Presser video: Gary Smith and players post-Charleston

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his players met with the media after a 1-1 draw against Charleston Battery. See what they had to say here.

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Nashville manages water-logged draw against Charleston Battery

 

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Get after it, Big Bird

NASHVILLE – Things got off to a raucous start in First Tennessee Park this evening. Nashville SC striker Tucker Hume made the most of a poor header from Liam Doyle in a set piece situation, and turned it into an overhead kick for the opening tally of the night.

The lead didn’t last long, though, with a Charleston free kick punched off the line by Nashville keeper Matt Pickens… directly onto the head of Battery midfielder Tah Anunga.

Despite Nashville playing against 10 men after Charleston’s Patrick Okonkwo was shown a violent-conduct red card in the 61st minute, the Boys in Gold could find plenty of chances at the net, but never the back of it. Ultimately, the game will go into the record books as a 1-1 draw.

A second half that saw Nashville fire cross after cross into the box couldn’t get the 6-5 Hume a headed chance on the frame, and replacing midfielder Ish Jome with striker Ropapa Mensah – a rare offense-first formation from Nashville, facilitated by the man advantage – couldn’t help. Advantages in possession (56.6%-43.4%) and shots (12-10) couldn’t help NSC find a winner.

With the draw, Nashville sits on 40 points through 29 games, just outside the playoff positions. Fortunately, they should have a chance to make up ground in the coming days, with upcoming contests against Atlanta United 2, Richmond Kickers, and Toronto FC II,  the worst three teams in the Eastern Conference. If they can take full points from that trio – no guarantee, with a loss to Toronto already on the books this year – home contests against New York Red Bulls II and FC Cincinnati may be more for jockeying within playoff position, rather than trying to simply make the postseason. If not, things should be very interesting down the stretch.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 9′ NSH GOAL – 12 Tucker Hume (right foot overhead), assisted by 5 Liam Doyle
  • 24′ CHS GOAL – 24 Tah Anunga (headed)
  • 31′ NSH Substitution – On 32 Brandon Allen, off 10 Lebo Moloto (injury)
  • 45’+2 NSH Yellow card – 17 Michael Reed (foul)
  • 45’+4 – Half time
  • 60′ CHS RED CARD – 17 Patrick Okonkwo (violent conduct)
  • 63′ CHS Yellow card – 20 Victor Mansaray
  • 68′ CHS Substitution – On 21 Angelo Kelly-Rosales, off 20 Victor Mansaray
  • 69′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 11 Ish Jome
  • 76′ CHS Substitution – On 9 Ian Svantesson, off 15 Gordon Wild
  • 84′ NSH Substitution – On 8 Robin Shroot, off 19 Alan Winn
  • 90’+4 Full time

Preview: Nashville SC v. Charleston Battery 2018

Nashville got a road draw against Tampa Charleston what feels like ages ago. Can they improve the result when they welcome the Rowdies Battery to First Tennessee Park? (See, it works the same way it did in the midweek).

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More strikers running into space, pls

The essentials

Opponent: Charleston Battery (12-4-13 USL). 40 GF, 29 GA so far in 2018, 4th in USL East, 4th in USL East Power Ratings and 9th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: CHS (D-W-D-D-L) NSH (L-D-L-W-L)
The Line: Nashville SC +100, draw +229, Charleston Battery +219
Time, Location: Saturday, Sept. 22 7:30 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Tailgate: With The Assembly at the green space just East of the stadium, with The Heaters at Von Elrod’s, with The Roadies at Pastime.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 70ºF, 78% chance of rain, 86% humidity, 7 MPH NNE winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, 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, @Chas_Battery, #NSHvCHS
Elsewhere: Soccer n Sweet Tea previewGolden Goal fearless forecast.

Charleston Battery

The Battery started the year a little slowly: they were 5-2-3 (despite playing one of the easier East schedules) when Nashville SC traveled to the Holy City. Since then? 7-2-10 may not be the most impressive mark in the world, but just two losses in nearly 20 games is something, for sure.

There is a pretty significant glimmer of hope for an opponent taking on the Battery this week, though: USL Golden Boot candidate Ataulla Guerra has been out the past two games (the Battery beat Tampa Bay and tied Charlotte in them) and will complete his three-game suspension for violent conduct in tonight’s contest. That’s 14 goals and four assists – both team-leading marks, and accounting for nearly half the team’s scoring this year – that are on the bench. For an offense that’s below-average (though not to the degree Nashville’s is), that’s a tough blow.

“No two ways about it, top goal scorer missing in any team is always a body blow,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith. “I watched their game against Charlotte and they’ve still got guys coming into the group who can certainly have a positive effect on the game. However, they have not got the confidence of a guy like Guerra has with 14 or 15 goals this year.”

The Battery have compensated by starting Ian Sventesson up top in their 3-4-3, with Gordon Wild and Victor Mansaray replacing him in the second half of each of the two recent games, respectively. Sventesson has only two goals this year (and even missed a penalty against Charlotte), but has four assists on the year. Wingers Kotaro Higashi and Patrick Okonkwo have flanked him in each of the past two contests, and both are two-footed wingers who like to cut back.

In the midfield, Jarad Van Schaik leads the team in created chances from non-Guerra players, but he hasn’t been in the squad for the past four games. I can’t find a reason why, so take that for what it’s worth, I guess. Brian Tah Anunga has played in the central midfield basically all year, joined recently by Angelo Kelly-Rosales. Nick Rittmeyer and Jay Bolt have been the wide midfielders – deployed somewhat like wingbacks in this system.

“They play with a back three, slightly different 4-3 in front of them, but I think a lot of their game is very similar to Tampa, they will be tough to break down,” said Smith. “They’ll be competitive, and they have individuals on the counter attack who are very bright, and I’m sure they will be difficult to cope with on certain instances.”

Defensively, Neveal Hackshaw, Taylor Mueller, and Skylar Thomas have been a pretty stout group all year, with Mueller playing in the middle and serving as a pretty good sweeper.

The keeper has rotated a bit, with Odisnel Cooper taking some minutes away from Joe Kuzminsky. However, Kuzminsky is the unquestioned starter in a competitive match, if you ask me: 76.1% to 64.7% saves, and getting about 2/3 of available minutes underscores that he’s the go-to guy when the rubber hits the road.

The Boys in Gold

I alluded to this in Tuesday’s preview (and the club took note and included it in today’s game notes), but I wanted to look a bit more into the “Nashville is worse on long rest” hypothesis I posited. Time for a chart:

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Game scores from the “Pure Power” rankings method.

The trend isn’t super-strong, but it’s there, and especially given you’d expect the slope of the trendline to go in the opposite direction (more rest means better play), it’s pretty interesting. If you knock out that dot in the bottom-left – the loss to Toronto on a crazy logisitcal nightmare for travel – the correlation is even stronger. I guess you can see a bit of a reason for it – the team is in a better rhythm, and is able to just get out and play to a certain extent.

That means it’s a good thing that the only game with even a full week’s rest before the end of the regular season is a trip to Richmond (far and away the worst team in USL), yeah? The team has a chance to stay in rhythm that they didn’t have earlier in the year. Hopefully that rhythm can help them turn chances into goals, which remains an issue.

“We watched film earlier, we said we had a good amount of chances and enough to win the game, unlucky not to put them away,” said winger Ish Jome. “Hopefully, next game we can build on that, create more chances, and put them away.”

Smith was actually pretty candid with the gameplan – something we don’t often see from a bit of a buttoned-up public speak like the gaffer. It should come as no surprise, though, with a similar formation – basing out of a 3-4-3, though Tampa was more a 3-1-4-2 Tuesday and has been at times this year, whereas Charleston is pretty rigid in its formation – that the gameplan is the same. Take advantage of space on the wings, bang in crosses, and try to find space inside the box.

“I honestly think our game plan will be the same as in the Tampa game,” Smith admitted. “We want to attack up the flanks, we want to do our utmost to supply our frontline. Not sure yet who our go-to is, but we want to supply our frontline with good service and opportunities to score. As long as we are creating we will always have a chance, when we stop creating I will start being concerned.”

I think we’ve come to a point in the season where creating without finishing is simply an identity of this team, and for that there’s some concern, regardless of how much creation is being done. Of course, it could also mean the team finds its form and suddenly breaks out on the scoreboard, too.

Projected lineups

Should be fairly straightforward. Explanation below:

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I think a 3-5-2 is the move here, though it could actually play out a bit more like a 4-4-2 with Kimura able to get more forward, and Jomes taking the space on the left side. I mostly called it this formation because putting LaGrassa out on the wing would have looked different than I expect to see, even though he’ll nominally line up over there in a 4-4-2: he’ll actually be tucked well inside.

Predictions

Can Nashville atone for a missed opportunity Tuesday by getting points off a top-four team?

  • Charleston opens the scoring with Tah Anunga feeding Okonkwo cross-goal for a finish. That comes probably around the 25th minute.
  • Tah Anunga later gets a yellow card, which will cause him to miss the NCFC game on yellow accumulation (which is actually bad for Nashville, which needs North Carolina’s hot form to cool off).
  • Lebo Moloto gives Nashville its best scoring chance just after the half. He finds space at the top of the box and shoots. While his shot ends up wide left, winger Ish Jome is there to send it home and level the score. Moloto is given an assist that’s at least as charitable as the goal he was given against NCFC (which should have been scored an own-goal).
  • Subs: Mensah for Allen (shortly after halftime), Tyrpak for Jome in the 65th, with Moloto moving to the right wing and LaGrassa to the second striker. Woodberry for Bourgeois at halftime. There’s a pretty good chance we just don’t see Bourgeois at all.
  • Matt Pickens’s recent struggles are behind him, and he is able to stonewall a couple solid Charleston chances late.

The game ends in a 1-1 draw. Not the ideal result for Nashville, but acceptable against a top four team. The squad will need to come together in the final five to ensure a playoff spot, though.

Nashville SC to give free tickets to Hurricane evacuees

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The Weather Channel

From Club release:

NASHVILLE (September 13, 2018) – With millions fleeing the potential effects of Hurricane Florence as it bears down on the Eastern Seaboard, Nashville Soccer Club will be offering evacuees free tickets to its two home games next week.

Anyone that presents a current North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia ID to the First Tennessee Park box office on gameday for Nashville SC’s next two home games, against Tampa Bay Rowdies on Tuesday, September 18 and Charleston Battery on Saturday, September 22, will be given a free ticket to the match.

“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the storms along the East Coast,” said Nashville SC CEO Court Jeske. “Sports can be a unifying experience in times of crisis, and while a soccer game is unimportant compared to a life-threatening storm, we hope a couple of hours of distraction and fun will allow for an escape from the realities of evacuating a home.”

Both of Nashville SC’s games next week will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. CST.

This is a cool and good idea. A little good deed never hurt anyone, right? Also a little potential bonus for Battery fans who were contemplating making the trip but didn’t want to shell out for tickets.

The Graphical: Nashville SC 3-1 Penn FC

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 Charleston draw here at For Club and Country.

The big story

Penn FC coach Raoul Voss went out of his way to insult Nashville SC’s style of play (and by extension, the coach) by using “English” as a pejorative term referring to a team that can’t possess, and has to send in a bunch of long balls and hope a striker is home to put them away. Coach Gary Smith took exception to that both at his Friday press conference and after the game last night.

The German, uh, shouldn’t have cast any stones. That’s true not only because his team is objectively pretty bad, and if anything, he should look up the table for ideas on how to score goals and win games. It’s also because his team is the one that really didn’t have many moments created outside of crossing the ball:

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Penn FC offense on the left, Nashville SC offense on the right.

Which team looks like its gameplan was dependent on lumping it up to big, dumb Andy Carrolls? Not the english coach, that’s for sure.

The final possession stats look a little better in Penn FC’s favor:

  • Penn FC possessed 50.7% to Nashville SC’s 49.3%
  • Penn completed 80.2% of its passes compared to 77.2% for Nashville

…but there’s plenty of explanation for that, too. Both numbers were heavily tiled in NSC’s favor at the half (55.4-44.6% possession advantage, 79.3% passing to 76.2% for Penn), the Boys in Gold scored moments into the second half, and spent much of the rest of the game sitting back, letting Penn pass around as long as they didn’t penetrate, and trying to hit on the counter.

There are definitely areas for Nashville SC to improve its play – every team has some – but Voss’s comments seem… not “out of line,” really, but not an accurate representation of NSC. Probably why his team lost 3-1, tbqh.

Get in their heads

The second half felt pretty chippy (all three Penn FC yellow cards came after the break, for example), and the stats bear that out. The City Islanders committed just four fouls in the first half, and 10 – including the three deserving of a caution – after the break:

As you can see, the players committing the fouls also changed a bit. That’s three defenders (No. 12, left back Pedro Galvão, Nos. 4 and 6, centerbacks Kyle Venter and Ken Tribbett) and a defender midfielder (No. 9 Aaron Dennis) in the first half. Sure, those fouls are all right around midfield, but they’re committed by players you’re expecting to make physical tackles that might be a little unlucky and earn a foul.

The second half sees Tribbett and Galvão penalized again, with defensive midfielder (side question: does any USL team turn an accurate lineup in to Opta?) Thiago Calvano adding a couple and substitute defender Dan Metzger also joining the mix. However, wingers Frederick Opoku and Jerry Ortiz, striker Tommy Heinemann (twice), and attacking midfielder Richard Menjivar also drew discipline, with Ortiz’s, Opoku’s and Menjivar’s fouls serious enough to go into the book. With the way the game played out, there was clearly an element of frustration at play here.

Fox all over the field

With Brandon Allen’s reputation, would you expect his heat map to look like this?

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A guy who’s always in the box was… not only in the box in this one. That’s an element to his game that is an upgrade over expectation. It’s clear through three league games and a cup appearance that he’s got a more well-rounded game than he showed in Bethlehem to start the year.

He can be a goal-getter, poacher, fox-in-the-box type, but manages to get other things done all over the field. Here are his defensive map and passing chart side-by-side:

Yes, he’s in and around the box quite a bit, but he’s willing to do plenty more than that to help his team win. Other than three incomplete passes and a foul committed… that’s almost a perfect game for a striker when you take into account that one of those key passes (yellow) was an assist, and he also dunked in a goal.

The other new guy

I’m not intending to focus on the new guys at the expense of the players who have been here all year, but here we are: Ish Jome had a nice little game, too. (And of course, we already have a more robust picture of what the longtime guys are all about – and I’ll give some of them love in film room posts this week if there’s time).

Here are Jome’s passes and defensive actions: a heavily left-sided player, but consistent enough with his passing (even with some more-adventurous attempts) to be a major factor. He also didn’t give the ball away with it at his feet.

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I’m interested in taking a closer look at how having lefties on each wing with Jome on the left and Washington on the right (and then righties on each wing when Winn and LaGrassa went into those respective roles) affected play. There were a couple instances when Washington removed his speed as an asset because he wasn’t comfortable crossing with his right, and cut it back, letting a defender catch up to him. That’s another topic for film room.

Thanks as always for reading FCAC. Please feel free to share our social media posts with a friend who is interested in in-depth coverage of Nashville SC.

The Wrap: Charleston Battery 1-1 Nashville SC

After each USL game, I provide a handy recap of all the content related to that outing so you can find everything you need to get knowledgable about what went down. As always, if I missed anything, hit the comments, or the inbox via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail

Local Content

Game story:

While Nashville would have chances, neither team would find the game-winner (at least a game-winner that counted) and split the points in the Holy City.

“It’s tinged with a little disappointment that we didn’t take all three points,” said head coach Gary Smith. “It was a solid performance; we are in a good run of form right now. There were one or two moments where we could have had more quality around the box, but the guys have shown a professional attitude on the road. Once we wake up in the morning with another road point we’ll be delighted.”

No chance to pull ahead was closer than Taylor Washington’s 69th-minute header – which actually found the back of the net, but was called back on what appeared to be minimal contact – and a foul on Washington.

The Graphical.

Don’t forget that you can vote in the community player ratings each week, and the results end up in the Breakdown and Player Ratings:

Michael Reed 14.77 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00

Man of the Match

I’ve been a bit of a skeptic of Reed at times – he’s a decent player, right-place right-time, but rarely a difference-maker. In this game, with not a whole lot of offensive fireworks either way, his steady play in the middle was able to earn him man-of-the-match honors. The central midfield had plays to be made against the 3-4-3 formation, and Reed made them. He had a bit of a playmaking flair with a couple nice backheels that I wouldn’t have expected out of him, and on the basis of high involvement without the big mistake, he earns the honor.

Film room on why Nashville SC’s gameplan was dependent on firing a lot of crosses into the box (and how that will continue to apply this evening):

See this animation as Mensah is only picked up by the left centerback as the ball is played, while Moloto is unmarked in the box, aside from a defensive midfielder who’s tentatively trailing him, and the middle centerback who would have to react very quickly and close a ton of space if the ball goes to No. 10:

animated

This zonal marking and evening-up of the numbers makes for a really complicated set of communications, shifts, and responsibility changes during the course of the play for the defense.

Was a fun one to write, for sure.

Elsewhere – Blogdom

Soccer n Sweet Tea recaps the game. I found nothing from the Nashville side of things other than what appeared on this site, so I’ll plug it all again: scroll up and click through, y’all.

Elsewhere – Newsy things

USL site recap from the Charleston perspective. Quick thoughts from USA Today Network Tennessee. Local media recaps in Charleston. Ghana Soccer Net touches on Mensah.

From the film room: Why Nashville SC crosses a bunch against the odd backline

I pointed out in The Graphical (and mentioned a couple times in the player ratings) that Nashville SC attempted a ton of crosses against Charleston, and completed them at a rate pretty close to what they’ve done over the course of the entire year. That is to say: this was a heavily-used and highly-successful offensive strategy, there just wasn’t quite the finishing that you’d like to see.

Why was that? It starts with the three-man backline of Charleston. Here’s how the Battery lined up opposite Nashville’s now-standard 4-4-2:

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As you can see, that’s a three-man backline. Another of NSC’s most cross-heavy games of this year? Against Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who themselves are going heavily with a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 – just a nomenclature difference for the most part, though the distinction will become important in a minute).

Why does Nashville SC cross so much against these teams? For starters, it opens up a lot of channels to cross. With NSC’s speed on the wings, they’re able to get the ball into dangerous crossing positions against the three-man backline. The nature of having fewer guys with primary defensive responsibility means that either a defensive midfielder has to recover and get wide (pictured below), or one of the three centerbacks has to come from a pretty compact position, leaving the remaining two players in the defense with two strikers:

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The central defenders aren’t man-marking, and they’re going to need help to defend both strikers and both potential crossers.

The other factor that comes into play against the odd backline is that it means the defense is rarely man-marking a pair of opposing strikers. Lebo Moloto and Ropapa Mensah weren’t exactly running free into the box, but certainly markers had to pick them up later in the course of the play, rather than man-marking them throughout (as you’d more likely see – with some switching when the runs cross – from an even backline).

See this animation as Mensah (begins at right edge of the screen) is only picked up by the left centerback as the ball is played, while Moloto (enters from the left side of the screen) is unmarked in the box, aside from a defensive midfielder who’s tentatively trailing him, and the middle centerback who would have to react very quickly and close a ton of space if the ball goes to No. 10:

animated

This zonal marking and evening-up of the numbers (you can see LaGrassa, starting from the bottom and eventually getting his head to this cross, is picked up by a central defensive midfielder, as indicated in the diagram above) makes for a really complicated set of communications, shifts, and responsibility changes during the course of the play for the defense. That’s something that Charleston clearly thinks it has the ability to pull off – and the results, only four goals allowed in seven games since making the switch, vindicate that thought process.

The defensive formation is also designed to invite crosses. Why is that? I can’t speak for Charleston’s coaching staff, but as a general rule, an aerial cross is one of the harder plays to turn into an actual goal (according to expected goals data, at least). Ground crosses, shot rebounds (one of which is unlikely to result from a headed chance whipped into the box), and possessing the ball inside the 18 are all considered more likely to result in goals. Charleston is baiting you into it because they think you aren’t good enough to score, basically.

That said, you’re going to get a lot of good chances still:

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That ball played from Matt LaGrassa to Ropapa Mensah stayed on the ground (a much higher-percentage play, according to expected goals), and he’s running into acres of space because of the three-man backline – the outside centerbacks are the be-afro’d Neveal Hackshaw, bumped out to defend LaGrassa’s cross, and Skylar Thomas with his dreadlocks in a high ponytail there, in a chasing position because of the space created with no man marking. This was complicated more for the Battery by the fact that their middle centerback, Taylor Mueller (whoe just in front of Mensah, and would ultimately clear this cross away) was playing deeper than the other two in a sweeper position.

The three-man backline means you can get a lot of numbers in the defensive area compactly, but you need a lot of help from midfielders – and generally wide midfielders, whom the Battery didn’t activate defensively all that much – to prevent both the crosser and the runner from having too easy a time. Nashville SC created a lot of chances from the cross, and better finishing would have done them a world of good.

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Lots of space around Moloto, even though Charleston has numbers in the box. Precision crossing and clinical finishing can’t be beaten.

What does it mean for Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh also runs a three-man backline, but they do it in a different way than the Battery: in fact, it’s what Nashville SC started the season doing, with two true wingbacks, a three-man central defense and central midfield, and two players up top.

As I’ve shown above, having two strikers (as Nashville SC has in every competitive game this year, whichever formation they’ve run) is a way to mess with the numbers at the back, because odd backlines have a tendency to not man-mark an even number of strikers. However, it’s defending the cross itself that allows Pittsburgh to be a different beast defensively: they’ve allowed a league-low five goals all season, the only team better than NSC on that end of the pitch. By playing with wingbacks, instead of four traditional midfielders (and the defensive deficiencies seen above, and that you’d expect from players who are either wingers of some variety, or central defenders who need to get to a wide area of the pitch in a hurry), they have natural players in place to put pressure on the crosser that Charleston didn’t. In a nutshell, they don’t need to either give the cross for free or sacrifice one of the centerbacks (leaving the other pair two-on-two with strikers, but not man-marking them) in order to play sound defense.

Of course, Nashville SC will have its own methods of coping with that: giving very little away defensively – as they’ve done basically all year – is where it starts, because that forces Pittsburgh to push numbers forward to generate anything on offense. Using speed on the counter (when Pittsburgh’s wingbacks are caught upfield offensively) will be an important strategy, getting crosses in while the wingbacks are upfield.

NSC will also have to get creative with its runs to generate offense outside of crosses, taking angles that the central defenders aren’t expecting, in order to find open space in the box. We saw more of that than you might expect in the first matchup of these two teams, but that was in the “Nashville can’t finish to save its life” portion of the season. Now that things are looking a little better there, completing the chances that they create (still not a strength) and preventing Pittsburgh from playing for a draw – or with a lead – changes the complexion of the game.