Pitch Points: Pulisic plays

Because “alliteration” and “getting hits because people google Christian Pulisic‘s name a lot” are two of my favorite things. As always, hit the comment section, Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail if you have something you wan t me to share in one of these posts.

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Photo by Reto Stauffer (Creative Commons license).

National team talk. Been a while since an extended section on the national team. Here we go. Christian Pulisic will be with the team for some of the Summer’s friendlies:

Should be some chances to see him (maybe even in Nashville?) even though Dortmund/Liverpool will not be played in Music City. If not… I’ll take the MNT even without its biggest star. Josh Sargent should be playing at least in the May/June friendlies (full roster projection from ASN here).

Film room on midfielder Tyler Adams:

First, let’s take a look at his passing. He’s a player who can pick out a pass from anywhere as well as control the game with the tempo of passing. Check out this pass:

Adams shows us two very good things here. First, look at how he fits the pass through four defenders, splitting two of them with pure precision. The pass by itself is crazy, but his work ethic is also demonstrated here. After he makes one of the best passes of the year, he makes a 50-yard dead sprint to follow the play. In one play you can see his passing and his work ethic on display.

Much much more at the link. Not going to do an extensive blockquote on two separate film reviews, but this one on keeper Zack Steffen is v. good, as well. (Y’all know I love me some film room).

The German-American recruiting pipeline might dry up as we move farther away from heavily-used military bases in Deutschland, but there can still be the occasional dual-national to potentially recruit down the line.

Should MLS reconfigure conferences? It’s not, like, a huge priority to me, but I can get on board with a 26-plus team league being split into three, rather than two, conferences:

However, as MLS prepares to add markets 24 and 25 with Miami and Nashville while remaining on the cusp of announcing a 26th team very, very likely to be Cincinnati, it may be time to reintroduce the Central Division.

League structure of MLS is something I’m not super-interested in (at least as a big-picture thought exercise, of which regular readers know I’m very fond), but certainly it will be relevant to our interests in Nashville within the next couple years.

As long as the teams you’re directly competing with for the playoffs are all on the schedule home and away, whatever happens with the remaining games, and however many conferences there are, whatever. Also let’s make the playoffs not last into December.

Political support for the World Cup bid. A House resolution supporting the join 2026 bid passed. It will shock you to find out who tweeted support for the bid while managing to be (remain) the most passive-aggressive dude on the planet:

…without further comment on that one. (Except to say that, in a total non-shocker, the “aggressive” part of being passive-aggressive was likely a violation of FIFA rules – at least not as direct as the violations being committed by the only competitor, I guess?).

Stadium stuuuuuuuuff. The concept of this article assuming that Steve Glover (who is transparently lying) is telling the truth is… troubling. The story was written after Hasting’s Tuesday town hall, so the availability of those two guys gives them a bit of credibility to the reporter, but the credibility of the reporter is clearly compromised in a pretty serious way here.

“They pretended like we have committed ourselves to a location,” said Councilman Glover.

That is an obvious lie. There is no circumstance under which that can be considered truthful. For the writer to not at least question it WHEN YOU CAN READ THE RESOLUTION YOURSELF is journalistic malfeasance (indeed, not even considering this is unacceptable journalism). The resolution that passed commits the council, city, and team to a location.

“We are not trying to show any disrespect for any of the hardworking individuals who put the MLS deal together,” said [District 2 constituent] Hilton, “we just want to make sure they understand that North Nashville wants to be a part of this conversation. It may not be a good fit, but we want to be at the table.”

DeCosta Hastings was at the table. He voted for the resolution. If you have a problem, it’s with your incompetent councilman, not with never having been given a seat at the table.. He has suddenly changed his tune because another councilman who is simply trying to make sure soccer doesn’t happen anywhere in Nashville is manipulating him into it. Good job, good effort.

In other stadium news…

A third kind of football (the rugby variety) trying to make Williamson County its national hotbed. Mostly just an interesting little sports-related article, aside from one throwaway line:

A rendering of the 120-acre facility shows a U.S. Olympic rugby training site and the corporate headquarters for USA Rugby. The complex also could house soccer and lacrosse.

A partnership with your friendly local MLS team for academy and training purposes could be interesting. Of course, a home for an eventual NSC2, whether USL or lower-division is something I’ve previously advocated having in Williamson, as well.

Etc. Where national team members played their youth soccer. …I keep trying (and failing) to dislike the Chattahooligans, I swear. I don’t have much difficulty disliking the Eastern European Ultra CosPlay Club of Oakland County, but Chattanooga dropped the first half of its home-and-home with Detroit City FC. … Speaking of Detroit, I remain dumbfounded at the tone of the local media coverage of their MLS bid. Are they just trying to lead readers on? Ain’t happening in Ford Field, folks. … Soc Takes on the perils of owning a lower-division soccer team in the United States. … I agree that the rift between USSF and high school soccer is bad for development. .. Podcast spotlighting Nashville SC CEO Court Jeske. … Pivoting this site to become an attendance blog (a.k.a. FC Cincinnati blog).

I didn’t google the names of vape brands for this to get a mere one retweet, by the way:

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Statement from participants in the Summit for American Soccer

As promised (OK, a little later than expected), the joint statement from the Summit for American Soccer participants:

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 Upon the conclusion of the first annual Summit for American Soccer in Chattanooga, Tennessee on March 10, 2018, participants agreed to release the following joint statement.
These are principles that our clubs believe are essential to the success of soccer in America:
We strive to give players the chance to play the world’s game by the world’s rules
Clubs should be primary in our soccer ecosystem
We support the idea of supporter ownership
Our commitment to our communities is permanent
Our clubs are about more than just soccer
We, the undersigned, will continue to work to promote these principles in our teams, in our communities and in our leagues.
AFC Ann Arbor
Asheville City SC
Atlanta Silverbacks
Boca Raton FC
Charlotte FC
Chattanooga FC
Detroit City FC
First Team Soccer (Atlanta)
Fort Worth Vaqueros
Harpos FC
Jacksonville Armada FC
Kingston Stockade
Miami FC
Nebraska Bugeaters
Orange County
St. Louis Club Atletico
Tulsa Athletic
ABOUT THE SUMMIT FOR AMERICAN SOCCER
Hosted in Chattanooga, TN, the Summit for American Soccer set the table for a passionate and committed group of peers to come together to discuss the shared challenges and opportunities facing their organizations. Over 60 attendees from across the US came, representing a wide variety of soccer clubs, leagues, supporter groups and soccer-centric organizations. For a day and a half they joined to discuss how to have sustainable business models, stable leagues, quality opponents and enthusiastic support in their communities.
A little less comprehensive than I was expecting, maybe, but given that this is intended to be an ongoing conversation rather than a one-off event, it’s a good start. For more on the conference, read my story Wednesday.

The Summit for American Soccer

Yes, with the NSC regular season just a couple days away, I’ve been focused more on the micro lately. A step back to the macro and a look at the weekend’s Summit for American Soccer hosted by Chattanooga FC. Regular readers know my passion for the health of the game at all levels. It likely pales in comparison to every one of these folks.

While no large group is going to reach complete consensus on every topic, simply bringing together a number of different voices to discuss how to make soccer economically viable – and accessible – for all those with a passion for the game is important in itself.

Enter the Summit for American Soccer. Last weekend, Chattanooga FC invited a number of stakeholders in lower-division US Soccer clubs and leagues to the Scenic City for a discussion of the future of the game.

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Graphic courtesy Chattanooga FC

“My executive committee and I just kind of looked around and said, ‘if not us, then who? We’ve gotta do it,'” explained CFC chairman Tim Kelly. “‘We can do it on a game day, and if five people show up, it’s better than none.’ It turns out quite a few showed up. We just stepped into the gap and put it together over the course of a couple of weeks.

“The crux of the thing was, ‘how do we create economically sustainable teams independent of league.’ I think one thing you could argue is the major malfunction of American soccer at this point – and the difference between the way we do it and the rest of the world – is that here, we put leagues above team, as though leagues are the most important thing. Leagues are not the most important thing, teams are the most important thing, clubs are the most important thing. That was the functional thesis of the meeting: how do we create an economically-sustainable ecosystem for teams, for clubs? Thinking of leagues more as networks and platforms that hold clubs together. It’s not a revolutionary idea, right? It’s the way the rest of the world does it.”

Certainly those who would like to see the game excel in our country – for example, those dismayed to not see the USMNT in this Summer’s World Cup – know that there’s an importance in the health of soccer at all levels. The Summit for American Soccer certainly had a ground-up approach to the solution there, rather than the top-down (effectively MLS-down) approach we’ve seen in our country since that league’s founding in 1996.

Giving clubs the resources they need to budget for varying lengths of season, how to be focused on the community, rather than the league, and how to secure or plan funding for sustainability was a key to the meeting’s run of show. With speakers from various relevant parties – investment capital firms, supporters’ groups, successful clubs – there was plenty of material for participants to digest.

“We covered a lot of areas, both from general best-practices to some of our team economics, to we had a section on financing where we brought in a very smart lady [Kim Arnone] from Cutting Edge Capital out in Oakland, who talked about ways to do supporter group financing – crowd-funding,” Kelly explained. “We talked about options and interest from private equity, if critical mass can be reached, I think a lot of things are possible, I think there’s a lot of investment that would come into the space if we were able to get critical mass. We definitely made progress. I had a couple people tell me afterwards that they thought it was he most productive meeting they’ve been in in 20 years as far as American soccer was concerned.”

There were plenty of “lightbulb moments,” with ideas – or even topics – that had gone previously undiscussed by many of the participants brought right to the forefront.

“There were more than one: there were quite a few,” Kelly continued. “Robert Palmer, the owner of Jacksonville Armada, had what seemed at first like some offbeat ideas, but honestly I was very impressed with him after meeting and hearing him out. I think coming into the meeting, I was a little suspicious of his motives, but afterwards was very much impressed and I’m a big fan of his. I think some of the ideas he had about modular stadiums were interesting.

“Obviously, we’re looking for ways to play more games, basically for some of the clubs that are ready to do that. The USASA was there. The ASL up around Philadelphia uses the USASA as a professional sanctioning body, essentially: they play pro soccer under USASA, so that was a really interesting idea. Those are just two of the many. There were a lot; it was definitely a brain-fry. We basically had three days of meetings in six hours.”

The discussion of United States Adult Soccer Association as a potential sanctioning body for professional (or semi-professional) teams has been a topic of discussion in the world of US Soccer in recent months. To put it bluntly, there’s not a ton of confidence that organizing leagues – or groups of teams, to use some of the philosophy Kelly has mentioned – within the United States Soccer Federation’s Pro League Standards is a possibility from outside the MLS/USL structure. Certainly, we’ve seen leagues like the NASL fail to cope (though one must assume the take of most at this meeting differs from mine when it comes to the decision to sue the federation to cover for one’s own incompetence) with sanctioning under USSF.

Using USASA – which is granted authority by USSF to sanction leagues, though the vast majority are amateur (per its charter) – as a way to establish competitions outside the structure of the federation itself is a mechanism that was particularly intriguing to those in attendance. That’s, in part, because of an impression that there are simply other priorities at the top level of governance within the United States.

“I’m not a hater, I’m not that guy really,” Kelly said. “They’ve got a lot [to focus on]; I think they just need some strategic clarity as to what they’re doing. Their job, I think if you asked the general manager of US Soccer, he’d say, ‘look, my job is to up every day with one goal in mind: how do we get to the World Cup? And can we host a World Cup?’

“You’ve gotta connect a lot of dots to get all the way back there to the health of the grassroots ecosystem in lower-division American soccer. That’s where I think maybe the USASA comes in: that is the appropriate vehicle for what we’re doing. US Soccer’s got a lot going on, and Carlos Cordeiro says he’s going to bring new leadership and a new focus and a new direction to it, and I hope he does.”

As is often the case when talking about the big picture of soccer in our country, there was plenty of discussion of the concept of promotion/relegation. Understandably, given the standing of many of the clubs and representatives in attendance, there was a strong groundswell in favor.

While the group acknowledges the difficulty in implementing such system, the necessity of it outweighs the cost. It will be one of the points of emphasis when a joint statement is released later today.

“I think the statement literally says, ‘play the world’s game by the world’s rules,’” Kelly explained. “Everybody in that room – I don’t think anybody’s naïve about how difficult it would be to institute in the United States, but we all think it’s very important. Not only to give smaller clubs the opportunity to move up, but because it introduces the economic dynamism necessary to attract investment to create academies at lower levels, and to create investment in lower-league teams for the chance to fight and go up. That’s the engine that drives competitive development around the world. We don’t have it, so we need it.”

There were certainly solutions bandied about in Chattanooga this weekend, and it’s unlikely anybody in attendance would claim to have all the answers. However, Chattanooga FC took a major step in bringing those who want a say, or want to have a voice in the discussion, together. Simply knowing the passion for the game – and the passion to find solutions for those who want to ensure its long-term health – is being supported is a huge benefit to the growth of the sport in our Soccer Nation.

Return later today for an update with a link to the joint statement being prepared by conference participants.

From the film room: Chattanooga nearly breaks through

Nashville SC’s win over former rival Chattanooga FC Saturday evening turned out to be  comfortable affair, but that doesn’t mean the Boys in Gold were perfect. On the contrary, there were a few minutes near the beginning of each half when they looked vulnerable indeed.

Let’s look at one that occurred in the 58th minute (not long before Chattanooga actually did end up finding the back of the net). For a full breakdown of the game, see yesterday’s analysis.

The setup

Nashville SC led 3-0 at halftime and has made a number of subs. We see a mix of first-team and second-choice personnel on the field. There’s a bit of a chemistry disconnect (as there was to open the contest with the mixing and matching of the lineup).

CJ Cochran is in net (halftime sub), with Taylor Washington, Justin Davis (halftime sub), Liam Doyle, Ryan James (moved from wingback), and Kosuke Kimura (halftime sub) in the backline. Bolu Akinyode and Michael Reed (halftime sub) are the defensive midfielders. That leaves only two players – Washington and Doyle – in the same positions they were in the prior half, and James at a different spot, though still with game-ready legs after the first half.

The play begins with Kimura trying to clear the ball down the right wing. (Ignore the colors and numbers for CFC in all graphics – the coachboard app leaves a lot to be desired in terms of “working properly”).

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What happens

Kimura’s clearance… does not go well. Instead of getting upfield to allowed NSC to regroup (or out of bounds to restart play), it goes right to a Chattanooga player. With NSC out of its shape – take a particularly close look at your presumed back three of Davis-Doyle-James – there are openings to exploit with some nice passing.

The next Chattanooga player to receiver the ball cuts toward the corner of the 18-yard box and fires in a cross. It goes directly to Davis, but his chest-trap is awkward, and he fumbles around with it at his feet a bit. That allows a Chattanooga player to make a tackle, which results in a lucky bounce right to his teammate.

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That teammate takes a nice bending shot that easily beats Cochran. He can’t turn it quite enough, though, and it glances the outside of the post and ends up as a harmless – if harrowing during the process – goal kick.

All told, it amounts to nothing, but NSC could have given one back here.

Video

(My recommendation is to watch part of it, read the takeaways, then watch again. It loops a couple times here).

Takeaways

In several aspects, this is just one of those moments that is going to happen in the course of a match, with a few unlucky bounces in a row adding up to something scary. Chattanooga didn’t score, so you shrug and move on. How frequently is Kimura going to fail to clear in that situation? How frequently is Davis going to handle the ball poorly? How frequently is a tackle going to bounce directly to his teammate for a nice shot? Maybe individually, you could say “often enough,” but for all three to occur on the same play is rare, and NSC won’t be punished by this odd confluence of events often.

There are still some coaching points here (from a tactical perspective, not a technical one. There’s no “LOL tim thinks he can teach technique to pros” moment), nonetheless.

  • Washington is wide because he’s expecting a breakout from his team (again, Kimura bungling a clearance like that is rare), not a turnover. He reacts too slowly when the team gets back into a defensive posture, or he could wall the tackling player off from Davis, or at least provide an easier outlet for him. With Washington’s speed, he’ll be in the right spot more often than not even when he is slow to realize the turnover.
  • Davis and Doyle need to communicate better to re-set the line (and Davis to a slightly lesser extent). While Doyle has great technique in tackling and an absolute laser-guided missile distributing the ball from the back, this is the fourth or fifth time in five (public) preseason appearances that we’ve seen possibly poor communication when he’s in the center. That’s not to say he’s to blame – he may well not be – but he has to be able to help overcome it, too.
  • Akinyode does a really nice job tracking wide to force the crosser to make a forward move before getting his cross in. Unfortunately, that means he – through no fault of his own – ends up in a better crossing position, able to slot the ball behind Reed and the player Reed is marking. Akinyode can’t get a foot on to block the cross.
  • Of course, Davis is going to trap and clear (or clear first-touch, or distribute to Washington, or basically anything other than “give the ball away”) 95 times out of 100. That’s not a major concern here, since even giving the ball away meant the tackler didn’t get it, and had to hope it fell to a teammate.
  • Chattanooga’s overload on NSC’s right side (bottom of the screen, unfortunately top of the graphic what with the Coachboard app’s limitations) is actually an underrated part of this play. Kimura ends up chasing his man into the corner – correctly – but CFC is able to send a second guy into the area. Kimura can’t mark two players, and his original mark slips away, where James should probably have a chance to prevent him getting on the end of the play, but his eyes are outside because of the crosser’s position.
  • Cochran was beaten, but he actually had decent position on this one. That those statements are sort of the opposite of what we expect (great reactions and ball-stopping, still working on positioning and distribution) are either encouraging because he won’t do it often, or discouraging. Either way, not stopping a shot that ends up wide of frame is hardly the greatest sin.

Like I said, this isn’t going to happen often: the individual mistakes are rare enough that we won’t see them frequently, and all coming together on the same play is going to be even more uncommon. The chemistry of guys playing out of position or coming on cold from the bench with teammates they don’t always line up next to (and won’t, with any degree of frequency) makes it even less troubling.

Gary Smith and his players will adjust and learn. They’ll have to be better – and less unlucky in all steps except the last one – when the regular-season intensity hits this weekend.

Breakdown: Nashville SC 3-1 Chattanooga FC

After a review of the game broadcast, some more-informed impressions of the performances on the day:

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Matt LaGrassa was one of three goal-scorers for the Boys in Gold. Courtesy Nashville SC.

Tactics

In the first half, Nashville SC was in its standard 5-3-2, with the wingbacks pushing pretty high up the field. The difference was in the midfield, where the typical two holding midfielders and an attacking midfielder looked more like one holding midfielder, one attacking midfielder (who, since it was Alan Winn, drifted pretty far to the left wing), and one box-to-box midfielder who was defensively responsible but in neutral postures played more like an offensive specialist than a defensive one. Akinyode was always the defensive midfielder, but when he was replaced by Josh Hughes, Michael Reed (who entered at halftime) was the more defensively-oriented while Hughes went box-to-box.

The strikers also did plenty of high pressing early in the game. There was mixed success in actually earning turnovers themselves, but certainly they harassed Chattanooga into some serious discomfort that eventually paid off.

At times when Winn was at midfield, he also pushed forward when his team possessed in their own half, with the strikers spreading very wide to create gaps laterally, resulting in almost a 5-2-3 or 3-4-3 shape.

After the halftime subs, NSC kept the shapes and tactics pretty reserved, aside from – and this may be a more individual thing, not a coaching decision – left centerback Justin Davis pushing well forward on some offensive rushes while a CDM or left wingback Taylor Washington stayed back to cover him.

Keepers

Matt Pickens probably should have given up a goal in the seventh minute. A defensive turnover (and poor recovery) led to an open shot near the top of the box, and he was pulled out to the six making the save. His rebound went directly to an attacking player, but the follow-up shot was saved off the line by a defender. He also could have given one up in the second minute, not even moving for a Chattanooga shot that rang the crossbar. Presumably he thought it was well off-frame, but it was close enough to be a scary moment nonetheless.

CJ Cochran was put in a bad position early in the second half with Liam Doyle letting a player sneak behind him, but made the initial save (actually hurting the striker, though it was a clean play from Cochran) and his teammates cleared. He was wrong-footed on two consecutive Chattanooga offensive thrusts, the first glancing the outside of the post and the second (a worse chance, in all honesty) turning into CFC’s only goal. There was very poor defending/giving away on both, but you’d like to see him make any effort on the first, and not go completely the wrong way on the second.

Defenders

Since he hasn’t seen gametime since Atlanta United, you’re forgiven if you forgot the Bradley Bourgeois is really good. He was responsible for a save off the line (see Pickens’s section), and if Chattanooga had scored first, this could have been a completely different game. He’s positionally sound with a good feel for when to step up and tackle, he’s strong in the air, and he showed of athleticism by backtracking and beating Chattanooga attackers to run them down and beat them on potentially dangerous through balls. His speed was a nice dimension that could see him in the starting lineup when the games count.

Liam Doyle is generally good on a play-to-play basis, but made a couple key mistakes in the game. He made a bad clearance leading to Chattanooga’s dangerous two-shot sequence (and fell down after said clearance, so he couldn’t recover to prevent either the shot or the follow-up). He is way too prone to giveaways at the back, with Chattanooga’s only goal coming off yet another of those. Early in the second half, he fell asleep on a diagonal run with Ryan James marking two runners. It was pretty similar to the error in the Ottawa game, so maybe his communication is the common denominator (though he played a different role in this one). However, he has an absolute laser-guided leg from the back to spark long counters to his attackers and wingbacks. We saw it lead to a goal against Atlanta, of course, and it was also a weapon that he used significantly in this game – and that skillet is going to be useful this year with teams trying to overload NSC’s midfield with defenders and the over-the-top pass available. In the 43rd minute, he missed a wide open volley on the back post on a corner kick that should have been a goal.

London Woodberry is good in the air (including on the post he hit leading to a penalty and NSC’s first goal) and a solid athlete, though he wasn’t tested a ton in this game (he had a hairy moment or two closing down when Chattanooga beat NSC over the top and he had the athleticism to recover, but the positional awareness broke down – he knows when to take a bit of a tactical foul to compensate, and how to do it cleanly enough to not get a yellow card).

Ryan James was pretty fast on the wing. His lack of size (or extreme quickness) makes him a bit less of a threat on the long-ball down the sideline, but he looked comfortable getting forward. He also showed versatility sliding inside to RCB when Kosuke Kimura came on at halftime.

Taylor Washington’s speed on the left side is a good asset, which makes it a little surprising that he’s not used quite as much as an up-and-down threat on the flank: he can get back in a hurry (and often does) if he presses a little higher up the field. He was a little higher in the second half and had a nice shot on goal and a cross that could have been finished.

Kosuke Kimura brought a lot of energy when he came on at halftime. He had a nice cross early in the second half that just missed Alan Winn on the back post. His foot skills are good-not-great, but the spark and speed he provides are both potential difference-makers in the long run..

Justin Davis didn’t get a ton of second-half action, but did a good job walling off attackers on long-ball attempts and head the ball to safety. He had one bad giveaway at the back leading to a Chattanooga shot (and one of their best chances on goal, glancing off the outside of the post) – this will likely be a film room post later today or tomorrow. One thing to note about his game is that when he’s on the pitch, there’s actually an offensive threat – whether running forward to get onto passes or carrying it himself – up the pitch from the center backs.

Midfield

I thought Bolu Akinyode had an up-and-down game. He can pick out decent line-breaking passes, but seems to content to take what’s right in front of him (even if it’s like a four-yard pass to a fellow midfielder) instead of something a little more incisive, and then when the opponent closes in, he makes a more risky long pass that’s still not going to break lines. That is to say, too often he gets stuck in a low-risk, low-reward rut, then shifts to medium-high-risk, low-reward mode immediately thereafter. This is probably the sort of thing that gets worked out with more game reps – and is a reason I was happy to see the mixed lineups between First-XI and backup players in a competitive game. Akinyode remains a good, physical player in a defensive posture, but tracks back in coverage a little slowly.

Matt LaGrassa, at least early in the game, had a bit more freedom to roam than earlier in the year (it’s also been developing that way the past couple games), so rather than two defensive midfielders and a central attacker, it became one defensive (Akinyode) and LaGrassa as a right attacking mid, allowing Alan Winn to get more wide on the left (where he likes to play). LaGrassa has the athleticism to be that box-to-box guy, and has a little more offensive skill than he’s been given credit for – ringing the post on a shot from the top of the box after scoring on one against Cincinnati, converting the penalty kick against ‘Nooga, we’ll see more of that. However, he did try to dribble Chattanooga defenders a little too much, losing the ball on a couple occasions. Getting used to a more offensive role – assuming NSC sticks with that – should be helpful in improving that.

Alan Winn started the game as that CAM/left interior midfielder, then shifted up into the striker unit after the first major round of subs at halftime (as predicted, the staff wants to see where he fits in and where they can get him on the field in the standard formation). He was a little too dribble-happy as a midfielder – it seems a lot of NSC players thought they could weave through an NPSL team like a hot knife through butter, than were dissuaded of that notion – but has a really good savvy for dishing the ball to a teammate to recycle possession when he gets in a bad position. He does have the speed to beat opponents to the endline and cut back for a cross, which is probably what makes him want to dribble through guys (though going around them tends to work out better). He was taken down in the 16th minute – after a good cross from Washington – for what absolutely should have been a penalty.

When Lebo Moloto came on (at halftime he replaced Winn, who moved up top to striker as Tucker Hume exited the game), he was used mostly for short linking passes, with a few really nice dribbles mixed in. They were mostly short-area handles to find space to get it right back out more than offensively-oriented plays. He had a few really nice tackles in the “going through the motions” portions toward the end of the game. He had a cracking shot on a counter-attack after a cross was headed down that should have been a goal – the CFC keeper got a fingertip to it, and it still nicked the inside of the post and out.

Josh Hughes got his first playing time in a while, showing high energy but being a little rusty with the accuracy of his passes. Michael Reed played CDM (or the one that pushes up a bit more into a box-to-box role when Bolu Akinyode was his midfield partner before Hughes replaced him in the 61st minute), and it’s unfair to say he’s boring: that has both good (no mistakes) and bad (no exciting plays) connotations, and he’s more the former than the latter.

Strikers

Ropapa Mensah did not have his finest game, and that lack of consistency is a major part of why he hasn’t broken into the projected Starting XI after his debut goal in the Atlanta game. He takes a heavy first touch a little too often, and is a little prone to being overly physical when things aren’t going his way. This obviously pays off greatly when the foul isn’t called, such as on the shoulder check he got away with en route to NSC’s second goal. In the high press, he ends up putting himself in positions where he has to hold off on a tempting challenge (fortunately he did more often than not). The goal showed the upside with his ball skills, as well, making the physical challenge and then rounding the keeper to get a shooting lane.

Tucker Hume has had the “more than just an aerial threat” tag (it comes with the territory of being 6-5 – like white basketball players between 6-3 and 6-6 get tagged with “not just a shooter”) for much of preseason, and this was another positive game in that regard. His double cutback for his goal was reminiscent of a poor man’s (and very tall man’s) Messi-style dribble feat, and while he’s not going to be weaving through traffic game-in and game-out against USL opposition, it’s not a bad tool to have in the kit. He’s still a little on the slim side, which makes his tendency to go down easily understandable but still a little frustrating (especially for FC Cincinnati fans, but also for NSC when it leads to a wasted opportunity).

Michael Cox had a giveaway trying to dribble through traffic, whereas Robin Shroot (the duo came on together in the 61st minute) played more of a high-press defensive role from the striker spot. NSC spent much of the final 30 minutes trying to play keepaway and fine-tuning their passing accuracy and chemistry, so there wasn’t a lot to be gleaned from the offensive performances here. Cox did give up the ball trying to play for a foul in the box rather than using his strength to power through and create an offensive chance. Hard to blame him when the “contact from behind = go down” rule is rewarded frequently enough and the game was already won. Shroot was taken down for what absolutely should have been a penalty in the same spot just a minute later (right at 67′). Cox got behind the defense and may some nice skill dribbles across the top of the box, but his lefty shot was low, slow, and easily saved.

For what it’s worth, the commentators had a lot of trouble differentiating Winn and Hume – including after Hume had come off – so I had to make some corrections to what I had written down watching live. A better game for Hume than initially believed on my end.

Nashville heads to Chattanooga, returns with a 3-1 win

For the first ten-plus minutes of Nashville SC’s derby game against Chattanooga FC, it looked like their NPSL opposition may be able to spring the upset. Chattanooga smashed a shot against the crossbar barely more than a minute into the game, earned a free kick in a dangerous position just minutes later, and had consistent pressure (including a pair of solid crosses left wanting) on Matt Pickens’s net.

After that point, though, the Boys in Gold asserted their dominance. The USL side – the one that will be in Major League Soccer come 2020 – showed that a higher level in the US Soccer pyramid more than likely means a higher level of play to correspond.

In the 14th minute, a cross from central attacking midfielder Alan Winn fell to defensive midfielder Matt LaGrassa at the top of the box, and his shot went just high (ramming the football goalpost, rather than the crossbar on the soccer goal). Two minutes later, Winn went down in the box applying heavy pressure, though he couldn’t draw the foul call. In the 18th, NSC earned a corner.

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The penalty-earning corner.

That corner turned into first blood on the night. Defender London Woodberry’s header rang the crossbar, and the rebound fell to midfielder Bolu Akinyode. Akinyode didn’t find the back of the net, but only because the ball was handled in the goalmouth. The infraction earned a penalty, and LaGrassa coolly slotted it inside the right post.

Impressive physical feats from strikers Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume would follow in the 30th and 45th minutes. Mensah made a physical tackle on a lazy Chattanooga backpass, rounded the keeper and fired into the back of the net. The 6-5 Hume showed agility and skill unexpected of a player his size, cutting back twice in traffic to finish inside the box just before halftime.

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Dance, big man!

From there, it was all procedural and a matter of playing out the contest.

A Host of Nashville subs at the half saw the team struggle to find a rhythm – similar to the first half, with a mix of first-XI regulars and players fighting to make the gameday 18 going forward – and Chattanooga buzzed the net consistently. Juanito got the home side on the board in the 59th minute, firing from the top of the box through traffic and wrong-footing NSC second-choice keeper CJ Cochran.

There was a bit of chippiness in the game, with a couple second-half bookings (LaGrassa was also carded in the 20th minute), one for Chattanooga’s Daniel Valeciano in the 68th minute and from NSC’s Ryan James in the 72nd. A chance for Chattanooga also saw a player injured – while Nashville continued to work the ball up the field instead of playing it out-of-bounds for a restart to let him seek treatment. It may be that there’s a little of the old NPSL rivalry left yet.

The final 10 minutes saw only half-chances for Nashville, while Chattanooga couldn’t win this particular game of keepaway long enough to muster anything on net.

In the end, the 3-1 result in favor of the Boys in Gold – in front of 3,239 fans (more of whom were there to support Nashville than the hosts would like to admit) – was a fair one. Going forward, beginning next Saturday in Louisville, the games count.

Preview: Chattanooga FC friendly 2018

Nashville SC and Chattanooga FC are natural rivals, but the travels throughout the US league system will keep them apart for the time being after Nashville SC (then FC) left the NPSL following the 2016 season. However, they’ll face each other in a friendly this evening in Scenic City.

The Essentials

Opponent: Chattanooga FC (6-2-4 NPSL Southeastern conference, Third place)
The Line: No line, this is a friendly, you degenerates
Time, Location: 7:00 p.m. EST 63 p.m. Nashville) • Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Event: Preseason friendly
Weather: 53° F, 64% chance of rain, 2 MPH Northeasterly winds.
Watch: Get yer tickets, stream embedded below for those who can’t make it. You can also watch with the Roadies at Pastime. Those going to Chattanooga can tailgate with NSC Supporters’ Groups at the parking lot across from the stadium.
Follow: @ClubCountryUSA, @NashvilleSC, @ChattanoogaFC, @NSCRoadies, @TheAssemblyNash @Chattahooligan
Etc.: A retrospective look at the rivalry, Gary Smith recaps Cincinnati, transcripts from player interviews Thursday, BIG bonding in preseason,
Elsewhere: Music City Soccer Preview.

Chattanooga

Amateur (non-university) sides are always a little more… fluid… in who’s on the team year-by-year, but fortunately, Chattanooga posted its roster just a couple days back:

That’s a light squad – 17 players, just one short of a typical gameday roster, but in preseason when teams are making mass subs, you expect even more – so there’s not a ton of depth here.

Zeca is expected to be one of the team’s top goal-scorers at striker, and Perez and Clarke are solid scorers/offensive threats from the midfield. Defender Soren Yuhaschek is a dutch guy who played for Chattanooga head coach Bill Elliott at University of West Florida before joining CFC last year. 28-year old Spanish midfielder Juan Hernandez has been on the fringe of All-NPSL the past couple seasons, and has shoulder-length blonde hair (oh, the important information you learn from a player’s bio). Diminutive (5-6, 155) striker Felipe Oliveira was a big scorer for Elliott at West Florida, so he’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

With an amateur side, it’s pretty tough to know a whole lot of information on players’ past performances – they just don’t have the breadth of statistical and biographical stuff available due to the level at which these programs are staffed. However, “team that was good-not-great in the NPSL last year” shouldn’t pose a major threat to a good USL team.

The Boys in Gold

Nashville has run out several different lineups in the past few weeks: primarily the starting XI against Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, and FC Cincinnati (and presumably Orlando City), with varying degrees of reserve lineups against Ottawa Fury and Lipscomb University.

Will we see the former or the latter this evening in Chattanooga? I went straight to the source to find out:

“If you look at last weekend, seven of the starters played 90 minutes against Cincinnati,” Gary Smith said. “That brought our senior group of players into a world where I’d be comfortable where if they were going to start the following week, or the first week of the season at Louisville, we’d be very happy. I certainly want to make sure as we close in on our opening game, that the players that I’ve got in my mind that might well be in that starting group all things being equal, are fresh, are sharp, are ready, are comfortable in their own skin in playing 90 minutes. I think all of those guys are.

“As we work towards this weekend, I want to make sure that the lads that haven’t had as much might get a few more minutes, but I also want to keep that continuity. There’ll be a little bit of a balancing act of trying to make sure that guys I’ve got in my mind for the following weekend – which I’ll obviously keep close to my chest – are ready, but also that should any eventuality happen, everyone’s in a good place for the opening game of the season.”

So, let’s read between the lines: no more than a cameo appearance for Lebo Moloto and Ryan James (who have played the most preseason minutes of anyone on the team), and you’re likely to see more of a reserve group with some starters mixed in, rather than a full Starting XI-caliber side. You will almost certainly see Chattanooga FC alumnus Jordan Dunstan in for the full 90, both because this is his former club and because he doesn’t figure heavily into the first team, so preseason reps are his only chance to get a full game in.

It’s clear that Smith wants to win this game, but that the priority is more aligned with trying to keep the team healthy (that probably means only limited minutes from guys who have had minor injuries in the preseason), and prepared for Louisville than going all-out for a victory.

Projected Lineups

Chattanooga is a total mystery with all their turnover, and quite frankly I don’t even know what sort of tactics they trotted out last year (thanks to watching Jordan Dunstan’s highlight when he signed with NSC, I remember it was a four-man backline).

Instead, I’ll focus on Nashville’s group, which probably looks something like this:

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Why? I think you’ll see a bit of subbing to give players on both ends of the spectrum (more toward the starters and more toward deep reserves) on the pitch, but this gives guys who are going to be in the 18 but not necessarily the XI on a game-to-game basis to not only get minutes to stay sharp, but a bit of integration with some of the guys who they’d step onto the pitch with in a substitution situation.

Predictions

It’s a common trope in a rivalry game (particularly one with teams from different tiers in a system) to say this is one side’s [Super Bowl, World Cup Final, etc.] and just another meaningless game to the other, but that seems to be relatively true here. Chattanooga’s… resentment… toward NSC may be more fan-centered than the actual opinions of the clubs, but it’s real nonetheless. Meanwhile, I can say with a degree of certainty that Nashville supporters have no love lost for CFC, but the coaches and players really don’t rate the rivalry at all.

  • Nashville doesn’t see any new names enter the scoresheet, but does still manage to put up a few goals.
  • Winn is played at the No. 10 position to give him a chance to prove himself away from the front line and off the wing (which he’s had a little bit in the past, too), in a way to find him a chance to get onto the field without the Boys in Gold having to make tactical changes to accommodate his playing style.
  • Chattanooga gets on the board first thanks to the nature of the rivalry, but is outplayed after that. Despite that, NSC manages to draw level but doesn’t ultimately find a winner.

The game ends in a 2-2 draw. There’s something to be said for the rivalry, and also something to be said for NSC not wanting to portray itself as any sort of big, bad bully to teams in the state (particularly at lower levels of the pyramid) before making the jump to MLS. Even if they had a chance to pour it on, I don’t think they would, thanks to their de facto role as a bit of a soccer ambassador. That allows the higher level of emotion from CFC to keep this one close.