Penn FC Preview: Q&A with The Brotherly Game

What is Penn FC all about? I went local to find out. This week, Chris Bratton of The Brotherly Game fills us in on the former Harrisburg City Islanders.

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Photo via Penn FC

For Club and Country: From an outsider’s perspective, it feels like there’s been some weirdness with the rebrand from City Islanders (with talk of “first-ever home game, etc.). How has the change gone over locally?

Chris Bratton: Yeah there were some social media posts about the “first home opener” that tended to gloss over the City Islanders history of the team. But having to tack on “first home opener since rebranding from the Harrisburg City Islanders” onto every post would have been pretty annoying too. I don’t hold it against them.

I think the change has gone over well myself. It feels like they’re pulling in some new fans with the Rush Soccer connection [a youth program that now officially feeds into the professional club] and there were still plenty of Harrisburg people who turned up in their City Islanders gear as well.

FCAC: Scoring hasn’t come easily this year, but things appear to be on the upward trajectory. How does Penn FC keep scoring? Is improvement as simple a matter as getting Tommy Heinemann more integrated with the squad after a late signing?

CB: There’s been a lot of scoring chances where it has felt like the players are just a step or two out of sync and the opportunity fizzles out. We don’t have many guys who can make a goal happen on their own, so its gotta be a team effort. But many of the guys, not just Tommy, only officially joined the team in March or later and they were playing all over the place last season. I think as they spend more time playing together, they’ll learn to read each other better and that’ll help with the scoring.

FCAC: On the other end of the pitch, the defense has been beyond solid to date. What’s behind the success in keeping opponents off the scoreboard?

CB: Well they’ve been playing in a favorable formation so that has helped keep them from giving up many opportunities so far this season. Also I’ve been very impressed with how Romu Peiser has played this season. He’s a very active keeper and he’s willing to come way off his line to shut down chances before they develop. Diving for headers outside the box and crazy stuff like that. It’s fun to watch.

FCAC: who are some of the standouts that Nashville fans should be looking out for (beyond the obvious in Heinemann)?

CB: I want to single out a few solid guys who might not have flashy stats, but they’ve played well so far. There’s Mauro Estaquio who plays as a holding midfielder. His distribution has been great and he just had a beautiful assist against Charleston. Dan Metzger has also been solid in the midfield, but he was out of the starting XI last weekend. And it has been exciting to have Ken Tribbett back in Harrisburg. He did a great job for the City Islanders in 2015 and he’s been playing solid at center back for Penn FC.

FCAC: What were the expectations coming into the season, and how have the first four games stacked up against that?

CB: Some people had Penn FC at the bottom of the league in their preseason predictions, but I didn’t think that was fair with all of the talent that they picked up during the offseason. I think expectations should be similar to previous years where they stick to the middle of the Eastern Conference and just try to get hot at the right time. The team is really hurting for that first win, but the early schedule has been tough. They can’t be too upset holding teams like Pittsburgh and ATL UTD 2 to a draw based on how they’re playing this season.

FCAC: Finally, what do you expect for a starting lineup? Any other specific predictions (including a final score)?

CB: I think there’ll be some surprises in the starting lineup Tuesday night. The team has a crowded schedule this week, so I think Raoul Voss might put in some new guys to try and keep other starters from getting too tired. So you might get to see guys like Freddie Opoku, Jerry Ortiz, and Kyle Venter starting for the first time this season

I really went back and forth on my prediction for this match because I felt like either team could get a 1-0 win. So I’m going to take the safe pick and say a 1-1 draw.

Many thanks to Chris for his time. For more on Penn FC, don’t forget to head over to The Brotherly Game!

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USL East power ratings: April 23, 2018

A weekly look at the quality of the teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference. A bit on the methodology in last week’s post. Cliff’s Notes version: No goal differential, no home/away information included. It’s a simple strength of schedule (opponent points per game outside of the game(s) when they were playing you) multiplied by your ability to get results (points per game).

Conceptually, it’s a look at not just how you performed, but who you’ve done it against. Teams like Nashville with good-not-great results (but a very tough strength of schedule, tied with Cincinnati at the top) are going to be ranked ahead of the Charlottes Pittsburghs, that have good-not-great results to date and have done it against two of the three easiest schedules played by anyone yet this year – more on Pittsburgh in a moment.

The ratings also include only USL East games: there were two inter-conference matchups this weekend (Tampa over Real Monarchs, NYRBII drew Galaxy 2), and those aren’t going to factor in here at all. There just aren’t going to be enough data points over the course of the year to compare between conferences.

Without further ado, here are the ratings:

  1. Louisville City – 4.52
  2. FC Cincinnati – 3.03
  3. Atlanta United 2 – 3.00 (+1)
  4. Indy Eleven – 2.78 (-1)
  5. Nashville SC – 2.65
  6. Tampa Bay Rowdies – 2.52
  7. New York Red Bulls II – 2.33
  8. Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 1.80 (+1)
  9. Richmond Kickers – 1.28 (+1)
  10. Bethlehem Steel – 1.25 (+1)
  11. Charleston Battery – 1.23 (-3)
  12. Charlotte Independence – 1.01 (+2)
  13. Penn FC – 0.95 (-1)
  14. North Carolina FC – 0.79 (-1)
  15. Toronto FC II – 0.31
  16. Ottawa Fury – 0.29

Here’s a handy chart tracking week-to-week changes since the data was robust enough to have no “divide by zero” errors (April 2):

 

USL East Power ratings April 2, 2018 Louisville City Nashville SC
Unless somebody jumps back above 6 (I’m not expecting it), I’ll scale out that Week 2 Louisville rating in future editions. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Analysis

Everybody has at least one result now! Toronto FC tied North Carolina FC Wednesday evening, while Ottawa Fury achieved the same result Saturday (both by 1-1 counts). That triumvirate is probably going to be very comfortably in a tier of its own at the bottom of the table once the schedules even out over the course of the Summer.

This was a draw-happy week, which makes each game worth only two points – one for each team – rather than the three that a victorious team receives. That has dropped the average rating on the table: from 2.34 April 2 to 2.11 April 9, to 1.93 last week, to 1.86 this week. I’m not sure where it’ll level off to over time.

Louisville took its first dropped points of the year Saturday, drawing Atlanta United 2 (and giving the Five Stripes Junior a strength of schedule bump to move past Indy Eleven). That dropped their power rating nearly a whole point, but they’re still way, way ahead of the pack. With Bethlehem Steel coming up this weekend, they may make another minor dip, but it’s going to be a while before anyone catches Louisville.

Pittsburgh has become an early darling among the punditry, and for decent reasons: they’re undefeated, and have two results away from home (both against pretty good sides in Nashville and Cincinnati). However, their other three games have come against the bottom of the barrel: drawing a home match against a Penn FC team that might bounce back a little bit, but currently looks pretty bad, and beating the two worst teams (by a country mile) in the East, also at home. Maybe the Riverhounds end up being pretty good; at this point, there’s nothing to indicate they’re any better than anyone rated 2-7 above.

What it means for Nashville SC

The strength-of-schedule rating for the Boys in Gold is certain to drop after Tuesday: Penn FC is one of the weakest sides in the league to date. However, given that the two weakest teams on the schedule to date (Bethlehem and Charlotte) are playing the two strongest (Louisville and Indy, respectively), the SOS won’t likely dip any further on the weekend.

If NSC takes cares of business in Harrisburg tomorrow evening, there’s a decent chance they make a slight climb in the rankings, because Cincinnati (Ottawa Fury) and Atlanta 2 (Charleston) both also play teams that aren’t going to boost their strengths of schedule. NSC should be able to beat Penn, and if the result is just a draw, I’d consider that a negative, though it likely wouldn’t drop their power rating enough to move them from fifth place in the league.

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Pitch Points pays solidarity

Welcome to Pitch Points: rounding up links of interest in Nashville, US Soccer, and other topics of interest. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, where you can always drop links to share in one of these posts.

Development. This one snuck through (as in “I had a tab for it open and totally forgot to include it”) last week’s links post, but it’s très intéressant. New England Revolution is basically starting solidarity payments unilaterally.

Recognizing the important role alliance clubs play in nurturing young talent, the Revolution Academy is investing back in the soccer communities that develop Homegrown Players for the Revolution’s first team and has established a scholarship program for Academy Alliance Partners. The scholarship will be awarded when a partner club’s former player signs a first team contract with the Revolution and is intended to recognize the role the alliance clubs provide in developing players who join the New England Revolution Academy.

I’ve made it very clear that solidarity payments are an important part of reducing the importance of pay-to-play in our country (truly original idea, that), and while it’ll never completely go away – as long as there are folks willing to pay to get their kids another bit of coaching, onto another club team, etc., there will be pay-to-play mechanisms – allowing a wider range of players (in terms of SES primarily, but geography, ethnicity, and other delineating factors, as well) will naturally improve things.

That’s one of multiple initiatives mentioned in that release, which also includes free ID clinics conducted by the club. The more development pathways, the better.

There’s some form of great exodus from Girls’ DA to ECNL, which… I don’t really know how to read too much into it: I haven’t paid enough attention to the conflict to know the motivations, the differences between the two (my understanding had been that ECNL existed instead of Girls’ DA, then the federation launched a competitor to what had been a partner), etc. Just something to pay a bit of attention to, I guess.

That’s always a good time to focus on the core product of youth sports in general (H/T Beau Dure on Twitter).

#MLS2Cincy? Plenty of developments in the Queen City’s push for an MLS team in the past week-plus. FCC got approval for its preferred West End location for its stadium. MLS owners met about it, didn’t say anything specific about their opinions. Local media in Cincinnati is waiting with bated breath nonetheless.

The MLS website did a straight news story about the stadium developments, but the official statement was entirely unenlightening. I’m still expecting that we’re in a “dot i’s cross t’s” situation nonetheless.

(I’m still absolutely dumbfounded that the Detroit papers – one of which I used to freelance for, in the interest of full disclosure – are absolutely clueless about the fact that the Gilbert/Gores decision to make Ford Field their site absolutely ended any chance of their bid being chosen. You can’t hurt chances that already stand at zero).

Tactical talk. I’m always interested in a little bit of work on the chalkboard (as you all know). Here’s an interesting one: Atlanta United has made basically the opposite shift in philosophy that Nashville SC has, and both changes have spurred decent runs of form for their respective teams.

As we all know by now, Tata Martino shifted Atlanta United’s shape after a dismal start to the season in Houston, moving from his usual 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2. Yours truly and our own John Fuller covered the manager’s formation change last month. And the move sparked the team’s current five-match unbeaten run, seeing AU shift into a more direct, counter attacking side in recent weeks.

Without knowing too much about the way the games for Atlanta has played out – or, honestly, the strengths and weaknesses of their personnel outside of what I saw in First Tennessee Park two months ago – I couldn’t say if the opposite directions (with similar results in the table) are a matter of the competition played, individual fit, or what. I do know that it’s a little tidbit of interest.

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Screencap courtesy Dirty South Soccer.

 

It’s also an indication that there’s more than one way to skin a cat: NSC has gone from a seemingly defensive 5-3-2 to the 4-4-2 and remained defensively stout while adding a little more attacking punch. Atlanta has gone in the opposite direction to shore up its defense while remaining a threat going forward. They obviously have the players (and wage outlay) to play a little differently than Nashville does.

Brazil’s first division getting going. The opening of this story takes a nice little (deserved – I’ve voiced some of my concerns with the book before) shot at Soccernomics, but the content of the story is interesting nonetheless: why Brazil doesn’t have a national league that sports globally competitive clubs.

There are multiple reasons, of course, some of them political, many of them economic, plenty of them related to talent acquisition (would you rather move to Brazil and get murdered or, like, Italy?). We shall see if corruption cleanup is enough to change the status quo in a major way.

Etc.: Idea: let’s not do the homophobia thing anymore. Cool. … American Soccer Now with the projected roster for the next USMNT friendlies. The list of scheduled games now includes England, by the way. … The ESPN+ launch has been interesting, to say the least, though Pravda has a different take on it. … The official Nashville SC site profiles Kosuke Kimura.

The Wrap: Indy Eleven 2-1 Nashville SC

Welcome to The Wrap! This is the final piece on the last game (tying together all content, here there and everywhere) before moving onto the next one. While you’re here, don’t forget to follow the site on Facebook and Twitter.

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Local content

I was there.

The halftime reset and game story:

INDIANAPOLIS – At halftime, it certainly seemed like there would be more goals in this game. Indy’s Soony Saad got in behind once, and scored a golazo from a free kick, then Nashville’s Ropapa Mensah pulled one back shortly before halftime (and almost equalized at the death). However, it wasn’t to be, and the halftime score held as the final: Indy Eleven 2, Nashville SC 1.

Game column with some quotes from Gary Smith and his players (and video and a transcript of those quotes and more):

Indy’s Soony Saad struck on the counter attack, sneaking in behind the defense after a failed header to clear, then beating Nashville SC keeper Matt Pickens one-on-one in the 15th minute. Just 20 minutes later, Saad struck again on an outstanding strike from a free kick. While Nashville SC would respond, the hole was too deep.

Don’t forget that until Monday-ish of each week, you can vote in the community player ratings. They make their way into the breakdown and player ratings. In this week’s edition of that post, I picked the goal-scorer (and a relatively consistent threat) Ropapa Mensah to be Man of the Match:

Mensah was obviously your goal-scorer on the nice finish embedded above, and had some other nice chances at goal, including a second right before halftime, and one late in the game. He did seem to run out of gas a bit (I would have preferred to replace him, rather than Moloto, with Hume late in the game), and some of his later efforts definitely had to be frustrating, whether wild shots that were well wide or the lack of motor to try to get onto a long ball. He also has some sketchy moments in hold-up play with giveaways, but those should reduce with experience and conditioning.

I also broke down the first Indianapolis goal, and looked at how it contributed to the halftime sub of Liam Doyle.

It it time to worry about NSC’s standing in the Eastern Conference? (No). USL East Power Rankings will be a regular weekly feature going forward.

Elsewhere – Blogdom

Music City Soccer gamer. Golden Goal game story, and a look at the things the club can learn from the Indy loss. Soccer Speedway‘s player ratingsSoc Takes game story from the Indy side, and a bunch of photos. Saad was named the USL’s player of the week. The fact that his free-kick finish wasn’t goal of the week (losing to… this…) is an indication that maybe having fans vote is a bad system.

Elsewhere – Newsy types

Game story from the USL. USA Today Sports Network Tennessee three takeawaysIndianapolis Star game story from friend-of-the-blog Kevin Johnston. Ropapa Mensah goal = Ghana Soccer Net mentionIndiana Sports Coverage (thrilling name for an outlet) recap, and a plea to not worry about attendance. Plenty about the game in the league’s Eastern Conference Notebook.

From the film room: Indy pops one over the top for a goal

It would be fair to say that both goals allowed by Nashville SC Saturday came away from the run of play (if not totally against it). The first one set the tone, and certainly came against the run of play. How did it happen?

The setup

Nashville was in its now-standard 4-4-2, while Indy played a similar formation (though with the strikers stacked on top of each other more often than not, rather than side-by-side).

Notably, the Boys in Gold are in their high-press tactic. We’ve seen them employ it plenty in the past couple weeks, mostly with success. It was beaten on this play. However, as you can see in the image below, the starting positions of the players are fairly solid, with three lines (and good spacing) holding Indy Eleven deep in their own territory:

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As you can surmise from what I said above, this is what it’s supposed to look like (the ball starts at the feet of No. 6, defensive midfielder Nico Matern). Alan Winn and Justin Davis are in position to slow down a rush if there’s a big switch to the other side of the field, the two centerbacks are in relatively conservative positions, and the remaining six field players are providing plenty of pressure on the Eleven (we saw earlier this week that a lot of ineffectual passing across the backline was the result of Indy’s inability to beat NSC).

That means this will likely boil down to individual errors, rather than tactical or team-wide breakdowns.

Video

While Nashville SC is in good positions man-for-man, Indy still beats the Boys in Gold over the top:

What happens

There are a handful of individual errors (or breakdowns; I wouldn’t necessarily classify each of the ensuing things as a mistake) that lead to the goal:

  • Taylor Washington, in the high press, fails to get ball pressure on Ayoze when the ball is passed to the left back. While he doesn’t need to get directly in Ayoze’s face, Washington should certainly do a bit more to get forward and prevent him from launching an accurate pass well downfield.
  • Bolu Akinyode is marking two players – strikers Jack McInerney and Soony Saad. That may be the lone problem at the beginning of the play (Winn should likely be playing a little deeper so that he can get all the way back in the unlikely event that a ball gets over the top). When McInerney sinks to show for the ball, Saad starts a run in behind.
  • Bradley Bourgeois and Liam Doyle are still in pretty good position. However, Bourgeois is in an outside position on the lone offensive threat (hardly the greatest issue when he has help), and Doyle steps upfield when Saad is running.
  • Thanks to Saad’s speed, an ill-advised attempt at a headed clearance from Doyle allows the striker to get in behind both centerbacks. Left back Justin Davis doesn’t have the speed to make it all the way across the field to overcome the mistake that leads to the run in behind.
  • Finally (and this is probably the least of the mistakes), Matt Pickens gets caught in a bit of a na-man’s land. He can’t decide whether he wants to leave his line and try to cut of Saad’s angles, or stay on his line and be a pure shot-stopper. As a result, there are still some angles open and not enough distance between the two for Pickens to react to the shot once Saad gets it off.

Without any of those individual errors, this goal probably doesn’t happen. Doyle’s is the cardinal sin, of course, but without a bit of bad luck of all these things happening on the same play (the miracle of goal-scoring in soccer), the offensive play breaks down somewhere.

Takeaways

This wasn’t the lone reason Liam Doyle met the bench at halftime (giving up an unnecessary free kick that resulted in the second goal and earning a yellow on a smart play made his continued presence on the field a risk), but it certainly didn’t help. We have quite a bit of data on Doyle now, and – especially when playing in the even backline, rather than as the middle centerback of a three/five-man line – stepping up to be aggressive is a hallmark of his play. That has led to mistakes, but has also led to less-flashy (and less-memorable) solid takeaways, too.

When he’s on a yellow, and the opponent seems to be positioned to take advantage of that aggression, you start to have second thoughts at halftime. When the replacement player is a Premier League vet, it’s an easy choice.

The rest of the mistakes border on minimal: Taylor Washington will likely improve his ball pressure after just the one mistake (if you can classify it as that) was maximized to the maximum degree. Matt Pickens’s error can hardly be classified as such, though being decisive one way or the other about coming off his line could only have helped.

The only potential tactical adjustment might be to how the two centerbacks and Akinyode together handle a pair of strikers. Maybe a bit more help arrives in the form of that left midfielder, maybe Doyle sinks a bit deeper while Davis plays a more conservative position to the inside and closer to his own goal (which we’d actually seen more of before this: the fact that the ball was served from so deep in Indy’s end was the main reason he wasn’t ready).

More than anything, a whole heck of a lot of teams aren’t going to have both the talent and the luck that Indy had on this play to make every little piece count.

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Nashville SC sits eighth in the East… time to worry?

Hey, would I be writing this post if the answer were “yes?” Of course I wouldn’t. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook.

Nashville SC stands eighth in the USL’s Eastern Conference, currently occupying the final playoff slot if the season were to end today (you know, those seasons that end after less than 15% completion). However, various power rankings slot them in that spot – or even below it – indicating that their season to date has actually been worse than the number of points they’ve accrued in that time. (Not picking on Bryan here either; his tweet was just my entry point into this thought process).

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In my eyes, we’re basically still in “calm before the storm” territory this season. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.

At this early stage, the mechanism for that would be that the schedule is not representative of the difficulty the rest of the way: an easy strength of schedule means that Nashville is overachieving in points per game in comparison to what they’ll do the rest of the season. I think you see where I’m going with this.

In fact, Nashville SC has played the most difficult slate to date in the Eastern Conference. Their opponents have averaged 1.86 points per game, nearly a tenth of a point clear of the second-toughest, Richmond (which has played a bad NCFC, a good New York Red Bulls II, and three common opponents with the Boys in Gold: Louisville, Indianapolis, and Bethlehem).

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“Power” is a team’s average points per game multiplied by their opponents’ strength (middle column)

Of course, Nashville has donated a few points to the teams they’ve played (three each to Louisville and Indy, one to Pittsburgh). How good have those teams been when not playing NSC? Actually, slightly better, with an average of 2.00 points per game. Cincinnati moves up even more (they have one fewer loss than NSC, meaning they gave up three fewer points), going from 1.76 points per game with the contests against FCC included to a first-place tie at 2.00 in opponent points per game against other opponents. Like Richmond, their schedule is pretty close to Nashville’s, with Louisville, Indianapolis, and Bethlehem in common, while also playing Charleston instead of Pittsburgh and Louisville.

 

All this is to say: Nashville has decent results to date, and far from being a product of an easy schedule, theirs has been the most difficult in the USL (tied with Cincinnati in what I think to be the better of the two ways to look at it). The easiest schedules by far have gone to Charlotte Eagles and Pittsburgh Riverhounds, which might explain semi-surprising strong beginnings to the season. They might slide back, as each is more than half a point clear than the No. 3 easiest schedule (Red Bulls II, after whom there’s a reasonably regular spread).

Of course, NSC has one of the most difficult schedules overall, with triple plays against Louisville, Cincy, Charlotte, and Atlanta United 2 (currently sitting No. 9, having done so against the No. 3 toughest schedule to date in the league). While things have been tough so far, that means they aren’t necessarily going to equalize over the course of the year.

So, based on my calculations, the power rankings (based exclusively on results to date) would be reasonably be the following:

  1. Louisville City FC – 5.40
  2. Fußball Club Cincinnati – 3.50
  3. Indy Eleven – 2.89
  4. Atlanta United 2 – 2.83
  5. Nashville SC – 2.80
  6. Tampa Bay Rowdies – 2.7
  7. New York Red Bulls II – 2.4
  8. Charleston Battery – 1.5
  9. Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 1.4
  10. Richmond Kickers – 1.36
  11. Bethlehem Steel – 1.28
  12. Penn FC – 1.00
  13. North Carolina FC – 1.00*
  14. Charlotte Independence – 0.86
  15. Toronto FC II – 0.00
  16. Ottawa Fury FC – 0.00*

Tie broken on strength of schedule multiplier in instances where the product comes out the same… including the two winless teams.

Goal differential, home/away, and any other factor traditionally taken into account has not been included here. However, aside from Charlotte Independence, no team seems to be placed in a spot that is far removed from the eyeball test and results to date. For what it’s worth, that team has its triple-plays against Nashville and North Carolina FC (two home), plus Charleston Battery and Richmond Kickers (two away), making for a pretty easy slate that should let them stay in the playoff positions.

Breakdown and player ratings: Indy Eleven 2-1 Nashville SC

Gary Smith commented after his team’s loss to Indy Eleven Saturday that the flow of the game probably would have seen a draw end up as a fair result, and that’s probably accurate. However, the true result is dictated by how many goals each team puts in, and the scoreboard had Smith’s team fail to earn the point with a one-goal deficit.

How did they get there? Here are the tactical and player breakdowns (don’t forget, you can contribute to the community player ratings each week. Vote in the posts that look like this one).

Tactics and formation

For the third week in a row – this is probably becoming the base of the squad – Nashville SC was almost exclusively in a 4-4-2 formation. There were some slight tweaks (Lebo Moloto seemed to have the freedom to drop a little bit deeper to play the ball through midfield, there wasn’t as much of a shift to load up the backline in defensive postures, the high press was even more prominent than it had previously been, etc.), but it was what we’ve seen.

There was one key difference, though: the left-footed Taylor Washington play right wide midfielder, while right-footed Alan Winn was on the left side. There are two reasons that this “inverted winger” tactic makes sense: first, it allows those two players to cut inside and shoot with their natural foot moving toward the middle of the field, and second (more importantly), it gave the more natural defender, Washington, a bit of defensive responsibility against a talented left side of the Indy attack (Ayoze and Tyler Pasher at left back and mid, respectively), so the offense-minded Winn didn’t have to cope against a tough assignment.

Around the 70th minute – pretty much concurrently with Indy’s 68th-minute sub of Matthew Watson for Nathan Lewis – Winn and Washington un-inverted, and began playing their more natural sides. Shroot replaced Winn like-for-like on the right side (playing out of position as a winger), while Tucker Hume replaced Moloto and became a knock-on forward who played a little deeper than his strike partner, Ropapa Mensah.

The other sub was an obvious one for fans: the halftime replacement of Liam Doyle with David Edgar after Doyle was at least indirectly responsible for both Indy goals, and took a yellow card, as well.

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Forward

Ropapa Mensah 19.49 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00 – Mensah was obviously your goal-scorer on the nice finish embedded above, and had some other nice chances at goal, including a second right before halftime, and one late in the game. He did seem to run out of gas a bit (I would have preferred to replace him, rather than Moloto, with Hume late in the game), and some of his later efforts definitely had to be frustrating, whether wild shots that were well wide or the lack of motor to try to get onto a long ball. He also has some sketchy moments in hold-up play with giveaways, but those should reduce with experience and conditioning.

For all that, Mensah was a relatively easy choice for man of the match.

Lebo Moloto 13.01 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 7.67 – It seemed a little unnatural when first made, but the move to get Moloto up top (albeit playing slightly under Mensah here) looks like a good one. He’s solid when it comes to running onto the ball, obviously has the vision to get assists (or move it into dangerous areas, and does a good job circling out of trouble when necessary. He is taking far fewer shots (only one this week, blocked out for a corner), which I take as a negative, albeit a relatively minor one. He had a couple silly giveaways by dribbling into traffic in this one.

Tucker Hume 1.52 (17 minutes) – Community rating: 5.00 – Hume came on late to be a target-man, which was sort of a miscalculation in my eyes, since that’s the role in which Mensah is more comfortable right now (though he’s a more natural goal-scorer than Hume as well), and you had a couple pretty similar players on the pitch. He did some really good head-on work, but when challenged for a header, more often than not he’s beaten for it – which you wouldn’t really expect out of a 6-5 guy. He has to be more willing to scrap to get guys off his back, and to go up for the balls.

Midfield

Michael Reed 14.97 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – I took a little while to come around on Reed at the beginning of the year, and it’s become pretty easy now that he’s playing his best ball of the young season. I’m not sure if it’s simply more comfort with a midfield partner in Bolu Akinyode (who is more of a true holding No. 6 than Matt LaGrassa, who like Reed is a box-to-box guy), but he’s going forward quite a bit more – including a really nice shot that hit the crossbar – and is picking out threatening passes more frequently. He still seems to be a little loose with the ball in traffic and sometimes his short passes end up with a little less steam on them than would be required to reach the intended target, but those are relatively minor gripes compared to what I was saying earlier in the year.

Alan Winn 12.89 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – As mentioned above, Winn started the game as an inverted winger, then spent the last ten-plus minutes he was on the field on his more natural right side. To be honest, my eyeball test doesn’t quite agree with what the final rating says – I thought he was not quite this impactful. I gave out positive grades for earning free kicks (even near midfield), so that might have inflated it a bit. Still, most of what he did was positive – his negatives were things like “good idea but execution is a step off” – and the traditional stats seem to bear that out.

Taylor Washington 12.32 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – Washington had more defensive responsibility than his counterpart on the wing (as mentioned at the top), and deserves some credit for both contributing to the right side’s ability to shut down Pasher/Ayoze for the most part, and for being enough of an offensive threat in behind them that Ryan James could play a bit more conservative role as the right back. I do think Washington is a small part to blame for the first Indy goal, since he didn’t pressure the passer (I’ll have a film room on that play coming out soon), but that was about it. As expected, he got into the box a bit more than we’ve seen in the past, was his usual self on that sideline run, and he’s more comfortable cutting away from the endline and getting the ball back onto his left foot to cross from that right wing.

Bolu Akinyode 8.01 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.33 – I was a bit of an Akinyode skeptic after he drew rave reviews in the Lipscomb game (easy competition, easy role), and have warmed up to him considerably, especially as he gets more comfortable with Reed, but this performance felt (and graded) like a step back. He was very good in the first half, but after the break he almost scored an own goal trying to cut out a clearance, got wrong-footed to let a player in free (Reed saved him tracking back), and was knocked off the ball easier than you’d expect as physically imposing a dude as him to be. It was probably just one off performance, but I’d definitely say it qualifies as such (and as I mentioned to Speedway Soccer’s Ben Wright, I would have taken one of the CDMs off the pitch with the late substitutions instead of both Moloto and Winn, and after review, it would have been Akinyode).

Robin Shroot 1.52 (17 minutes) – Community rating: 3.33 – For a guy who was woefully miscast as a winger – he doesn’t have the pace to threaten wide, and is more of a goal-getter in front of net – I wasn’t too down on Shroot’s appearance, limited though it may have been. He fired in one nice cross, but was otherwise pretty quiet. He does put in great defensive effort for an offensive-minded guy, though, which can help explain putting him on the right side against that dangerous left edge of the Indy attack: he remains an offensive threat but will defend through simple workrate.

Defense

Bradley Bourgeois 17.57 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.00 – The system inflates Bourgeois as a defender a bit because of his offensive contributions on set pieces (four headed efforts from corners and free kicks, two of them on goal including one saved off the line), but those count, yeah? If any had gone in, he probably would have been my MOTM. He showed really good pinpoint long passing – especially once the guy who’s usually designated in that role, Doyle, came off – to put the ball in dangerous forward areas, which was a new part of his game from what we’ve previously seen. He’s also a headed clearance waiting to happen much of the time, which is impressive given his lack of height (also the case on the other end of the pitch, obviously).

Ryan James 16.93 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – Through the first half of the game, I thought James was a pretty solid contender for NSC’s man of the match, and was expecting that to diminish in a major way watching the second half… but that didn’t happen. He wasn’t perfect, but in the role he was cast to play (defend the length of the pitch, make minimal offensive forays) he did a great job. The scoring system doesn’t even take into account the difficulty of the assignment – I’ve mentioned Ayoze/Pasher multiple times already – and that would ratchet it up another touch for me. He had some nice balls into dangerous areas in the first half, and while he wasn’t as offensively involved after the break, I don’t think that was much his fault. This was a good matchup in which to use him rather than Kosuke Kimura (who has better matchups coming up himself), and I thought he handled it well. It went unnoticed during the game – I actually believe that Pickens was incorrectly credited with a save – but he blocked a shot that would have been the 3-1 dagger in the second half after Davis and Edgar had both been beaten soundly by a nice play.

Justin Davis 10.97 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.00 – Davis was his usual self: generally solid play, with a couple flashy slide tackles mixed in, along with an instance or two of “the big mistake.” The latter on this day was a misguided spin move in traffic that almost led to a free run on goal (after a nice defensive interception, too). He likes to push forward centrally a little bit – rather than getting up the wings, like you might expect from a fullback – but it’s a nice dimension to the attack to move the backline up rather than creating a rounded shape.

David Edgar 3.26 (51 minutes) – Community rating: 7.67 – I suspect the community rating (tied for second-highest on the team with Moloto behind only Mensah) is more a product of the value he provided as compared to the player he replaced, rather than a simple evaluation of his performance. Edgar was solid, he’s much more comfortable with the ball at his feet, and he plays a more conservative style than Liam Doyle does. He still gave up a very scary moment at the back by overrunning in help defense (the aforementioned James block). There’s still a major role for him to play, and more comfort with his teammates should see him settle in.

Liam Doyle 0.28 (47 minutes) – Community rating: 2.33 – Liam Doyle had his worst performance of the year, which has a couple meanings: first, that this was an awful half of play for him, and second, that it’s out of the ordinary to have an outing this bad. The ways in which he struggled were generally within his wheelhouse, though: he likes to step up and take an aggressive posture (particularly when in the four-man backline, whereas in the three-man he is able to be that middle back and play pretty conservatively). The failed headed clearance on Indy’s goal was a symptom of that style of play, and the foul that he gave up that led to the free kick goal was unnecessarily aggressive in that situation. The play on which he was yellow-carded I have the least problem with, as it was a tactical foul that prevented a run on goal, and really was his only play. Still, while he can learn from the weak points in this performance, given that he generally doesn’t struggle like this, it’s just as possible to forget it and move on.

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 8.53 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 4.33 – Pickens was primarily to blame on the free kick goal (though I maintain that, to a large degree, it was a wonderstrike that hardly anybody was saving without a bit of luck), and more to blame than it initially appeared on the first goal: he couldn’t decide whether or not to come off his line, sort of leaving him in no-man’s land and giving Soony Saad easier finish (obviously, that was the least of the problems on that play: still a problem). Other than that, he was fine. Decent enough goal-kicks inflate the score a bit, and I gave him a point for coming out on the near-goal on which he was credited for a save but James actually blocked, because it forced a decision out of the shooter.