Boys in Gold prevail on the road, take down ATL UTD 2

Nashville SC’s road form has been iffy at best this year (they’re the 16th-best side in USL away from home, and fifth-best at First Tennessee Park and Nissan Stadium), but some of those demons were erased Wednesday night with a 2-0 takedown of Atlanta United 2.  Ropapa Mensah banged home the rebound from an Ish Jome shot in the seventh minute, while Hume did the same for one of Mensah’s shots in the 64th to give NSC just its third road victory on the year.

Atlanta United 2 becomes the second team that Nashville has played at least three times in competitive play (they’re 1-2-1 against Louisville City FC), and the first to suffer three losses to the Boys in Gold. The Baby Five Stripes also conceded multiple goals to Nashville SC, becoming just the second home team to do so (and second consecutive after a 3-3 draw at North Carolina FC).

This was a stronger Atlanta 2 team than expected, with US Youth Internationals Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin, and Miles Robinson in the starting lineup. Additionally, starting striker Romario Williams has 16 MLS appearances for the parent club this season, while defender Jose Hernandez and midfielder Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu have also appeared for Atlanta United. This was a lineup more similar to Atlanta’s second trip to Nashville, nearly as strong as it’s possible for them to put out, rather than the rag-tag group that made the initial trip to Music City and took a 3-0 loss to the Boys in Gold.

It wasn’t exactly a complete performance – content to sit back and absorb pressure after getting the lead, Nashville possessed only 34.6% of the ball, and allowed 17 shots to ATL UTD 2 – but getting Mensah back on the board after he’d been shut out since June 16, adding an insurance goal, and pitching a clean sheet are things the team hadn’t done enough of lately, and particularly so on the road.

“It was really good to get back on the scoresheet once again because this stretch has been very frustrating for me,” Mensah said. “I’m really excited to get things going again.”

Nashville SC won’t have to wait long to get things going again. Back into playoff position with at least one game in hand on each of the five teams directly ahead of them in the table, the Boys in Gold will try to create separation between themselves at No. 8 and New York Red Bulls II. The Baby Bulls, who are just a point behind on the same number of games played, will travel to First Tennessee Park Saturday evening.

“There was added pressure of course, given the results swinging in our favor this evening,” said head coach Gary Smith. “Tonight, we gave ourselves a massive shot in the arm up the standings.

“The fact that we are so close together in the standings: we have to make sure we take advantage of the situation at home. I would hope the confidence taken out of the game tonight will give everyone the right mindset heading into the weekend.”

Should Nashville pick up a win in that game, they’ll be able to ease a bit of the tension that has come from dropping points in six of their previous seven games. With a playoff berth within reach, doing the expected is all that’s needed to earn a postseason berth in the club’s first USL season.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 7:30 CDT. The Red Bulls have yet to win on the road this year (0-5-9), and that makes it effectively must-win for the Boys in Gold to all-but seal their spot in the championship tournament.

Lineups

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Match events

  • 7′ NSH GOAL – 3 Ropapa Mensah (right-footed, rebound)
  • 45’+2 – Half time
  • 50′ NSH Yellow card – 3 Ropapa Mensah
  • 61′ NSH Substitution – On 7 Ryan James, off 19 Alan Winn
  • 64′ NSH GOAL – 12 Tucker Hume (right-footed, rebound)
  • 65′ NSH Substitution – On 30 Bolu Akinyode, off 3 Ropapa Mensah
  • 69′ ATL Substitution – On 23 Lagos Kunga, off 2- Chris Goslin
  • 82′ ATL Substitution – On 36 Jackson Conway, off 28 Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
  • 85′ NSH Substitution – On 28 London Woodberry, off 27 Kosuke Kimura
  • 89′ ATL Substitution – On 11 Laurent Kissiedu, off 4 Jack Metcalf
  • 90’+3 Full time.
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Preview: Nashville SC @ Atlanta United 2 2018

Nashville has only (ever) beaten one team twice: that’s Atlanta United 2, whom they swept at home earlier this Summer. Now, that have a chance to go 3-0 against the Baby Five Stripes by taking the show on the road.

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The essentials

Opponent: Atlanta United 2 (5-15-8 USL). 29 GF, 61 GA so far in 2018, 14th in USL East, 14th in USL East Power Ratings and 29th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: ATL (L-L-W-W-D) NSH (D-L-D-L-W)
The Line: Nashville SC -122, draw +247, Atlanta United 2 +278
Time, Location: Wednesday, Sept. 26 6:00 p.m. CDT (7 local)  • Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Ga.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 76ºF, 41% chance of rain, 84% humidity, 3 MPH Westerly winds
Watch: Stream on ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch in a game atmosphere.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, #ATLvNSH

Atlanta United 2

This team has gone in spurts of being competent, but has mostly been one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference over the course of the season. They’re already officially eliminated from the playoffs, though they’re quite a bit better than the two teams that have joined them down there, Toronto FC II and Richmond Kickers.

As with all MLS 2 sides, the biggest question is what personnel they’ll have available. The first game in First Tennessee Park, Atlanta brought a fairly weak roster. The second time, it was as strong a roster as they’d played all year. With the MLS and USL roster freeze deadlines now in the rearview mirror, at the very least we won’t see anybody completely new.

US Youth internationals Andrew Carleton and George Bello have been with the MLS side (which has a road trip to New York this weekend) lately, so I wouldn’t imagine we’ll see either of them. We also won’t, unlike last time, see an academy keeper brought up for the game. Jon Gallagher, who’s appeared in all but two contests, remains the leading scorer with six goals, despite being a right wingback. Lagos Kunga’s behind him with four, and has the sixth-most minutes on the team, appearing in only one fewer contest. Those guys are consistent presences, and I’d expect that to continue tonight. Centerbacks AJ Cochran and Andrew Kendall-Moulin are also mainstays in the lineup.

Beyond that, it’s basically guesswork who will play.

“I would fully expect, and I know that their group can be interchangeable at any point, but we will go there expecting their strongest team will be out,” said NSC coach Gary Smith. “They did it here, so why would they not do it there. I will prepare for that. They have some extremely talented individual players and some very good team players that may well be in their side. It won’t be easy, but we have not seen one yet that was. It has been a tough season.”

ATL UTD 2 looks to be on as good a run of form as they’ve been on all year, with two wins and a draw in their last five, but their two most recent games were losses, with a 6-1 beatdown by North Carolina FC put on them Friday. One of the wins also came against Toronto FC II, so there’s only so much to read into it. Still, with a more consistent lineup possible, I would bet they round into form to end the year, even the best they can do is third-bottom in the table.

The Boys in Gold

Lebo Moloto is out, which can be a blessing and a curse: the team relies on him to create a lot of the offense… but without him available, spreading the ball around and adding a bit more creativity from non-Moloto players may help those guys find their form heading into the end of the regular season.

“It is getting to the point where we need to get a result down there,” said defender Justin Davis. “We saw what North Carolina did there [Friday] night, so we need to do something similar.”

I’d expect the 4-4-2 without him available, simply because there isn’t the forward depth to play the 3-5-2 (with a true No. 10) without him. Kris Tyrpak has moved off the injury report, so I’d expect the goal-getter to find the field, with Alan Winn on the other wing. Matt LaGrassa probably plays that second striker position behind Tucker Hume, who’s found some form lately.

I’d expect the usual out of the defense, with perhaps an appearance from CJ Cochran rather than Matt Pickens. The game’s in Cochran’s hometown (well, a couple suburbs over), and there’s a really packed schedule to end the year. With Pickens not on top form over the past month or so, it’d be unwise to wear him down with midweek-weekend through the end of the regular season.

Projected lineups

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Predictions

Let’s wrap this up, yeah? Nashville wins, 2-0.

Nashville SC uses first pro goal from Taylor Washington to knock off Atlanta United 2

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Taylor Washington’s first pro goal couldn’t have come at a better time. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Are Cinderella Man references weird or lame in the year 2018? I hope not, because less than a month after easily dispatching Atlanta United 2 less than a month ago, Nashville SC probably felt a lot like Jim Braddock’s opponents in the movie version of his story:

“That ain’t the same guy.”

The ATL UTD 2 team that Nashville took on Wednesday evening had a starting lineup with 48 MLS appearances this season alone, a far cry from the USL-centric squad that NSC defeated 3-0 in late June. With that in mind, a 1-0 victory probably isn’t too negative a result.

“If you look at the makeup of their team, with guys like Kevin Kratz, Romario Williams, to name a couple of first-team additions, I think I’m right in saying that it’s probably the strongest group that they’ve put out in USL,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “I’d like to think that’s a credit to our group and how well we played against them in the last game. In fact, we have a wonderful local competition building here and a bit of a rivalry. It could be completely different reasons, but I’d like to think that. So, the game was always going to be much tougher and it proved that way.”

A Nashville SC team that hadn’t yet managed a single goal in the month of July (going 0-2-1 in that span – in fact, the last time they’d scored had been against this Atlanta team) got exactly that in the 80th minute from the foot of Taylor Washington, who notched his first professional tally.

A cross from the right side off the foot of Ish Jome skipped past striker Brandon Allen, but the substitute was there on the back post to slot home the game-winner. It was a long time coming for Washington in his third USL season.

“It’s a great feeling. As soon as I saw Ish [Jome] get the ball, I know what he does,” Washington said. “He takes people one-versus-one on the endline, and he put in a great ball, and Brandon made a great run and was able to sort of dummy it, and I was in the right place at the right time, thank God.

“It took me three years, but I’m happy and very pleased. I’m extremely happy we were able to get a win because we needed it.”

Halting the winless streak is a certain positive for Nashville SC – and the fact that it was a tight match is partially explained by the stronger squad the Baby Five Stripes trotted out – but there’s still work to do in unlocking the offense. NSC managed only eight shots, with three on the frame, and looked headed for another frustrating result until the 24-year old broke the deadlock in the 80th minute.

Of course, Atlanta’s strong squad combined with a bit of a weakened one for Nashville – keeper Matt Pickens, defender Bradley Bourgeois, and midfield captain Michael Reed all missed the contest with injury, and defender London Woodberry due to red card suspension – to explain some of that struggle. Backup keeper CJ Cochran got his first USL action for the Boys in Gold just a week after ending his month-long loan spell at Fresno FC. He pitched a shutout.

“I think it was good for me to get games [at Fresno], and I think it worked out that I got about five games out there, and it helps with the confidence and playing with the game,” he said. “You can train all you want, but in the middle of the season just jumping in can be quite difficult, so to get those games and some wins out there really helps out coming back out here. It’s unfortunate that Matt gets injured, but you know it’s part of the game. We’ve had a few to deal with this game, so the next man steps up and gives it his all.”

It’s very clear Nashville was at less than full strength. Still, forward Lebo Moloto played the game (despite struggling with injury of his own the previous week), fan favorite striker Ropapa Mensah got only his eighth start up top (in 18 regular season games), and wingers Jome and Alan Winn were in the starting lineup: the attacking unit should have been strong enough to be a little more dangerous to an Atlanta team that is second-bottom in the Eastern Conference in goals allowed, strong lineup or not.

Fortunately, there’s something to build on for Nashville, which takes on a moribund Toronto FC II team Saturday night with a chance to get a win streak going. Far and away the worst team in the USL, TFCII has allowed a mind-numbing 2.56 goals per game this season.

With Nashville back up to No. 7 in the Eastern Conference table after Wednesday’s win, there’s a chance to keep climbing and solidify playoff position if they’re able to get the job done in a neutral site game.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 15′ ATL Yellow card – 22 Mikey Ambrose (foul)
  • 25′ ATL Yellow card – 6 Andrew Kendall-Moulin (foul)
  • 45’+1 Half time
  • 52′ ATL Substitution – On 11 Laurent Kissiedu, off 6 Andrew Kendall-Moulin
  • 61′ NSH Yellow card – 2 Justin Davis (foul)
  • 66′ ATL Substitution – On 39 Will Crain, off 22 Mikey Ambrose
  • 71′ ATL Substitution – On 20 Chris Goslin, off 32 Kevin Kratz
  • 73′ NSH Substitution – On 32 Brandon Allen, off 3 Ropapa Mensah
  • 74′ NSH Substitution – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 19 Alan Winn
  • 80′ NSH GOAL – 23 Taylor Washington (right foot), assisted by 11 Ish Jome
  • 90’+1 NSH Substitution – On 10 Jordan Dunstan, off 11 Ish Jome
  • 90’+5 Full time

Preview: Nashville SC v. Atlanta United 2 2018, round two

Last time we met Atlanta United 2 – which wasn’t particularly long ago – Nashville SC was in a position that’s actually pretty similar to the one they find themselves in today: struggling. The win over ATL UTD 2 less than a month ago came easily, but didn’t change momentum for the better. Will we see more of the same tonight?

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Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

The essentials

Opponent: Atlanta United 2 (3-9-6, 20 GF, 39 GA so far in 2018, 15th in USL East, 15th in USL East Power Ratings and 29th in combined-table Pure Power)
The Line: Nashville SC -189, Draw +287, Atlanta United 2 +437
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 85ºF, 0% chance of rain, 50% humidity, 7 MPH Northerly winds
Watch: In person! Locally on MyTV30, stream with a subscription to ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Tailgate: With the Assembly and Eastern Front SG at Von Elrod’s, with The Roadies at Pastime. Music City Supporters at Germantown Depot.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @ATLUTD2, #NSHvATL
Etc.: Shrug emoji
Elsewhere: Speedway Soccer‘s latest ep includes a preview.

Atlanta United 2

I’ll start with what I wrote last time:

[The honor of being a key player] goes to folks like Jon Gallagher (also signed to Atlanta United, but with zero appearances for the A-team), who leads the team with five goals and has also added an assist. He’s among the squad’s leaders in minutes, as well, starting 11 of the 14 games to dates as a forward.

Mikey Ambrose is an MLS loanee and Laurent Kissiedou a USL guy, and they’re the only non-Gallaghers with more than one goal (each with two). While this team is sort of a copy of the MLS team, they clearly don’t have the ability to actually score like the Five Stripes do, and they’re much leakier at the back than the parent club – which has that reputation but actually is fairly stout on D.

26-year old Jack Metcalf is a pure USL signing, and he’s got just a seven-minute lead in game action on midfielder Oliver Shannon (who is 22, an MLS signing who’s on a season-long loan to the B-side). Andrew Kendall-Moulin is only 23, but another pure USL guy, paired with AJ Cochran who is just 25 but signed to the USL team himself. That duo leads the team by a wide margin in clearances.

One interesting thing to watch? Whether we see some players who have already taken the pitch art First Tennessee Park. Some players who have moved down to the USL team (or were temporarily brought up from it) since the Feb. 10 friendly against Atlanta United could be available, and even Romario Williams, who scored for the Five Stripes in that one, has spent some time with the USL team – though of course, we’re not expecting to see him.

The things I excised? A lot about Andrew Carleston and Chris Goslin, mostly. Both were named to the 23-man squad last game, but didn’t make the trip. I wouldn’t expect them to this time either, especially given that Carleton got his first-ever MLS start over the weekend. He’s with the big guys now.

The Boys in Gold

That’s good for Nashville, because this is going to be a shooooooort-handed team. London Woodberry will serve his red-card suspension, Bradley Bourgeois will miss the game with injury, and a trio of other regular starters are questionable.

Lebo Moloto didn’t see the field against Ottawa, and now we know why (hamstring injury). Michael Reed left the Ottawa game with a foot injury, while Matt Pickens suffered a back injury late in the contest, but was able to (or had to, because Nashville was out of substitutions) finish it.

Fortunately, the other thing that made the team short-handed against Ottawa – Bolu Akinyode and Ropapa Mensah’s unavailability for international travel – should help paper over a couple of those issues. Not all of ’em, though, and there’s going to be quite the interesting puzzle for Gary Smith to solve, particularly at centerback, where the absences of Bourgeois and Woodberry take the only two remaining righties off the pitch.

Nashville needs to get right with another big win over Atlanta – anything less than seven points from the three-game stretch they’re in the middle of is disappointing, and they’ve already dropped to a maximum of six available – but they’ll have to do it with a lineup that’s not fully healthy.

Projected lineups

NSC’s look is going to be… interesting. As mentioned above centerback is the big question:

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“You just mentioned they don’t have enough centerbacks, why would you expect them to use a formation that uses more of them?” you ask. Playing with five at the back allows them to 1) put more lefties on the field (which they have plenty of) and 2) play guys in the middle who aren’t necessarily true centerbacks in the classic sense.

Playing five at the back would also give a little more cover to CJ Cochran, who I expect will give Matt Pickens his first regular-season rest of the year – you don’t want to mess around with back injuries. Since Cochran is in pretty good form from his time with Fresno FC, it’s not like you’re bringing a guy in cold off the bench, either. Winn as a 10 is something I’ve wanted to see for a while, and we’ve come a little closer recently with time playing a true forward position.

When you have to scramble things up just a bit, it starts to get weird. For the record, I think it’s more likely that Gary Smith does stay with a bit more of a 4-4-1-1 formation, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work with available personnel (without playing guys out of position in a way that is more risky than playing several at the back), so here we are.

Predictions

For all the sudden MASH unit that Nashville SC has become, they’re still playing a team that’s pretty poor when it doesn’t have the MLS talent available to it.

  • Ropapa Mensah scores a first-half brace. This inevitably increases the drumbeat for him to become a starter (and while I disagree that it’s the best use of his talents, certainly he has to get onto the field more).
  • Brandon Allen adds the insurance goal shortly after the halftime break on an assist from Alan Winn.
  • That said… Nashville SC needs all three goals, because they give up some pointage to an Atlanta team that can score pretty well despite its overall failings. ATL UTD 2 cuts the lead to 2-1 just before the half, and then to 3-2 around the 70th minute.
  • Your NSC subs: Jome replaces Washington, Hume replaces Mensah, Shroot or McGrath replaces Winn. Those are in escalating order of “this is a sub that will likely make sense for a game situation” and “gotta get the guy coming off some rest.”

Nashville SC wins, 3-2. I could also see them packing it in and trying to get like a 1-0 result, but with the way Atlanta can score (and also can’t stop opponents from scoring), it’s probably better to be proactive on a banged-up defensive group.

Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 3-0 Atlanta United 2

A major bounceback game for Nashville SC was spearheaded by some familiar faces. How did NSC get back on the right side of the ledger?

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MOTM performance from the young winger. Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

Quick note: my ratings are score-based after a film review, and on a scale that… there’s technically no range but anything over 15 is generally good and under 9 or so is bad for a full game worth of performance. Community ratings are on a traditional 1-10 scale.

Formation and tactics

Nashville went with its 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 (with Lebo Moloto sinking into more of a midfield role) throughout the game. NSC’s gameplan was very clearly to catch Atlanta United being aggressive down the flanks, and countering in behind their fullbacks with runs from the wingers and from their own fullbacks. It worked well!

The middle of the pitch didn’t get much love: thanks to the style of play by Atlanta, the cetnerbacks and central midfielders had mostly a spectator’s role (though the CDMs did push out toward the sideline a bit to get involved defensively). Don’t take low scores in my ranking system as an indictment here: they just didn’t see much action on this day, and for defensive players, that’s a good thing.

Gary Smith’s substitutions were solid to me, though I might have liked to get Alan Winn out of the game a little early after he took two yellow card-worthy fouls (shockingly, neither of them actually drew even a whistle from the ref, who had a real struggle with this game). I’d also like to see Ropapa Mensah come on a little earlier – 13 minutes pre-stoppage is not much of a run, though the five minutes of stoppage time in a 3-0 game that already saw the team who was down starting to get really chippy (again, the ref had poor control of the game here) gave him a bit more.

Since I’ve broached the topic of officiating: calling off the goal by Michael Reed was the right decision, not because keepers deserve more protection, but because it was an obvious foul by Reed no matter who the player was. You can’t shove a guy in the box and then score a goal (the contact was significant enough that it probably would have been a penalty if a defensive player had given that amount of shove, and we all know how conservative officials are whistling penalties on set pieces). Nashville committed one or two fouls that probably could have been carded but weren’t. Not giving the penalty when Brandon Allen was swept from behind with a wide-open goal was unconscionable. That’s “you don’t get assignments for a little while even though you’re not officially suspended”-level bad. Then, after missing both takedowns of Winn, he did give a yellow card on a hard tackle from behind of Lebo Moloto, but given the… attitude with which Atlanta was approaching the end of the game, there’s a chance it was red-worthy. Certainly came as an indication that there was no need to give five minutes of stoppage time in the game. Awful performance from the man in the middle, and Nashville only got the slightly worse of it.

Anyway…

Gary Smith community rating: 8.71

Community comments:

  • Not the toughest team to bounce back against, but getting the job done is getting the job done.”
  • “Navy uniforms at home gets a 0.”

Midfield

Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:

Alan Winn 19.60 (66 minutes) – Community rating: 9.57

That Winn racked up such a huge score in only 2/3 of the game speaks volumes to what he contributed. His speed up the wing (especially against a team that’s really vulnerable in that area) is a game-changer when he’s fully healthy, and he appears to be just that. Notably, he’s more comfortable making plays for teammates now, and I was really impressed with his desire to make an impact defensively. If we get more performances like this (probably not too many: Atlanta was particularly vulnerable to his skillset), the sky is the limit on this season

Community comment: “Alan Winn looks back to form, and it came at a really good time.”

Taylor Washington 15.54 (76 minutes) – Community rating: 7.86

Washington had a lot of success for some of the same reasons Winn did: his speed down the flank is able to exploit a particular weakness of this Atlanta United 2 team. He was pretty involved offensively for more than just crossing (which he’s done well in recent weeks, but we need more than just that), and he’s a good defender for a midfielder – we saw midweek he’s just an OK one as a pure fullback. He took a couple shots, and was unlucky not to score one of them. He doesn’t combine with Justin Davis quite as well as Jome, which meant less Davis involved in the offense, but clearly NSC didn’t need the left-sided fullback to get forward.

Michael Reed 11.32 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.86

Again, remember that the center of the defense was left mostly alone by ATL UTD 2, so while his score in my system is low, that’s not because Reed had a poor performance. He was his usual self… there was just less of it. He did have the foul on the would-be goal (though he wouldn’t have been able to poke the ball home without fouling the keeper, so it is what it is), and was a little hesitant to rip a shot late in the game even with a numbers advantage and his team comfortably winning the game.

Bolu Akinyode 10.83 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.71

 

Akinyode suffered from the same problem as Reed when it comes to high scoring: a simple lack of volume. One of the main weaknesses of his game (tracking back in defensive transition) didn’t make an appearance because the Baby Five Stripes didn’t want to attack that way. He remains hyper-conservative on the ball, and doesn’t get his head up to survey options even when he has plenty of time and space. The back-passes are better than the alternative of a turnover, but especially against a team whose attack was so toothless, I’d like to see more aggression in the passing.

Matt LaGrassa 1.97 (23 minutes) – Community rating: 6.43

A decent bounceback game from a guy who’d struggled in the previous few outings. Having Atlanta players barreling straight at him actually seemed to help: while it led to some mistakes, there was also an element of “play, don’t think” added to his game where he wasn’t overdoing it on the mental side of the game. He did get smoked in a man-to-man mark on Lagos Kunga, but also made an extremely nice run that Ropapa Mensah reward with a long pass, though the final product wasn’t there in the end. I’d still like to see him play centrally a little bit, but he showed he can hang on the wing in the right situation.

Ish Jome 0.73 (33 minutes) – Community rating: 7.14

A second straight quiet game for Jome, though this one was less troubling to the eyeball test: it was more about coming on well after Nashville had a 2-0 lead and was willing to pack things in and counter intelligently (which prevents a player with his skillset from being super-involved, since he’s a gifted offensive player). He did run out of ideas breaking into space down the left channel a couple times, which also plagued him in other games where he struggled, but he showed more offensive diversity at other times. Just not a lot for him to do in this one.

Forward

Lebo Moloto 17.18 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 8.71

I know there’s been discussion (including the latest Soccer Speedway as well as a complementary piece on Golden Goal) about who Nashville SC’s MVP to date is, and Moloto is one of only two options that’s remotely reasonable (the other is Pickens – guys like Winn or Mensah aren’t a big enough piece of the whole picture, even though they have exciting moments). He dominates so much on the ball for Nashville, and is such an important part of creating what offense they do have – though the wingers are starting to play a bigger role lately. He’s also an effort player defensively, including high up the field. For a guy who has near-ironman status, you can’t ask a whole lot more. He didn’t create the goal he scored, but it was a nice reward for a guy who does basically everything else right.

Brandon Allen 8.99 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 8.14

Allen dunked one Alan Winn cross home, should have earned a penalty on another, and hit a post and then suffered a diving save on the rebound on a third. That’s pretty good production for a striker (especially one with a poacher reputation/style). He’s also a guy who came in with a reputation of not having any effort defensively, but I’ve been impressed with how hard he works there. The negatives? His full-90 fitness is poor, and I think he should have been taken out of the game sooner, not least of which because the replacement is a good one in Ropapa Mensah (and while the big Ghanaian also doesn’t have 90-minute fitness, certainly he’s capable of at least 30-45 minutes). Allen had a great score at the half, but had a negative score for each of the three divisions (coming out of the break, then after each of the two substitutions that came before he was taken out of the game) before being subbed.

Ropapa Mensah 3.82 (18 minutes) – Community rating: 7.57

I’ve encouraged patience on the Mensah hype train multiple times, not because he’s anything other than an outstanding talent, but more because he’s a young guy prone to inconsistency (and with no ability to perform over a full 90 just yet). While there were mistakes in this game – his attempts to do something crazy result in turnovers, but sí vale la pena to me – the level of creation for a guy who’s mostly a pure striker is great. The long service I mention in LaGrassa’s section above was borderline jaw-dropping. He in no way deserved an assist on Moloto’s goal (an Atlanta player had a crappy clear that went right to Moloto, though Mensah was standing near him), but in terms of performance, it was a just reward. Give him another 20 minutes or so pls.

Defenders

Kosuke Kimura 16.90 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.29

While I thought Kimura had a good game, I was surprised to see the spreadsheet churn out a number quite this high. He was solid in positional defense, benefitted from Alan Winn’s increased comfort combining with his fullback, but to have one of the highest overall marks on the field? It’s interesting. He did seem to be highly involved though, and defending in the half-spaces and higher up the pitch can help rack up a high number. I doubted Kimura very early in the year, and he continues to excel to prove me wrong.

London Woodberry 11.07 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.43

Woodberry was the more aggressive – yet less mistake-prone, though those seem to end up being opposites more often than not – of the centerbacks in this game. He took away a lot of shooting angles (which, yes, Atlanta United 2 also managed to do itself), and deflected a shot or two, made a lot of simple clearances. I was a little surprised to see him score this highly in my system nonetheless.

Justin Davis 10.44 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.71

Davis would have been higher-graded than Woodberry but for the late stages of the game. He got a little more involved in the offense (honestly, it seemed almost “I’m bored, let’s goof around a bit – though the insertion of Jome plays a role there, since they like to combine with each other) and had a couple mistakes with the ball. While that’s generally a problem for a defensive player, the game situation makes me sort of shrug at it. Before that, he was solid in his positional defense, had a few patented slide tackles, and generally looked like himself.

Liam Doyle 6.67 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.14

Doyle had a questionable play or two on which he stepped up improperly (or overly aggressively, you could say), springing a player in behind. Fortunately, ATL UTD2 is generally not good enough to take advantage of that, though Matt Pickens was called into service on one such occasions. His other main negative was a little bit of composure lost on the ball when the Baby Five Stripes tried to press high: there were a couple opportunities to play out of the back, but he saw the pressure coming and just booted aimlessly upfield. With his leg strength, it’s hardly the greatest sin. As mentioned above, just not a lot for the players in the center of the pitch to do.

 

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 11.60 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

Pickens had basically nothing to do. He was credited with five saves, two of them legit (very early in the game, he pushed one out for a corner, then he came off his line to cut out the angle on the aforementioned Doyle play), and three of them just letting a 25-yard attempt slowly dribble into his arms. He still ended up with a decent score in my system because his distribution was mostly good, and making no mistakes (he had one goal kick go out of bounds only) is a good way to be.

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The Graphical: Nashville SC 3-0 Atlanta United 2

Welcome to The Graphical, in which I mine the Opta data for insights as to how Nashville SC’s most recent result came about. You can also see more conventional game coverage from the big win here at For Club and Country, and don’t forget to vote in community player ratings before the deadline, coming tomorrow or Wednesday.

An even matchup

Nashville ASC dominated on the scoreboard, but not nearly as much in the basic stats of the game:

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 11.04.16 AM

NSC (on the left) had a marginal advantage in possession and duels, but Atlanta United 2 won more aerial duels, intercepted more passes, and had more corner kick opportunities than Nashville.

They committed fewer offsides than NSC as well, though there are multiple ways to interpret that. First, it means Nashville was working hard to get forward (particularly on the counter when Atlanta was caught with defensive personnel upfield). However, it could also point to a lack of discipline, which you might expect from an ATL UTD 2 that was undisciplined in several other ways. Overall, it probably ends up being a wash.

So Nashville won in other ways

Yeah. Obviously, it’s possible to dominate in the relatively basic stats and still lose (Nashville SC had just done it a few days earlier against Indy Eleven). Playing a relatively even game in the stats and still coming away with a 3-0 win isn’t that out of the ordinary. So how did Nashville manage to not only find an advantage, but enough of one to win the game comfortably?

One way was by winning the ball farther up the pitch. Here is a look at each team’s defensive actions (minus clearances, which definitionally are going to happen close to the defense’s goal):

There’s not too much of a difference where on the field the key defensive events happened… but when you ignore the goalkeepers (44 in green is Justin Garces, 18 in black is Matt Pickens), there’s quite a bit more help in the box defensively on Nashville’s end. Obviously, you don’t want to have to be defending in your own penalty area a lot, but plenty of NSC’s success in 2018 has been attributable to the keeper not having to do it all on his own. When the game ends in a shutout, there’s little complaint about that pack-line being a result of constant pressure from the opponent.

Then, look at the other end of each graphic: Nashville doesn’t have a concentration more positive defensive actions as they enter the offensive third. However, they seemed to be far more comfortable converting that immediately into offensive pressure to get dangerous chances on net, whereas Atlanta’s slightly greater volume of shots taken wasn’t as impressive:

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 11.18.38 AM.png

Six from outside the box compared to Nashville’s three, none from within the penalty area inside the width of the penalty area (Zone 3 for all you xG-heads). You can fire a lot of shots and still end up with none of them having a particularly high likelihood of going in: Nashville was doing that through the first three or four games this season. Atlanta did it Saturday night.

Hashtag WINNing

Alan Winn has been working his way to full fitness, working his way toward full health after a foot injury early in the year, etc. It’s understandable why he hasn’t been starting lately (especially when you take into account that he’s still learning the professional game a bit). He was good in this one, though:

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 11.20.58 AM.png

He still has a tendency to drift the width of the field, but in this one he didn’t make his way all the way across (where he goofs up the spacing sometimes). He was able to be a menace in the opposing box, was consistent along his wing to provide lateral width, and dropped into his own end for some defensive actions or to come to the ball.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 11.23.53 AM.png

A speculative shot from wide (a header, so it’s hardly damning that it was off-frame) and a couple incomplete passes in areas where Atlanta could potentially make some danger. Yes, those are negative, but I’d say the assist, goal, and otherwise flawless day passing make up for that.

“He came off because he’s not had bundles of football,” Gary Smith said. “He had a terrific hour and it was time to really inject some energy.”

Get up to 90-minute fitness so there’s not the late fade (or expectation of a late fade), and there’s a lot to work with.

 

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Boys in Gold can build from bounce-back win

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From file. Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

NASHVILLE – A resounding win (indeed the biggest winning margin in club history) felt pretty good for Nashville SC Saturday night. The group knocked off Atlanta United 2 by a 3-0 scoreline, with three different goal-scorers finding the back of the twine. For a side coming off just one win in their past four games across all competitions, it was a welcome change.

“I felt from start to finish, we had the right attitude, attacked the game from the outset, which was very much a point that was put across in the days between a defeat here to Indy on Tuesday and today,” head coach Gary Smith said after the game. “I just felt we’d come away from what we were about and what we’ve created. Those opening exchanges showed again that they dynamic of the group, purposeful play, energy, spirited, not just individuals, but spirited teamwork found some reward against a talented young side.”

Atlanta United 2 hardly provided the stiffest competition: in contrast to their parent club, the Baby Five Stripes are struggling as much as almost anyone in the USL’s Eastern Conference (Toronto FC II, another MLS reserve team, is in a category of its own as the worst fully professional team in North America, and by an extremely wide margin). While they boast some talented young prospects – who were able to put together a few exciting moments – breakdowns in the team’s shape happened on the regular, and Nashville probably could have added another goal or two.

Nashville put just four shots on target, scoring on three of them, but had ten key passes in the contest. That was just the semifinal product on a performance that saw them possess in midfield and comfortably counter time and again when Atlanta United 2 turned the ball over.

The return of winger Alan Winn to the starting lineup was a breath of fresh air for a Nashville team that has struggled to consistently produce in the final third over the past few weeks. He helped open the scoring in the 19th minute by sliding a pass across the face of goal for striker Brandon Allen to easily slot home. He score one of his own shortly before halftime, taking a long feed from Lebo Moloto and cutting to his right foot for the solid finish.

“It was off a free kick and I headed the ball off the top of the box and I tried to get another header out and Brandon stepped up and it deflected off him to Lebo and I was there off the counter,” he said, before adding with a chuckle. “It was a tight space and my left foot is not as good as my right, saw an opening and took the shot.”

Smith was impressed with the youngster’s game – which saw Winn named Man of the Match by fan vote.

“Alan was terrific, he was very positive, involved in an awful lot of creation and of course got an assist and a goal,” he said. “I’m not sure I could have asked for much more of a performance.”

His assist was a thing of beauty as well – and showed just how much success he had working down the right flank. The goal-scorer says that it was important to knock that one in and set the tone.

“I think in every game getting the first goal is important. Obviously in the last two games we haven’t managed to get the first goal and fortunately tonight we were able to get the first one and get the three points.”

With the win, Nashville rises to third in the USL East, eight points behind conference leader FC Cincinnati, with two games in hand on the best team in the division. That sets up a blockbuster match next weekend at Nissan Stadium, where the Boys in Gold will be hosting FCC with plenty on the line. A Nashville win could bring the team within five points of first place (still with the two games in hand) before getting into an easier stretch of the schedule. A loss would give their rival a chance to run away with the lead for the conference title.

The two MLS-bound sides (FCC will join in 2019, Nashville in 2020) have proven to be among the top teams in their conference, and settling the pecking order at the top would go a long way toward telling the story of the 2018 season.