The Wrap: Nashville SC 0-2 Indy Eleven

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

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Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

Local Content

 

Halftime reset. Game story:

Nashville had plenty of the ball early in the game, but just like the last time they took on Indy Eleven, they couldn’t put a legitimate threat on the goal, and the opponent once again turned a quick counter-strike into a goal against the run of play… helping themselves tilt that run of play in their own favor. By the time Indy put in a second goal just 35 minutes into the game, they were able to sit back and absorb pressure.

Game column. Press conference video with Gary Smith, Michael Reed, and Ryan James.

The Graphical helps you understand how the game’s result came about by looking at stats and charts and such:

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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All the pressure in the world doesn’t matter, though, if you can’t solve the goalkeeper. Nashville probably deserved a goal in this one: five shots on target, all but one from extremely dangerous positions.

Don’t forget that you can vote each week in the community player ratings, and the results are published in the Breakdown. Michael Reed was this week’s Man of the Match:

Michael Reed 12.61 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 5.58

A lot of Reed’s contributions tend to go unnoticed because they’re about being sound in positional defense and not turning it over… and they get slightly overshadowed by the fact that he doesn’t always have the prettiest style even when effective. However, he got more involved offensively in this one – even if a couple of his patented rocket shots were blocked far from goal – and had some nice defensive plays. I do think he was one of the players responsible for Indy’s second goal because he didn’t get out to pressure Ayoze, whose feed resulted in an assist, but that was one negative play (compounded by at least three other teammates’ errors) with a lot of positive to like.

A good performance in a game that had precious few of them.

Elsewhere – Blogdom

Golden Goal match story. GG/Soccer Speedway player ratingsMusic City Soccer game story.

Elsewhere – Newsy things

USL’s gameday report, highlights, and game insights.

As always, thanks for visiting. Please feel free (nay, encouraged!) to share with friend 

 

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Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 0-2 Indy Eleven

Nashville SC couldn’t get the job done against an Indy Eleven team that became the first to beat them in two league games. What went wrong on the pitch Tuesday evening? I went to the film to find out.

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NSC’s strikers couldn’t finish. Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

\Quick note: my ratings are score-based after a film review, and on a scale that… there’s technically no range but anything over 15 is generally good and under 9 or so is bad for a full game worth of performance. Community ratings are on a traditional 1-10 scale.

Formation and tactics

Both teams primarily used a 4-4-1-1 with heavy smatterings of true side-by-side strikers in a 4-4-2. Once Indy got the lead, it went into an extreme bunker mode in defensive postures, with nine guys behind the ball immediately, and both strikers working back pretty hard. Nashville, on the other hand, tucked its wing midfielders in a bit and sent the fullbacks forward more, trying to create numbers advantages moving from midfield into the final third.

Ish Jome (left) and Matt LaGrassa (right) were the wingers to start the game for Nashville. Ryan James (left) and London Woodberry (right) were the fullbacks. Jome was replaced by Alan Winn at halftime, Woodberry by Taylor Washington in the 60th minute (Washington went to left fullback while the two-footed James flipped over to the right), and LaGrassa by Ropapa Mensah in the 68th.

The formation didn’t change too much despite putting on a third striker. Moloto sunk a bit deeper while both Mensah and Allen played high, with James playing as far upfield as he did all game with Moloto having a right-central orientation in a forward-ish midfield thing. It was a bit more amorphous formationally as NSC just three numbers forward, as you can tell. The easier change to spot was Gary Smith going with a single central defensive midfielder (Bolu Akinyode) at that time, while Michael Reed worked forward more than we’re used to seeing.

Gary Smith’s community rating, as you’re about to see, is not going to be good. I didn’t have a problem with it live, though, and aside from maaaaybe having a quicker trigger on subs for some guys who just weren’t having their best days, I still don’t have a problem with it after breaking down the broadcast.

Gary Smith community rating: 3.83

Community comments:

  • “Gary could have made changes sooner. Not his fault the players couldn’t finish though.”
  • “The team was slow in possession, predictable in the final third, and lacked creativity. Fourth game in a row this team has been sub-par.”
  • “Team didn’t come too win. They played sloppy.”

All fair comments, from my perspective.

Midfield

Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:

Michael Reed 12.61 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 5.58

A lot of Reed’s contributions tend to go unnoticed because they’re about being sound in positional defense and not turning it over… and they get slightly overshadowed by the fact that he doesn’t always have the prettiest style even when effective. However, he got more involved offensively in this one – even if a couple of his patented rocket shots were blocked far from goal – and had some nice defensive plays. I do think he was one of the players responsible for Indy’s second goal because he didn’t get out to pressure Ayoze, whose feed resulted in an assist, but that was one negative play (compounded by at least three other teammates’ errors) with a lot of positive to like.

Bolu Akinyode 10.60 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 5.08

On a night where nobody ended up with a good score in my system, this was actually a pretty nice night for Akinyode. He lost the ball in possession less frequently that we’ve come to expect (for a big, strong guy, he gets muscled off the ball a bit), and used his physical prowess to make some of those tackles. He’s still overly conservative in his passing – particularly for a deep-lying six whose team is chasing the game – but if he does other stuff well, he can compensate for that. HOWEVER, he did have one very bad piece of defense, being slow to get out on an early crosser (whose ball found the head of a teammate, forcing the save that led to the corner kick goal), and got chewed out on national television by Matt Pickens. The good outweighed the bad despite it.

Community comment: “Legend has it, Bolu Akinyode will make his first forward pass in the year 2020.”

Harsh but kinda fair.

Alan Winn 5.15 (50 minutes) – Community rating: 5.92

Winn played about half the game, and with a full 98 probably would have been in the range of the central defensive midfielders. He was an immediate change from Ish Jome (about whom more in a minute), with some pretty good ideas in possession of the ball, some incisive runs down the sideline – with endings other than lumping in a cross that gets blocked out – and continued to show that he wants to do well defensively, including getting elbowed in the teeth with no call. He should have had a headed goal on a set piece, but for an outstanding clearance off the line by Indy’s Ayoze. Winn did seem to struggle from a split-second of hesitation at the end of decent runs, but that’s pretty much fine in the situation (at least compared to his teammates).

Matt LaGrassa 2.54 (71 minutes) – Community rating: 5.75

Note: the community rating for LaGrassa was slightly inflated by a comedian who gave him two “10” votes, because of criticism of his game. Catch this act at Zanies all month.

LaGrassa – and his combination with London Woodberry – disappointed me live, and while Matt still did not have a great game, it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d thought. There’s a lack of continuity working the ball up the right wing, no doubt. LaGrassa also seems to be a little more uncomfortable defending, and (oddly) attacking in space. He’s more comfortable in tighter areas, and we saw him play better as a central defensive midfielder early in the year (and off-and-on since), which he should get more opportunities to do coming up. He was absolutely owned by his mark, Karl Ouimette, on the opening goal that changed the complexion of the game, which was his biggest negative. One thing I would point out as a positive is that he manages to be highly involved and putting in great effort even if all of those involvements aren’t universally positive.

Ish Jome 0.31 (48 minutes) – Community rating: 4.92

A week (and a couple days) after being a runaway Man of the Match, Jome had his worst performance since joining Nashville SC. Watching live, I was surprised his performance was considered poor enough to be pulled at halftime, but on a re-watch, it was probably justified, especially when there are options like Winn on the bench. He gave up possession a ton, didn’t have a lot of ideas in the final third, and was sort of figured out by Indy, which knew he was going to scissor twice and push endline when he had the ball in a dangerous position. Probably a one-week blip, but what a stinker of a blip.

Forward

Lebo Moloto 12.05 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 5.67

Moloto wasn’t far from Reed as MOTM (though of course it’s worth noting that neither score was particularly high), even though he was far from blameless for the finishing issues. I gave him positive scores for his two shots on goal – because they were some of the best offense NSC mustered, unfortunately – but they were both pretty weak efforts. He did have some nice crosses both from the run of play and dead balls, and combined well with teammates (especially when Mensah came on). He puts in the effort defensively and is Nashville’s most technical dribbler. He’s not going to have terrible performances… basically ever, thanks to that skillset. This one was a bright spot (with some drawbacks) on a poor night.

Ropapa Mensah 6.48 (27 minutes) – Community rating: 5.75

Mensah immediately changed the game when he entered it. He is the epitome of a “tries shit” guy, to appropriate Bruce Arena’s description of Clint Dempsey, which can have its drawbacks (I continue to warn that fans begging to see more of him are going to be disappointed with a full 90 because of the mistakes that result), but used situationally, you have a chance to get all the good without much of the bad. He won loose balls in the box, played creative passes that got teammates into dangerous areas, and can make the first move to lose the heck out of a defender.

Brandon Allen 6.17 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 4.25

Allen was probably the player whose performance improved the most on a re-watch in my mind. While he was unable to find the back of the net, as a true No. 9 striker he’s very reliant on the service from his teammates. He did over-dribble or have poor decisions on a couple occasions, so I guess your mileage may vary in terms of how big a portion of his overall performance that is (probably more than my system can credit him for). A hesitance to pull the trigger on a shot is… sort of “old NSC” from the beginning of the year, which had seemed to be fixed when he arrived.

Defenders

Ryan James 7.70 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 5.00

I’ve read James coming in for some criticism in the aftermath of the game, and I don’t see that. He’s sound defensively, capable of getting forward (though he didn’t too much until Mensah came on and Moloto tucked inside), and sends in some nice crosses. He couldn’t combine with Jome in the first half – but how much of that was Jome having an off night rather than a problem that James was responsible for? – so it’s not like he was perfect, but the versatility to flip to the opposite side of the backline is such an added bonus in my eyes.

London Woodberry 6.62 (63 minutes) – Community rating: 5.42

Woodberry joins LaGrassa (perhaps not coincidentally, they played on the same side of the field together) as the player whose performance improved the most on a re-watch. A natural centerback, he’s not particularly comfortable getting all the way forward, but he’s plenty athletic to do it and still track back safely. He fell asleep with a runner coming in behind him a couple times (though both were bailed out by a poor pass to that runner), and his crosses have room for improvement. Still, not as bad a day as it felt live.

Bradley Bourgeois 5.09 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 5.50

The centerbacks are both going to have low scores here, mostly because there wasn’t much for them to do (and unlike a typical game, Bourgeois didn’t make up for it by being super-dangerous on several set pieces – though he did have one header that just missed the back post, and was slightly too high for Ryan James to dunk it home). Of course, one of the things they did do was let a forward in behind them for Indy’s second goal against the run of play. I dinged them both equally, though Gary Smith implied Liam Doyle might have been slightly more culpable.

Liam Doyle 4.56 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 4.83

Same as the above: low score because there wasn’t a ton for them to do, and one of the things they did do was put Matt Pickens in position to give up a soft goal. Other than that, actually a nice day. Indy packed it in when they got the second goal and the centerbacks weren’t challenged.

Taylor Washington 2.37 (35 minutes) – Community rating: 5.67

I thought Washington provided a lot when he came on. His combination with Alan Winn on the left side works really well for me (the lefty Washington/righty Winn cutback combo is particularly useful given what both want to do). He puts nice pressure on players as the ball enters his defensive third, and his speed up the wing can make a difference. He was more comfortable crossing with his right foot after pulling back, as well. I wonder if there’s a bigger role for him as a left back at times, though he’s mostly moved to midfield.

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 6.16 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 4.42

So: Pickens had his single worst play (by an extremely wide margin) in this game. Other than that though, he was either completely unchallenged, or pretty darn good. I also fault him slightly for the corner-kick goal: while LaGrassa losing his mark (both spatially and then in a physical battle) was the primary culprit, Pickens had put himself in too good a position to have no attempt on the ball. Other than that, he came off his line well and sparked offense with his distribution and probably could have taken a nap for the entire second half.

Thanks for participating in the community ratings. Check back after each USL game for your opportunity to participate!

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.

A lack of finishing and breakdowns at the back lead Nashville to first home loss

NASHVILLE – It was bound to happen sooner or later, but you won’t catch Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith saying he’s relieved to get his team’s first home loss out of the way. He won’t say he’s glad to have the pressure of maintaining an eight-game unbeaten streak in the USL off his team’s plate. The one thing he is happy for though, is that Indy Eleven’s 2-0 victory over NSC in First Tennessee Park last night can serve as a wake-up call.

“This game really brings you back to reality,” he said. “Reality is that this is a tough league. Home or away, nothing can be taken for granted. We’ve been on a good run for particular reasons, and those reasons are that week-in week-out, we are at the top end of our form, of our quality, and we don’t take things for granted.

“I think there have been one or two things, not necessarily meaning, but subconsciously, some young players and players that are on a winning streak can sometimes be a little bit complacent, and those fine lines make a massive difference.”

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Brandon Allen and his fellow attackers couldn’t find the back of the net. Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

Finishing was perhaps the biggest issue for Nashville SC on the day. They launched 19 shots, 12 of them inside the box, but managed to put only five on the frame. Indy keeper Owain Fon Williams was up to the task with four saves, and had plenty of help from his friends, with left back Ayoze Garcia Pérez saving an Alan Winn headed attempt off the line in the 66th minute.

Nashville lived in Indy’s box all game, with 62.8% of possession in total, and 77% passing accuracy in the opposing half of the field. Indy certainly invited some of that pressure after an early set piece goal by centerback Karl Ouimette and a counter-striker by Justin Braun (both assisted by Ayoze) allowed them to bunker down and see out their result.

“I think the story of the evening really for us was that, after dominating pretty much between the penalty boxes, we weren’t clinical enough or incisive enough in their box,” Smith said. “They got numbers behind the ball and did a pretty decent job – something that we’ve done pretty well in the past. We had a bit of a taste of our own medicine there, and they were clinical enough in our penalty box to take away a good victory.”

“Them scoring the first goal, we talked about as a team, it was really their first chance,” added team captain Michael Reed. “They took advantage of it, so we had to come back and put forth the extra effort. I think it was still early in the game and we still had a lot going in our favor. After the second goal, you have to change your approach. But I think if you look at the second half, and I’m sure the stats will show, was very positive. We just have to be more critical in the box and take advantage of the many opportunities we have and that’s really our problem right now.”

 

The letdowns at the back are certainly not excused by the fact that both goals were uncharacteristic for Nashville. However, that does give a little bit of hope that they won’t be repeated. The normally sure-handed Matt Pickens let in his first truly soft one of the year for the second Indy tally, a low-angle, low-pace shot from outside the corner of the six-yard box that snuck under his arms.

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Matt Pickens had a game he’d like to forget. Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

It hadn’t happened before, and while the goal still counts, there’s certainly some faith that it won’t happen again.

“I don’t think there’s anything that we need to read into too much about the way that the second goal was scored, other than it was a mix-up between Liam [Doyle] and Bradley [Bourgeois],” Smith said. “Bradley tried to step in front of the forward who worked on a little bit of a diagonal, and Matt’s really disappointed in the locker room with his save. He’s been immaculate up to this point. On a night where we concede from a dead ball against the run of play, and Matt makes a mistake, we lose a game, and it doesn’t feel very good and it shouldn’t.”

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Bourgeois had a miscommunication with Doyle, helping leave Pickens exposed at the back. Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country

The sky is certainly not falling after just the third loss of the year (and first at home). Nashville has the opportunity to rebound with a game against Atlanta United 2 this weekend, and that’s one they intend to seize.

“Everyone is going to take how the game went today and go home and self-reflect and see how they saw their performance or as a team saw their performance,” said defender Ryan James. “I think most people will come back and see that there were a lot of positive things to see. But when you lose it’s hard to see past maybe the two goals that scored on us. It’s hard to see past the three points we lost.

“But you really just have to take your time to self-reflect, watch the video and see the positive things you did well and how you can continue to do those positive things and how we can correct the one or two key moments that maybe let us down a little bit. I think that’s the best way to go about it for Saturday and future coming games.”

Atlanta United 2 is among the worst teams in the USL’s Eastern conference, coming in second-bottom ahead of only the pitiful Toronto FC II. Nashville can – and should – get back on track in First Tennessee Park at 7:30 Saturday evening. While climbing into the top two in the league table is no longer a likelihood for that one, getting back on track will feel a relief nonetheless.

Community ratings: Indy Eleven 2-0 Nashville SC

The Boys in Gold (Blue) couldn’t get it done at home for the first time this season. What did you think of the individual performances? Vote here, and share with friends to help get a broad view of the NSC fanbase’s attitude.

Thanks as always for visiting For Club and Country. Follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for all the latest updates on Nashville SC and US Soccer.

Nashville SC finally drops a home game, Indy Eleven takes 2-0 win

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NASHVILLE – Nashville SC started very slowly on the scoreboard at home against Indy Eleven, and while the team recovered enough to create plenty of chances, the 2-0 hole they dug was insurmountable on a day when chances couldn’t turn into goals.

Nashville had plenty of the ball early in the game, but just like the last time they took on Indy Eleven, they couldn’t put a legitimate threat on the goal, and the opponent once again turned a quick counter-strike into a goal against the run of play… helping themselves tilt that run of play in their own favor. By the time Indy put in a second goal just 35 minutes into the game, they were able to sit back and absorb pressure. While Nashville continued to create dangerous moments in the box, they also continued to spoil them.

Indy left back Ayoze Garcia Pérez would have been man of the match for assisting on both goals (corner kick service to Karl Ouimette, and a through ball to Justin Braun). He cemented his status with a clearance off the line by heading away an Alan Winn header that looked destined to bring the hosts back within striking distance. Nashville’s opportunities were all left wanting, and Indy became not only the first team to lead NSC at home, they left with the 2-0 victory.

Nashville completed 86.9% of its passes, and 77.0% in Indy Eleven’s half. However, the final pass was never there to create a true goal-scoring opportunity, and only five of 19 shots were even on-target – and 12 of those shots came inside the box. Finding the key pass and finishing were issues early in the year, and while it’s hopefully temporary, they were back on this night.

With the loss, Nashville ends an eight-game USL unbeaten streak, and loses its opportunity to set up a No. 1 v. No. 2 battle in just under two weeks, when they’ll be hosting current league leaders FC Cincinnati at Nissan Stadium.

First, though, the Boys in Gold will host Atlanta United 2 Saturday. On the heels of a two-game losing streak in all competitions after last Wednesday’s US Open Cup defeat in Louisville, the hapless Five-Stripes may be just what the doctor ordered – though Nashville SC’s form indicates that nothing is a guarantee.

Lineups

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Match events

  • 16′ IND GOAL – 20 Karl Ouimette (headed), assist to No. 7 Ayoze (corner kick)
  • 35′ IND GOAL – 7 Justin Braun (right foot),
  • 45’+3 – Half time.
  • 46′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 11 Ish Jome
  • 60′ NSH Substitution – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 28 London Woodberry
  • 68′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 20 Matt LaGrassa
  • 74′ IND Substitution – On 10 Ben Speas, off 17 Justin Braun
  • 79′ IND Substitution – On 4 Brad Ring, off 99 Jack McInerney
  • 90′ IND Yellow card – 7 Ayoze
  • 90’+2 IND Substitution – On 23 Zach Steinberger, off 16 Juan Guerra

Preview: Nashville SC v. Indy Eleven 2018

After #CupDreamz came to an end almost a week ago, it’s time for Nashville SC to double down and refocus on league play. Can they get revenge on the last team to beat them in a USL contest?

 

The essentials

Opponent: Indy Eleven (6-4-3, 17 GF, 15 GA so far in 2018, seventh in USL East, fourth in USL East Power Ratings and 11th in combined-table Pure Power)
The Line: Nashville SC -123, Draw +246, Indy +307
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 81ºF, 24% chance of rain, 74% humidity, 6 MPH Southerly winds
Watch: In person! This is also the first of USL’s nationally broadcast games on ESPNews (you can stream on ESPN3 with a cable package). See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely.
Tailgate: With the Assembly and Eastern Front SG at Von Elrod’s, with The Roadies at Pastime. Music City Supporters at Germantown Depot.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @IndyEleven, #NSHvIND
Etc.: Q&A with Soc Takes. Read up on what went down last time these teams squared off. Gary Smith and Matt LaGrassa press conference.
Elsewhere: WKRN with a feature on the team. Bradley Bourgeois was on the USL team of the week last week. ProSoccerUSA on the Open Cup loss, since I won’t have a chance (or desire) to write a wrap. Golden Goal with a fearless forecast and a… feature, I guess? Not really a preview in any sense. USL on the team’s success in its debut season.

Last time we met

Soony Saad got in behind the defense once, and scored a screamer on a set piece (he does this a lot) to give Indy Eleven a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute. Ropapa Mensah would pull one back for Nashville SC shortly before the halftime break, but the damage was done. NSC couldn’t find the equalizer, and left Lucas Oil Stadium with its second loss of the year.

Read full coverage here.

Indy Eleven

 

The teams’ directions have diverged since that game in Indianapolis. The Eleven have gone 3-3-3 (1.33 points per game) including just 2-2-1 at home, in contrast to NSC’s 4-0-4 (2.00) – which may not seem like a big difference but given that it would be the margin between first place and ninth place on the table over the course of the season, that’s significant.

What’s gone wrong with Indy?

“Injuries and a lack of attacking identity have been the main culprits for the dropoff in form,” Soc Takes‘s Kevin Johnston said. “The club hasn’t scored a ton of goals from the run of play; they’ve mostly come from set pieces and penalties. The midfield and forwards seem to be gelling at a tortoise’s pace.

“As for the injuries, Tyler Pasher and Carlyle Mitchell were both sorely missed while dealing with knocks. Mitchell has since returned and given Indy’s defense a massive lift the past few games, but Pasher remains out and his timetable to return is unclear. The Eleven offense hasn’t looked the same without him.”

Despite that dropoff from Indy, Nashville SC remembers last game, and isn’t bound to think this Eleven side is going to be a pushover. There was a lot to learn from that game, and the Boys in Gold are doing what they can to internalize those lessons.

“My mindset and my feelings about Indy haven’t changed a tremendous amount,” said head coach Gary Smith. “I think I might have said at that point that we played them over two months ago that there’s a good likelihood that they’re going to be a playoff team. I’ve not changed my tack on that. I think we’re seeing all the qualities that represent a playoff team. Spirited side, individuals that are capable of changing a gamer in an instant, and consistency.”

“I think we’ve spent a lot of time studying the film and their tendencies individually and as a group,” Nashville midfielder Matt LaGrassa said. “I think they’re a side that we rate highly and they’re going to be difficult. With our record, we’re expecting a lot, especially at home.”

Indy’s home form is slightly worse than its performance on the road (though Johnston believes that to be mostly an anomaly based on the scheduling), but we’ll see how that stands up in the toughest road venue in the USL.

Left back Ayoze, of course Saad (who played as a secondary striker in the previous game, but is now lining up more as a left winger), and possibly Jack McInerney – whose mercurial temper has led to benchings, cards, fights, and more, removing him from being an every-game selection – are those you want to keep an eye on offensively.

Nashville missed centerback Karl Ouimette (who was himself on a red card) last time around, and when he’s on the pitch, he’s a solid defensive player. Keeper Owain Fon Williams has plenty of clean sheets (six), but a .667 save percentage can be interpreted in two ways: his defense either protects a mediocre keeper by not forcing him to face a ton of rubber, or they’re just OK (giving up some dangerous looks) but he’s saving their bacon regularly. As always, the truth is going to be somewhere in between. I have the overall defensive performance as seventh-best in the USL al things considered.

Long view… this is a team that Nashville should be able to beat at home.

The Boys in Gold

That’s in large part because home has been so kind to the Boys in Gold. They’ve given up one goal all season, and have won every game at First Tennessee Park (their lone draw came against Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Nissan Stadium).

“I think the fans have been a really big piece,” LaGrassa said of the home excellence. “The way they’ve gotten behind the team and the energy that they bring – you’ve seen some late goals from us, and I think it really drives the group, especially in the later stages.”

The biggest change for Nashville at this point – something I hadn’t had to write about in ten game previews – is that this is their first time coming off a loss since… they lost in Lucas Oil Field more than two months ago. They haven’t given up multiple goals a single time (in league play – Louisville put a pair on them Wednesday in the Cup loss) since then. We saw them get revenge against the only other team to beat them in the playback, and it might stand to reason that we’d see it here, as well.

The Nashville improvement comes mostly from more time together. The first loss to Louisville was the season-opener, they had a bit of trouble finding chemistry from that point, the loss in Indy was only the fifth game of the year. They’re undefeated since, undefeated at home all year (they’d only played two home games by that point, only one in First Tennessee), and look to be one of the USL’s best sides.

“Time together, time on the training field, confidence in actually getting results in difficult circumstances,” said Smith. “All of those experiences that we just didn’t have at the start of the season. The team is slowly but surely finding their way through, and tiptoeing through a tough period of time. In tough, I mean getting to know one another, seeing through rough waters away from home against good teams, against different teams in different environments, and they’re all experiences. I think those experiences are serving us well now, and just as much so the relationships that have built in the side.”

There may be something to a relief of pressure from the end of the 11-game unbeaten streak, however. Naturally, there won’t be a “yeah, we’re happy to have lost a game” statement, but being able to re-focus on one competition – and get some rest during the midweek – might serve Nashville well.

“I think the quick turnarounds from a Wednesday to a Saturday game can be really challenging,” LaGrassa said. “Obviously we’d love to still be in the Cup, but with that out of the way, it does give us a little more time and energy to focus toward the league. I think that helps us.”

“I think I’ve got a strong enough group that if we have extra games – and I know for sure that the players would have loved to have another MLS game – so that’s not the case at all,” Smith disagreed. “We gave it everything, and on the night we just fell slightly short. The fact that we now have a league campaign to focus on, we’re in a good position to move on from, and we’ve got some good games at home that we can really try and take advantage of.”

There’s no denying that the team is paying some attention to the standings, though.

“I think we do,” LaGrassa said. “We know how [the streak] affected our standing, and you try not to get too caught up in what can happen in the next couple games, and jut take each one day-by-day, but we’ve obviously put ourselves in a good spot now with this home streak coming up.”

Time to keep it up, indeed.

Projected lineups

Not too much controversial from either side here:

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You can debate wingers (Alan Winn, Matt LaGrassa, Robin Shroot, Ryan James) – and at least one sub will be made at that position, as has become tradition. Kosuke Kimura or James could easily be the RB starter, too. Ropapa Mensah is your other obvious sub here, and there’s a third one available as needed.

Predictions

I’m not sold on Indy, and I am sold on Nashville’s home form. However, the Eleven’s defense is… something NSC doesn’t have to deal with regularly (though they have seen the only two Eastern defenses better than the Eleven – Louisville and Pittsburgh – twice each).

  • Brandon Allen opens the scoring by dunking home a cross from Ish Jome. Moloto’s hold-up or false-nine style play is able to spring Jome down the wing, and he pulls it back across the face for Allen to finish dead center.
  • Bradley Bourgeois set piece goal. Y’all know I’m going to keep predicting this until it happens. He was able to get the nod-on for the assist against NCFC last week, but it’s time for one of his headed shots to find twine rather than inching wide.
  • Indy Eleven gets one back shortly after halftime, with Soony Saad shooting (from the run of play!) from a semi-audacious distance/angle outside the box. Either he’s able to beat the outstretched hands of Pickens, or the shot is blocked away by the veteran keeper and cleaned up in front of net when one of Nashville’s centerbacks is caught ball-watching and loses his marker.
  • Ropapa Mensah comes on in the 58th minute (a pretty early sub, but a good amount of wearing down the opponent with Allen’s pesky play, without taking too much time for Mensah to make an impact. Not that he needs more than “the literal last kick of the game” or “his literal first touch of the game” to score). He keeps up his goal-scoring ways, beating an Indy team over the top as the Eleven try to push forward for the equalizer.
  • The first red card in a Nashville SC game this year is shown. It is not shown to a Nashville player.

Nashville wins 3-1. I think this is a two-goal win, and I’ve gone back-and-forth about whether that’s a 3-1 or a 2-0 win for Nashville. Despite what it means about spoiling the sanctity of Fort Tennessee, I think Indy is dangerous enough to get a goal… just not dangerous enough to challenge for the victory down to the end.