|Easy Target? Someone get Tony Meola a Lifejacket!|
By: Brandon Cockrum (@Brew_Wallace)
This is a very short, direct preview this week: Indy Eleven should fight like dogs to get a positive result at home against Jacksonville Armada FC. Not only is the club looking to rebound from a loss in Miami, but they are extremely difficult to take points from at Carroll Stadium and the Armada have yet to win a match away from home in their one-and-a-half years of existence, 25 games to be exact. To make matters worse, the coastal club has not scored since July 9, shut out in four straight matches, and are in such a downward spiral that whispers have already started regarding the lifespan of rookie head coach Tony Meola. Anything less than three points earned in convincing fashion on Wednesday evening should be considered a letdown against the league’s poorest performing club.
(Still here? Okay, since the Bloody Shambles blog pays me by the word, generously I might add, I can write more for you; I do need some spending money to buy myself a fancy new shirt from the Eleven’s updated merch store.)
The Boys In Blue have sailed a totally different course this season than the Armada. With a spot in the playoffs guaranteed, the Circle City club is now trying to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs and prepare themselves for a championship run. They've built a monster defense, capable of shutting down the strongest opposition the league provides. On offense, they’ve mostly got the job done, but while they’ve flashed the ability to break out for three or four goals if the stars align, they have also struggled for significant stretches to score goals.
Let’s look at the numbers: Across 16 league games, the Eleven have scored 22 goals, an average of 1.38 goals per match. That’s the third best strike rate in the league. Not too bad. (Only New York Cosmos at 1.71 and Minnesota United at 1.87 are superior.) However, half of Indy's goals (11) were scored in just three matches (vs MNU, vs CAR, vs FTL). Remove those three outbursts from the equation and Indy is averaging just 0.85 goals per game in 13 matches. Not too good.
Indy’s four most recent games reflect this paradigm. After erupting for three goals in the first 27 minutes against a listless (and soggy) Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Indy struggled to put the ball across the goal line in the three matches that followed. In a 2-0 loss to Minnesota United FC, Indy controlled the match for nearly all of the final 60 minutes, but were unable to nick a goal. Defender Greg Janicki slipped a set-piece header past the Edmonton FC goalkeeper early in the next match but the Boys In Blue were stonewalled for the final 75 minutes of a 1-0 victory.
|Aim for the net thing JB! You can do it!|
As Indy moves into the second half of the season, I’m hoping to see the club build upon the great foundation they’ve established thus far. To realize their ultimate aspiration of hoisting the NASL Soccer Bowl in November, the team cannot sit on laurels earned in the Spring. Although we’re all proud of their achievements, the mission has not been accomplished. With three games at home in the next eleven days, the Eleven have a great opportunity to begin addressing their few weaknesses in the friendly confines of Carrol Stadium and set themselves up for a strong playoff campaign.
Three things I’m looking for in the second half of the season:
1) Maintain focus, intensity and cohesion on defense. It’s a long grind, April to November, and complacency can easily creep in. Defensive leaders Jon Busch and Colin Falvey probably won’t let those around them slip up much, but clubs that win the spring season are notorious for fizzing out by the playoffs. Indy's defense has been key to their success and it must remain strong.
2) Get more shots on goal. This past Saturday night, Zayed and Omar Gordon put four of their combines six shots on frame. The rest of the Eleven? Only one of 14 shots were on target. This has been a season-long issue. When it comes to shots on goal, quantity does not always trump quantity, as evidenced by the result in Miami. A bit more restraint on attempts from outside the box and improved focus and composure in front of the net should increase the goal tally.
3) Develop creative playmaking and new attacking strategies. Indy has relied on a lot of direct football, flying up the wide channels with their speed and powering down the middle with bruising forwards on the counter attack to create chances. Opponents seem to be aware of this and seem to be coming content to focus on shielding their goal, allowing Indy to take shots from distance and dump in unsuccessful cross after cross while looking for opportunities to counter attack. If the opponents are able to score an early goal, it makes a bunkering game plan even more appealing.
As mentioned earlier, the Eleven have encountered stretches where Plan A is simply not resulting in goals. Indy needs to develop a Plan B, which might consist of unlocking goals from sustained possession and creative playmaking in the final third. If I’m Tim Hankinson, over the next two to three months I’m focused on finding out who among Gerardo Torrado, Dylan Mares, Nicki Paterson, and Siniša Ubiparipović can drive the offense when handed the keys to the car.
As always Bloody Shambles and Permanent Relegation are supporting Playworks Indiana children's charity with our #EamonZayedRule initiative. We are donating money for every goal Éamon Zayed scores this year and you can choose to play along or just make a one off donation to help us reach our target of $2000. Click Here for More Information.