking threat.

Hankinson seems to thrive on position contests. He wants players to know their spot isn't secure week-to-week and if people show up one week and aren't there mentally the next they won't make that starting lineup. Zayed and Braun were the best pair last season for the Eleven but it felt like their run later in the season was forced because they didn't really have much in the way of options outside of those two.

No crystal ball would be able to tell you who could do that. I'm sure Gordon, Lacroix, and Youla were brought in to fill that void but the goal for the rest of this roster building process and preseason for 2017 should be to find one person or even two who can challenge Braun and Zayed to both better their play as the season goes on and also to fill in if those periods of struggle set in. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Halfway Marker: Preseason and Beyond

Bald Spot Vantage Point?
Forget about the 1-1 scoreline. Where first and second teams swap the field at the half, it hardly matters whether Indy Eleven wins or loses these preseason matches. What does matter is that these contests show us something of the team’s chemistry and the individual development among players. Two matches into the preseason, here’s what I see:

The Early Attack

Drawing with USL’s Swope Park Rangers inside the gorgeous facility at the Grand Park sports complex in Westfield, Indiana, our Indy Eleven starters showcased a downright sparkling attack. Neat work from the center midfield sprung Eamon Zayed for a one-on-one with Swope’s keeper and a 5’ goal.

The cohesion and pressure displayed in the first twenty minutes of this game built upon the the fast start we saw against Butler last week and hints at an intentional trend. A year ago, this club made a habit of struggling to press and score early in games. They couldn’t shake that attitude for weeks into the 2016 Spring season, but habitual lackluster starts are off the table for this year. Hankinson seems to have made sure of that.

Netminder Club
In contrast to last week’s game against Butler University, Jon Busch started on goal for the Eleven this afternoon. He looked sharp in his first action and readily assumed verbal command over the field in Colin Falvey’s absence.

Time is not at this point a friend to Busch’s career, though he will be fully appreciated on the field as long as he can remain there. Both he and the Indy coaching staff seem eager to bring Keith Cardona into a more critical role for the club and Cardona is making good strides toward that.

Under Jon Busch’s tutelage the young keeper displays far better on-field communication than we glimpsed last year, staying much more involved in directing his team’s shape and spotting trouble. Buschy seems to think he can do better and he consistently—and quite loudly—lets him know. That kind of persistent push may be just what Cardona needs to develop into a starter. It seems to be paying off.

Seeing this dynamic play out between the two netminders both on-field and on the bench will be one of the key friendly matchups to watch this season. Hankinson and the Eleven seem committed to Keith’s future with the club and Jon Busch is exactly the kind of person to help him get there.
Grand Park Indoor Action against Swipe Left Rangers

Missing Mares

Now that Dylan Mares is sipping Pina Coladas and gettin’ caught in the Miami rains (we’re not bitter, really)... the Eleven have some important shoes to fill.

Enter: Ben Speas.

Having toured with Minnesota United last year, Speas looks to play a vital role for the Eleven at left midfield. And for my money, it’s been a shaky start. This afternoon he looked a bit more settled than he did at Butler, but I'm not sure he has the confidence of his teammates yet—especially on that left side.

When Vukovich was on the ball, for instance, he almost always opted to pass for a cutting and partially covered Justin Braun rather than send the ball ahead to Ben. While Speas has shown some good determination to create plays, he seems weak on the ball when confronted with physical contact.

Perhaps getting more time with his teammates and deeper into the preseason will reveal some promising traits that are obscured at this point.

Defenders, Assemble!

Beginning the season with a backline short of Colin Falvey’s tenacious presence may be overcomeable after all. Consisting of Marco Franco, Palmer, Watson-Siriboe, and Vukovic, it looks like our first team defense will hold up just fine.

 Kwame Watson-Siriboe, a newcomer to the Eleven, is fitting in immediately. Intelligent and passionate, he is an imposingly strong defender of classic center back stock, taking and receiving punishment with impressive willpower in aerial battles.

 For the time that Captain Falvey is sidelined Lovel Palmer looks to fill in at center back alongside Kwame and he really couldn’t be looking more confident in the role. Building on the several times he subbed in at the position near the end of last season, all of Palmer’s strengths are finally on display and the back four are humming to a nasty, badass tune.

So yes, the land on the other side of the 2017 NASL kickoff looks promising and plentiful. See you in a few weeks!