Tactical tweaks provide relief for Indy Eleven

After a rough patch, tactical changes seem to have helped Indy Eleven.

After a disturbingly uncharacteristic statistical May home streak, Indy Eleven went into their first match in June with a lot of weight on their shoulders. In league play in May, Indy Eleven had put 45 shots up in four matches, putting only 14 of those on target with only a goal to show for their efforts. The team looked tired physically and mentally and up until Saturday ahead of game time, fans were becoming increasingly disappointed with the team’s early-season struggles.

It was the feet of Kenney Walker and Tyler Pasher that would let Indy Eleven take a positive step into the month of June.

Differences in May and June

While mildly rotated due to a mid-week game, Indy Eleven pulled back the curtains and opened up the windows and let air flow through their tactics. It felt like Indy Eleven played with more confidence and purpose than previous matches. In the post-match press conference, Head Coach Martin Rennie talked about how the team was learning to play more selflessly with each other.

This change in mentality led to a more visible and statistical difference in the attacking approach Indy Eleven utilized. One of those statistical differences was 27 total crosses attempted during the match vs. Pittsburgh. In USL Championship play in May, Indy Eleven attempted no more than 19 crosses in a match. The 19 were attempted in a match they seemingly choked out a top team in the East, North Carolina FC.

Those 27 crosses vs. the Riverhounds were only accurate 33% percent of the time against Pittsburgh, but the driven strategy to force the ball out wide led to the middle of the attack being more open and free and allowed Dane Kelly, Thomas Enevoldsen, and Joshua Penn (along with others) to get better attempts on the ball.

Mitchell Osmund’s debut and heat maps

Ahead of Trinidad and Tobago International Neveal Hackshaw’s departure from the team for international duty, Martin Rennie decided it was time to give Mitchell Osmund his first start of the season. Hackshaw played his comfortable role on the left, Ouimette was given his role on the right, and Osmund was tasked with manning the middle of the field. He looked extremely comfortable in the back and actually completed the most passes (61 passes completed) and won the most duels (9) which are key stats for a borderline anchor in his position. Once Paddy Barrett re-enters the lineup against Memphis this weekend, this defense may not lose a step without the Trinidad and Tobago international Hackshaw.


In the previous weeks home games, in their 3-5-2 setup, the wingbacks were lining up at least initially further back to support the center backs. Of course, Ayoze and Lucas Farias would spring forward to provide a cross opportunity but at least a slight visual difference could be seen comparing the heat maps of the Nashville and Indy Eleven match.

Looking at the heatmaps from left to right like you were reading a book, you can notice two differences in these.

  1. In the Nashville match, Indy Eleven played with more separation from the midfield and played more defensively, with the wingbacks looking to play farther back. Of note is that when Tyler Pasher would play, he would typically line up on the left center midfield spot and make the wingback style runs he did Saturday against Pittsburgh.
  2. Reviewing the heatmap from the Indy Eleven and Pittsburgh Riverhounds map – Indy Eleven’s defense played a tremendously closer to the midfield and created a solid block which, as the game progress, became increasingly difficult for the Riverhounds to break down. You can also see that the left side of the field was a heavy spot for Tyler Pasher to make his runs.

That slight difference made a huge difference as Indy Eleven were able to attack from a position further up on the field rather than having to continuously hoof long balls in order to get into attacking positions. There is a defined gap between the defense and midfield that was fairly consistent through the month of May.

Neveal Hackshaw’s call up provides a big test

Long since rumored since his naming to the provisional roster for Trinidad and Tobago, Neveal Hackshaw has left the team following Saturday’s game ahead of an international friendly against Japan in Japan. Neveal’s call up is, of course, massive for him. Hackshaw has been called up 9 times, this being his 10th, and has been a long-standing member of Trinidad & Tobago. He has two goals on eleven appearances and his countless on the field achievements both as a player and leader for this team are more than deserving for a player of his stature and age (he’s 23 years old. Blew my mind.)

For Indy Eleven, Neveal’s call up provides a big test and chance for Mitchell Osmund to create more of a chance he gets placed in a rotation later on in the year. Hackshaw hasn’t been confirmed but is likely to be named to the 23 man roster for T&T run in the 2019 Gold Cup. What it also does for Martin Rennie is provide something that Indy Eleven really hasn’t had much of. A recruitment tool.

Indy Eleven is hitting a major milestone and growth spurt in their history. They no longer are the cool new kids in town with the cool car rolling up on the first day of school but now must face many expectations that common hit clubs. Performances on the field, success in selling tickets, and the growing task of constructing not only a stadium but the entirety of Eleven Park. Fan are clamoring for more and more each year and the expectation that a championship, which fans haven’t seen a glimpse since the 2016 run in the North American Soccer League’s playoffs, is becoming more and more of a requirement each season.

For Martin Rennie, however, Hackshaw’s call up and place in the Trinidad and Tobago set up allows him to speak to prospective players who might be the bit apprehensive of not only joining Indy Eleven but also the USL Championship and allows for the opportunity to say “Hey… come here… get your chance… and you might get called up for your international team.” For some players, representing their country is more of an honor than the club team they play on or a big paycheck. Quality players need time and sometimes time can’t come if you play in Major League Soccer.

Fans will be glued to TVs to watch United States play in the Gold Cup but for Indy Eleven fans, it will be exciting for fans to be able to tune into a match and go “That guy plays on the team I root for.”

Indy Eleven’s next league match will be Saturday, June 8th and will be their first league match away from Indianapolis and Lucas Oil stadium against a Memphis team that, like Hartford and other expansion teams, have a lot to prove. Following the victory against Pittsburgh, it seems like Martin Rennie and the boys in blue might have figured out this winning games thing.

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.