From the Film Room: Lebo Moloto presses and finishes against Tampa Bay

This one was pretty straightforward: A nice bit of high pressure from Nashville SC forced a mistake from Tampa Bay defender Ivan Magalhaese, Bolu Akinyode quickly transitioned to offense, and Lebo Moloto got rewarded for getting the play going in the first place.

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The situation

Nashville SC is on the road in one of the toughest places to play in USL. The team has absorbed a bit of pressure from the Rowdies’ offense, but is standing tall thus far. As TBR try to build out of the back, Nashville goes to a nice amount of high pressure, resulting in a turnover, a fast break, and a goal.

Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oOyhS2wJ3A

What happens

This one is pretty simple:

  • Nashville is in a high press, which we’ve seen pretty regularly in recent weeks. Ropapa Mensah is able to cover both LCB Tami Mkandawire and defensive midfielder Martin Vingaard, while the Nashville wide midfielders are closely man-marking the Tampa fullbacks. That means Lebo Moloto can slide over to put a bit of token ball pressure on Magalhaese while central midfielder Bolu Akinyode can closely mark Alex Morell.
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  • Moloto’s pressure forces the pass to be a little inaccurate, and Akinyode’s good defensive positioning allows him to be in the right place to intercept it.
  • This is a key to the play: Akinyode doesn’t waste any time gettin forward. He immediately passes the ball to Mensah. Morell falls on his face, meaning Vingaard (who would otherwise be able to mark Mensah) has to step up to pressure.
  • Both centerbacks drop to recover to Mensah. Molotov’s smart run down the left puts him on position to be wide open for the feed.
  • Clinical finish from the South African forward puts NSC on top.

Takeaways

We’ve seen Nashville intermittently provide high pressure to teams that attempt to play out of the back. This time, it finally paid off in a goal.

  • To a large extent, this play doesn’t happen without mistakes from the opposition. Moloto’s pressure is fine but shouldn’t force a pass as far behind Morell as Magalhaese dishes. Similarly, it’s possible Morell doesn’t receive the pass… but still manages to not put it on a platter for Akinyode or fall on his face in the process.
  • This is what pressing gets you, though. It’s not always about winning individual battles as much as it is convincing opponents into a mistake. At the USL level, those are going to be more frequent.
  • Also key to this play? Akinyode’s awareness and ability to take a loose ball and immediately turn it into effective offense. I’ve been critical at times of his transition play (he’s either stuck on offense or defense for the most part, and hasn’t been ambitious enough with his passing much of the year), but this is a bright step forward in that regard. If he can do that consistently, this team has another level.
  • Mensah has done a great job learning to be more than just a finisher, and that improvement has been rapid. Again, more diversity in his game gives another element to the offense.
  • Underrated: the runs up the wing by both Alan Winn and Taylor Washington. I’m a big “create space” guy, and while the fullbacks were too far upfield to likely make an impact defensively, that duo staying wide and forcing the FBs to cover them means they definitely can’t.

Nashville’s low scoring at the beginning of the year looks more like an anomaly and product of competition by the day.

Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oOyhS2wJ3A

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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.

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:

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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.

From the film room: Lebo Moloto puts Nashville SC on top of Louisville

Louisville City entered last Sunday’s game as one of the top teams in the USL East. Despite losing to Indy Eleven in their prior outing, this was still a juggernaut of a team. Nashville SC pretty much dispatched them with ease – at least on the scoreboard. How did it happen?

It all began with a first-half strike from Lebo Moloto.

The situation

Neither team has generated many legitimate scoring chances, but Louisville City FC has certainly had more of the ball in the first half. The field is a little tilted in LCFC’s favor, but offensive rushes with little end product (which would be the case for the Boys in Purple all afternoon) compared with fewer – but more dangerous – opportunities for NSC was the name of the game.

After Matt Pickens scoops up a loose ball in the box and distributes to left centerback Liam Doyle, the ball is switched across the field a couple times, then Doyle feeds defensive midfielder Bolu Akinyode along the left sideline.

Film

What happens

Akinyode pushes the ball over the top to striker Ropapa Mensah. Mensah cuts back at the edge of the box, picks his head up, and spots Matt LaGrassa in a decent shooting position. He cross the ball to LaGrassa for what appears to be a solid shooting chance.

Before LaGrassa can swing his left leg through the shot, he’s called off by Mensah’s fellow striker, Lebo Moloto (playing as a bit of a false nine, dropping into the midfield at times, as at the beginning of this play – that will actually be important, too). Mensah rips with his right foot, and goes near-post.

With Louisville keeper Greg Ranjitsingh setting up to save a lefty shot from LaGrassa (more than likely going to the keeper’s left), he’s caught flat-footed, and Moloto beats him along the ground into the bottom right corner.

Takeaways

This is a matter of at least a couple separate individual battles won. Take a look at Louisville’s marking at the beginning of the play:

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Every offensive threat for NSC is covered, with two free Louisville defenders. The precision of Akinyode’s pass is an important start, but after that Mensah has to win his one-on-one battle against Alexis Souahy. He does so by pushing toward the endline, then cutting back onto his preferred right foot.

Moloto also needs to win his battle. That’s a bit easier a task: even though Devon Williams is a defensively-oriented midfielder, and Moloto is a striker, when Moloto starts his run, Williams just plants his feet and watches the dangerous player run on by. That’s compounded when both Sean Totsch and Paolo DelPiccolo sink to Mensah, rather than either of them noticing that Mensah is without a marker.

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There are a couple underrated off-ball movements that make the whole thing possible, too. When Akinyode plays the ball over the top, Nashville left back Justin Davis stays wide, and left midfielder Taylor Washington sinks back toward the direction of the initial pass, drawing Totsch away from Mensah, and making it a one-on-one situation (preventing anyone other than Souahy from recovering).

The movement of the defenders – Paco Craig slides into a sweeper role, which should be the safe move given that his team has numbers, and DelPiccolo is running back to try to recover to Mensah – opens a passing lane in the direction of LaGrassa. (The yellow line is the lane, which three defenders on one offensive player should be able to cover. Blue is Mensah’s pass).

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If LaGrassa takes the shot, there’s a decent chance Ranjitsingh makes the save: he was set up to dive to his left, and LaGrassa would have had to have really nice placement with his weaker foot (or go opposite post, something tough to do on a first-time strike, though obviously not impossible) to beat a strong keeper.

Mensah gets the majority of credit here, though Moloto’s strike was obviously a good end product. Akinyode’s initial service to Mensah was good, and the savvy of Davis and Washington to give Mensah more space helped create the window. A great team goal.

Film

From the film room: Nashville SC misses opportunities against Penn FC

 

While Penn FC does have a decent defense (three goals allowed through four games heading into last week’s matchup), the Boys in Gold coming away unable to get a victory against one of the worst teams in the East was… less than ideal.

There were multiple reasons for that (some out of NSC’s control, like pitch conditions and a referee watching his first-ever game of soccer), but some of the best missed chances seemed to follow a bit of a theme of Nashville’s own doing: an inability to create space backside, and when that was rectified, a failure to find those players making runs into space on the backside of the play to get great opportunities on goal.

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I’m thinkin’ Taylor Washington probably would have scored here.

Here are the three primary instances, with the chalkboard mixed in:

Film

What happens

Obviously there’s a lot going on here, with three separate plays. The first demonstrates the initial problem, the second and third show that Nashville was able to fix that, but not take advantage of it.

Play one:

  • It’s worth noting that there was a bit of a formation shift in this game. Rather than having two strikers side-by-side in Ropapa Mensah and Lebo Moloto in the 4-4-2, they were stacked with Moloto behind Mensah more often than not in a 4-4-1-1. While Moloto has generally played a bit more recessed than his other striker since the move to the 4-4-2, it was more pronounced (and they were staying more vertically aligned across the field) than in previous matchups.
  • In this play, both Mensah and Moloto are dragged pretty far to the right sideline – and again, stacked one on top of the other, about the same distance from that sideline. That means there’s tons of space to the other side, with the defense dragged to the right, as well.
  • Thanks to the difference in spacing without a striker to the left and one to the right, the left midfielder or fullback needs to push forward into that space. Instead, we see Taylor Washington running vaguely into middle territory, and Justin Davis’s run too late to get up the wing in time for involvement in the play. Washington should probably push into the box, opening that middle area for Michael Reed (who had dropped deep at the beginning of the play).
  • Mensah’s inexperience comes out here – the inexperience that had him start the season as a sub, rather than starter, and plays a major role in the team’s lack of scoring. He’s in a hold-up position, drawing two centerbacks (exactly what you’d like that hold-up player to do), but drifts offside for basically no reason. It’s close enough that Moloto can’t tell he’s in an offside position, and the play is spoiled.
  • While the offside is what actually ends the play here, note the lack of options (Washington, Davis, Reed, etc.) that Mensah would have had otherwise. Had he remained in an onside position prior to Moloto playing the ball, he’s left with basically no option but a low-angle shot.

Play two

  • Here, we see a play initiated from the other sideline, from a throw by Davis. He throws Mensah over the top, putting him in a dangerous position, and again drawing the attention of multiple (this time three!) defenders.
  • Mensah does a good job settling the ball – something he is working on doing more consistently – and works from left to right at the top corner of the box (for the record, that seems to be one of his favorite positions: he’s made that exact same dribble multiple times in the past two or three games).
  • This time, the experience of Robin Shroot – and Moloto not being the one to play the initial ball in – means there’s a bit more experience in the midfielder/second striker in making useful runs. Shroot works into the box, and Moloto is in a spot where the ball can be laid off to him for a shot.
  • However, Mensah doesn’t handle the ball quite cleanly and with his head up, instead bouncing off a defender and burying his eyes downward to keep possession. He doesn’t see Shroot’s run – which would have had the veteran Englishman unmarked in the box – until it’s too late.
  • Mensah plays the ball over the top, but Shroot has to leave it because he’s in an offside position. It trickles harmlessly to the endline (and it’s worth noting that it may not have been accurate enough to give Shroot the opportunity his run deserved in the first place).

Play three:

  • This one is somewhat similar to a hybrid of the first two. Mensah dishes the ball to a streaking Moloto, whose dink pass over the top puts Shroot in an outstanding position. Moloto’s distribution makes the play, and it ends up with Shroot running into space (on this instance, timed well to give him a chance).
  • Shroot takes a swing and a miss on the initial volley. Not the greatest look, but hardly a damning mistake. Again, the field and ball were wet, and that’s hardly an easy kick to take anyway. Still, you’d like to see a pure goal-getter do better.
  • Where Shroot really spoils this one is letting his eyes get big in front of the goalmouth, and trying to have a second go at scoring. The keeper has had time to react, and is well off his line closing down Shroot.
  • Washington has learned from his previous mistake, and is making a nice run into space (not too aggressive on goal, either – this really is the perfect run for the situation). If Shroot shows a little more composure, he has a wide open teammate with the opportunity to dunk it into the net.
  • Instead, Shroot boots it into the on-rushing keeper, ending the threat.

Takeaways

Some of the problems here are a matter of lack of overall chemistry between the players. It’s worth noting they’ve only been together for about three months (whereas other teams at least had a bit of a core returning). They should still be jelling a bit better by now, looked at in a vacuum.

Another issue that makes it tougher is a formation change. Gary Smith worked his 5-3-2 throughout preseason and the first couple games of the regular season. Sensing that the goals weren’t coming, a move to a higher-potential 4-4-2 was made. It’s the right change (and even though the scoring isn’t coming in waves, the eyeball test indicates it’s at least closer to arriving), but the players worked in different roles in the preseason. In the 5-3-2, for example, Washington would have been a wingback more suited to crossing the ball than receiving it for a shot. Play one indicates that he’s still adjusting to the responsibilities of a midfielder, and specifically a winger rather than a tightly-grouped bunch like would have been in the 5-3-2.

Similarly, the shift from a 4-4-2 to more of a 4-4-1-1 changes the spacing up top, and having Moloto/Mensah playing off each other in diagonal runs in the former would have necessitated less width in the box from a midfielder. Stacking them resulted in being pulled to one side of the field, and a midfielder who took a second to adjust to the change in responsibility/shape.

Mensah’s overall inexperience was on display here. I’ve tried to pump the brakes on the hype train at times (sometimes to solid effect, but mostly futilely), and you can see why here. Even though he’s probably the best goal-scorer NSC has at this time, he’s also going to be a bit more mistake-prone than he’s going to show by the end of the year (or less ready to make “the play after the play,” as was the case in play two).

The third play shows that Washington was able to adjust to the shape of his team’s formation (and to another weird pitch, something Nashville is going to get very used to in the USL, obviously), and be a bigger threat than he had been with a similar opportunity early in the game. The problem was that Shroot flubbed it – not his only howler in front of goal, which had fans up in arms about his playing time – wasting a nice play.

Without inverted wingers (the lefty Washington on the right and righty Winn/Shroot on the left, like we saw against Indy), and instead with both players on their natural foot for crosses, I understand why Winn – more a scorer than a crosser – didn’t make the starting lineup, and with the defensive struggles (more than expected), not putitng him in as a sub was the right move for this game. However, he’s the one player I would expect to have gotten into the same dangerous positions Shroot did – which Shroot deserves credit for, by the way, more than he’s getting – but I also would think he’d have shown a bit more class on the finishes.

 

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

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

The setup

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

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

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

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

Video

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

What happens

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

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

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

Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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