I took a look at the film to rate the players’ performances, make other observations we may have missed live, and more. Quick note: my ratings are on a proprietary (some might say arbitrary) scale, and are not on the traditional 1-10 scale. Community ratings, however, are on the traditional scale. You can contribute to those each week.
Tactics and formation
Nashville went 4-4-2 in this game, with the personnel we’ve pretty much seen as the established “Starting” XI (with a bit of wiggle room at a couple positions). Kosuke Kimura started over Ryan James at right back, David Edgar over Liam Doyle at center back (though he was replaced in the second half), and Ropapa Mensah was the starting striker, in terms of positions that are generally considered up for grabs. Alan Winn returned to the starting lineup, and was replaced late in the contest by Matt LaGrassa, while Michael Cox replaced Mensah.
I’m glad New York Red Bulls II runs the same system as the senior team, because it means MLSSoccer.com has some useful information to us as to how New York City FC countered the high press over the weekend, and we saw how NSC’s approach was slightly different (and Gary Smith reacted more quickly than Patrick Vieira):
The combination of these tactical choices flustered NYCFC. By the 2nd half, Vieira switched his formation to a 3-5-2, moving Alex Ring to center back and Ben Sweat and Jo Inge Berget to wing backs. In adding a third player to the back line and pushing the center backs wide, NYCFC could build through slightly wider positions, ones that stretched RBNY, creating extra distance that made the Red Bulls a little later to everything.
NSC’s approach was slightly different. They did split the center backs wide, but instead of adding a third back to the formation, defensive midfielder Michael Reed would drop into the middle as more of a temporary sweeper. This worked well in rebuilding possession.
Up top, despite Ropapa Mensah’s numerous forays forward – many of them successful, even if the final product wasn’t there in the form of a goal – the two strikers played at about the same level, and next to each other (whereas the previous week, Lebo Moloto has drawn a bit deeper as more of a false nine).
Gary Smith Community rating: 7.33
Led by your man of the match:
Ropapa Mensah 22.45 (75 minutes) – Community rating: 8.50 – This is one of the highest individual ratings (certainly on a per-minute basis for a guy who didn’t play the whole game) I’ve had this year, and I’m fairly certain it’s the highest community rating, as well. Mensah got the sole NSC goal through an individual effort, he had numerous dangerous moments other than that, and he actually worked back pretty impressively in a re-press posture.
I also understand why he was taken out: while he’s still not consistent overall (this was one of his games with fewer downs to accompany the ups though – his progression is exciting), when he gets tired the mistakes really start to crop up. He’s the sort of guy whose motor or speed doesn’t decline as he gets tired, but the technique really starts to get sloppy. He built up a huge first-half score, and while he had some good moments in the second half, I still felt like he came out of the game a little later than he probably should have.
Lebo Moloto 14.51 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.83 – Moloto came in for a bit of a whipping after a few missed shots, and indeed one community rater who left comment said “Moloto could have been man of the match but didn’t shoot well enough.” It’s true that he didn’t shoot well enough: he had four shots, only one of them on-target (and that one was an attempt that was saved off the line because he didn’t put oomph on it, thinking the net was open). I still have a hard time getting worked up about it though, because he’s one of the few players who creates chances.
He’s the only guy on the team who gets into position to take the shot that went wide late in the game, even if the final touch wasn’t there. I give value to that. Of course, he’s not physical enough or fast enough to simply run past defenders (as we saw when he tried to round the keeper and was run down by a centerback), so employing him a little deeper with Mensah or another speedier guy up top is still an adjustment I’d like to see.
Michael Cox 1.19 (21 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – Cox didn’t have a ton of time to make an impact, but when he replaces Mensah, the lack of speed is notable. He has a harder time running onto balls from his teammates, and while he’s physical in hold-up play, he often turns and the defender can get to the ball before he does. I actually think he might be a better fit to start and let the more athletic Mensah be an early-ish sub to challenge a tired backline.
Lebo Moloto 18.46 (94 minutes) – Community rating: 6.14 – I’m looking at my own overall score for Moloto with a bit of a skeptical eye here. A guy playing striker (he was actually withdrawn behind Mensah quite a bit as a false nine – film room on this in the next couple days) for a team that is ultimately scoreless shouldn’t be racking up huge numbers in player ratings. However, he was very involved, and a lot of times his service ultimately was wasted, whether by offside infractions, poor strikes, turnovers when he’d sent a teammate through, etc. He had some really nice dribbles through traffic and was doing pretty much all he could to get things going in the final third, but he should bear some of the blame for a lack of production, too. He also committed what I consider to be a red card infraction and got away with it.
Ropapa Mensah 4.63 (67 minutes) – Community rating: 5.83 – This was Mensah’s worst performance of the regular season to date, and was a little predictable from what we saw in preseason – and thus why I was trying to pump the brakes at least a little on the hype train. He has good physical ability to be a hold-up striker, but his first touch often gets a little too loose, he doesn’t seem to have ideas in the box frequently enough (that he gets there is obviously good, but a wasted possession in the box is ultimately the same as no possession in the box if it consistently doesn’t turn into goals), and his inexperience shows in the form of some silly fouls – he came off because a second yellow was likely on the way given the way he was playing once he got tired – and the offsides that I alluded to above in Moloto’s section. The potential is there, but NSC really needs consistency to work its way into his game in a hurry.
Michael Cox 1.78 (27 minutes) – Community rating: 5.86 – Nashville SC’s tactics have to change a bit when Cox comes on: he doesn’t have Mensah’s speed to try to get over the top of the defense (not that Mensah is the fastest striker out there, but he appears faster than Cox), and he’s a little bit more productive in hold-up play. He also suffered from a lack of ideas in the final third, taking a shot from about 25 yards out instead of surveying other options on one occasion. He doesn’t seem to fight as hard to get up for aerial balls though, which is something the Boys in Gold really need him to do.
Michael Reed 17.55 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – I was admittedly a little down on Reed earlier in the year (in fact, I’ve said that the solution to the midfield problem that Soccer Speedway talks about regularly is to give Reed a rest for a game or two to put Bolu Akinyode and Matt LaGrassa in the double-pivot spots, because they’re more different than either of them individually is from Reed), but this was a really good game, against a team whose high-pressing style should play into his weaknesses. Reed was able to involve himself in the attack a bit, didn’t make mistakes at the back, and was consistent – while being occasionally dangerous – with his passes.
Alan Winn 16.13 (65 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – Winn showed good pressure work up the sideline, and actually worked back defensively much better than he had at any point previously – rapid improvement in a specific phase of the game is natural for a player as new as he is to the professional game. He also does a good job working to find the ball to make sure he gets involved in the game (more on this in a moment).
He actually wasn’t quite as dangerous as a pure offensive player. He used his speed to get into dangerous positions at times, but decision-making in the final third – for example, he tried to play a 1-2 with Moloto but ran into a crowded area, rather than the space that Moloto wanted to play it into – is still a work in progress.
Taylor Washington 14.99 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – I feel the same way about Washington as I did about the Penn FC performance (and remember, he was my MOTM in that one, so don’t think the criticism is overly harsh): his speed is very important, he can be an offensive threat, particularly crossing the ball, but he absolutely disappears in games. On one side of the field, that’s a positive – teams avoid trying to build through the right side of their own midfield because they don’t want to cope with Washington’s speed (they often try to go over the top, where Justin Davis’s recovery speed and ability to slide tackle is also… not what you want to contend with).
Offensively, though, I think it comes back to the fact that he’s a converted fullback. He tends to stay wide and run the channel, as opposed to Winn, who has a natural knack for drifting centrally without making the formation structurally unsound in order to find the ball. Washington will sometimes snap into form in that regard and play a big role, but otherwise, he’s a little reliant on teammates to involve him. That leads to being absent for long stretches, and then suddenly being really involved for extended stretches.
Bolu Akinyode 7.71 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.83 – I’ve been a bit of an Akinyode skeptic who’s coming around recently, but I did not think he had his best performance against his former club. He seems to get caught in indecision about whether he wants to be a true No. 8 (box-to-box) midfielder, or a stay-at-home No. 6. He was more daring – and successful – with his forward passing in this one, and late in the game pushed forward to be in the offense.
When he does push forward though, a lack of speed makes him a liability tracking back. A couple of NYRBII’s dangerous offensive moments came when they had a numbers advantage because Reed and Akinyode were both upfield, and Reed was hustling to get back while Akinyode sort of just has a jogging look to him. This is something that I didn’t see early (changing my pre-season opinion that he’s a future centerback), but it’s re-emerged. When he’s not possessing cleanly against a dangerous opponent press, he’s going to have a lower score.
Matt LaGrassa 5.38 (31 minutes) – Community rating: 6.83 – I thought LaGrassa had a nice performance despite being slightly miscast as a winger (he’s more natural there than Robin Shroot, but obviously not as much so as, say, Winn, for whom he subbed in). He’s comfortable tracking back and also doesn’t have discomfort getting into the attack. He has a nice knack for playing 1-2s with teammates or sending a dangerous through ball.
Bradley Bourgeois 18.20 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.50 – Bourgeois naturally ends up with a bit of an inflated score because of his offensive contributions on set pieces, but, like… those count too, right? If his headers would find the feet of teammates (as they should have at least once by now), he might have an assist or two already on the season, and he’s close to a goal. As far as actual defensive responsibilities go, he’s a high-effort guy tracking back, and a little more positionally sound than he gets credit for (though he’ll lose track and let a guy in behind once or twice). All-in-all, solid day.
Kosuke Kimura 16.95 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.17 – This was easily Kimura’s best performance of the year. He’s still got a bit of a tendency to be over-active in his movement, meaning he has to track back defensively then overruns things a bit, but he’s doing a better job squaring up and preventing crosses or runs into the box. He’s also shown a bit more energy up the sideline lately.
Justin Davis 12.95 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.33 – I alluded to one of Davis’s major skills above: getting upfield in the attack, almost baiting the opponent into trying to beat him over the top, then tracking back to run that player down and slide-tackle the ball out of bounds (or maintain possession after the slide tackle). He’s always shown good placement, bend, and touch on free kick service, but that’s starting to show in open play, as well, with a couple really nice forward balls that started offensive opportunities. He gets caught upfield a bit at times, but that’s hardly the greatest sin.
David Edgar 9.59 (55 minutes) – Community rating: 5.67 – The yellow card was a dangerous tackle (albeit on a professional foul), and Edgar was a little sketchier than we’ve seen recently beyond that. He let players in behind him a couple times – not always his fault, but enough that it was certainly something he’ll try to cut out this week. He also – especially for being the NSC centerback most comfortable with the ball at his feet – had some really worrisome moments dealing with NYRB’s high press.
Liam Doyle 4.79 (41 minutes) – Community rating: 6.50 – I’m a little surprise that my numbers didn’t have his grade closer to Edgar’s: I thought he had a better performance to the eyeball test than Edgar did. He’s not without sketchy moments himself with the ball at his feet, and still has that tendency to take a stabbing tackle attempt and let the opponent get numbers in behind, but he was more solid at the back. It’s likely just a matter of not having time to make up for the same number of negative plays (even though he only got 15 fewer minutes, he had one fewer negative, just no time to build the positive end of things).
Matt Pickens 8.94 (96 minutes) – Community rating: 6.17 – Pickens had an up-and-down performance, which we’re not used to seeing: steady at the back (while not making the flashy save, maybe) is more what we’ve come to expect from him. He should have given up a goal on pure keeper error when a failed punch-out on a cross ended up not clearing the box, and the opponent it fell directly to (with the help of Akinyode, who missed a header trying to put more distance on the punch, leaving the player unmarked) hit his own teammate on the ground with the shot. Pickens also had a couple sketchy moments when the Red Bulls tried to press him. All told though, he gave up just one goal, kept his defense organized, etc. That’s a middling performance by his standards, but a pretty good one in the grand scheme of things.