Sunday, May 21, 2017

Picked Apart: Indy Eleven vs Miami FC REVIEW (5/20/2017)

Frustration was the theme of the night when Indy Eleven faced league leaders Miami FC.

By Brandon Cockrum

Entering Saturday’s match head coach Tim Hankinson described the Eleven’s meeting last weekend as "being ripped apart" by Miami. This week the Eleven lined up with three defensive midfielders in an attempt to stymy a Miami attack that Hankinson said goes right down the middle of the park. The result: rather than being torn apart, Miami cooly picked Indy apart, taking advantage of two defensive errors from the Eleven to claim a 2-0 victory. The loss humbly ends Indy’s NASL record 21-game unbeaten streak at home.

The Eleven lined up with a full-strength back four, however Kwame Watson-Siriboe paired with Colin Falvey at center back to allow Lovel Palmer to shift forward into a central defensive midfield role next to Brad Ring. Gerardo Torrado was deployed in front of them, creating a defensive cone in the center of the pitch to deflect Miami attacks away from Indy’s core.

Ben Speas and rookie Tanner Thompson were split wide of Torrado as attacking midfielders with Justin Braun as a lone striker. Clearly, with just three true offense-oriented players, defense would be a priority for Indy and the strategy would be to manufacture a goal through heart and hustle rather than a refined attack.

For 25 minutes Indy held on with just a few breaks in their defensive shield and seemed to be gaining their footing. Jon Busch was forced to make a nice save from a corner kick header in the 10th minute and a Miami attacker shanked a shot high from seven yards out in the 16th minute.

In the 27th minute Indy looked poised to manufacture the game’s first goal as Justin Braun, after tackling the ball from Miami defender Rhett Bernstein, went one-on-one against goalkeeper Daniel Vega. But, Vega was up to the challenge and stopped Braun’s attempted flick dribble around him.

A rapid Miami counter after Vega's stop of Braun was halted by an Indy foul near the top of the penalty box. While Indy dropped their heads or turned their attention to the referee Miami quickly restarted play. Robert Kcira made a simple pass to Vincenzo Rennella waiting on Busch’s doorstep and the experienced striker calmly finished the play.

In a matter of one minute, Indy went from looking like they had the game’s first goal to being down 1-0 and staring up a large mountain with inadequate climbing gear.

The first half concluded with Miami content and Indy unable to create and possibly the only highlight after the goal being an animated discussion during a stoppage in play between Ring, Falvey, Marco Franco and Hankinson.

Defender Marco Franco looks to spark an Indy attack.

The second half continued similarly with Miami probing and testing the Indy defensive but not causing much trouble and Indy struggling to build anything resembling a threatening offense. Possession was frequently lost by the boys in pinstripes in the midfield through poor passing or lack of control. Only once in the game did the Eleven manage a shot from their opponents penalty box.

In the 72nd minute another defensive error from Indy provided Miami with another clear opportunity on goal. Away from the play, a slow moving Watson-Siriboe kept Miami’s Kwame Poku onside and allowed Michael Lahoud to play a through ball that beat Poku’s defender and put the attacker in on goal where he calmly beat Busch with a shot.

2-0, with Miami in front and not looking over their shoulder,

The sport’s most dangerous lead was never threatened as Indy continued to struggle creating offense. Mild urgency at the end was easily dealt with by the visitors as they saw the game out and claimed their league leading 17th point of the season.

Four Takeaways

Mares eagerly waits to take the field in Indianapolis.

Mares Thriving in Miami

It's bittersweet to see, but Dylan Mares has been a key cog for the league's top team. The plucky attacking midfielder has 2 goals, 1 assist and is a league leader in chances created. The Eleven would have liked to have kept the homegrown product but higher wages, sandy beaches and youthful ambition drew him to Miami. While highly respected, it might have taken a move away for Mares' quality to be fully appreciated by everyone in Indy.


The Eleven offense, currently missing in action, has now gone four matches without scoring a legitimate goal. Sure, they registered two goals last week in Miami but one was an own goal and one was due to a miscommunication between a defender and goalie on a ball that both had covered, a figurative gift from Miami for a clearly surprised goalscorer, Braun.

Among eight NASL teams, the Eleven are fifth in shots take and seventh in shot accuracy. So, they're not getting many shots off and those they do get are poorly taken.

A healthy Eamon Zayed and Don Smart should help the club find it’s lost attack but neither was even available for action on Saturday. It may be a few weeks (or more) before both return to full form and, even when they do, can we confidently say this team is poised for takeoff? More importantly, what do we do until then?

Roster Makeup

There has been pressure on coach Hankinson due to the poor results but he has lately been forced to put lipstick on a pig. A coach can only do so much with the ingredients he is given. Injuries should have been expected with a roster that is the league’s oldest club, however after the top 14 or so players there was a distinct drop-off in skill and experience. 

Now that injuries and poor form have hit the coach has few options to try. Two goalies are often part of our seven available subs on match day. Rookies David Goldsmith and Thompson have been required to play a lot of minutes, but this is a league that is very difficult for professional rookies to make an impact. Three in-season acquisitions have been feckless, to the point that none of them sniffed the pitch against Miami. On Saturday Daniel Keller was brought in late in the game with Indy needing to find goals. Last season, Nicki Paterson, Sinisa Ubiparipovic or other strong options were available off the bench for Hankinson. (Nothing against Keller but his skills are best utilized keeping the ball out of the net rather than putting it in.)

The club currently sits in sixth place (out of 8), well behind the top five. If club owner Ersal Ozdemir wants things to turn around it seems that he'll have to open up the checkbook for a key summer signing (or two).

Downward Spiral

The club’s poor results - six draws and three losses leave the club as the only pro team in the US without a victory - are now threatening the status of players and coaches. 

"If the downward spiral continues there will be changes, whether that’s coaching staff or players,” Hankinson told Greg Rakestraw on "Soccer Saturday" the morning of this match. 

With another poor result later that evening it seems that someone will be held accountable by the next match - the question is who and will it have a positive effect?

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