The graphical: Nashville SC 2018 player radars

We’ve reached the end of the USL season – though Nashville’s been done for nearly a month – so let’s continue wrapping things up by a graphical representation of the players’ 2018 performances.

A few notes here:

  • Field players only. I’ll consider doing something for keepers in the future, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that makes sense without broader comparisons.
  • I used a cutoff of 600 minutes played (because otherwise sample size errors would be even greater than they ended up), which removed Jordan Dunstan, Ramone Howell, and Robin Shroot from consideration.
  • I also took out Michael Cox and David Edgar, because they played the majority of their minutes with other teams (St. Louis and Ottawa, respectively), and the way the USL website presents the data, there’s no way to separate that out. Neither would have played over the 600-minute threshold for NSC, anyway.
  • That leaves a pool of 17 field players.
  • Keep in mind that some of these factors are an indication of quality, others are a description of style. “Was in more duels” is not necessarily synonymous with “better,” just a different type.
  • That said, I’m not happy with a couple of the metrics representing the sort of thing I wanted them to. Specifically, duels are not as indicative of a defensive mindset as I’d thought (particularly because aerial duels went mostly to Tucker Hume on longballs, etc.). I’d re-calculate the data, but I got way too deep into the process before realizing it, so it’ll have to wait for another time.
  • Since I’m using limited software here (Google Docs, actually), the wheels are a bit tougher to interpret, with no raw numbers. Everything is scaled from lowest on the team (0) to highest on the team (1), without regard for how it’d stack up to the rest of USL. For example, Brandon Allen had the best finishing rate on the team (30.3%), so he’s represented by a 1. There were plenty of USL players with higher marks (such as Cincy’s Danni Konig at 37.9%), but they’re outside of the sample size.
  • The stats are divided into four categories, starting with usage in the upper right, and going clockwise through shooting, passing, and defense. Each category includes four metrics, though as mentioned above, I’m not super-happy with how representative they all are of what I’m going for.

Here we go:

Primarily offensive players

Forwards, wide midfielders (minus Taylor Washington, who played wingback and fullback more than he played as an offensive-minded midfielder), and central attacking midfielders. Not sure whether to stick LaGrassa here because he also played significant amounts as a central defensive midfielder, but given his time as a winger and second striker, I guess I will.

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Winn’s role as an offense-minded winger was one that worked out pretty well for him as a distributor, especially. He barely edged out Kris Tyrpak for the mantle of “greatest percentage of his passes were key passes.” His finishing could use some work, and he was mostly a non-entity defensively.

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Allen’s role as a poacher and finisher cannot be overstated. Of course, there’s a bit of a confounding factor here: four of his ten goals on the season came from the penalty spot, and two of them came with the Bethlehem Steel before his transfer.

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Were it not for his season-ending injury, Moloto would have been one of the ironmen of this team. His conversion rate on shots was well-documented as being too low (though, as I’ve enumerated plenty of times in the past, that’s probably a product of feeling like he had to do too much with a whole new team, especially early in the year). His shots on-target rate indicates bad luck played a part, too. He was also one of the key creators for this team.

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LaGrassa played multiple roles for the team, as described above. His offensive numbers certainly indicate that he spent much more time in that CDM role (which I believe to be true, though I haven’t gone back and checked). His win rate on duels and tackles is certainly pretty good.

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Jome, like LaGrassa, played multiple roles, though his were a little less diverse: left winger, left fullback, and a little bit of central defensive mid. He pretty much got benched after getting a key red card.

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Hello, Mr. “tries shit.” If Mensah had been at full fitness earlier in the year, this team’s (often deserved) reputation for being a bunker-counter squad with little creativity in the final third might have been different. Mensah’s conversion rate wasn’t great, but to a certain extent, having him out there was not only a way for him to score, but to open things up for teammates.

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Extremely similar graph to Winn’s, save for the fact that Tyrpak didn’t join the team until August and only got into five games. A whole season with him available would certainly be interesting (though he and Winn have overlapping skillsets, to an extent).

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The “shoot only” version of an offensive player. You’d actually like to see at least the passes per 90 be higher, given that he’s a hold-up striker. If the key pass version of a hockey assist existed, though, he’d be much higher. Also: the graph that made me realize duels don’t belong in the “defensive actions” category.

Primarily defensive players

The rest of ’em. As you can figure from the above, there’s some overlap in the LaGrassa/Washington/Jomes of the world.

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The only player on the team (or at least among these 17 who got enough playing time to count) who didn’t register a shot. Solid defender and ground-coverer, and the majority of his key passes were crosses in from the wing.

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A lot of minutes played, solid defensive numbers (remember, we shouldn’t be holding a lack of volume in duels against him), and decent action going forward with key passes. Given that he played both centerback and fullback, the pass numbers generally get a little more impressive (aside from long passing, which you expect more of from a centerback).

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The most offensive of NSC’s central defensive mids, Reed made an offensive impact with line-breaking passes (that long pass mark is pretty nice, especially when considering how many of those passes turned into key passes, and how accurate Reed’s passing was overall). He didn’t get forward much until later in the year, which you’d like to see more of with a team that’s a bit more comfortable with each other next year.

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James didn’t play a ton to get much data on him. Non-entity offensively (unsurprising given that much of his time, especially late in the year, came as a third centerback sub). Was a very good ball-winner, though.

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Some eyebrows were raised about Doyle’s selection as the team’s defender of the year, but the graph is pretty impressive to me. Tons of blocks and clears, did a great job winning tackles, wasn’t a liability with the ball at his feet (completing a lot of passes despite simply booting many of them upfield), and was pretty much an ironman.

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I’m actually fairly surprised Bourgeois’s long passing rate wasn’t higher, because there was a stretch in the middle of the year where it seemed like he was just instinctively banging it upfield. He would have been one of the minutes leaders if not for a mid-season injury, he would have had a ton of minutes, too. Glad to see him get a couple goals in there, as well.

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Played multiple positions, scored on one of just seven shots on the year. Wasn’t super-involved on or off the ball, based on the graph, but was good when called upon.

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Hello, weird graph for a central midfielder. Akinyode was very good defensively (upper left quadrant) and got plenty of playing time (upper right). The bottom two portions are where it gets interesting: he was a non-entity offensively – aside from one absolute banger against FCC, of course – and his passing chart shows a guy who was similarly not involved either getting forward or moving the ball into the offensive third. “Guy who doesn’t mess up with the ball at his feet” is certainly an asset for a team, but I’d like to see more (or, if he’s not going to produce going forward, a couple fewer situations where he was jogging back in defense while his guy scored or set up a goal).

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Woodberry actually had the ball at his feet a lot for a centerback. He was fairly solid blocking shots and clearing them with regularity (perhaps there’s something to be said for that), though the other centerbacks had a bit more. Anecdotally, he did have a game-losing own-goal, of course.

What we learned

Aside from “let’s make sure we understand what part of the game duels demonstrate before chopping up the data,” I think a lot of what we see here either follows with what we saw on the field (“Ropapa tries to make things happen,” “Akinyode may not be physically capable of a pass longer than eight yards”), or taught us something that we might not have otherwise realized (“Hume’s shooting was actually more important to the team than his hold-up play,” “Winn and Tyrpak were far and away the most important setup men”).

Again, some of the graph is on a scale of “bad to good” while other parts are simply stylistic measures, so there’s a bit of mining you can do with these.

If you have any suggestions for how to make the graphs more enlightening, or a question/suggestion/etc. otherwise, let me know in the comments or drop me a note on the social channels. I’m all ears, and trying to get as much information displayed in an interesting and informative way as possible.

 

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Boys in Gold can build from bounce-back win

Don’t forget to vote in the community player ratings to have your voice heard!

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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.

Pitch Points (also) joins the big leagues

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 TwitterFacebook, and now Instagram, where you can always drop links to share in one of these posts.

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Except it says “Cincy” somewhere. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Cincy Soccer Talk (PHRASE COPYRIGHT 2018 FOR CLUB AND COUNTRY). Cincinnati has a lot to gain from getting into MLS before Miami and Nashville. Sounds like a win-win, since Nashville’s interest in joining up for 2019 was approximately zero.

That said, this piece from Cincy Soccer Talk is v. interesting, and certainly something we’ll be watching from Nashville not just for Cincinnati’s own MLS launch, but how it will apply to ours down the road, as well. Bookmark it, y’all.

Sports Illustrated on Cincinnati. How does it affect #SaveTheCrew? Regardless of what anyone says, the answer is “not at all,” because trashman’s desire to move the Crew is based only in his desire to move the Crew: there is no way to make Columbus an appealing final destination to him aside from a $200 million-dollar bribe in the form of a municipally-funded stadium.

Also, since I’ve harped on this regularly… The Detroit media really were clueless all along that their city’s chances of getting an MLS franchise went to zero when their home field situation was announced as Ford Field. How did you not know this all along? Why are you surprised now? How did you not possibly research a topic you wrote about constantly? So strange.

500m talent pool. Sporting Kansas City and other MLS teams are stretching the definition of “homegrown” with the league’s homegrown player rule.

In short, each team has a territory to which it lays claim, and youth players from that area are eligible to be “homegrowns” if they are signed to the MLS side through that team’s academy. The loophole at play here is that there are large portions of the country (including decent soccer-playing areas) that aren’t within any team’s homegrown territory… and kids are joining academies halfway across the continent, living with host families, and earning homegrown status despite not being truly from that club’s range.

I don’t have a problem with it: anything to help 1) talented kids get better coaching earlier, and 2) MLS improve its quality of play with domestic players, is absolutely fine by me. (I also think it’s fine if MLS improves with foreign players, for its own purposes. From a USMNT perspective, domestic players are preferred, obviously).

It’s also relevant to our interests: Tennessee is a state that doesn’t produce a ton of high-level soccer talent (I count just a couple MLS/USL players from the Volunteer State, and my research finds not very many at Division-1 colleges in comparison to similarly-sized states, either). Certainly, we’d like that to improve – and expect it to with an MLS team headed to town – but Nashville SC may need to get creative in filling its academy in the future, as well.

I’m also interested to see how this “MLS 2 sides play in USL D3” thing works out. I think it’s a better fit in the long-term – as it relates to developing players, at least. Also, uh, “a sign of giving up on finding a USL partner” is not a negative.

Overall this does have a bit of the feeling as if the club has failed at several attempts and decided to go in-house as a last resort.

“They failed at something worse, so they’re doing something better instead” is a win. Except inasmuch as I guess it means your front office might be difficult to deal with? That’s not something that affects fans on a day-to-day basis. Operating your own B-team is objectively better in basically every way (the only downside is that you have to pay for it), especially given that a USL affiliate’s primary job is to win (as opposed to the owned & operated teams, which are designed to develop).

Geographic spread of your #brand is also objectively a good thing. Would choosing to put a hypothetical MLS B-side in, say, Franklin mean that Nashville chose a bad location in the city for the A-side? Of course not. It just means they’re in more places – and in fact, I would view it as a failure to waste the opportunity to spread the brand if they just had it in the same area.

So it doesn’t matter that we didn’t qualify? Cool. Writing in The Guardian, Beau Dure writes that the United States will never win the World Cup (though it’s immediately hedged with “not any time soon,” which has a different meaning, but I’ll let it slide).

While many of his points are valid – we do indeed start way behind the European (and South American) powers from an infrastructure and desire standpoint, too many folks are interested in suing their way into relevance than acting in the interest of the good of the game, etc. – I don’t disagree with the end product. “Boise State can’t win the Fiesta Bowl because they started way after Oklahoma” is essentially the point here… and we all know what happened in 2007 (and against TCU in 2009). There’s something to be said for investment trumping all.

Are we headed in the right direction now? Maybe not. Are we headed in a better direction after the USSF presidential election? Probably not as forcefully as some wanted, but I think so. There’s plenty more work to do, and it will require a lot more people to become more dedicated to a cause, sure. But “never” (or “not any time soon”) is still extreme to me.

The US has gotten out of the group stage in four of the past six World Cups (since the announcement of MLS, which I would contend is when the game changed), and when you’re in a knockout tournament, anything can happen. They were a Wondo sitter – yes, in a game they were dominated – away from matching their best performance since 1930 just four years ago.

Feels to me like missing the World Cup has (understandably) damaged folks emotionally, and that emotion – which has carried over into coverage of some of the NASL litigation, etc. – is coloring a bit of folks’ perception of the upside here.

Speaking of missing the World Cup, I haven’t read this piece yet, but have seen only positive remarks about it. Probably tearing into it immediately after posting this story, in fact. (And I’ll also be posting a Soccer University piece for a more 1,000-foot view on missing the World Cup next week).

 

 

Etc.: Since I never talk West Ham even though they’re in the Twitter avi: Manuel Pellegrini is a huge grab as manager, IMO. … Sign up to support one of the SGs’ Prideraiser campaigns. … Surely this would all be fixed with #ProRel4USA. … HOK is one of the architecture firms vying for Nashville’s MLS stadium, and one of their top designers has retired. … I wish I could say the lede to this was just a “some idiot is racist” story, rather than a “problem with US soccer” story, but alas it’s both, and both are inextricably linked in our country. … USL fluff on Brandon Allen, and from overseas on Liam Doyle.

From the Film Room: Lebo Golazo, round two

You may recall the original Lebo Golazo from the friendly match against Orlando City.

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Nashville SC had its way with Penn FC Saturday evening, whether playing a direct style of ball or working it through the middle in the possession game. After a simple “cross, finish” goal to open the scoring in the first half, things were quite a bit more tiki-taka for the second.

Let’s break down how it happened.

The situation

NSC leads 1-0 shortly after halftime. Penn has made one halftime sub: taking out defensive midfielder Miguel Jaime and replacing him with Damn Metzger. In a game that featured a few different formation concepts from the City Islanders, they’re now in a fairly rigid 4-1-4-1 with centerback Ken Tribbett cast in the defensive midfielder role.

Nashville SC is in possession after a through-ball from Penn FC finds only the hands of keeper Matt Pickens. Where we pick up, midfielder Matt LaGrassa has the ball, and passes it wide to left fullback Justin Davis.

Video

(I recommend watching once, reading the prose, then re-watching as many times as needed to put the words with the pictures).

What happens

The video has a bit of illustration here (still working to improve presentation with a mediocre chalkboard program, bear with me), but I’ll break it down verbally and embed the video again below.

The first key portion of the play comes from a solid moment of individual brilliance from Davis: he touches the ball around Aaron Dennis, Penn’s right midfielder, and beats him to the other side. This puts Davis and NSC left midfielder Ish Jome in a 2-on-2 with Dennis and right back Marco Franco, but Dennis is trailing both of them. When Jome pushes forward, CDM Ken Tribbett has to step up to prevent him from dribbling into space.  That turns a major numbers advantage for Penn FC – six defenders for four NSC offensive players, one of whom is a fullback – into a bit more even a matchup. Even when Davis trips over Dennis’s leg, he’s occupying both Franco and Dennis, leaving Jome in easy position to find an opening around Tribbett to push the ball forward to Lebo Moloto.

Here’s where Tribbett’s playing out of position makes things tougher for Penn. He’s used to playing centerback, where if he gets passed around like that, the space is much more constricted. At his usual position, that pass from Jome is probably for naught, because either the keeper can come off hiss line to cut it out, or there’s not enough space inside the box for the eventual give-and-go. As a midfielder, he needs to work harder to either prevent Jome from comfortably completing that pass, or bother Moloto once the pass arrives so he can’t execute the give-and-go. Tribbett lacks either the mentality or the mobility for the assignment at this position.

Moloto receiving the ball in tons of space means that centerback Thiago Calvano has to step up, instead of playing a bit more conservative a technique (like he’d probably prefer). When Moloto passes the ball to Allen and immediately makes a run past Calvano, you can see why the CB would rather be a bit less aggressive: he’s caught moving in the wrong direction and Moloto easily runs past him for the return service.

I’d like to quickly pause and point out something else from the video here. I put checkmarks on both Richard Menjivar for Penn and Taylor Washington for Nashville, even though they were initially not involved in the play. Menjivar would work back defensively, but arrive too late to be of much service to Tribbett in helping contain Jome. Washington’s run, on the other hand, makes this play happen much more than he’ll get credit for (and I think I didn’t credit him in the player ratings, so… sorry, Taylor).

Washington makes a run down the sideline even though he knows he’s not getting the ball. This is something that’s so hard to teach to less experienced players (or, as the manager of an adult co-ed rec team, people who are older than Washington and have been playing their whole lives, not that I’m salty or anything). He knows that his movement is to create space for other players, rather than himself. With a free run down the sideline and nobody marking him even from a trail position, Washington draws some of the attention of left back Pedro Galvão, who would otherwise be man-marking Brandon Allen. With Washington coming down wide, Galvão can’t come up aggressively on Allen to either disrupt his receiving of Moloto’s initial pass, nor prevent Allen from taking a couple touches on the ball – he needs to be in position to sink onto Washington’s run if it becomes relevant. Without the ability to be more tightly marking Allen, NSC’s new signing has all the time in the world to take a couple touches to spring Moloto.

Of course, right centerback Kyle Venter is still in a spot where Moloto is his only mark (Jome is picked up by Franco when he continues his run after the initial pass to Moloto). However, he has to come from a wide position, and can’t arrive thanks to Moloto’s first-touch strike.

Of course, the striker itself deserves all sorts of credit: as much as this was an X-and-O bludgeoning by Nashville’s forwards and wide players, the simple technical brilliance of Moloto being able to take that shot first-time, place it perfectly and powerfully in the corner of the net, and do it all while seeming to not even think, just act… that makes the play. It’s a Jimmies-and-Joes win at the end of the day.

Video redux

The aftermath

NSC would bunker-counter a bit with the lead, and thanks to a couple uncharacteristic goalkeeper gaffes, would let Penn pull one back in the 76th. However, it wouldn’t take long for Alan Winn to seal the game with a rebound goal five minutes later.

The Boys in Gold would enjoy a comfortable 3-1 victory.

As always, thanks for visiting For Club and Country. Please follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and now Instagram to make sure you never miss an upset on Nashville SC or US Soccer.

Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 3-1 Penn FC

Nashville SC had its biggest offensive game yet – at least in USL competition – and held off Penn FC with relative ease. Whose performances were crucial?

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.

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Photo courtesy Nashville SC

Formation and tactics

Penn was shifting between an odd backline (3-5-1-1) and an even one (4-4-1-1) depending on the game situation – when they had the ball high up the pitch, they’d shift to have a sweeper in the middle, while one fullback would hang back and the other would make his way into the midfield. Nashville SC countered this by not adjusting anything, and sticking in its 4-4-2 the whole game.

There were some interesting things to watch within that 4-4-2, though. They started the game with a left winger and right winger who are both left-footed (Ish Jome and Taylor Washington, respectively), then the first sub took Jome off the field, and CDM Matt LaGrassa shifted out to the right side, Washington over to his natural left, and the sub, Bolu Akinyode, replaced LaGrassa as a central defensive midfielder. Later in the game, when Alan Winn came on, he played on the left side with LaGrassa remaining on the right, and we had the opposite of the situation at the beginning of the game: righties on both wings. (The third substitution was a like-for-like swap of Ropapa Mensah for Brandon Allen – but NSC did drop Lebo Moloto a little deeper into a 4-4-1-1 once the game was mostly decided after Alan Winn’s goal).

Once NSC built its two-goal lead, it went from a lot of pressure from the forwards and wingers (sometimes token pressure, sometimes actually trying to win the ball) into two blocks of four and the forwards sitting back absorbing pressure in their own defensive third. As I suspected when writing yesterday’s Graphical post, the Boys in Gold were out-possessed in the second half because it was their goal to let Penn waste its time kicking around the back with nowhere to penetrate: meaningful possession was limited, while total possession was built up nonetheless.

Penn did start threatening about midway through the second half, and I wonder if Gary Smith would go back to the token pressure (or at least push his forwards up to midfield in defensive postures) if he had it to do all over again: of course, Penn’s goal still came mostly against the run of play, but the opportunity to build up pressure from a short run of possession in the offensive third is something that Nashville was willing to concede for perhaps a little too long – and even then, it took a couple mistakes for them to finally find the back of the net.

I also talked about Penn’s building frustration in the second half in yesterday’s Graphical, and that bore itself out on the film review. Heinemann is more a whiner than a dirty player, but there were some pretty aggressive challenges (from him and others) that seemed more about making a statement that you could physically compete, even though Penn didn’t really stand as much a challenge on the scoreboard. (About which: lol Raoul Voss).

Gary Smith community rating: 8.88

Community comments:

  • “Three points!”
  • “I wish Smith would have gone a bit more for the throat with the two-goal lead, since he clearly was mad at Penn’s coach.”

Forward

Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:

Brandon Allen 20.51 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 8.75

As I alluded to yesterday, Allen had about the closest thing as a striker can to a perfect outing. There were a couple missed opportunities (a Matt LaGrassa early cross hit him right in the numbers, but he couldn’t control the chest for an open shot at the top of the 18, for example), but it’s hard to fault him for not doing everything perfectly. He worries opposing backlines, making more room for Moloto and the midfield, and even if that were his only contribution, he’d be a valuable addition. Instead, he’s also dunking speculative crosses and dishing out assists on golazos. Oh, and being a factor in the high press in a big way – which is especially encouraging because that’s something he had the reputation for not doing at Bethlehem at the beginning of this year.

Community comment: “Best performance from anyone this year!”

Lebo Moloto 17.58 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 9.00

Moloto was pretty quiet in the first half, and was more up-and-down than we’ve seen on any sort of regular basis (he really seems like he needs a bit of rest). However, he also showed his potential when he found the game a bit. He made some pretty impressive forward runs, was active in the press until NSC stopped pushing up the field, and of course, scored the aforementioned golazo. He did a little bit of his early-season “over-dribble or try to squeeze a pass through a tiny window” routine early, but when he has the confidence to get the ball to open players or shoot when he has opportunities, he’s a major asset.

Ropapa Mensah 4.62 (14 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

This is a really good score in my system, given how few minutes Mensah played. He’s looking more match-fit (though knowing he only has 11 minutes of regulation to play, and there’s no need to conserve energy, may play into that), and had a bunch of long runs to force Peiser to play balls that he would rather not have. Then of course, he almost chipped the keeper for a goal after a strong turn in the box (the play that resulted in Winn’s goal), and should have added an assist at the death (the play that, uh, didn’t).

Defenders

Justin Davis 19.31 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25

Davis was very nearly man of the match. He was eclipsed by Allen both on the scoreboard and by the eyeball test, but he was the engine for a lot of NSC’s best chances. His touch around a defender, then dish to Michael Reed on Moloto’s wündergoal was impressive, he was dangerous up the sideline (playing him as a centerback is doable, but takes away one of his best assets; fortunately he hasn’t has to play there much lately), and he didn’t have to make too many backtracking runs and sliding tackles – though the one he did make was impressive. He was clearly gassed at the very end of the game, but his communication skills are really helping younger guys improve, too.

Bradley Bourgeois 17.21 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.63

The book on Bourgeois is pretty much the same each week: a monster in the air much more than any player his size has right to be, and just inches away from a set-piece goal in every game (two in this one). He was physical with Tommy Heinemann, was able to box him out so balls could harmlessly go out for goal kicks, and generally got in his head. He also wasn’t responsible for any free runners in the box (of which there were a frustrating bunch).

Kosuke Kimura 14.80 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

A nice day for Kimura: the more he plays well, the more I’m convinced he just wasn’t 100% at the beginning of the year. He made a couple nice sideline runs in the first half that weren’t reward by service from Washington, shows a ton of energy getting forward (and tracking back), and has the best knack of anyone on the team of getting a foot up to block crosses.

Liam Doyle 12.71 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

Doyle is a walking headed clearance, and that’s what he did in this one. He did have a couple marks escape him entering the box, which resulted in chances for Penn FC. He also made a couple dangerous lateral passes when Bourgeois and Davis were under pressure, though fortunately those didn’t result in turnovers. He banged some long passes with great accuracy, and also had a couple more that were more speculative than anything. A solid day other than the lost marks.

 

Midfielders

 

Matt LaGrassa 16.67 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.38

LaGrassa played in multiple positions – starting in central defensive midfield and shifting out to the right wing for the rest of the game – and was good in both of them. He’s a more well-rounded player than either of the other CDMs to me, with the confidence of Reed and a touch closer to Akinyode’s (Akinyode might have the best touch on the team). He did make a couple big mental – completely missing a wide open player to pass out-of-bounds – and physical – whiffing a pass, giving Penn a dangerous rush near the top of the box – mistakes, but the adventurous qualities going forward are a good makeup. He tends to drift centrally even when playing on right wing, for what it’s worth.

Taylor Washington 11.33 (76 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75

On a re-watch, I thought there was less of an issue with Washington being unwilling to cross with his right foot than I’d thought live. He didn’t cut in to shoot at all, though, and with Jome really liking to do that, flipping the wingers might have been a better way to start the game. Washington was really active in the press, and is using his defense to get involved offensively even when teammates aren’t hitting his long runs. With a full 95 minutes, he might have ended the top-rated midfielder.

Michael Reed 10.44 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25

The central defensive midfielders weren’t that involved in this one (hilariously, Voss’s team tried to bypass the midfield to generate its offense much of the game… good pregame smack talk, bro), so Reed’s meager score was mostly a result of low volume. Letting LaGrassa be the more ball-dominant CDM when they were at the position group together played a role in that, too. There were a couple instances tracking back defensively where he needed to show a bit more urgency, but that’s hardly the greatest sin.

Ismaila Jome 7.00 (61 minutes) – Community rating: 8.50

Most of Jome’s negatives were a matter of not being on the same page as his teammates – the natural consequence of being a mid-season addition. He left a couple passes thinking that they weren’t intended for him, made a run other than what was expected, or passed to a player who was zigging when Jome expected the zag. That’s about it for the negatives, though. He really likes to get shots off, which might make you think he’s a better fit on the other side (as I said in Washington’s section), but when you see the inch-perfect placement of the cross on the assist to Allen, you get why he’s over here.

Alan Winn 2.14 (19 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

Winn’s goal was simply cleaning up the garbage – as I’ve said previously, that’s not a bad thing: you want guys on the goalmouth to make the plays that are available there – on his goal, though he might have been considered offside if the ball had come to him on the initial blocked shot, rather than it ricocheting off a second Penn player (offside rule notes: he’s benefitting from being in an offside position on Mensah’s shot if the blocking of the shot gets him the ball; it’s not benefitting directly from Mensah’s “service” if it’s played back in – even inadvertently – by a Penn player). He’s also learned a lot defensively, and you could see him listening and adjusting to instruction from Davis: that’s a guy who’s improving a lot, and quickly. His only big negative was the final kick of the game being a whiff. Use the left foot, son!

Bolu Akinyode 1.73 (34 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

I thought Akinyode was fairly poor right when he came onto the field: he was muscled off the ball by a smaller midfielder, he had a patented leisurely jog back that gave Penn FC numbers in the NSC box, and zipped a pass over the middle from his own defensive end to a well-defended player who had no chance to receive it. Akinyode quickly settled down, but with barely more than a third of the game played (and Nashville willing to sit back and bunker/counter in his time), there wasn’t time to build up positive scoring.

 

 

 

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 10.59 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

Pickens was not tested early, coming off his line to cut out a semi-dangerous cross and making a casual save (on a spinning volley) his only first-half action. It was… a bit different after the break, when Nashville got the early insurance goal and was willing to let Penn FC possess a ton in hopes that the strong D would hold. It mostly did… but Pickens had howlers back-to-back that led to the goal. First, he almost had an own-goal on an easy save that snuck between his arms (fortunately, he made the kick save on himself), then on the eventual ensuing corner, he misjudged the initial service, lost his balance and fell down adjusting when he realized where it was headed, and made a bizarre falling attempt on the ball while it was easily headed past him. In between, of course, he had one of the saves of the year: he had the rare -2, +2, -2 plays (anything other than -1, 0, or +1 is rare in my system) on back-to-back-to-back events.

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