The graphical: Nashville SC 2018 player radars

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

A few notes here:

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

Here we go:

Primarily offensive players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primarily defensive players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learned

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

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

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

 

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The Graphical: Nashville SC 2-0 Ottawa Fury

Welcome (back) to The Graphical, in which I mine the Opta data for insights as to how Nashville SC’s most recent result came about. 

Your shift is on my team sheet

This was the second game in a row where Nashville reverted back to the 3-5-2 that they’d started the year playing. While they announced a 4-4-2 lineup, check out these average positions:

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Nashville SC is in black

That’s Liam Doyle (5) in the dead center, with Justin Davis (2) and London Woodberry (28) playing left and right centerback positions, respectively. Taylor Washington (23) and Ish Jome (11) are your wingbacks, while the three central midfielders actually remain relatively closely bunched – albeit with Lebo Moloto a touch ahead as the No. 10 in jersey and in role – and the strikers are close together, as well.

Gary Smith ran out this formation for much of preseason and then the first two regular season games… but scrapped it when the offensive output was struggling. He wanted to create more width, connecting through the midfield, and space to roam up top in the 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) that became the formation du jour.

So, why does it work to actually reinvigorate the offense at this point in the year? Let’s go to a few other illustrations to figure it out.

Making the most of Lebo

We know Lebo Moloto can shoot the ball, and shoot it pretty darn well at times. However, that’s actually not the strength of his game, and playing him as the second striker sort of forces him into that role: he has to shoot, because there’s only one option that’s going to be in a more dangerous position than him on a regular basis.

Here’s a little chart of my own, rather than one directly from Opta:

Year Goals Shots Key Passes Assists
2015 6 19 ?? 7
2016 1 28 ?? 1
2017 7 51 52 4
2015 5 46 40 4

As you can see, this is on pace to be one of his best years (almost certainly THE best, which is notable given he was a key player on the USL runners-up last year), but certainly with a bit of a different style of play: he has skewed toward scoring more than ever before.

Here’s what his game against Ottawa looked like, as he moved back to a No. 8/10 role with two true strikers ahead of him:

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That’s much more in line with what he’s done in his previous three USL seasons. Given that his best season came under current Nashville SC Technical Director Mike Jacobs when Jacobs held the same position at Swope Park Rangers, it’s more likely the role he was brought in to play from the get-go: he’s a creator, rather than a pure out-and-out scorer. (That also explains part of why it’s fit better to slide him to the wing and play two strikers when still using the 4-4-2, as well).

 

What else changes?

It should come as no surprise that, with two wingbacks who are tasked with staying wide and getting up and down the field (but with more freedom on the “up” part than they have in the 4-4-2, and also more responsibility to create the width that is sacrificed without wide midfielders), Nashville SC’s gameplan involved a lot of crosses. Enter Tucker Hume, the Big Bird-esque target striker to bring those crosses in. The personnel and gameplan matched up well.

That’s a heck of a lot of crosses, and as you can see, many of them came from the left foot of Taylor Washington (two successful, 11 unsuccessful, three chances created). The image on the right is offensive-third touches for the strikers (Hume, Brandon Allen, and Ropapa Mensah). While we know those guys can create a little bit – in Hume’s case, more than most opponents expect – but in this game, they were able to spend a bit more time hanging out in the box, because they ball was being crossed in to them.

This wasn’t necessarily the best gameplan for the team, or the best personnel to trot out. For this game, it certainly ended up that way, though, and the combination of great personnel and a solid gameplan is less impactful than the fact that each of those was the right fit for the other. Ottawa ran an even backline (and we’ve previously seen that Nashville’s cross-happy gameplan has typically been used more against odd backlines), so it’ll be a tactical chess match to watch as NSC matches up with different formations and ideas from the opponents going forward.

The downsides

Playing two true strikers – and without one like Moloto, who can track back to defend or sink for the ball like Moloto – there is going to be some connectivity lost in the passing game and in defending. That’s not too big a deal because you are now granted the opportunity to play one of the midfielders higher up the pitch, as long as the wingbacks can track along the entire sideline (both offensive and defensive zones) to maintain width.

This formation does make for an awkward fit for some personnel, though: Where does Alan Winn fit in? He’ll have to carve out a role as that No. 10 (probably the backup to Moloto) or develop a bit more ruthless an edge as an out-and-out striker who isn’t quite as tasked with creating. While Ish Jome started at right wingback, it’s a bit of a shoehorn for him (he’s a left-sided player who’s been far more comfortable over there to this point in his NSC career), and while left wingback is a possibility, it means there’s a bit of a potential logjam over there with Washington and Ryan James also left-sided wingbacks and only Kosuke Kimura on the right (though obviously Jome can be on the right, and James can play on that side, as well). That’s less a “there’s not a spot for a particular guy” and more a “this makes for a weird depth chart over there.”

While this does make it easier for Matt LaGrassam to play a more natural central role, that means there’s once again a situation where we have three bodies for two central defensive midfield spots – in this game, it meant Bolu Akinyode was relegated to the bench until Nashville went with a defense-heavy lineup for the final 10 minutes. Again, less a “weird fit” and more a “makes it tough to get good players on the field” problem (which is the better problem to have, obviously).

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

The Graphical: Nashville SC 0-0 FC Cincinnati

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

Shoot your shot

Nashville dominated this game in total shots taken (20-12), unblocked shots (15-8), and shots inside the box (12-5), but only best FC Cincinnati 3-2 in terms of the number of shots that were actually on the frame. What happened?

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We’re going to end up back with the narrative “Nashville can’t finish” which had mercifully left us with a nice run of offensive form in the past several weeks. Based on the stats alone, that might feel fair, but the majority of those misses this week were within a foot of the frame (or on one Lebo Moloto shot, off it), and – while it stinks – there’s just an element of crappy luck. It happens, it doesn’t mean the team stinks, that’s just soccer.

This is a high-variance game where a couple inches one way or the other on two occasions can completely change the outcome (just ask Sunil Gulati!). Even in hockey – obviously, there are tones of a famous line from The Mighty Ducks in that previous sentence – games very rarely finish 1-0, so there are more opportunities to make up for that single instance of poor luck.

Against a good offensive (but poor defensive) team like FC Cincinnati, you need to make your chances count on your end. NSC didn’t, but prevented FCC from paying it back, so in the end, you take the randomness, see that on another day Nashville’s dominance is likely to pay off, and move along.

 

Lebo forcing matters?

I didn’t really notice this until working on film review – or at least in such a way that I recognized a clear pattern – but it really seemed like Lebo Moloto’s first half really involved the South African trying to erase the demons of last time the team played in Nissan Stadium.

In that game, Moloto had about two and a half chances to end the scoreless draw, and give his team, the win. The pressure of trying to prevent the same result from coming to fruition looked like it was wearing on him early. Here are his first-half shots and incomplete passes:

Part of the graph on the right is a little bit of unfamiliarity with exactly where he can expect teammates to be when he’s in a new role (he clearly roamed side-to-side quite a bit, but played significantly on the right wing, rather than primarily as the second striker – while Matt LaGrassa had an adjustment himself to taking over Moloto’s typical role). A lot of it seemed to be forcing the issue, though.

Both of Moloto’s shots on-target from outside the box were earlier in a possession than he should have been accepting that as the best look he was going to get, and indeed, both were basically harmlessly caught by the keeper without too much stress. The off-target one from outside the box had more power to it and hit the post… again, a couple inches to the left and it could have completely changed this game.

Moloto settled down with more time in his familiar role and reduced pressure in the second half, but didn’t take a single shot (for better or for worse: some opportunities were spoiled by passing miscommunications at the top of the box). It wasn’t a bad performance overall – he wound up my second-best NSC player on the day – but settling into the big-game atmosphere a bit earlier will be a priority next time Cincinnati is the opponent.

Allen dropping back

I try not to get too deep into responding to specific criticisms I read elsewhere in these posts (not least of which because they often don’t deserve attention), but I read a “Brandon Allen is lazy and won’t drop into midfield to receive the ball” take (from a coach at a local youth club! Maybe parents do your research on coaches before signing kids up), which couldn’t have been more wrong in this game.

Sometimes it is true – the counter-argument would be “it’s literally his job in the 4-4-1-1 to hang on the centerback’s shoulder and run into space when his team has the ball” – but Allen’s role was different in this one. Maybe it was playing without Moloto as his second striker, certainly a large part of it was the amount (and the specific locations) of space created by Cincinnati’s formation being questionably sound in their defensive half, but he dropped as deep as he ever has since joining this club. Here’s the touchmap:

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Attacking left-to-right

I would almost contend that he was dropping too deep at times, and holding the back four a little deeper could have created more space for LaGrassa, Moloto, and Winn to interplay better and get good looks. Of course, that he got plenty of looks in the box probably means that’s overly nitpicking. The other part of that complaint – that Allen is lazy and doesn’t work hard in the re-press defensively – has never been true since he joined Nashville SC.

Allen is far from a perfect player. He had a couple giveaways, seems to be a little audacious with his shooting at times (and overly conservative at others), and too often tries to play for the foul instead of using his strength to ward off a defender and make an opportunity. However, he deserved a legit penalty call (or two) on the play that has fans upset he’s some sort of diver. Negative takes about Allen about this specific game (one of his better ones since joining NSC outside of actually shooting the ball into the back of the net) are either knee-jerk from those who were emotional after a loss – which is fair – or under-informed, whether by choice or inability.

Better opportunities, less execution

The narrative after the game was that Nashville dominated the first half, while Cincinnati was clearly the better team in the second. While there’s an element of truth to that – FCC certainly had two of the better chances of the second half, though both came against the run of play – I don’t think it’s an accurate description.

Nashville finished the first half with 59.9% of possession, and the full game with 60.0% – which is to say, they had even more of the ball in the second half than they did in the first. They only launched seven shots after getting 13 off before the break, but look at the improved quality of those shots:

Seven of 13 first-half shots were outside the box (which admittedly includes two of the three on-target, though I’ve already discussed those above), six inside the box. After the break? One outside the box, six inside.

The same number of extremely high-quality looks (NSC actually had another inside the box in the second half – but Kosuke’s Kimura was so far off-frame that Opta apparently didn’t register it as a shooting attempt), and perhaps a bit more judiciousness in taking them isn’t much of a backslide. On the other hand, it is possibly a return to one of the early-season problems of probing for the perfect shot, rather than taking what’s available and hoping for a mistake, rebound, etc.

There’s a middle ground, but I wouldn’t characterize this as a tale of two halves as much as it has been. Take away one or both of the major individual mistakes by a defender who came on cold after an injury to a starter, and Cincinnati finishes the game with zero (0) shots on-goal in the entire game, while Nashville’s performance was similarly frustrating across the 94 minutes.

I suspect FC Cincinnati will come back much stronger the next time these teams play, but I also suspect that Nashville is more likely to take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded them.

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

The Graphical: Nashville SC 3-0 Atlanta United 2

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

An even matchup

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

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

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

So Nashville won in other ways

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

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

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

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

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

Hashtag WINNing

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Graphical: Nashville SC 0-2 Indy Eleven

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 Indy Eleven loss here at For Club and Country, and don’t forget to vote in community player ratings before today’s deadline.

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Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

Pressure makes diamonds, not always goals

 

Nashville SC was able to put a ton of shots up against Indy: 19 of them, 12 coming from inside the box. Count even just the shots that were on-target (green lines), and it looks like the Boys in Gold dominate this one:

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NSC’s offense on the right, Indy’s on the left

All the pressure in the world doesn’t matter, though, if you can’t solve the goalkeeper (or a defender saving it off the line, and Ayoze Garcia Pérez’s save of an Alan Winn appears to be erroneously excluded here, so increment shots inside the box up by one, even). Nashville probably deserved a goal in this one: five shots on target, all but one from extremely dangerous positions.

To quote Unforgiven, though: deserve’s got nothing to do with it. You only deserve a goal when it goes in. All the pressure in the world is meaningless if you can’t find the back of the net. Indy did twice (once thanks to an uncharacteristically poor effort from Matt Pickens), and that’s that counts in the end.

Full-field Moloto

Gary Smith gave a refreshingly honest and enlightening response when I asked why Ropapa Mensah didn’t come into the game earlier:

“I was looking at what we were achieving with Lebo centrally,” he said. “Certainly, I wanted the pressure to build and for them to be deeper so that we could get two forwards on. You can sometimes get overrun in that midfield, and before you know it, you just don’t have enough ball to recycle and to be effective with.”

Of course, the move there would have been replacing Brandon Allen (who seemed to be struggling), not replacing Moloto, but Smith’s answer does tell us a bit about how he views his team’s structure, more a 4-5-1 than a 4-4-2. On the pitch, it often gives the appearance of a 4-4-1-1, which is in line with the former rather than the latter. Either way you want to look at it, he likes Moloto being free enough to drop into the midfield for possession or to work back defensively. That prevents the opponent from having a major numbers advantage in the midfield – and of course still gives Moloto the opportunity to get forward as a side-by-side striker when the posture is a bit more offense-oriented.

His heat map doesn’t necessarily indicate that he’s stuck in the center of the pitch:

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But it does give the strong impression that he has the freedom to cover the entire width of it. His touchmap and the locations of his defensive actions show more of the same:

It’s not that Gary Smith wants him stuck in the center of the pitch, feeding it to a striker whose position is stacked on top of his. It’s that Smith wants Moloto to be able to do a little bit of everything.

Jome comes back to Earth

 

Ish Jome’s integration to the squad took a couple weeks, but he’s been spectacular in the past few games. Not so much against Indy, unfortunately. He’s a solid performer in the middle third of the field, but his outstanding ability to get it done in the scoring third didn’t make an appearance Tuesday evening.

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The passes are easy to see (they’re the ones with lines coming off them), but this also includes all of Jome’s attempted dribbles (three downward-pointing triangles) and his lone tackle (upward-facing triangle).

The passing obviously dried right up when things advanced into the more dangerous areas of the pitch. Whereas in previous weeks he’d been able to find teammates at the top of the box or inside it, no dice this week. Of course, some of that may be on the strikers and fellow midfielders, as well. He either had to cycle the ball backward or laterally, or lump it into the box on a semi-hopeful move. With Justin Davis not on the field, there were few overlapping runs from LB Ryan James.

More worrying to me, though, is the success with his dribbling. All three attempts resulted in turnovers, and as Jome tries to push up into the channel, a giveaway there can be really dangerous. Adding the eyeball test to what the graphs show, he’s over-reliant on one move: a scissor with each leg, then pushing straight upfield to the outside of his defender. I’d actually like to see him go immediately with the burst of speed, especially now that opponents have a half-season of film on him with this team. Against the better defensive sides, he’s going to have difficulties unless he can show more breadth of skill.

That his replacement, Alan Winn, seemed like a breath of fresh air (to the entire team, not just the position) indicates that it probably just wasn’t Jome’s night.

Full-staying-back

Nashville SC has pretty good defensive depth, and that’s allowed them to mix up personnel, particularly as the season comes out of a really crowded stretch after which some of the key players have basically not come off the field. With personnel shuffling, though, comes a necessity of changing up what the team does schematically.

Particularly at the fullback position, Nashville SC ran out a couple real stay-at-home types in this game. Ryan James on the left side (he’s generally more offensively oriented, leading me to believe this game had a specific plan) and London Woodberry (who started the year as a centerback) did not get as involved in the offense as we’ve seen out of others. See?

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That’s James and Woodberry’s heat maps (James contributes a bit to the bottom piece, since he flipped to the right after Woodberry’s substitution, but it’s generally Woodberry down there and James on the top, with the team attacking left-to-right). You can contrast either or both of those with the typical Justin Davis/Kosuke Kimura map at right.

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.28.12 AMWhile the hottest points are still on Nashville’s side of midfield, there’s a bit more of a stretch up each sideline. Given that the example I chose was just the most recent game, there’s something to be gleaned, too. While NSC scored one goal against North Carolina and zero against Indy Eleven, I think it’d be fair to say (and the top graph in this post would underscore) that this was a far more offensive game overall for the Boys in Gold. That it was that way without involvement on that end of the pitch from the fullbacks tells you quite a bit about 1) what the gameplan was, and 2) how the contest played out. When Taylor Washington replaced Woodberry (playing at the back for the first time in ages after having moved primarily to midfield) and James flipped to the right side, they got forward much more frequently and comfortably.

The team’s plan was clearly to build through the middle, and let the wing midfielders get the penetration up the sideline to create width and get danger in the deep areas of the pitch, while the fullbacks hung back a little bit to be defensively sound. I think it would be fair to say that style played a role in the second Indy goal, for what it’s worth: Woodberry was neither in position to pressure the passer nor to drop back and harass the recipient (though he was loosely marking striker Jack McInerney at about midfield), giving the Eleven a relatively easy path to getting into a dangerous spot on the counter.

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

The Graphical: Nashville SC 1-0 North Carolina 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 North Carolina FC win here at For Club and Country, and don’t forget to vote in community player ratings before tomorrow’s deadline.

Bend until they break

At halftime, this game felt like it had a lot of scoring in it, even if neither side was able to find twine before the break. As the second half wore on, it increasingly felt like one of those games, with tons of chances but never the one that pays off.

Indeed, up until the final kick of the game, it looked like chance after chance would be left wanting. Plenty in the pressbox had to scrap game stories mentioning it. But was it accurate? In a word, yes:

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Look at all those chances for Nashville (right side), and indeed, a fair number for NCFC – though five of their ten chances were blocked, and only two of the others were on-frame. It’s not that neither team threatened, but rather that both threatened a lot and couldn’t perform the final action.

This was a bit of a throwback to the beginning of the year, when Nashville would consistently threaten, but just couldn’t score. Of course, I consistently noted then (and it’s since borne out) that creating those chances time and again is eventually going to pay off: even a poor finisher is going to hit the back of the net given enough chances, and all indications were then (and are now), that NSC’s finishers aren’t bad – just intermittently unlucky.

Still, eleven shots off the frame of the goal (nine of those from inside the 18, three inside the six-yard box) is not super-great. I’d contend, based both on recent history and the nature of some of those misses – if I recall correctly, two of the three inside the box were from set pieces, one from a cross that was barely touched by Matt LaGrassa as he slid to the endline – that you’d more likely see a three- or four-goal output in the exact same circumstances. I wish we had full Opta xG data for USL contests, because the chart alone looks like a 3.8-0.4 type of margin.

For what it’s worth, North Carolina FC’s on-target percentage was much worse (20%) than what felt like a poor day for Nashville (28.6%).

Tilting the field

It would be unfair to say NCFC’s only chances came on the counter or set pieces, because they had a bit of decent possession and chain-building. However, it is totally fair to say that the majority of the play took place in their defensive end of the pitch. Nashville dominated possession (67.6% to 32.4%), and had plenty of that possession in the attacking third.

In addition to the heavily populated shot chart above, look at each team’s clearances:

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Again, that’s Nashville’s defending on the left, NCFC’s on the right. NSC had to clear from its own box 11 times. The Railhawks had 22 defensive clearances inside their 18, and unlike Nashville (only had to clear from elsewhere in the defensive end on one occasion), they also had to make plays on the defensive flanks and at the top of the key from shooting positions.

This was a dominating game in every way except the scoreboard. We all know soccer, of course: dominating doesn’t always mean you win. But more often than not, you play like this and get a result.

More like “W”Ish Jome had been here a little earlier, folks

Still workshopping the pun.

 

The paths of Nashville SC’s two newest signings in terms of their integration into the squad have been divergent. Brandon Allen slotted in immediately, and put up goals like he’d never played anywhere else (before fading slightly in the past week-plus). Ish Jome has received steadily increasing time, and has gone from looking a little uncomfortable in his passing relationships with teammates to a potential breakout star.

He was outstanding in this one, certainly his best game in Gold – and likely to earn MOTM honors I’m finished with the community ratings.

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Look at that passing chart: he completed 83.3% of his passes, and all but two of his ten incompletions were attempted crosses (a high-risk strategy that you’re not too upset to see fail, because when it connections, they’re among the most dangerous offensive plays you can make).

It was his speed up the flank that drew the most attention, though. Take a look at this average position:

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The left-right orientation is going to be a little skewed because he flipped over to the right side when Alan Winn came on (so his average is dragged over to the right, but it’s an optical illusion because the chart doesn’t separate the two positions he played).

More importantly though, look how high up the pitch he played both in that representation and his personal heatmap:

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He was a terror getting down that left side, and as you saw just above, he banged in a bunch of crosses (four successful, five unsuccessful) when he got there. The dynamic of a lefty playing on the left and a righty playing on the right – versus flipping them, so the players can shoot with their natural foot in the center of the pitch – is something I’ve been watching lately. Justin Davis is certainly the most comfortable fullback overlapping his winger on the side, while Jome is the most comfortable winger getting high up the pitch without support.

Playing the wingers inverted so Jome can create speed down the right flank (if he’s comfortable enough dribbling on that side of the field) might be a better fit with Davis’s skillset (he can cross it to a striker or cut it back to a righty winger to shoot from near the top of the 18), since Kosuke Kimura isn’t overlapping as much on the right.

With the offense currently seeming tilted toward the left side, that might be something to look at. Jome provides that flexibility as he gets more comfortable with his teammates – he’s certainly a skilled and naturally talented player. To date, he only has one assist to show for it, but that will increase if he continues playing like he did Saturday night.

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

The Graphical: Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-1 Nashville SC

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 Tampa Bay draw here at For Club and Country.

The big story

Tampa Bay got a lot of shots off Saturday evening. 25 of them, in fact! Nashville’s goal felt like it was constantly under attack. Let’s take a closer look at shot quality, though:

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Nashville’s offense on the left, Tampa’s on the right

That’s a whole lot of missed shots (nine) and blocked shots (10). When you take into account that 19 of those 25 shots had no legitimate chance to score, it looks less like Tampa Bay’s offense dominated Nashville’s than that their style of play is to launch shots over and over again, hoping that sooner or later some of them go in. I don’t intend that as an insult, either: it’s a fun style of offense to watch, and with a bit more quality in the final third, it can lead to some huge scorelines.

That’s not to say Tampa didn’t control the run of play: they absolutely did. The Rowdies had 56.3% of possession, and those shots still count, even if the Rowdies didn’t make the most of them. But the stress for Nashville fans based on seeing the ball launched in the general direction of their goal is probably disproportionate to the actual odds of getting scored upon.

Let’s take another drilldown and look at shots outside the box. They’re inherently less likely to score than shots from closer to the goalmouth. That accounted for 13 of the 25 Tampa Bay shots, and ended with only three on target (again, with a lower chance of scoring even when they are on target, since the keeper has more time to react), one blocked outside the box and five blocked by defenders standing inside the penalty area (none made it into the six-yard box), and four completely off target. For the most part, those are the shots that the Nashville defense – with its well-earned trust in Matt Pickens –  is designed to give up.

Is it better to rip a bunch of low-chance shots, or pass around looking for the perfect shot (often leading to no chance at all – we accused NSC of over-passing in the offensive third early in the year)? The beauty is in the eye of the beholder: in this one, obviously both methods ended up with a single goal.

Set piece party

lot of Tampa Bay’s offense that didn’t come from hopeful shots outside of the box was the result of set pieces. Plenty of those shots (most of them missed, of course) at the top of the six-yard box were the result of corner kick service or free kick service – either directly or indirectly.

Thanks to the Rowdies’ taking of short corners or short FKs with an immediate cross (think the type of play that led to Liam Doyle’s goal against Charleston: since Lebo Moloto technically took the free kick, it’s not a FK goal for Doyle, though effectively it was), the exact graphs are hard to place together, but here’s a general picture:

With 11(!!) corners, some of them take short and immediately crossed, there was a lot of opportunity for the ball to be played into the box. As we’ve previously discussed, playing crosses isn’t the most effective method of offense – and a bunch of missed shots inside the box speaks to that (many of those headed, though the graphs don’t point that out, either).

However, Nashville had trouble clearing on the first go, despite plenty of eventual clears, and that led to the game being played largely inside the NSC defensive penalty area:

If the ultimate result is just one goal against (and that on a somewhat unlucky play – after one of those many failed clearances), you can only complain so much… but at the same time, give up this many opportunities, let the ball be dictated on the opponents’ terms, and 1-1 results on the road are not going to be the most common outcome.

Goal chain

I’ll be breaking this play down in a Film Room post later in the week, but let’s take a look at the (short) possession that led to Nashville’s goal:

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I’ve excised Akinyode’s (30) pass to Mensah (3) because it would cover up the loose-ball recovery that I think is key to the play. That pass hit Mensah about one touch short (to the right, in this graphic) of where he distributed to Moloto, who as you can see took just one touch before scoring himself.

This is quite a bit more direct play than we’re used to seeing from Nashville (in part because of the opportunity afforded by the turnover and transition play), and is yet another diversification of the ways in which the team can score. As mentioned countless times in the past on this website (or “obvious thing is obvious”), more options for scoring goals is better. The high press has paid off on this occasion, and the more we see it, the better NSC will be at not only executing it defensively, but quickly turning it into transition offense.

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.