On further review: NCFC 3, Nashville SC 3

I didn’t get a chance to watch live, and five days later is a little far in the rearview mirror for traditional game coverage, but some observations from Saturday’s 3-3 draw against North Carolina FC…

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I actually thought Nashville SC was the better team on the balance of play in the first half. One big mistake by Lebo Moloto (more on that later) compounded by poor defensive  recovery and communication by the central defensive midfielders, and a probably-unnecessary physical tackle by Bradley Bourgeois (compounded by poor set piece defense, which has unfortunately been a theme since about mid-season) was all that NCFC could muster. Meanwhile, NSC didn’t get a ton of shots off, but they possessed the ball more in dangerous areas, and the shots that they did get off were more threatening than all but the two NCFC goals.

Of course, that’s a serious “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play” type observation, and when it’s been a fairly consistent theme throughout the year, it’s probably not meaningful on the large scale. Nashville SC can look dangerous without scoring all they want, and opponents can get off as few shots as they want. It’s about conversion, and we see too much of that on one end, and not enough on the other.

Lebo Moloto was fairly poor in the first half. He had a few giveaways – including the key moment that led to the first Carolina goal – and didn’t seem to be precise with his passes. He even had a total mis-hit or two to fumble the ball out of bounds instead of giving his teammates a chance to get out on the break. All that is partially on account of how much NSC asks him to do (and they ask him to do a ton offensively), and sooner or later you’re going to have a bad-luck game where the mistakes all come at once, one of them leads to a goal, and it’s overall not a good look. That’s life, unfortunately.

The shape of the team in the first half (before and in the process of going down 2-0) was odd to me. It wasn’t “we look one way defending, and another way moving forward” so much as it felt like Nashville was stuck between a couple concepts. The backline had both principles of the odd (Liam Doyle was a little more central at times, Justin Davis didn’t push forward at all) and even (Doyle and Bourgeois stayed farthest back with wide spacing between them) backlines. Kosuke Kimura pushed very high, which is more a 3-5-2 concept, but both Davis and, oddly, Taylor Washington stayed fairly deep. That… shouldn’t have been the case in either concept, and while Washington did get forward just a bit, it felt like maybe he was still hampered from his usual sideline-running that you’d see as a LWB or LM by the injury that kept him out of the Richmond game… but he was more active in the second half, so probably not.

Given that I’ve just talked myself through thinking that it was a schematic choice, it was a weird one that made for a bad time in midfield. Kimura pushing upfield saw Matt LaGrassa at right mid squeeze inside, crowding Michael Reed and Bolu Akinyode in the middle (though Akinyode got a little more to the left side to make up for it… that also crowded that area with Davis and Washington also having the weird spacing issue described above). To play three central midfielders who are pretty similar in skillset, they have to have a greater distribution of roles, and LaGrassa wasn’t playing as a 10 so much. With the weird fluidity to the scheme, it’s almost tough to discern what the idea was with that trio. I do know I didn’t care for it.

I think I was a little harsh in the immediate aftermath of the game on Matt Pickens’s job on the free kick goal by NCFC. I still think he should have done better: the way he set up the wall was designed to bait NCFC into shooting the gap that they did, and he still had no chance with his reaction. As soon as the right-footed kicker (Rios) was the only available player to shoot, Pickens needs to have that post covered, because that’s the only way the ball gets through. Still, the keeper was planning on Kosuke Kimura and/or Taylor Washington deflecting anything bound for that direction (giving a bit more time to react to a shot on frame), so there’s a little more blame to share than I thought in immediate hindsight.

What is Tucker Hume doing mullet-wise?

I’ll have a bit more on this later today (maybe), but can the “hasn’t captured points from a losing position” now go away? It wasn’t particularly meaningful before – just a combination of “hasn’t been in many losing positions” and “doesn’t score a whole lot,” neither of which is particularly obscure – and now with two draws from losing positions on the year, hasn’t gone away but certainly isn’t even the “wow fun fact” variety of thing to point out.

With that, nice fight from the team (and of course a little luck) to fight back in this one. Getting a lone point isn’t the best result, but it was plenty to maintain playoff pace – and given the way the game played out, was the best available outcome. Going on the road in the USL is hard, and NC is an above-average home team. Take care of business in the final five home games (and the two road games against ATL UTD 2 and Richmond, which is almost as close to “get six points from two road games” as it gets in the USL), and this result doesn’t harm you.

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The Wrap: Nashville SC 1-0 North Carolina FC

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

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Local Content

Halftime reset:

Nashville SC did manage a couple attempts on the North Carolina FC net, but couldn’t quite solve keeper Alex Tambakis. The best chance came in the 21st minute, when a floated header for the top corner by Matt LaGrassa barely kept out with a lunge toward the corner of the net from Tambakis.

Game story:

A nice passing sequence saw Lebo Moloto free in the box with the ball at his feet. Before he could get a shot off, he was cut down from behind. No call, move along.

Mensah’s finish rendered all that moot, however, when whatever problems Nashville had converting chances (21 shots, six on goal) into scoring can be an issue for another day. After a delay to begin the game and a contest that moved in fits and starts, all that will be remembered is one magical moment at the death of the clock.

Video from the postgame presser:

Don’t forget you can always vote in the community ratings. The results thereof are included in the Breakdown and Ratings, in which I named Ish Jome MOTM:

 He was a consistent threat down the side, stretched the opposing defense, and is underrated as a defender and ball-circulator. His relationship with Justin Davis is very nice, as well. With just a few weeks as a member of the squad, the sky is the limit here.

You can see the rest of the players’ ratings by clicking through above. I also did a Twitter moment about Mensah’s winner:

Finally, the Graphical looked at how NSC dominated the game despite a meager margin of victory, how Jome’s day was so effective, and more.

Elsewhere – Blogdom

Golden Goal match story. Not a whole lot written by the blog folks about this one.

Elsewhere – Newsy things

Changing up our Ghana-oriented news sources… Ghana Crusader on Mensah’s goal. USA Today Sports Network Tennessee hung out with the Roadies. Gamer from that outlet.

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

 

Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 1-0 North Carolina FC

Nashville SC waited until the last possible moment to find a winner, but they did. Without much trouble from NCFC, the trouble finding goals of their own was the only question mark for NSC.

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Man of the Match Ish Jome.

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

Nashville and NCFC both came out in relatively standard 4-4-2 formations with two blocks of four. As usual, NSC’s central midfielders remained pretty defensive (with forays forward, especially late in the game, from Michael Reed). There was a slight twist with a return to stacked strikers – Lebo Moloto playing well underneath Brandon Allen – that was significant enough I’d almost characterize the formation as a 4-5-1 with the central midfield in a diamond.

Ish Jome and Matt LaGrassa were the wingers, and as has been the case when LaGrassa is nominally out wide, he tends to drift centrally and the field gets a little tilted toward the left side (we’ll see that Jome’s abilities make that… not a problem). The wingers stayed on their natural sides when Alan Winn entered in the 79th, but flipped in about the 88th minute, so both Winn (righty playing on the left) and Jome (lefty playing on the right) would be able to shoot with their strong foot from a slightly better angle.

NSC threw tons of numbers forward after this stretch, trying to find a late winner. While the winner did come on a set piece, it was Winn pushing forward that earned the free kick, so there was some value there.

For what it’s worth, this is one of just a couple games I can recall (and first in USL play) where Gary Smith didn’t use all three subs.

Gary Smith community rating: 8.13

Community comments:

  • “Should have been a bigger win.”

I agree with that sentiment, though I think that was more finishing-related than coach-related (though I can only speculate that the commenter intended that to be a criticism of the coach, since the language is non-specific).

Midfield

Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:

Ish Jome 23.40 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 8.38

I’m pretty surprised his community rating was so close to many of his teammates, because I (and the broadcasters, particularly Ronnie Woodard) thought he was head-and-shoulders ahead of the field. Maybe it’s a similar situation to Robin Shroot in the first Penn FC game – the poor finishing is more memorable than the great runs down the channel? He was a consistent threat down the side, stretched the opposing defense, and is underrated as a defender and ball-circulator. His relationship with Justin Davis is very nice, as well. With just a few weeks as a member of the squad, the sky is the limit here.

Michael Reed 17.78 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75

Reed had a very nice game, and when he feels free enough to involve himself in the offense – as he did against a bad NCFC team – he can build up some comfort, take more confident touches, and really excel over the course of a game. He’s still prone to a heavy first touch, or trying some… ambitious… things (long shots, wild threading passes) that don’t work out. His steadiness as the team’s leader is underscored by how much less frantic this one felt than the Tampa Bay game a week earlier.

Matt LaGrassa 12.65 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00

This was a second-straught rough outing for LaGrassa in my view, and quite frankly if he’d finished out the game, his score might have ended up lower than it is (I thought he had a worse performance than Akinyode per the eyeball test) because of negative events. It’s the tendency to make those negative things happen that is the problem, because he has no issue being highly involved in the contest (albeit from drifting inside when he’s supposed to maintain some width on the wing), it just doesn’t play out positively every time. He has a good touch and good weight on his passes, but gets it taken away and tries unwise passes a little too frequently. It’s easy to see why he’s been passed on the CDM depth chart, but it’s also easy to see the great flashes at times.

Bolu Akinyode 11.85 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

Akinyode’s reputation precedes him, and although he recovered very well in the second half, the fans voting him third-best player in the game behind Matt Pickens and Ish Jome is insane. He was pretty shaky in the opening frame, with a lot of defensive miscues – albeit ones that really didn’t get punished because NCFC is bad. From the opening whistle (we saw the now-patented “get run by, then show limited effort to catch up to your man-mark) to letting his mark free on a corner… let’s just say it was good he recovered and his confidence wasn’t shaken. Akinyode did show a bit of burst I didn’t think he had once he came into the game, and had some crunching tackles. Still, “completes a lot of his passes” is overrated rather consistently by the fans.

Alan Winn 2.48 (16 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75

Winn didn’t have a ton of time on the field, but what little time he did spend was very effective. Nashville’s late-game plan (offense offense offense) was well-suited to his game, of course, but he did track back defensively a couple of times. His speed on the left earned the free kick that led to the game-winner, as well.

Forward

Lebo Moloto 16.64 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 7.88

Moloto played underneath Brandon Allen, dropping for the ball, and that seemed to fit his skillset. He tends to overuse the same idea or two in a game (this time, it was the flick behind himself to a runner when he was posted up), and defenses catch on a bit. He also gets into a little bit of trouble because defenses converge, knowing he’s the most important player to the offense. He needs more help from his strikers (more on that in a moment, obviously). Moloto is getting a bit of a Justin Davis or Matt LaGrassa “has plenty of negative plays, but just has a ton of plays overall to run up a score,” albeit with much more on the positive side. Also: it’s unconscionable that this penalty was not given. That’s terrible officiating:

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Brandon Allen 10.91 (70 minutes) – Community rating: 5.75

I thought this was Allen’s first truly poor game in a Nashville SC uniform. There would have been little to complain about if his yellow card was a straight red (he barreled into a player away from the ball, then stuck out a foot to try to trip him), and he probably deserved a second yellow for a shove early in the second half. There’s something to be said for the “mercurial striker” archetype, but he has to keep his composure. He was decent-not-great in the actual run of play, unable to find much space in the box or drop deeper to force his team to involve him. He seems to do better with side-by-side strike partners.

Ropapa Mensah 4.44 (25 minutes) – Community rating: 8.50

Mensah’s going to get overrated because he’s the goal-scorer, even though he didn’t do a whole lot before that. On the other hand, dude’s job is to get goals and win games, and he did just that. NCFC was really compact to try to bunker and escape with the point by the time Mensah came on, so being unable to turn on the ball and get shots off is not worrisome to me.

Defenders

Bradley Bourgeois 16.32 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

The defense was very solid – indeed, there was little for them to do in this game – and against a sputtering NCFC offense, much of the scoring for the backline actually comes from their offensive contributions. You know the deal here: Bourgeois finally got at least an assist on a set piece, and he’s able to play up on various types of dead-ball situations and also track back quickly.

Justin Davis 15.56 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 7.63

Davis was very comfortable pushing forward with the ball in this one, in large part because there wasn’t much to worry about tracking back. He still had some of his nice full-speed slide-tackles, but this was more about crossing and interplay with Jome (his teammate with Minnesota United last year) than anything on D.

Kosuke Kimura 12.27 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 6.88

With little defending needed, Kimura was able to push higher up the pitch than we’ve seen… probably since Nashville switched to the 4-4-2 formation? He whipped in some decent crosses, even took a couple shots (whiffing one on the backside when service got through the box), and was able to dribble in traffic and recycle laterally to his teammates. He was no defensive liability in that time, so nice.

Liam Doyle 10.97 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 7.25

Again, not much to do defensively, so don’t read a whole lot into a pedestrian score here. Doyle’s contributions included a number of inch-perfect long balls from the left foot (as we’ve seen all year), primarily on cross-field service, which unfortunately meant that LaGrassa fumbled a couple of them. He did have a couple sketchy moments including a poor mark on the only NCFC threat on goal (a header on the run), and heading the ball onto a runner in the box on accident, but given the output from North Carolina FC, not much to worry about.

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 10.46 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.50

I think Pickens’s community rating is slightly overrated on account of keeping the clean sheet, but there simply wasn’t a whole lot for him to do. Even the saves he made were relatively simple efforts, and NCFC just couldn’t trouble him because they don’t have the horses to be an offensive threat against a defense like Nashville’s. Pickens didn’t do anything wrong, of course, but he didn’t personally impact the match enough to be named Man of It.

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

The Graphical: Nashville SC 1-0 North Carolina FC

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

Bend until they break

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilting the field

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

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

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

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

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

Still workshopping the pun.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VOTE in community ratings: Nashville SC 1-0 North Carolina FC

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Was Ish Jome’s danger down the flank enough to earn him MOTM honors? Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

What did you think of the players’ performances in a last-second win against North Carolina FC? Have your say in the community ratings! It’s anonymous and takes just a couple minutes to complete:

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Video: Gary Smith, Ish Jome, and Bradley Bourgeois discuss win over NCFC

Nashville SC pulled out a win at the death against North Carolina FC. Hear what gaffer Gary Smith and two of the game’s key performers – midfielder Ish Jome and centerback Bradley Bourgeois (who assisted on the game winner) had to say in the aftermath.

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Ropapa Mensah plays the hero and Nashville earns a 1-0 win over North Carolina FC

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NASHVILLE – A game that looked like it was going to have some second-half goals at the break… finally got one deep into stoppage time when Ropapa Mensah slotted home the game-winner well after the allotted stoppage time had expired. Nashville SC 1, North Carolina FC 0.

Two substitutions played a key role in the goal. 79th-minute entry Alan Winn earned a free kick bursting down the left side after the clock had struck 93 minutes, but thanks to the infraction, there was more soccer to be played. Captain Michael Reed’s free kick service from 45 yards out found the head of defender Bradley Bourgeois, who nodded it back across the face of goal. Mensah, who had entered the game in the 68th, poked his toe past otherwise-unblemished NCFC keeper Alex Tambakis and won the game on its final kick.

Nashville SC maintained its undefeated home record with the 1-0 score, and had Mensah not saved the day, there may have been plenty of controversy regarding an 84th-minute decision from the official that helped keep the game knotted at zeroes. A nice passing sequence saw Lebo Moloto free in the box with the ball at his feet. Before he could get a shot off, he was cut down from behind. No call, move along.

Mensah’s finish rendered all that moot, however, when whatever problems Nashville had converting chances (21 shots, six on goal) into scoring can be an issue for another day. After a delay to begin the game and a contest that moved in fits and starts, all that will be remembered is one magical moment at the death of the clock.

Up next, it’s a return to midweek play with the US Open Cup’s Round of 16 on deck. Nashville will travel to Louisville this Wednesday for the third matchup of the season between the two. They’ve split 2-0 decisions with the home team winning each time, but the stakes are slightly different in cup play. Certainly, Nashville will feel like it has all the momentum after tonight’s 94th minute.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 16′ NSH Yellow card – 32 Brandon Allen (foul)
  • 37′ NC Yellow card – 6 Austin Da Luz (foul)
  • 45’+2 – Half time
  • 68′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 32 Brandon Allen
  • 72′ NC Substitutions – On 22 Tiyi Shipalane, off 6 Austin Da Luz. On 10 Kyle Bekker, off 14 Daniel Rios
  • 79′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 20 Matt LaGrassa
  • 87′ NC Substitution – On 7 Donovan Ewolo, off 9 Marios Lomis
  • 90’+4 NC Yellow card – 31 Steven Miller
  • 90’+4 NSH GOAL – 3 Ropapa Mensah (right foot), assisted by 22 Bradley Bourgeois