Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Indy Eleven: 2015 Review and Analysis

Most improved - No.6 Dylan Mares
Now that the dust has settled and the NASL 2015 post season is over, it's time to take a look at Indy Eleven's second year as a professional club. I would like to point out the views and opinions that are wrapped around the factual statistics in this blog are entirely my own and I don't expect everyone to agree with them. 

However I think it is very important to evaluate where the positives and the negatives are compared to 2014. It's long, it's a full year review, so if you are not a fan of reading...  apologies in advance. You may have already switched off!

The facts and figures.......

Indy Eleven finished the year with 33 points from 30 games, an average of 1.1 points per game. With eight wins, nine draws and thirteen losses they finished ninth from eleven teams in the combined season table, behind Atlanta on goal differential.

In the spring season Indy achieved a total of thirteen points with three wins, four draws and three losses, eclipsing the four points total they achieved in spring of 2014 and finished in 5th place only a point behind Minnesota and Carolina.

The fall table saw Indy Eleven finish in ninth place with five wins, five draws and ten losses from twenty games. Despite playing more games in 2015 Indy achieved three points less than they did in fall of 2014 when they finished with 23 points finishing seventh from ten teams after 18 games.

Indy scored 36 goals in thirty games and conceded 48 goals. Of the 36 goals scored only nine of those goals came from players listed as forwards by Indy Eleven (Brown 5, Wojcik 2, Lacroix 2). Twenty goals were scored from midfield players and six scored by defenders. (one own goal was scored by Carolina's Daniel Scott).

In the US Open Cup Indy played only one game, losing to Louisville City in extra time by two goals to nil.

The teams best months in 2015 were April (5 points and no losses) June (6pts from only two league games) and October (seven points).

The turning points in Indy Eleven's year.......

I am sure like many others, after the first three games in spring, I was pleasantly surprised that we had achieved five points from three games. Although we still had not really found a style and our play was not exactly pretty, it was a good start and a good platform to continue a push for success in Spring.

The first real turning point for Indy Eleven came in the fourth game of the season against Carolina Railhawks (all good and bad things for Indy start and end with Carolina) at home on the 25th of April. Indy seemed to regress into something akin to what we had seen so much of in 2014, lacking in ideas up front, playing long ball and making bad defensive mistakes, we threw away a win in the last five minutes of the game.

Despite achieving six points from the first four games with no losses, it was all downhill from this point. Indy Eleven lost four straight games from this point against Jacksonville in what could also be deemed a game in which were completely inept tactically, followed by Minnesota and Ottawa and culminating in a loss in our first Open Cup game of the year at the hands of USL side Louisville City FC who were making their debut as team in 2015.

Indy's next game against Tampa saw a rain delay and a late finish, Indy managed to come back through a great Kyle Hyland goal which lifted the hearts of remaining supporters, however the most telling thing was Indy were unable to defeat a Tampa side who had three men sent off. The team had run out of ideas and not even 11 v 8 could help us win.

That would be the last game Indy Eleven played with Juergen Sommer and Paul Telfer as coaches, with two games remaining in Spring both were let go and the decision was made to install assistant Tim Regan as interim Head Coach. As much as I loved both Juergen and Paul, I think everyone involved including the supporters were relieved. Tim Regan marked his tenure with back to back wins to round out the spring, defeating Fort Lauderdale and Edmonton FC.

With such a strong finish in spring there was now a glimmer of hope that the Eleven could push on and aim to stack up their combined season points with a good fall performance. They began by facing New York away and once more played out another draw against the now two time Soccer Bowl champions.

Indy Eleven made amends for a poor early spring performance against Carolina by beating the Railhawks 2-1 in their next match taking Tim Regan's point tally to 10 from 4 games as interim head coach. Unfortunately though Indy were about to hit another bump.

With three wins and a draw from four games Indy headed into a home game against Atlanta Silverbacks with a great chance of advancing their position in fall and combined tables. What occurred however was a horrible and unexplainable performance by Indy Eleven, and the second turning point of the year, one which to my mind was the game that killed our play off chances. In my review for that game I said that I hoped this would not be the game we look back on as the one that ended our chances. It was.

Atlanta defeated Indy Eleven 1-0 at Carroll on August 1st. It was another example of Indy Eleven's inability to play against untypical formations, Indy have never had a plan B when it comes to adapting formation during a game. Atlanta took advantage of an Indy side not renowned for it's attacking ability and played with three backs and five in the midfield.

After sneaking an early goal through former Indy player Pedro Mendes their midfield heavy formation made it difficult for Indy to come back into the game and easy for Atlanta to sit back and protect a lead against a home side that quite frankly played terribly.

This was a pivotal point in the season as far as combined season points were concerned and Indy now faced back to back games within the same week against an Edmonton side on a very bad run of form followed by Ottawa who had already started their streak up the table that would culminate in them winning the fall season.

Logic might dictate, as poor as Edmonton were at the time that you would field a strong team against them and try for the three points (we beat them 3-0 in the last meeting) and then rest a few players but still play hard against high flying Ottawa at home.

Indy made a total of eight changes to the team for the match against Edmonton, which I still say was more about sending a message to those who failed against Atlanta than it was about resting players for the Saturday match against Ottawa.

Edmonton played terribly in that game and any kind of recognizable lineup for Indy could have won it, as it was we lost 2-0 then returned home to be demolished by Ottawa Fury 4-1.

With a total of six games to be played in August it was a critical month and one I had pointed out would be the indicator of whether we would make the playoffs or not. We started by losing three straight games. In the next match we defeated Tampa Bay, a win that would see the end of coach Thomas Rongen's time at the Rowdies, he was promptly fired.

After a 1-1 draw in Atlanta, Indy Eleven ended their six match August in the worst possible way with a record defeat at the hands of a Fort Lauderdale side regenerated by the return of coach Gunter Kronsteiner who inflicted a 7-1 defeat over Indy. August was a bad month and any glimmer of hope that Indy had of making the playoffs was snuffed out, we were done.

In the remaining ten matches there were some bright spots, but also the same glaring inconsistency that has haunted Indy Eleven since their very first game in 2014. Indy Eleven would win a further three games against Jacksonville, Minnesota and Ft Lauderdale and pick up two draws against Tampa and Jacksonville.

The inconsistency manifested itself not only in results but also by the fact we could defeat strong teams who would make the playoffs and lose to teams hugging the bottom, two defeats by San Antonio home and away and also a loss at home to Edmonton and defeats on the road by Minnesota and Carolina would make up the rest of those final ten games.

What was wrong and what could we have been done better.......

Preseason could have been stronger, although results in preseason count for nothing, the level of challenge does matter. I felt it seemed like it was just thrown together, just my perception. Also we did not have all the players available and some not even available for the first game of the season. This needs to change in 2016 and we need to be ahead of the game as far as squad building goes and if we can't find better opposition for preseason we should at least play two to three more preparation games.

Inconsistency not only in our results but also in our decisions on starting lineups, tactics, and in the lack of effort from some individual players. The fact that Indy Eleven only needed another 9 points to make the 2015 playoffs shows that there is not a huge bridge to be gapped for us to be there.

Our biggest problem under two different coaches was inconsistency in lineups, there are simply way too many changes being made week to week, even when we have had injuries at times our starting lineups make no sense to anyone. Inconsistency in starting lineups brings inconsistency in results, this was all too apparent in the last two years.

The players also are to blame for some of this, you can't show up one week and then look disinterested in the next game, we had too many players who only showed up to play when they felt like it, the onus is on them as much as it is on the coaching staff.

Player fitness is something that has to be addressed. I don;t know why but I have seen it myself and heard it from many others, in too many games we look slower than every other team we play, especially in the second half of games we just seem to fade fast.

Whether this is from our playing style and having to chase the ball too much or players are not looking after themselves outside of training OR it's a result of our training system itself, it needs to be addressed. Too many players don't look like they are fit to run for 90 minutes, and a good professional player should be fit to run for 120 minutes.

If your team is stronger, fitter and faster than the opposition then you already win half the battle.

Squad retention and facilities. While I think it is important that Indy do not fall into the trap of over spending to try and compete with teams like the Cosmos, it is important that we improve the deals for some of our players. One of my biggest worries over the close season is that some players we really need to retain may get better offers elsewhere. Several players have proved their value on the field and I think it is important they are rewarded for that and retained.

We don't need to run out and find a Raul or a Kleberson, we don't need to pay over the odds for quality players who are at the end of their career. We proved that when we found Duke Lacroix, a player who is a 'future' and obviously up to the task of playing in this league. We had one of the lowest player budgets in the league in 2015 and we fell short, but I think we had the squad that could have made the playoffs, it just didn't come together.

I think investment in improving the coaching staff is a priority, we need to do what needs to be done to retain at least 50% or more of our squad last year and then invest wisely in young hungry talent. If we are going to take loan players that's fine, but do it at the start of the season and don't add players later when things are going wrong. If we can get a Richards or a Steinberger, start working on it now.

I posed the question for fun on Indy Eleven's subreddit /r/IndyEleven "If you were named Indy Eleven coach tomorrow and told you were only allowed to retain eleven players, which eleven would you keep?

Combining all lists from nine different people the overall choices produced the following priority list in order... Erick Norales, Dylan Mares, Brad Ring, Cory Miller, Duke Lacroix, Kyle Hyland, Marco Franco, Victor Pineda, Don Smart, Marvin Ceballos and Keith Cardona. Of course other players were considered but there was a hard limit of eleven. Five players appeared on every list - Norales, Ring, Miller, Mares and Lacroix!

We need to improve facilities for the players, the situation of no proper dressing rooms within the stadium needs to be addressed, even if that means putting money into remodeling bathrooms at one end or building at the back, if there is a way to do it then it must be pursued.

Some of the blame for this lays with IUPUI, this has been a problem with this facility since it's construction, there have never been changing facilities or showers. Maybe nothing can be done but it should at least be explored.

There has to be some positives right.....

There are quite a few positives in my opinion. Firstly the attendance, for a second year franchise you would expect to see some drop. The novelty of season tickets wears off for some people but at the same time more casual supporters buy single game tickets.

Indy Eleven's average attendance and season ticket sales was only slightly down on 2014, going from 10,465 to 9,809 is very marginal indeed. The front office of Indy Eleven has done an amazing job in the last two years, that can't be said enough.

As far as the squad goes, I felt we built a good squad, we have a group of players that are good enough to achieve playoffs in this league, as said earlier that whole group took a while to come together and possibly did not gel as well as it could have. At the end of the day we fell only nine points short of the playoffs, this is not a great deal over a whole year, it is not a huge problem to fix.

I felt when we played well our style was much better than 2014, the league was tougher this year and on our day we kept the ball down more, created more and played less long ball by far than last year.

There were some great positives as far as personnel goes. Dylan Mares excelled this year, from day one, given that Kleberson was unavailable he stepped up and took that role and made it his own. Duke Lacroix was a great find and a player with a big future I feel, the fact that everyone I asked about who they would retain all had his name written down speaks volumes.

Don Smart who was known as the 66 minute player either for coming in on 66 or leaving 66 proved that he can be a 90 minute player and stepped up his game. Cory Miller despite not getting the starting spot at the beginning of spring remained professional and when given the chance it was hard to leave him out of the team.

We retained and signed Pineda and Franco which was a great deal to me, great developing players who can and I think will be improving players in this league for quite some time. We also introduced exciting and hard working players like Stojkov and Ceballos.

Loan deals for Richards and Steinberger created a spark and some MLS experience to the team, it would be nice to think those players can return, whether we can afford them or not is another question.

There was only three teams in the NASL we could not beat, two of those were the finalist of the Soccer Bowl, and one of them the New York Cosmos could not beat Indy Eleven. The other team was Atlanta Silverbacks, can't explain that one, they maybe should have been the 9 points we needed ;)

The point is however, we know have the beating of every team in this league, if we can be consistent of course we can also beat the Cosmos. The fact we have done that with a very minimal player budget compared to other teams is something to be positive about.

Last but not least.......

As a footnote to this very long review (I did apologize at the beginning) we have to talk about ourselves, the supporters. A club is nothing without it's fans, as supporters we are very important not just to the organization and the players but to ourselves.

Regardless of how you may feel about any upcoming news or changes or announcements, it is important to remember that we have to stay loyal to this club at a very important time, we have to continue showing up and showing our love and buying tickets.

We can't step off the gas or get pissed off and stay at home, it doesn't work like that. If we want Indy Eleven to be everything we want it to be we have to maintain that high level of support. You can never make a situation better by helping to make it worse.

So.... PLEASE, PLEASE continue to support and back this team, it's our team in our city in our state, you can't always win every game, but you can always show up. Help build what we have already started and bring new people to the games, encourage people to support and find out more about our team. Talk about our team, share things about our team and keep positive. You can complain about the team and still be positive, I do it all the time :)