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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his midfielders met with For Club and Country today to discuss their upcoming rematch against FC Cincinnati and how the club can get back on the winning side. Read what they had to say here:
“I think we’ve made the very most of this week. Difficult result, a lot of reflection. I’ve just said to the guys, ‘I just don’t feel the second half to the season has started for us, and certainly not in the way we’d have liked it.’ But I think this is an opportunity against a top side, a side that are six months removed from MLS, and already making the bright sort of strides to improve their group. For us to get ourselves back into that mindset of, ‘we’re challengers, we’re a playoff team.’ I think at some point – and I’m not saying this game will be the determining factor – but it’s definitely an opportunity for everyone to really express themselves and attack the game. We won’t be going there with a timid attitude. We’ll want to try and get as much as we can out of ourselves. We’re looking at this as more of a breakout game than one against a top team – top of the table. As far as planning, working, getting back to that really gritty attitude, all of the qualities that I think this team has shown in the 12-game unbeaten run, I think we’ve been able to touch on a lot of those, and air some views and think about what the second half of the season really should entail for us.”
How has the short-handedness lately affected the team?
“I’ve got a good group of players, so yes of course when you have senior players injured, it can affect the group. I also think it’s a fabulous opportunity for others to step into that void and make a bit of a name for themselves. After a good performance by CJ on Wednesday, you could point at one moment with the penalty as showing a little lack of game-sharpness. The situation changes in a heartbeat in Toronto. I’m not blaming the result on CJ by any stretch, but what I’m trying to emphasize: when you’re playing a run of games, when you’re as involved as Matt has been, those decisions are clearer, you’re not quite as edgy and as anxious. I don’t want to make excuses about players being out. We had probably the worst travel that I’ve experienced since I’ve been in the US from 2008. Going to Rochester. I’m sure there were some factors in there, but teams have got to overcome that. You’re playing in a 90-minute game. Yes, I’m sure there was an impact, but I thin kwe’ve got good enough players to A) cover the issues of injuries and B) deal with some adversity. We’re back to pretty much full strength: Bradley’s the only body that will be unfit for the weekend. I think we’ve really got to show our mettle now. We’ve given a good idea of what we’re about, we’ve shown in a period of time just recently that there’s bright lights in there, but it’s been inconsistent. We’re better than that, we know we’re better than that, but the only way of really reinforcing that is by playing well, by playing consistently.”
Do you note the drop in the Eastern Conference table to the team?
“I don’t think it’s as strraightforward as that in a brand-new group. If you look at our last five games, we’ve scored one goal. That’s not good enough. Results have been inconsistent. That’s not good enough. A big part of this group is continually growing and developing. All teams have a difficult period – most teams have a difficult period throughout the season – maybe this is ours. What I’m focusing on and what the guys are very much aware of is: how do we return to the form, what are the key components to the group to be more successful, and not only can we get back on track putting points on the board – because we are in a decent spot – but how do we get to that point where we’re improving continually and also getting ready for the playoffs. There’s nobody here that doubts that we’re capable of the playoffs, achieving it is obviously a different matter, but that comes one day at a time, one game at a time, and in very small strides when your form has been a little bit indifferent.”
Has there been a consistent thread in the lack of scoring lately?
“We’ve added players, in Brandon Allen being the prime example, who’ve got a good goal-scoring reacord. But the team’s dried up: it’s not just Brandon, it’s not just Ropapa, it’s not just Alan. We’re not getting goals from enough areas: Taylor Washington is the only player outside of four goal-scorers in the team, and Liam’s scored a free kick. How do we improve that? Dead ball situation has not been productive enough. Lots of teams are finding a route through to getting themserlves in front from set pieces. We have to improve in that area. There’s a collecrtive push to try and get ourselves on the sheet and score more goals. What I will say is: in most of our outings, we’re creating. If we weren’t creating, I’d be very, very disappointed, and I’d be worried. But we’re getting ourselves in good positions, we’re making opportunities. It’s now about really being alittle bit moe ruthless as I said some time ago. We got ourselves in a better position with some confidence probably 5-6 games again, and that seems to have dsiminished. That’s a mental state. For me, that’s not about technique or quality. Alan misses a penalty. That’s the best opportunity in a game to score a goal. At thge moment, in one way, shape, or form, we’re finding the opportunity or a way to not score. That for me, as I said, is a mindset. We started the season with picking up percentages wherever we can: can you win two more headers in a game, can you get two more crosses in a game? Picking up percentages, and at the moment we’re giving those percentages away. So that is also a foundation to being more aggressive. There’s a few areas that we’ve certainly focused on. The players throughout the week, undersatandably at the start were flat, but we’ve now worked to a crescendo and we’re ready for tomorrow’s game.”
Will Fanendo Adi change the way you plan to defend?
“They’ve scored, I thin kthey’re second-highest scorers in the league, they’ve got a wealth of talent and creation going forward, and Adi just adds to that. Yes, he’s a slightly different physical specimen to one or two of the other guys. I can’t calculate whether he’ll play or not. I’m not going to prepare my team based on what they might do., We’ve had plenty to work on, we’ve had plenty to look at. There’s been a rewfocusing of ourenergies, and I’d like to think we’re going to see a team, my team, go out there and attack the game. There might be one or two moments in the game that make for a different approach, but in reality, we have to try and put our best foot forward and make a game of this. I’m not going thtere to be the whipping boy in front of 25,000 people. And OI’ve got a good enough team not to be. Whatever they do, we’ll try and counter, and attack in the best way we can. When you’ve got a good team that you’re playing against, iut’s not just one player. Ledesma’s been terrific, Konig has done a wonderful job, Bone plays, Albadawi, they’ve all scored goals. They’ve got two of the best center-halves in the league. It’s going to be tough whoever plays, it’s not going to be an easy game.
How have you taken to getting more consistent time with Michael Reed injured?
“I think playing regularly is something that we all strive for. It helps you be in a rhythm and find that consistency which we’re all after.”
How have you managed to be versatile positionally?
“I think growing up playing in the center of the field, I’ve always prided myself on kind of knowing everybody’s role and trying to have an understanding of what everyone’s supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be at any time. I think that helps me transition to a different position a little more smoothly.”
How do you break the poor run of form
“I think it’s important that we don’t panic, that we get back to some of the things that made us successful earlier in the year. We’ve had a great week of training, and I think we’re ready for the weekend.”
Is it a challenge or a special opportunity that Cincinnati is the team you need to break the poor run of form against?
“I think in some ways it takes a little bit of pressuere off of us to go away from home and play against a team that’s at the top of the table. We can play a little bit more freely, and take chances that maybe we wouldn’t have taken if we’re not playing the team at the top of the table.”
Is it frustrating seeing the struggle without being on the field?
“I think individually, it can be frustrating, because there’s only so much you have control over. I think at the same time in everyone’s career, it’s a moment of growth. When the team’s struggling or the individuals on the team are struggling, there’s always positives you can take from it. If guys are willing to learn and grow, then that’s the key: furthering their future and careers and maturing. There’s always positives you can take out of it as frustrating as it can be for myself, there’s a lot that came of it.”
How do you adapt as captain to helping when the “lead by example” route isn’t available?
“I think we all have our strengths, captains included. I’ve got to be close with Gary, I’ve got to make sure I’m good with the boys. For myself, I’m real personal with the players: making sure they’re up, if they’re down what can I do to help them out? A lot of it’s off the field. On the field, obviously the frustrations are going to occur. I don’t tell players how to play, that’s for them to decide. I’ll do everything I can to make sure they’re motivated, to make sure they’re enthusiastic and passionate about what they’re doing. Happy person, happy player, better player. My job is multi-functional, and there’s a lot to ask, but I thin kthe guys have proven that they follow, they’re willing to listen and learn, and that’s all I can ask for.”
What’s your style of vocal leadership?
“Soccer’s a very intimate sport. As much as you want to say, it’s not like a regular job where you go to an office and work in a cubicle. Soccer is very intimate with the tackles, with the passion, with the yelling, with the arguing, with the positivity, on the field, off the field. You’re with a guy in the gym after you just finished yelling at him. In doing so, I think communication is huge. That’s really it.”
What have you seen out of Bolu and Matt with their recent playing time in your absence?
“It’s different for each game, isn’t it? Each game presents something different with whatever each team is throwing at us they’re asked to be different things. Both of them are very versatile and utility-like players. I’m happy that they’ve been doing well for the team. As much as people say the results have been poor, like I said it’s the growth experience for everyone. Guys who haven’t been getting in the areas that they want to play positionally, doing very well to get comfortable, and I’m happy for them: that’s how it should be. I uthink they’ve taken full advantage of their opportunity and chances in there, and continually grow as players.”
Frustration to score?
“It’s the hardest thing to do is score. Somew teams make it look easier than others. We’re a very disciplined team: that’s the foundation of our team. As much as guys want to go forward, we all have things that we have to do in the team to make sure we’re successful. I think we get back to the fundamentals, and some things will come in eventually. It’s not an easy task to score. You ask a lot of the guys, whenever you say, ‘you’ve gotta beat two, three, four guys,’ that’s not the case. We’ve gotta get back to the fundamentals and being a team and being the best we can be in total. It can be frustrating and daunting, but that’s the game. That’s part of the whole intimacy with the players is to know what they’re about and the struggles at times, and that’s what life is.”
What did you learn in the first game against Cincinnati that you can apply to this one?
“I’m sure, just like guys on the team, you kind of get to know the other team, you get to know the other players, their system, their styles. Whether or not they’re going to play the same way, you don’t really kmnow until you’re on the field, it’s gameday, and the game’s live. Tendencies of players – that’s if players are willing to watch video, which they are – I think there’s plenty we can take away from the first game, but we can’t look too much into it, because what if they change? It’s an adaptible game, we’re changing all the time, and hopefully we’re ready for it.”
Nashville SC will try to continue its trend of getting revenge against opponents against whom it’s previously lost or drawn when it welcomes Indy Eleven into First Tennessee Park tomorrow evening. Head coach Gary Smith and midfielder Matt LaGrassa look forward to the game.
What the team learned from the first Indy game
“It’s not just what we learned from the game, it’s what I’ve seen since. My mindset and my feelings about Indy haven’t changed a tremendous amount. 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. They’ve won two of their most recent games, so they’ll be in a reasonably confident mood, and I thin ka little bit like us, they had a bundle of new players at the start of the season, and you’re just now starting to see maybe a team that Martin Rennie sees as his starting group or his first-choice players, and a group of players that are building a bit more continuity, not unlike us.”
How NSC has prevented every opponent since last time around against Indy from scoring multiple goals
“Time together, time on the training field, confidence in actualyl getting results in difficult circumstances. 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.”
Pressure of an 11-game unbeaten streak gone?
“The 11 games in all competitions, we’re still eight I believe unbeaten in the league, and that’s something I would love to keep intact – I know the guys would. To be honest, any team that are on a decent run see that as an opportunity to, in dark moments, just hang onto. The reality is that, at the end of a very tough run of away games, we always looked to four home games and thought, ‘what can we get out of these games to really push us on now?’ So we’ve started that off well with a win against Carolina. This one tomorrow night will be an extremely difficult test, and I do believe against a fellow playoff group. I class us in that as well. Maintaining parity, so at the very least we don’t get beat, and of course if we can, we edge the game, and we give ourselves a little bit of a cushion from this Indy group, which is standing in a really nice spot. They’re two points behind us, they’ve got two games in hand – as we have – on most teams, and they’ll certainly be looking at it much the same way as I am, which is ‘if we can squeeze a result out of this, we’re in a fabulous position to push on.’ So big challenge.”
Does the Open Cup loss reduce pressure on roster and fitness with fewer mid-week games?
“I never really look at it that way. I always look at it that Louisville are a good side, and if we can beat them then it gives us confidence and certainly pushes us in the right direction. 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. 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. It tells me that there’s a great opportunity for us to really strengthen the position we’re in.”
What have you seen from Indy since the first game?
“I think we’ve spent a lot of time studying the film and their tendencies individually and as a group. 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.”
“I think the fans have been a really big piece. 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.”
What NSC has learned about itself since the beginning of the year
“I think the group, we’ve come together and started to play more as a unit, and obviously grown as a group. I think also their home surface is very different to First Tennessee Park. We find First Tennessee Park to be a place that we can play and enjoy our football and be more expressive. Their pitch is turf and it’s just a different surface that you have to deal with.”
Busy schedule alleviated with no midweek Open Cup games
“I think the quick turnarounds from a Wednesday to a Saturday game can be really challenging. 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.”
League streak still going
“I don’t think the group puts too much thought into it. If you get on a long enough streak, I think it can add a little bit of pressure to the environment in the locker room and stuff, knowing that you’ve been so long since you’ve taken a loss. Maybe get to hit the reset button a little bit and move forward in the league.”
Keep an eye on the standings?
“I think we do. We know how it 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.
Two central midfielders met with the press after today’s training session. Hear what they had to say.
There was no live stream, but that hasn’t meant no evidence at all of yesterday’s 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati. NSC published video of both goals from the Boys in Gold:
Our good friends at Cincinnati Soccer Talk also have plenty to report from the action. The kicker for NSC fans:
Nashville Is Better Than Expected – This thought was echoed by several people around the stands. Nashville has assembled a good squad in a short amount of time. The match today should have been a victory for FCC, but the next battle could be tough. Nashville did not play their more dynamic forwards until late. Expect the next battle between these two squads to also be a physical one.
I don’t know what the expectations were for the Boys in Gold around Cincinnati, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that within Nashville, expectations have been really high since the friendly against Atlanta (though the Five Stripes’… unfortunate thing… yesterday may affect those feelings in hindsight).
(Thanks again to Cincinnati Soccer Talk for most of the following information):
Cincinnati: Richey, Hoyte, Keinan, Lasso, Seymore, Ryan, Smith, Bone, Laing, Ledesma, Welshman
Nashville: Pickens, Kimura, Woodberry, Doyle, Davis, James, Reed, LaGrassa, Moloto, Hume, Cox
- 20′ NSC Goal Matt LaGrassa (left foot). Assist Lebo Moloto.
- 45′ FCC Goal Laing
- 64′ NSC sub Robin Shroot for Tucker Hume
- 65′ FCC Goal Welshman
- 70′ FCC subs: Barrett, Bahner, Cicerone, Josu, De Wit, Haber, Halfhill, McLaughlin, Seymore, Ameobi for Hoyte, Keinan, Lasso, Seymore, Ryan, Smith, Bone, Laing, Ledesma, Welshman
- 78′ NSC subs: Ropapa Mensah for Michael Cox, Alan Winn for Lebo Moloto.
- 87′ NSC Goal: Alan Winn (PK, right foot).
Nashville heads to Chattanooga for the final friendly match of preseason Saturday.