Looking back on Indy’s matchup with Loudoun United.
Indy Eleven began June with a relatively “easy” schedule if there could be one in a league like USL Championship. Away at Memphis and this past Saturday, away to another first-year expansion team, Loudoun United. The game, played at DC United’s Audi Field, was statistically on the side of Indy Eleven as Loudoun was not only in the bottom half of the table but had struggled to keep from conceding a large number of goals.
Loudoun, however, has been in an odd place in the season where they had been competitive against teams in the top ten while struggling against teams closer to them in the table. They had most notably beaten a top half New York Red Bulls 2 in April and stayed competitive leading up to the match with Indy, their last loss being the week prior against league champions, Louisville City.
Let’s break down a few points in what shall be called “Yes, No, Maybe So”
Yes: Indy Eleven actually adjusted well from half to half
While Indy Eleven would hammer Loudoun from the perspective of a shot early on in the game (28 shots versus 6 shots) the first half was heavily favored in Loudoun’s favor. Indy was kept relatively clear of Loudoun’s box in the first half from a passing perspective while Loudoun held many of their touches in and around Indy Eleven’s box, testing Jordan Farr, who was starting in place of the injured Evan Newton.
As the second half began, Indy Eleven began a more potent and defined attack getting inside and stressing shots in the box, which Indy registered an unreal 18. The differences in the passing map and touch maps can show that head coach Martin Rennie pushed for the team to hit the box more aggressively.
For all of the early season struggles, questions on tactics, and general lows among the highs that I was quick to hand out – This is proof that not only are the players able to get behind Martin Rennie as a coach but is an even bigger example of this team having been built to fit Martin Rennie’s style.
No: Why can’t this team finish?
Indy didn't deserve this win. Pure and simple. A stolen three points at the death. They struggle to find any resemblance of consistency offensively and with players like Kelly and Enevoldsen, Pasher is the one saving them.
They got outplayed and lucked into a W. #LDNvIND
— Brian Cook (@SoccerwithBrian) June 16, 2019
This was a tweet sent out following the game. Was it an overdone take? Probably. But the frustrations from this game stem from a number of areas.
The lone goal
The first half goal was entirely a lucky shot. A well placed lucky shot that was entirely based on Loudoun’s attack beating and stretching the defense for Indy. While this goal was lucky, the main source seemingly was the large pocket that allowed the Loudoun player to float to the edge of the box and rocket a ball past Farr. It felt like the team committed to much and a more comfortable relaxed retreat could have closed that pocket and kept Loudoun from their lone goal.
Lack of quality finishing
The much larger storyline and the larger element that came from Indy Eleven’s recent victory seems to be the growing storyline of Indy Eleven’s inability to finish chances.
There’s no denying that the work rate and drive of this team are incomparable. This season’s team has surpassed the mental side the team last year did. As we have gone week to week, after 13 game played, it’s okay to begin to get critical of the little parts of the team. 28 total shots with 18 shots from inside the box is an outrageous number for any team but a number that should result in more goals rather than more misses.
The frustration lies in the talent on the attacking side. Wins aside, a team with the tactical ability, the coaching ability, and the talent on the field, a result, with no offense to Loudoun United, coming from an own goal and a backdoor goal by Tyler Pasher shouldn’t ever be on the cards.
On Twitter, the tweet posted garnered many replies of “The work rate is next level” and “This is a sign of a team that doesn’t quit” and both of those are true statements. These games are garnering post-season skillsets that mentally help the team contend late into the season. However, the frustration lies more in the number of times that a positive work rate is used to mask poor finishing which is not something these team should lack in.
The irony is, Dane Kelly and Thomas Enevoldsen’s arrival to the team may have had myself building these expectations to the level I expected many others to build them up to.
For Indy Eleven to be successful and reach the level they want to be, they can’t be the team of “we shoot until we hit it.” While that might work for other teams it’s uncharacteristic for the players the team has. Fans might be willing to give it time but come September, the conversion rate (14.6, tied for 15th in USL Championship) will hopefully be higher.
Maybe So: Tyler Pasher’s left foot
Tyler Pasher has a whopping five goals tying statistically the highest goal total of his career. It’s a position he thrived in in 2018/19 where he was constantly a thorn in backline’s sides before he would eventually go out on injury. His return to the starting eleven in 2019 brought a new role where he acts as a third striker cutting in from the left side of the box and offering a third option.
Four of Pasher’s five goals have come in the last five games and three of the four goals have been game-winners (Charleston, Pittsburgh, and Loudoun United) with the Memphis tally being the icing on the cake. It’s a role many didn’t expect would emerge nor one that would see Tyler Pasher thrive.
Pasher’s performance brings to question that, if Pasher wasn’t on the field, who would fit into that role that has gone from unknown to highly needed. With the struggles to finish and the focus on often locking Dane Kelly (4 goals, 2 assists) and Thomas Enevoldsen (3 goals, 1 assist) a third attacking option has been difficult to come by.
One option statistically could either Kenney Walker or Kim Do-Heon, who has emerged as the central playmaker for the team. While neither has provided the goal numbers the previous three have, their assist numbers prove they have been able to get forward and could be a solid third option. If you want to look further than that, Ayoze, who has been battling fitness issues, has created 23 total chances which is just behind team leader Thomas Enevoldsen who has created 29. It would stress him out of position getting that far up, but Ayoze and Pasher when on the field often stresses out the left side of the field so it wouldn’t be unheard of for him to be in that role.
Pasher’s success is worth celebrating but it casts a shadow over the other attacking parts. Even if it’s not intentional, Indy Eleven’s long-term success can’t rely on a guy playing above his weight statistically and other attacking pieces have to step up in order to achieve their goals. Soccer is funny like that. It’s not a sport like college football, where quality of victory or losses play into things like playoff seedings, however, statistical dumps like 18 shots from inside the box and relatively square on, out of total 28 total shots are stats that catch up quickly when bigger games occur and something Indy Eleven has to improve in order to perform as many have expected.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Indy Eleven hasn’t begun to play like a title-winning side. Early season predictions aside, teams like Nashville, Louisville, and Tampa all get named ahead of Indy by most who look at the Eastern conference. Wins aside, form aside, that’s the next challenge presented in front of Martin Rennie. Reach the upper level of USL Championship and begin to back up consistently what has been said about Indiana’s team.