Changes and trends
Last season, Indy Eleven had one key plan: lump it to Tyler Pasher and hope for the best. Within that oh-so-simple framework, there existed a surprising amount of variation and diversity. The Canadian stretched back lines with his pace, and the passes into his vicinity generated dangerous second balls, helping the team to a sizzling start that saw them end 2020 as a top-five USL side in shots on target. Still, that initial run of success fizzled out as the Boys in Blue missed the playoffs. Teams often used a back three to leave two free men while Pasher was man-marked, and the Eleven fizzled out late on.
In 2021, Indy doesn't have a Pasher to drive offense, and the results have been less than stellar. The Eleven are near-bottom by any attacking metric and sit precariously on the brink of a playoff berth. A midseason managerial change hasn't quite sparked new life into the team, though there has been more experimentation and variety. Given all that, I wanted to analyze the best routes to shot creation for this side and posit some ways to generate more punch moving forward.
Below, you can check out three examples of Indy generating chances from direct play and long balls. This side doesn't play the most long passes in the league in absolute terms, but they do average a high amount of long goal kicks and often default to lumping it forward when buildup is frustrated.
In the first clip, Indy takes a long goal kick to restart. You can see the basic four-man defensive line and three-man midfield, with Wild drifting near the latter. This positioning forces the hosts up a step and creates space. Meanwhile, Arteaga engages a Tulsa defender on the header, and Hamilton gets a half-chance on goal as a result of the knock-on. It's not pretty, but it's effective and direct offense.
Clip two starts similarly in terms of shape, forward positioning, and pass length, but Indy loses the header. Here, you can see the value of the second ball. Law is in good position to recover position, and he launches Gutjahr into space. Meanwhile, Tulsa has been sucked up again by the loose ball opportunity and the aforementioned forward depth; Vassell gets in behind as a result, and it's 1-0 to the good guys.
The final play is somewhat distinct. Ouimette boots it long from his central defensive spot far beyond the forward line. In essence, he's manufacturing that loose and unstructured second-ball scenario by design. Indy and Atlanta are essentially matched for numbers, and a wonderful set of runs and passes from Wild and company tee up a golden chance that goes wanting.
Pressure and turnovers
I wouldn't identify the Boys in Blue as one of the USL's leading pressing sides like, say, a New Mexico, but they do show signs of using high pressure to generate advantageous scenarios in the attacking third. You can see two recent instances of the value of the Indy press in the ensuing clips.
The first video sees two forwards pressing up high, cutting off central passing angles and forcing Tulsa into a riskier ball up the pitch. Seagrist intercepts, and it's off to the races for the Eleven. This attacking-by-defending style lets the Eleven start their offensive move with six men in the offensive zone and the opponents in relative disarray. The end result is a somewhat selfish long shot, but the blueprint for something better is clear to see.
In clip number two, Hamilton's presence as the spearhead of the press sees him close down on the goalie. As such, Wild is able to burst up from deep and intercept. #10 gathers himself quickly and crosses into the box against a rattled Atlanta side, but Arteaga's header goes wide. Again, though, you can see how looks from press-driven turnovers leave opponents out of shape and let Indy generate numerical advantages in dangerous areas.
Indy's prettiest, most fluid chances have come from movement and positional swapping in the midfield. I recently covered Ayoze's evolving role in that vein, and you can see more of those sorts of opportunities below.
The first chance here sees Ayoze move into zone fourteen (the area above the box in the middle of the pitch), where one might expect to find Gordon Wild. Arteaga likewise moves inside, clearing the left flank for Seagrist. Meanwhile. Sissoko has burst upfield, circling wide to addle the Tulsa defense. Seagrist and Arteaga can thus find space at the far post with Tulsa fixated centrally, and Wild has room to cross thanks to #85's overlap.
Indy's second chance begins with Ayoze driving up the pitch. He's still absolutely vital to the side's attack, and here he creates an overload as two forwards and both attacking-minded midfielders sit on one side. Atlanta closes hard to that side, releasing Arteaga into central space and allowing Vassell a gap in the opposite half-space. Things go awry, but positional flexibility is key to the overall opportunity.
If I ruled the world, every Indy attack would look like the one pictured below from the most recent Oklahoma City game.
The wonderful midfield-to-forward interchange of Law and Gutjahr, clever movement and ball carriage of Ayoze, and hold-up play of Arteaga draw the Energy out of shape and let #7 get in behind for a lovely finish. You'd bucket this goal in my third category, and I'd argue that possession-centric soccer driven by free movement ought to be the main route to opportunities that this team pursues.
How to best generate these scenarios? Players need to be deliberate on the ball and sparing in their risk-taking, and the deepest midfielder has to focus on recycling possession. There has to be a willingness to push numbers forward, which puts the onus on the central defenders to manage counterattacks and avoid passing mistakes of their own. Most crucially, players need to constantly probe and work off of one another.
Still, not every move can go as smoothly as the one above. Indy rates around league average in terms of possession and won't always face a side with a vulnerable central duo. That's where the need for diversity comes in. Pressure dually prevents chances for opponents and highlights the guile of creators while generating numerical overloads; long balls from the back, used sparingly, can catch opponents out or manufacture chaotic voids that lead to opportunities. Attacking diversity in these veins is crucial even if interchange from Wild, Ayoze, and Law is my recommendation for 2021's Pasher-esque main thrust.