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…
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.