Nashville SC announces returning players

From Club release: NASHVILLE (November 14, 2018) – The majority of the main contributors of Nashville Soccer Club’s successful inaugural season that finished in a USL Cup Playoff appearance this season will be back for 2019, pending USL and federation approval. Each of Nashville’s 12 highest minutes-played contributors will be back next year, including all four primary defenders and starting keeper on the league’s second-best defense.
Matt Pickens and Alan Winn are two players who return under contract. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
Returning under contract in 2019 will be keeper Matt Pickens, defenders Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, Bradley Bourgeois and Kosuke Kimura, midfielders Michael Reed, Matt LaGrassa, Bolu Akinyode, Taylor Washington and Lebo Moloto, and forward Alan Winn. Forward Tucker Hume and midfielder Ramone Howell have been re-signed by Nashville SC. Hume will return after scoring seven goals in the final three months of the season to propel SC into the playoffs. Howell, meanwhile, made his first two USL appearances as a rookie in Nashville’s final regular season game and playoff game, both against FC Cincinnati. Finally, forward Ropapa Mensah has been purchased from Inter Allies FC in Ghana following a season-long loan in 2018 with Nashville SC. Mensah became Nashville’s first-ever goalscorer when he struck against Atlanta United FC of MLS in Nashville’s opening friendly at First Tennessee Park. The club would like to extend its sincere gratitude to every player on the 2018 Nashville SC roster for each of their contributions on and off the field, making for a successful inaugural season for Nashville SC. That means your departures are as follows (in order of minutes played): F Brandon Allen, D London Woodberry, D Ryan James, M Ish Jome, GK CJ Cochran, M/F Kris Tyrpak, M/F Robin Shroot, and D Jordan Dunstan. And several players who never saw the field in USL play (alphabetical): GK Micah Bledsoe, D Michael DeGraffenreidt, M Josh Hughes, M Blake Levine, and M Ian McGrath. Very few surprises there. See here for my predictions. I was wrong on Bledsoe (thought he’d be kept for depth), James (thought his versatility would keep him around one more year), Cochran (really thought he’d have a chance to compete for more minutes with Pickens beginning to transition into coaching), and Tyrpak (the spark he provided late in the season seemed worth keeping around). Four incorrect calls, two on backup goalies, is hardly something to be ashamed of, no? See some of my predictions/ideas for who might fill in the roster here and here.
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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.

 

Pitch Points pays solidarity

Welcome to Pitch Points: rounding up links of interest in Nashville, US Soccer, and other topics of interest. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, where you can always drop links to share in one of these posts.

Development. This one snuck through (as in “I had a tab for it open and totally forgot to include it”) last week’s links post, but it’s très intéressant. New England Revolution is basically starting solidarity payments unilaterally.

Recognizing the important role alliance clubs play in nurturing young talent, the Revolution Academy is investing back in the soccer communities that develop Homegrown Players for the Revolution’s first team and has established a scholarship program for Academy Alliance Partners. The scholarship will be awarded when a partner club’s former player signs a first team contract with the Revolution and is intended to recognize the role the alliance clubs provide in developing players who join the New England Revolution Academy.

I’ve made it very clear that solidarity payments are an important part of reducing the importance of pay-to-play in our country (truly original idea, that), and while it’ll never completely go away – as long as there are folks willing to pay to get their kids another bit of coaching, onto another club team, etc., there will be pay-to-play mechanisms – allowing a wider range of players (in terms of SES primarily, but geography, ethnicity, and other delineating factors, as well) will naturally improve things.

That’s one of multiple initiatives mentioned in that release, which also includes free ID clinics conducted by the club. The more development pathways, the better.

There’s some form of great exodus from Girls’ DA to ECNL, which… I don’t really know how to read too much into it: I haven’t paid enough attention to the conflict to know the motivations, the differences between the two (my understanding had been that ECNL existed instead of Girls’ DA, then the federation launched a competitor to what had been a partner), etc. Just something to pay a bit of attention to, I guess.

That’s always a good time to focus on the core product of youth sports in general (H/T Beau Dure on Twitter).

#MLS2Cincy? Plenty of developments in the Queen City’s push for an MLS team in the past week-plus. FCC got approval for its preferred West End location for its stadium. MLS owners met about it, didn’t say anything specific about their opinions. Local media in Cincinnati is waiting with bated breath nonetheless.

The MLS website did a straight news story about the stadium developments, but the official statement was entirely unenlightening. I’m still expecting that we’re in a “dot i’s cross t’s” situation nonetheless.

(I’m still absolutely dumbfounded that the Detroit papers – one of which I used to freelance for, in the interest of full disclosure – are absolutely clueless about the fact that the Gilbert/Gores decision to make Ford Field their site absolutely ended any chance of their bid being chosen. You can’t hurt chances that already stand at zero).

Tactical talk. I’m always interested in a little bit of work on the chalkboard (as you all know). Here’s an interesting one: Atlanta United has made basically the opposite shift in philosophy that Nashville SC has, and both changes have spurred decent runs of form for their respective teams.

As we all know by now, Tata Martino shifted Atlanta United’s shape after a dismal start to the season in Houston, moving from his usual 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2. Yours truly and our own John Fuller covered the manager’s formation change last month. And the move sparked the team’s current five-match unbeaten run, seeing AU shift into a more direct, counter attacking side in recent weeks.

Without knowing too much about the way the games for Atlanta has played out – or, honestly, the strengths and weaknesses of their personnel outside of what I saw in First Tennessee Park two months ago – I couldn’t say if the opposite directions (with similar results in the table) are a matter of the competition played, individual fit, or what. I do know that it’s a little tidbit of interest.

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Screencap courtesy Dirty South Soccer.

 

It’s also an indication that there’s more than one way to skin a cat: NSC has gone from a seemingly defensive 5-3-2 to the 4-4-2 and remained defensively stout while adding a little more attacking punch. Atlanta has gone in the opposite direction to shore up its defense while remaining a threat going forward. They obviously have the players (and wage outlay) to play a little differently than Nashville does.

Brazil’s first division getting going. The opening of this story takes a nice little (deserved – I’ve voiced some of my concerns with the book before) shot at Soccernomics, but the content of the story is interesting nonetheless: why Brazil doesn’t have a national league that sports globally competitive clubs.

There are multiple reasons, of course, some of them political, many of them economic, plenty of them related to talent acquisition (would you rather move to Brazil and get murdered or, like, Italy?). We shall see if corruption cleanup is enough to change the status quo in a major way.

Etc.: Idea: let’s not do the homophobia thing anymore. Cool. … American Soccer Now with the projected roster for the next USMNT friendlies. The list of scheduled games now includes England, by the way. … The ESPN+ launch has been interesting, to say the least, though Pravda has a different take on it. … The official Nashville SC site profiles Kosuke Kimura.

Transcript: Gary Smith, Kosuke Kimura, Lebo Moloto preparing for Indy Eleven

Gary Smith met with the media this afternoon. Read what the Nashville SC gaffer had to say prior to his team’s trip up I-65 to Indianapolis, along with players Kosuke Kimura and Lebo Moloto.

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Moloto. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

“First of all, they’re in a similar position to us: lots of personnel changing in the offseason, new coach, new stadium, I think they’ve only played one home game, so I’m quite sure they won’t be at that point where they’ve taken full advantage of the field and the surface, which I’m hearing is a tad less than adequate – but we’ll see.

“They’ve got an experienced team, they look a very competitive team. I know Martin Rennie well, and he’s a good coach: he’ll be very very well-organized with that group, and so far that’s what they’re showing. They’ve got some very good players. They’ve changed it up a little bit – [Justin] Braun has got himself back into the group last week with McInerney’s suspension. Jack McInerney himself has played at a very good level: he’s a good goal-scorer. [Eugene] Starikov, who I’ve run into in the NASL is a talented boy. [Soony] Saad, [Tyler] Pasher, they’ve got a wealth of talent there in that forward line. [Zach] Steinberger had an excellent season last year with Jacksonville. All of these guys are really capable, and whilst no away game is easy, I think this will be one of the tougher ones that we run into.”

Does playing in Nissan Stadium (against Pittsburgh Riverhounds) prepare better for an NFL venue?

“I think from a dynamic standpoint, that huge backdrop., I don’t know how many fans will be there, but I’m sure they do get well-supported. The big difference will be, it could be with the roof shut, so there will be no elements, which will be quite strange. And it will be on turf, which I’m getting sort of varying degrees of comments about. I don’t know: we train there tomorrow, I’ll get a good idea of what the surface is like, and I’ll make all my decisions on the team. I’ve told the players: I think we ran into a surface in Louisville which we all looked at and said, ‘OK, this is different to anywhere else we’re going to play.’ I don’t want to make decisions based on what happened last weekend on the field that we have, which is immaculate for the most part, and dimensions that we’re very adept to. This is different, so we need to be different, and we need to be prepared for that.”

What are the differences between the NASL side and this year’s USL group for Indy?

“I think their changes – there’ve been so many players that have moved in and out of there. Martin has brought in, I want to say, somewhere between 10 and 15 players this offseason. The backline looks very different to last year; the front line looks completely different to last year. The guys that have taken up the brunt of the work in the middle of midfield, Watson has been with him before in Carolina and Vancouver I believe, these are experienced players, they’ve got a lot of professional games under their belt. They’ll be battle-hardened, ready to compete, and they’ve already played on that surface once so they’ll have a much better idea of what is needed to win the game. At the moment, they don’t look to be firing on all cylinders. I hope the weekend don’t change. At some point, as we’re finding out, you start to hit a little bit more fluency, a bit more appreciation with a group, some relationships are built, and I think that’s where they are. They looked to have a lot more joy down the left last week: with Ayoze [García Pérez] and Pasher, we’ll see whether that stays the same, I think that’s the first time that they’ve played together. They looked bright, but Carolina’s field I think is as wide as any in the division, and the surface is as good as any: that’s a difference as well. There’s lots of things that I can’t guess: only Martin knows the answer to. I can only prepare my group, and be ready for a challenge on that field against a very competitive outfit who’ve started off the season well.”

Does a two-game win streak provide confidence?

“I’ve said all along: winning and keeping clean sheets is something I can’t give to the group in terms of belief and confidence. I can come out and put on a session and try and organize the group, but I certainly can’t give them those sort of emotions. They’re in a great spot, they’re buoyant, they’re excitable, they’re looking forward to the next challenge: everything you expect when you’re doing well. When you’re not doing so well, the next game comes around, there’s a little bit of apprehension. At the moment, they’re in a very good place, and I think they’re looking forward very much to playing a good team.”

Can Nashville crack a good defense to win a low-scoring game?

“I think there’s a couple of decisions that they’ve got to make in their backline: they’ve got some injuries, one or two of the starting guys have been in and out of the team. Again, I can’t tell who’s going to play. I would think the personnel in this game’s going to make a big difference. If they can get their full group out fit and healthy, they’ll be a tough nut to crack: they’ve shown that. But so will we. We certainly going away from home know that they’ve got to make the game. They’re at home, they’ll; be wanting to get on the front foot. We have our style and we certainly have a plan to try and go into their home stadium and to get a result, but I would think they’ll want to get their first win under their belt at home, so therefore they’re going to be nice and aggressive, and on the front foot, and they’ll try and take the game to us, I’m sure. We’ll be ready for that.”

What are your plans in case of a win? St. Elmo’s steakhouse?

“I doubt it. I very much doubt it. If we get a victory, the first place I’ll be stopping is probably a liquor store on the way home to get a couple of Coronas

Kosuke Kimura

His chemistry with Alan Winn

“I mean, me, Taylor, we have Ramone and Alan as well, we’re the quick players on the team. Alan loves to go up and running. So do I and so does Taylor. Obviously at home, it’s good to have that: always just threatening behind, and behind, and behind. Especially over the weekend when we played against [Charlotte], they had a younger kid playing left back. I just told Alan, ‘you know what, don’t worry about defending too much, just keep going, keep going. I’ll be serving the ball, I’ll try to give you the ball as much as possible.’ I think we did: me and him did a great job of creating the momentum in the first half, and it led to the goal, and that was a huge plus. If you’re always up a goal, it’s going to be a relief and a release for your mental aspect, and we got going. Second half was a little tough but still, I think we managed the game well. It’s good to have that, as well as Taylor on the other side.”

Shutting down Charlotte produces confidence?

“It’s similar to that: I just told everybody, ‘be positive, it’s our home game, fans are going to be behind us. Just keep going, keep positive, stay positive. Just don’t worry about the mistake – it’s all about how you’re going to come back from a mistake.’ That’s what I told them to just keep going forward. Certainly we know what we can do, so we’ve just gotta keep going that.”

Will playing on a narrower field change your approach to the game?

“Definitely. It’s a smaller field, a tight field, and then it’s turf – and it isn’t this turf, I’ve heard. It’s going to be bumpy and it’s going to be hard for us to maintain possession and get that rhythm going. One of those games, that’s what away games are. It’s tough for them as well. It’s going to be a little more of a battle. Obviously, the smart soccer player IQ comes in, and we can unlock that. Other than that, we’ve just got to be ready to play that battle against them, because they have to do that as well.”

Does a win streak heading into a long road trip help the team cope with the challenges of being away?

“We have a great group of guys here. Everybody’s focused, anybody can play. We can rotate anybody certainly, no problem playing a position, because we train like that every day. Everybody knows what they have to do. We have three shutouts, it’s not just the wins: that’s huge. We’ve only conceded two goals in four games, which is not easy to do. We’ve done that, and that’s a huge confidence boost for us. We’ve just gotta keep doing that game-by-game.”

Lebo Moloto

What’s the new fatherhood experience been like so far?

“It’s been pretty good. I slept last night. A lot of pees on my face; he’s peed on me twice already. It’s been pretty good. I’m enjoying the experience of it.”

Does it feel like the offense is starting to click?

“Like I said two or three weekends ago, it’s kind of tough to build momentum, chemistry, especially going to goal. I feel like we’re slowly but surely getting there. We created a lot of chances last weekend, even two weekends ago against Bethlehem. I know they had a red card, but we were still able to create a lot of chances. We didn’t finish them, but at least we are moving one step ahead to what we’re trying to achieve.”

Does it feel like there’s more support around you lately?

“I mean, I feel like it’s the first year for the team, first year for everybody, and Gary working with us. I felt like… we just changed the formation, and with the formation, there’s more guys up top in it. Instead of retaining possession and waiting for the other wingbacks to join, now we’ve got Alan [Winn], we’ve got Taylor [Washington], got [Michael] Cox. I think that having the wings has been probably our success going forward. Obviously, us getting comfortable with each other too.”

Has playing higher up the pitch been a positive change for you?

“I’ve played with my back against the goal. I’ve played as a striker, last year at Swope I played as a false No. 9, so I’m familiar with playing up top. Gary still gives me the freedom to drop. I can make the team play, or find passes. I’m enjoying it so far.”

From the Film Room: Ryan James, all-field threat

This is going to be a slightly different edition of the film room, with an emphasis on the chalkboard, rather than the videos. Let’s take a look at average player positions from Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds:

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Courtesy USL. NSC in black, Pittsburgh green

A couple things jump out immediately, and some of those can be explained away pretty easily:

  • The overlap in the offensive edge of the center circle. That’s Tucker Hume, Lebo Moloto, and Robin Shroot all in one area. Hume is slightly to the right of the other two, and slightly behind, but it’s bunched nonetheless. There’s a bit of context needed, though: with no chronological component to this (rather, it’s just an average over the whole game), these players weren’t all actually standing next to each other the whole time. Moloto played up top with Shroot in the midfield at one point, and if you take two players who trade spots and average out their positions, it’s going to end up in the middle of those two. That also means that the second striker was actually farther advanced from Hume than it appears (but the average is dragged back by tie spent in midfield).
  • Ropapa Mensah (3) is really far upfield. This is not a bad thing, just an observation. There are a handful of factors explaining: first, the difference between himself and the non-Hume striker is exaggerated to a degree because of the reasons listed above. Secondly, NSC was trying to find a late winner. Third, that’s just Mensah’s style. If he gets more time and keeps this positioning up, it can stretch the game.
  • Justin Davis (2) played CB farther upfield and wider than Bradley Bourgeois (22). This is similar to the illusion from the first bullet: Nashville played multiple formations, so their roles were different. Bourgeois was RCB in both the 5-3-2 and the 4-4-2, while Davis shifted to left fullback in the 4-4-2.

The last point starts to lead into the main one I want to make here: Ryan James (7) is in a really weird spot for a wingback. Again, this is due to a shift in formations, and like with Shroot/Mensah, a couple different positions also come into play.

As you can see, he started at left wingback in the standard 5-3-2. Nashville SC began the second half in a 4-4-2 look, with Davis moving outside while James and Michael Reed occupied the flanking midfielder spots. When Taylor Washington came on, they shifted back to the 5-3-2, with James ending up on the right.

His average position on the field per position played would be a far more enlightening (and intriguing) map than a mere average over the course of the game. I don’t know if Opta (who runs USL’s advanced stats – and generally does an outstanding job with it) has a way to break down average positions by minute of gametime, but it’d be something to break down if we had that opportunity.

Getting back to James instead of Opta. His versatility is a major asset for the Boys in Gold. He allows Gary Smith to change tactics pretty significantly without making substitutions – or allows a substitution to come on at James’s position without taking a good player off the field, as we saw in the case of Washington Saturday evening. There’s just a lot more flexibility with players like James available.

His best position might be left back (it might not be – we haven’t gotten a full enough picture thanks to sample size, though in my charting, he seems to be about equally capable on either side). The team’s best use for him is probably right back, because it allows Washington’s speed onto the field. It reduces playing time for seasoned vet Kosuke Kimura, but given his rough start to the year, a bit of time to recharge the batteries and observe from the bench could be good for Kimura to get back into form. Pushing up the flanks with Washington and James should take a bit of a defensive load off the strikers.

I do think that there’s another opportunity here, and one that was hinted at by seeing two things in the same game: the 4-4-2 and Washington and James on the field together. That formation has more room for a wide left midfielder (with fewer defensive responsibilities), which may open a door for Alan Winn to get some playing time. While he’s not going to be a star, like Washington, his speed can be a game-changer for an offense that’s struggled to get its feet under it thus far in 2018.

Even playing the stout Davis at left fullback and leaving Washington on the bench, there’s a way to get a left winger out there – and that’s similar to what we saw in the second half against Atlanta United, leading to Ropapa Mensah’s first goal for Nashville SC. Whatever Gary Smith decides to do (and I suspect it mostly revolves around staying in the 5-3-2 and leaving Winn on a developmental track), the fact that James can make an impact in multiple spots allows for that door to be open.

Takeaways from Thursday’s NSC training session

Before this afternoon’s Louisville City preview, a couple items from yesterday’s training that was open to the media (for post-practice interviews, see Gary Smith/Liam Doyle interviews and Lebo Moloto transcript).

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Michael Reed is your captain. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country (File).

This team is filled with leaders

It should come as no surprise that defensive midfielder Michael Reed is the team’s captain – the former San Antonio FC captain is an experienced vet (a second-division lifer to this point with NASL and USL experience), obviously has captaincy experience at his previous club, and is very much the steady hand in the middle of the pitch that you’d like to see out of the on-field leader.

Taylor Washington Kosuke Kimura Nashville SC soccer
Taylor Washington learns from Kosuke Kimura. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.

Something that I’ve noticed throughout training sessions though – and Gary Smith alluded to it yesterday – is that there’s not only a genuine love for each other among the players, but a desire throughout the roster to help each other improve. Smith mentioned Shroot working with Lebo Moloto after practice yesterday, we’ve seen it with Kosuke Kimura giving instruction to younger teammates when the rest of the squad has already hit the showers (right), and if not for the difficulty of directing the entire team from within the goal, keeper Matt Pickens would have been an outstanding choice for captain himself.

I predicted this in some of the player signing stories, but there’s a responsibility in leadership for the older players in potentially helping their younger teammates pick up on the mental and tactical sides of the game to help their careers last as long as possible (and reach higher levels more quickly).

NSC is expecting a different kind of challenge

That’s not just a level of intensity ratcheted up due to the arrival of games that actually count, and not just a greater level of talent from LCFC than some of the preseason opponents. The Lou is also going to present a tactical challenge, too.

Like last week’s training session featured plenty of practice in cross-field service from the centerbacks to the strikers – and we saw that plenty in the game against Chattanooga – this week’s revolved largely around dealing with a high press from the opposing offensive personnel. Look for NSC to show a focus on getting the ball out quickly when playing out of the back.

Louisville is the most tactically similar club to NSC (with a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, however you want to classify it), so while the Boys in Gold are used to seeing it and know the ins and outs of what the formation wants to accomplish, they haven’t gone against it in full-go action yet. The amount of space available for wingbacks to roam up and down the flanks will be the biggest difference – Louisville will probably be the first team that truly wants to match them in workrate out there – but NSC will be ready to make the necessary adjustments to still find success wide.

Just how much that translates into turning defense into offense could play a major role in determining the outcome of the game.

Injury report

NSC buried this a little bit in their game notes (sorry for putting y’all out there like this!), but there was an update to the injury report. Jordan Dunstan is out – probably not a surprise given he missed the last friendly – while both London Woodberry and Bradley Bourgeois are questionable with leg injuries.  That means seriously diminished centerback depth.

My personal speculation is that Woodberry will be hale enough to make the starting lineup, and the question becomes if Bourgeois is in the 18 or out altogether (since he fell into the latter category for part of Spring). That puts Ryan James and Michael DeGraffenreidt in a situation where they’ll probably be pulled into the lineup away from their natural positions (outside back for both, though they’ve also each played some centerback), just to have the depth for subs at all.

For club and community

I’ll get into this a bit more in a later column (asked a few different questions about it for that purpose yesterday), but I was pleasantly surprised with the level of commitment that personnel from the club – players and coaches – have to the Nashville community. That’s not to say that I thought they considered it just a place to punch the clock, but they’re truly interested in giving back and being a part of the community.

Stay tuned for that in the coming days.

Stay tuned later this afternoon for the full game preview.