Sunday, April 9, 2017

Puerto Rico FC V Indy Eleven REVIEW (04/08/2017)

Éamon Zayed scored his first of 2017 with an assist by Justin Braun

By: James Cormack

After a pretty successful 2016 season for Indy Eleven in NASL that saw them accomplish almost everything they could bar winning the final, it is important going into the 2017 season to recognize any areas that can be improved upon regardless of previous success.

Probably the most important improvement that could be made is our form away from home, add to that building a roster that can match or improve upon the successes of last year and then last but not least be more prepared for the beginning of the season and perhaps have a little better start.

Despite not having lost a game in their first three, it has not been an altogether stellar start for Indy Eleven. For whatever reasons Eamon Zayed has not started in the first two games, it has affected the way we have lined up, hopefully these issues are now resolved.

Injury issues have also hindered Indy from starting a recognizable back line, with captain Colin Falvey recovering from surgery and the loss of Greg Janicki and Cory Miller the Eleven have played through the first 180 minutes with an unfamiliar center back pairing.

Entering our third game of the 2017 season, Tim Hankinson again had to shuffle his lineup due to unforeseen circumstances. While it was a bonus to see Colin Falvey return to the starting eleven and Éamon Zayed also starting alongside Justin Braun in attack, injuries prior to the match saw the omission of Jon Busch, Ben Speas and Tanner Thompson.

As mentioned in our 2017 NASL Review my biggest long term worries for Indy Eleven are the lack of depth at center back and at left midfield. Ben Speas has proven to be one of the best off season signings so far, with one goal and an assist and seven chances created in only two games. It's a tough spot to fill for a team who parted ways with all of the players who gave time on the left side in 2016.

Tanner Thompson could easily be a choice for attacking midfield on either side of the field but unfortunately both Speas and Thompson were unavailable for the game giving Hankinson selection nightmares for the wings before and during the match. Add to that starting keeper Busch also sidelined, the situation heading into this match was far from ideal.

Indy Eleven draws a line in the sand....

Sorry I had to get a sand reference in there somewhere....

Indy Eleven welcomed back Colin Falvey to the starting lineup for the first time in 2017 along with Lovel Palmer at center back. This to me was a strange choice, Watson-Siriboe and Daniel Keller were dropped to the bench. Despite some obvious mistakes and having conceded 4 goals in two games, I would have liked to see Kwame given time alongside Falvey.

Marco Franco and Nemanja Vukovic started at left and right back per usual. Don Smart, Gerardo Torrado and Brad Ring were accompanied by Craig Henderson in midfield due to the absence of Ben Speas and in attack Justin Braun and Éamon Zayed started together for the first time in 2017.

Indy Eleven were able to list five outfield players alongside goalkeeper Cristian Lomelli on the bench, David Goldsmith, Daniel Keller, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Anthony Manning, and Siniša Ubiparipović all watched from the sideline.

One thing that is clearly apparent from watching Puerto Rico FC in these last two games is they are a vastly improved side from 2016. They are fast and clinical, their passing is sharp and their movement in attack is fluid, over the course of the game their finishing was luckily not much better than our own despite creating plenty of chances. They will be a danger to every team in this league as the season goes on.

Hector Ramos scored the opener and again plagued the Indy back line.

It took a little less than 20 minutes for that organization to find the back of the net in what was a goal that looked almost like a training ground rehearsal. A switch of play from right to left by Jairo Puerto found former Indy Eleven midfielder Walter Ramirez in the left corner of Indy Eleven's box. With plenty of time to control and gauge his pass the ball was slotted to center and Hector Ramos found a huge hole between Falvey and Palmer and easily swept the ball passed Keith Cardona to put Puerto Rico in the lead.

Where do you even start trying to figure out why that goal was so easy? For me the midfield has to take most of the blame, during this build up our approach to countering their attack was lackadaisical to say the least. After Kafari set up a pass for Jairo Puerto, Vukovic made no attempt to block the pass to Ramirez, Marco Franco was forced to stay and close the angle to prevent a shot, Don Smart turned up too late to have any affect on Ramirez and Ramos had no challenge or mark at the top of the box with Torrado jogging in after the shot was already released. 

What is going on here?

Maybe some will disagree, but despite our back four being the last line of defense, they were pretty much stranded by an extreme lack of urgency and effort from the Indy Eleven midfield. Brad Ring took up position at left back to cover for Vukovic, while recovering position the left back's responsibility was to close out that pass from Jairo Puerto, or at least put pressure on it. Even during Ramos's celebration there are still only seven outfield Indy players in our own half. We were taken apart by four players, three passes and a shot.

Within a few short minutes the game almost saw another two goals. An attempted header clearance on PRFC's right side dropped to Justin Braun in the center of the box but Braun could not get his body behind the ball enough to direct his header away from Spangenberg, the ball was spilled and Braun got a second bite with his foot but the ball went inches wide of the post.

Puerto Rico countered with a surging run from Jairo Puerto through the center of midfield, the Honduran managed to turn and find a pass to Hector Ramos who unleashed a blistering shot at Cardona who managed to save his head from being removed and palmed the ball back out into play.

As it looked like Puerto Rico would head into the half time break with a one goal lead, Indy Eleven proved as they have done many times before that every second of the clock can be used to turn things around. A long goal kick from Cardona which PRFC failed to intercept in a challenge with Zayed was picked up by Justin Braun, and he was able to settle the ball and slip it left to Éamon Zayed, this time it was Indy's #9 who comfortably pushed the ball past Spangenberg to put Indy level before half time.

Before this play Don Smart was withdrawn from the game due to injury concern and replaced by Siniša Ubiparipović, it's a worrying sign for Indy Eleven and Don would not be the only player to leave the game this way. Lovel Palmer was also removed from play in the 79th minute and replaced by Anthony Manning wearing Daniel Keller camoflage.

Colin Falvey made way for Kwame Watson-Siriboe in the 72nd minute meaning that Indy Eleven would start and finish the game with two completely different center back pairings. We will assume Colin Falvey was removed as precaution and had been given enough game time on his recovery from injury.

Both sides had numerous chances to find a winner in this game and Puerto Rico continued to apply ample pressure in the second half. Indy Eleven did very well to stop any further scoring and actually finished the second half looking stronger. The game ended 1-1 with Indy Eleven pulling out a third draw in three games and remaining undefeated. Considering our early season obstacles, again I would have settled for a point before this game kicked off.

Long or Short term reasons for concern?

As already said, my biggest concern right now is our lack of depth in the center back position and also the lack of time any of them have had to play together. It is early and there is time to get this right, but there is no denying that any further injury complication to Colin Falvey (God forbid) poses a very serious problem for Indy Eleven. 

Despite early hiccups I still feel with Falvey's leadership and Kwame's obvious physical presence and stature this should be our best pairing option. One replaced the other in this game so there has been no opportunity for them to play together.

Our options at left midfield are slim but not I feel as urgent a problem as that of our defense. Tanner Thompson and Ben Speas being injured at the same time was unfortunate as I feel Thompson could be an able replacement.

Overall I have seen enough from every player on the roster that leaves me feeling that Indy Eleven will be as good as and as strong as we were in 2016. It's going to take some time. Right now we look like a bomb with a very slow burning fuse and it is only a matter of time before we explode on an unsuspecting opponent, hopefully this happens in our next game.

We have come to a two week break without losing a game. We have injury problems but we have time to recover. We have plenty of game footage to pour over and pinpoint where mistakes have been made and work towards fixing them.

Indy have scored five goals in three games which is positive, we have conceded the same amount which is concerning, the last time we conceded three goals at home was in August of 2015. Tim Hankinson needs to find his preferred starting lineup available and make it work. If injury concerns continue to cause issues I do feel we need to add one or two more experienced players to the roster, preferably at left midfield and center back.

Otherwise I see nothing that gives me any huge concern that we are going to have a bad year, we have all the ingredients to provide another successful playoff team, we just need to get those pieces on the field at the same time and working together. We are one good game away from being settled and comfortable. No reason to panic at this moment in time.

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