Wednesday, November 2, 2016

NASL Semifinal Preview: Indy Versus Edmonton, Finally

Indy Eleven look to extend their home dominance to The Championship. 

By: Brandon Cockrum

Can anything new be written about Indy Eleven and their journey to The Championship? Tens of thousands of words from this blog and other sources have documented the Eleven’s journey from overwhelming local support despite two disappointing seasons to an offseason overhaul and their current status as a strong number two seed in the league playoffs.

Supporters of the club have been handsomely rewarded this year for their loyalty and exuberance by a squad that has delivered significantly more peaks than valleys, and even a few iconic moments. The Championship presents an opportunity for the Eleven to deliver a final prize to the fans in 2016 as well as a chance for the club to entrench itself as one of the most successful lower-division clubs, off and on the field.

Across the border in Canada, after coming close to making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, FC Edmonton identified two areas that they could improve upon in 2016 to ensure that their squad would not fall short for a third consecutive year. First, the club traveled to Glasgow, Scotland for preseason training, which allowed the team to bond, put players in a soccer-first atmosphere and helped the squad be competitive from kickoff in match week one. Second, as the NASL’s most distantly-located franchise, the team began traveling one day earlier to away matches in effort to lessen the impact of travel upon their matches and to acclimate themselves to the climate of their opponent.

These initiatives worked and when paired with their traditional stonewall defense the Eddies were able to maintain pace with the league leaders, qualifying easily for the playoffs. For FC Edmonton, The Championship represents an opportunity to cement themselves as a dominant force on the pitch and, maybe most importantly, inspire a fan base that has been slow to reach critical mass but that is crucial to their long-term success. 

INDvFCE Series

All-time: FC Edmonton 4 wins, Indy Eleven 3 wins, 2 draws
Season: 1-1-1

May 7 in Indianapolis, IND 1 - FCE 1:
Both teams were able to find the back of the net once in the first half of a week five matchup but the quality chances were few and far between. Center back Greg Janicki opened the scoring with a goal off a set piece and fifteen minutes later the Eddies pulled even with a counter attack goal from the head of Jake Keegan. The 90 minutes was devoid of many quality chances and primarily a goalkeeping clinic with Indy’s Jon Busch and Edmonton’s Matt Van Oekel snuffing out anything that made it past their defense.   // Highlights:

July 23 in Indianapolis, IND 1 - FCE 0:
Visiting the Eleven on a hot July evening and minus their boss starting center backs, Albert Watson and Papa Diakite, FC Edmonton was expected to sit back, conserve energy and absorb pressure for 90 minutes. After conceding a 13th minute goal to Indy’s Greg Janicki, the Eddies were forced to attack. The visitors nearly evened the score twice in the mid-part of the first half and Edmonton goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel made a number of fine saves to keep his club in the match until the end. The summer heat took its toll on both teams but Edmonton had enough in the tank to test Indy until the final whistle. Two near goal-line saves from Indy midfielder Brad Ring (one on a corner-kick header from goalie Van Oekel) sealed the victory for Indy.   // Highlights:

Oct. 2 in Edmonton, IND 1 - FCE 2:
This late season battle in Edmonton featured two healthy squads going toe-to-toe for second place in the standings. The opening half featured numerous quality chances for both clubs to score but entered halftime 0-0. In the second half, Éamon Zayed struck first for the visitors with a 56th minute goal. Indy missed opportunities to double their lead before Diakite evened up the match in the 80th minute with a fine volley off of a ping-ponged corner kick that fell to his feet. Just as it looked that both sides would leave the pitch with one point, Edmonton’s Ben Fisk found the game winner through a counter attack in the 94th minute.   // Highlights:

Greg Janicki has scored 2 of Indy's 3 goals against Edmonton in 2016.

Team Results

FC Edmonton
Season: 15-8-9 // 25 Goals For (0.78 /game), 21 Goals Allowed (0.70 /game), 16 Shutouts
Road: 3-6-7 // Have not won a road match since August 20
Last 10: 3-3-4 // 5 GF, 7 GA 

Key Trend: Eight (32%) of their 25 goals came from headers and only one goal was scored from outside of penalty box. 

Indy Eleven
Season: 15-10-7 // 51 GF (1.59 /game) , 33 GA (1.03/game), 11 shutouts
Home: 13-3-0 // 4-1-0 with 12 GF and 2 GA in last five home matches
Last 10: 5-2-3 // 17 GF, 10 GA

Key Trend: 5-1-1 (15 GF, 5 GA) record in fall season with attacking midfielder Siniša Ubiparipović in the starting lineup.

Projected Lineups

FC Edmonton // 4-1-4-1 (R to L)
Van Oekel
Nicklaw - Diakite - Watson - Eckersley
Keegan - Shome - Fordyce -  Nyassi

Key Stats:
GK Matt Van Oekel // 0.55 Goals Against Average
MF Daryl Fordyce // 7 Goals, 3 Assists
MF/FW Jake Keegan // 5 G
FW Tomi Ameobi  // 2 G (7 G in 2015)

Captain Albert Watson will lead FC Edmonton into battle.

Indy Eleven // 4-4-2 Diamond
Palmer - Falvey - Janicki - Vukovic
Smart - Ring - Ubiparipović - Mares
Braun - Zayed

Key Stats:
GK Jon Busch // 0.93 GAA
FW Eamon Zayed // 15 G, 6 A
FW Justin Braun // 8 G , 5 A
MF Dylan Mares // 5 G, 6 A

Indy’s starting lineup is a known entity and only the defensive midfield and right back starters are debatable. At defensive midfielder we are tabbing Brad Ring to start over Gerardo Torrado because the latter has missed a few recent matches due to injury and the lineup with Ring has shown great consistency in that time. A 60th minute substitution of Torrado for Ring (or vice versa if Torrado starts) would be a good bet. At right back we believe Lovel Palmer will start rather than Marco Franco because of the experience that Palmer and goalkeeper Jon Busch have from a few seasons playing together. Franco is superior when Indy has possession but Palmer’s size and strength could be important on set pieces, and his almost telepathic way of communicating with goalkeeper Busch seems to help the defense coalesce.

Bloody Shambles Staff Predictions

Key player for Edmonton
Brandon Cockrum: Matt Van Oekel. Edmonton’s goalie is on the short list for player of the year and proved why in his three previous matches against the Eleven. Van Oekel was a difference maker in each match, making difficult saves that kept his club in the games. The Eleven will assuredly get their chances on goal and Van Oekel may need to keep all of them out for his team to emerge victorious.

James Cormack: 
FC Edmonton have great difficulties scoring lately and I expect a similar scenario for them on Saturday. They are going to need a top performance from a playmaker; the fact Sainey Nyassi only has four assists in 2016 and is their leading player in that statistic says it all, but most likely it will require a big game from Nyassi or possibly Daryl Fordyce.

Caleb Ramp: Matt Van Oekel. 0.55 GAA, enough said.

Key player for Indy
Brandon Cockrum: Éamon Zayed. The Irish striker lives for the big moment and may be the most clutch player in the league. In many of Indy’s biggest matches this season Zayed has found the net, most memorably in defining victories over New York and Carolina. He has the size to battle with Edmonton’s tough center backs and his positioning and awareness frequently puts him in the right place at the right time. With Zayed’s guile, just three shots on goal could add another chapter to his legend as a hat-trick hero.

James Cormack: It's hard to pick just one, but it will be someone in the midfield that can help open up the Edmonton back line. Ubiparipović, I feel could be the guy that is going to find the key pass to put attackers through, and Dylan Mares will also be very important doing the same or putting the ball in the net.

Siniša Ubiparipović has sparked the Indy offense with his re-emergence this Fall.

Caleb Ramp: Greg Janicki. Execution of set pieces - on both sides of the ball - are going to decide this match. There's a reason Greg scored two of Indy's three regular season goals against the Eddies. Honorable mention: Brad Ring. Brad's mobility and bulldog mentality will be crucial in shutting down Edmonton's counter attacking opportunities as they arise. If Ring doesn't start, Indy's likelihood of winning drops drastically.

Edmonton can win if…
Brandon Cockrum: The Edmonton defense has been the best in the league this season and their back five are among the top performers at their positions. While their attack would never be described as “strong” it has been capable of manufacturing enough goals to secure victories. The Eddies can win if Van Oekel stonewalls Indy for a full match and their offense can take advantage of Indy’s susceptibility to counter attacks on the wings. This team is used to winning matches late (maybe even more than Indy), so another goal in the games waning moments could propel them into the final.

James Cormack: 

If they can sign Lionel Messi maybe? Scoring is a big issue for them and if Indy Eleven plays with their big game mentality it is hard to see where the Eddies' goals will come from against this team at home. Holding Indy to 0-0 and winning on penalties might work, and would also be very painful to watch.

Caleb Ramp: Van Oekel is on his game, and the Eddies can force extra time and penalties. If this game goes the distance, Edmonton immediately flips from the underdog to a heavy favorite. 6'4" Van Oekel vs. 5'9" Jon Busch is not a shootout matchup the Eleven want to see.

Indy can win if…
Brandon Cockrum: Indy has a quality defense as well but their offense has driven the team's success. At home this season, Indy has reliably scored at least two goals and allowed one or fewer. If the Eleven can execute the game plan, limit Edmonton's clean shots on goal and stay focused until the final whistle they should emerge victorious.

James Cormack: 

Indy needs to bring their big game mentality and I expect that they will, like they did against Carolina to win the spring. As we saw in the road game at Edmonton, any falling asleep or switching off is costly, but if everyone is on the same page for 90 minutes they will win.

Caleb Ramp: Coach Hankinson pours it on early. The longer the match goes without a goal, the more likely it is that Indy can be beaten by one perfectly-executed counter-attack. The Eddies have thrived by keeping a match scoreless in the first half, and closing it out in the second. Indy can't allow that to happen.

Who will win and how?
Brandon Cockrum: Indy will win. The Eleven scored first in the three previous matches and I expect they will do the same this Saturday. Look for a midfielder to feed Zayed for a goal. If Edmonton is able to even the match, the Eleven will be spurred on by the Brickyard Battalion to find a match winner, possibly in extra time.

James Cormack: Indy Eleven will win. I do not see this game going over 90 minutes, as Indy's home form is what sets them apart. If the Eleven get one goal they will win, and they may get more, but as long as they get one and shut them out they’ll be fine. Indy, players and supporters, will have to be patient.

Caleb Ramp: Eleven will win 2-1. In the latter half of the season, Indy has repeatedly shown the ability to be lethal when given the bulk of possession at home -- something the Eddies will likely cede. The Eleven will first find the net toward the end of the first half, then double their lead near the 55-60th minute via a Don Smart counterattack. The Eddies will bring one back 10-15 minutes later (leading to a nervy final few minutes), but the Indy defense will ultimately withstand a terrifying set piece onslaught late.

Who will meet in the NASL final?
Brandon Cockrum: My heart and eyes want to witness a league final between Rayo OKC and Indy at Carroll stadium. My gut tells me that Indy will be traveling to New York City next weekend to face the Cosmos in an intimate environment for the coveted Soccer Bowl.

NASL's Soccer Bowl Trophy

James Cormack: 

I actually have a feeling it will be Indy Eleven and Rayo OKC. Rayo have proved they can handle pressure games and have played well against NYC this year; if they can score first I think they can progress. 

Caleb Ramp: Indy Eleven and Rayo OKC. Rayo enters the semifinals with the longest unbeaten streak of the four playoff teams. They were statistically the best road team in the NASL in 2016, and are one of only two teams (FC Edmonton) to earn a point in New York. Moreover, OKC is one of only three clubs (along with Indy Eleven and FC Edmonton) to finish the season with a positive aggregate goal differential vs. the Cosmos (4-2) - and the only team to do so while having to play in New York twice.

No comments:

Post a Comment