NSC training notes and press conference: Gary Smith and Michael Reed on opening day 2019

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and midfielder Michael Reed met with For Club and Country after the team’s first 2019 practice today. Watch and read what that had to say here.

Training notes

  • The team was slightly shorthanded: new striker signings Daniel Ríos and Cameron Lancaster were participating in their MLS physicals (they are signed to Nashville’s MLS side and will be loaned to the USL team), and won’t join training until tomorrow. International players Ropapa Mensah and Ramone Howell are expected to arrive this week.
  • Other new signings, including forward/winger Kharlton Belmar, midfielder Malcolm Stewart, defenders Ken Tribbett and Darnell King, and goalkeepers Connor Sparrow and Danny Vitiello were present.
  • Midfielder Lebo Moloto, who missed the end of last season with injury, fully participated in the session.
  • Multiple trialists went through training with the team. Former Lipscomb University standout Logan Paynter and NAC Breda (Netherlands) product Vinnie Vermeer were among those trying to impress to earn a role with the club.

Gary Smith

Are you expecting better chemistry with a returning core of players instead of starting fresh like last year?

“For sure, I would suspect that those players that have been in and around the club for a year now, they’ll feel so much more comfortable. We had a welcome meal on Sunday, and I remarked to some of the staff how the atmosphere just felt kind of different. Not necessarily better, but the players looked more relaxed. Of course we have some new faces, but there’s no doubt everybody will be more comfortable and understanding of players and staff.”

How have the new faces looked?

“It’s great. Everyone will be feeling their same on their first day back to work. Offseason’s a long period. We’re all at a point where we’re ready to be back out on the field and working. It’s lovely to see the new guys in town, and interacting and working with the other players. Just generally, it’s just great to be back working, and the players getting some of that energy out of their system. Within two or three days, they’ll be probably wanting a day off [laughs]. At the moment, there’s a lot of exuberance.”

Are there positions at which you still see a need to add depth to the roster?

“I don’t think anyone would ever say, ‘I certainly couldn’t.. there might not be some help needed at some point.’ But when I look at the group, it may well be because of ill health, issues surrounding injuries. I’m more than comfortable with the group that we’ve got. There might be the odd player added, but I wouldn’t think many now. We’ll keep a rather smaller group. There’s more experience in this group from top to bottom anyway, and I certainly wanted the players that are here to be fighting for that, if not the 11, being in the 18, and I want everyone to see a breakthrough to that.”

Is the plan to remain tactically consistent and count on added talent to improve the goal-scoring?

“I think there’s a couple of things that may help us towards that. Every team wants to improve year-on-year if they can, and we’re no different. You’ve already alluded to the fact that we’ve got players who will have a year under their belt. I suspect those players will be in a much better place for us to see a little bit more out of them. There were lots of things I felt we did very well last year: defensively, in possession, creatively. Of course you can always improve, and the one area that we fell short was actually hitting the back of the net. That played uppermost in my mind and Mike’s mind when we were talking about additions. I think a lot of teams try to add a way of adding goals.

“If you look at Cameron’s track record, it’s very good. Daniel, a tad more difficult to maybe judge, but he’s a very very talented young player, and had a wonderful season last year at our level. I’m sure he’s only going to get better. Kharlton also, it’s easy to see his track record. Therefore, you’d like to think that come what may, we’ve added some goals to the group. If we can maintain the sort of development that we saw last year in the rest of our play, we should be in a good shot.”

What are the team’s realistic goals for the year?

“Everyone wants to be in the postseason. We certainly should be holding ourselves accountable for improvement. There will be other teams around the league looking at us, and setting a bar that has nothing to do with us. There are comparisons that will be drawn – just purely for the fact that we’re going into MLS – with Cincinnati, but I think it’s crazy to be comparing yourself to any other team. We’re a second year team. We’ve, I think, done a very good job in our first year, but without a shadow of a doubt we’ll want to improve on that. What that improvement is will depend on a lot of factors. As I’ve already mentioned, can we keep players healthy in a small group,. can we improve year-on-year with the players that have stayed, and probably as importantly as anything, are the players that are coming in, are they going to fulfill the role that we maybe lacked a little bit of last year. There’s so much that can affect where you finish, but for sure we want to improve, and we certainly want to be competing with any other team in our league for any silverware that’s on offer. Anyone that’s saying they don’t want to be top, they don’t want to win the championship, at this stage of the season, there’s no point in even starting, is there? Everyone’s in the same spot.

What do you try to take away from the first day of training?

“The things that strike me most when players come back is, have they kept themselves in a reasonable shape. Some of the testing will give us an idea of what they’ve been doing in the offseason. They all go away with programs. The new guys that’ve signed are given programs. If we can, I like to be in front of the game – and when I say that, I want to be in a better spot than just using preseason to get fit. We, I felt, did a very good job in preseason last year – or the players did – of coming in in good shape, and therefore we can push on a little bit more. There’s work that we can do with the group, less time needed to recover because their bodies are in a better place. And when I look around the group today, admittedly we’re missing still a couple players like a lot of teams will be, everyone looks like they’re in very good shape, and that should bode well for the preseason.”

Michael Reed

How has it been to reconnect with the teammate?

“Seeing the guys, whether they have a belly or not off the break – No [laughs]. First days are always great because everyone’s enthusiastic, passionate in everything that has to do with want you want out of soccer. It’s a great game, and it’s nice to see everyone fresh. We’re all happy, it’s all nice, and it’s a lot of fun on the first day, that’s for sure. We’re all good, guys are professional off the field which is great to see, and it makes life easier as we go through preseason.”

What is the chemistry of the team?

“I think you build a culture in the locker room that everyone can kind of agree on. I think we have that, and it makes life a lot easier whenever you have a stable culture, a stable environment, and we’re all on the same page, so we know what to expect of each other. It’s just a smooth engine: everyone’s running on the right cylinders, and we’re driving along nice right now. It makes life easier for the new guys, as well. They come in, they see everyone doing it. It’s not like they follow like sheep, but ‘OK, this is what we want to be a part of, how can we build on it,’ and go from there.”

Does that established culture shine through on day one?

“It’s an identity for the first day. Now that this is round two, it’s just exciting. We just keep picking up from last year, and keep moving forward. I think that’s the goal, and we progress into a more successful year, and I think that’s what everyone’s on the same page about.”

How have the new signings looked through just one training session?

“It’s funny, because the touch there. It is there, but guys are a little rusty, including myself. It’s just knocking the dust off, so everyone’s passionate right now. It’s fun; it’s a good environment, and that’s what we get to look forward to throughout the preseason.”

What do you aim for on the first day?

“It’s getting guys together: off the field is one thing, on the field’s another. It’s this thing with business, and what we’re trying to create. It’s just nice to kick the ball around with the guys, and play some footy, and enjoy the soccer while you can. I think that’s what we’re doing right now.”

What are the realistic goals for the season?

“Just like anyone else, you look at the previous year and you’re gonna want to do better. I think the goal is to be better than we were yesterday, and to keep moving forward.”


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.

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.


Press conference transcript: Gary Smith, Matt LaGrassa, and Michael Reed pre-Cincinnati

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:

Gary Smith

Let’s get back to this sort of form, K?

“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.

Matt LaGrassa

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.”

Michael Reed

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.”


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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