A diagnostic look at “Rennie Ball”

Ladies and gents, the newest addition to the soccer slang dictionary: Rennie Ball.

As the season has progressed, Indy Eleven fans have begun to notice a real trend. If Dane Kelly struggles, the attack struggles and if the attack struggles, the team struggles to score goals. According to a series of polls on my Twitter account, out of the three “sections” of the team (attack, midfield, and defense/goalkeeping), Indy Eleven fans were most disappointed with the performance of the attack while other portions of the field were found to have met or exceeded expectations so far in 2019.

Indy Eleven haven’t been bombing in the number of goals expected when you sign the all-time league leader in goals and the 2019 runner-up for the Golden Boot. Through no fault of their own, their presence up top often dominates the pace of the attack and draws centerbacks and wingbacks inward to cover up their attack.

Enter Pasher

Tyler Pasher joined Indy Eleven in the roster building frenzy of 2018 and thrived under Martin Rennie early. Pasher typically was found on the wing and hugged the sideline, pushing past the wide defensive players and testing many defenses before an unfortunate neck injury kept him out after 10 appearances in 2018. A chip on his shoulder, his re-signing in 2019 was a statement to better himself.

Tyler Pasher is on pace to eclipse his stats in 2018. He’s gotten two goals (one with each foot) and has brought Indy Eleven a front to their midfield with dynamic passing ability and fairly consistent passing success to the tune of 83%.

One of the challenges for players like Tyler Pasher is often his contributions have less statistical contribution and more of an enhancement visually when he’s on the field. Reviewing statistics from the Charleston Battery-Indy Eleven match last week, which saw Tyler Pasher subbed on for Kenney Walker at the beginning of the first half, Pasher was placed in a position that clearly was lacking. Dane Kelly was being aggressively marked and Enevoldsen was struggling to get clear shots on target. As a result, Pasher, abandoning the central location that Walker held, opened up the three-man defense that Charleston had deployed and gave a third option for Indiana’s team. His efforts wouldn’t go unrewarded as he scored the only goal in the game.

The player or the role?

Tyler Pasher’s role since returning from injury early last season has created the bridge between the midfield and forwards. More so since their shift from three to a more consistent five at the back formation, his being able to slot in the left center midfield area and overload the wingers alongside Ayoze has provided much-desired opportunities on goal.

Kim Do-Heon earned his first start against Nashville this past weekend. His start was primarily to provide playmaking options and a bit of rotation for the team ahead of three games in seven days.

Do-Heon’s first start was what he was billed with after the team announced his signing. He was generally collected and smart in distribution and helped hold down the midfield which, in Martin Rennie’s 5-3-2 formation, is what he desires. The issue, over time, was that no one was truly creating big chances. Pasher, even in the Nashville game, struggled to provide more than Kim Do-Heon did in chances created.

Rennie Ball

Much like the famous “Lilleyball” which gets tossed by those who have had teams coached by the infamous Bob Lilley, this style of hyper possession and defensive style tactics is a trademark of Martin Rennie and what has gotten him to this point in his career.

The topic of expectations often comes up with this team. At the beginning of the season, many expected Indy Eleven to do two things.

  1. Be towards the top of the table fairly easily
  2. Bang in a ton of goals.

Neither has occurred. Optimistically, you can look at the two games in hand and still see room for improvement and as I’ve written before, I do believe this team can fix these issues eventually. Unfortunately, the “fix” for this lack of scoring isn’t something that’s typical for Rennie Ball. One of the biggest issues and possible fixes is installing a Pasher-like position that runs at the opposing defense and forcing decisions to be made.

Going back to the Charleston game, Tyler Pasher’s role when he came in was not only to overload the left-hand side but having a third player attacking behind Enevoldsen and Kelly opened up the defense to making decisions and deciding who they would close down which was a scenario that played out against Nashville at home.

Kelly is not a hold up player, but reviewing the Nashville game, his intelligence to knock the ball back, turn, keep on the run, and for Enevoldsen and Do-Heon who were behind those Nashville players to see Farias open came as a product of proper transition play and even better, numbers in attacking runs. Obviously, this play wouldn’t end up with a converted chance, but the play shows that Indy Eleven has that ability they just need to organize themselves.

There’s still time. There will always be time for this team and time will always be an excuse for any team performing below expectations. In a 10 team playoff system, as USL Championship has set up, it’s certainly possible to draw your way into the playoffs. Simply put, however, scoring consistently is not a switch you can flip. Indy Eleven will find that out if they progress further in the US Open Cup, but you have to score goals consistently to be able to lift trophies which is something the team has set out as a goal for this year.

While it’s safe to hold onto the ball and play a style that has led to record-setting clean sheets for goalkeeper Evan Newton, low goal conversions are what kill playoff runs. You can draw games during the season but come playoff time, Indy Eleven needs to learn to score or they will fall below their expectations once again.

Brian Cook

Brian has followed Indy Eleven as a supporter since their birth and began covering the team in a number of capacities in 2015. He can be reached at brianfrederickcook@gmail.com or @SoccerwithBrian on Twitter.