Nashville SC scored its first goal as a professional club Saturday. How did it happen? Let’s take a look. Here’s Ropapa Mensah’s tally from four broadcast angles (at once!):
A long ball from Liam Doyle, a head-on from Tucker Hume, plenty of room to run for Alan Winn, and a cool finish over the top of the Atlanta United keeper.
How did Doyle have so much space to send the long-ball, though? And why was Winn so wide open on the flank? How did Winn and Mensah end up with a two-on-one against a defender who was then beaten by the cross?
Let’s take a look at the ol’ chalkboard:
You’re probably going to want to be ready to replay it several times. Here’s a basic breakdown of what happens:
- NSC is in a four-man backline and either a bit of an unbalanced 4-3-3 or – more likely the desired shape here – a 4-4-2 with two box-to-box midfielders and two wide midfielders. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s formation has basically fallen apart: their two centerbacks are marking NSC’s two up top, but they are basically all alone back there, and – very importantly – central defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz (who is the primary Five-Stripe responsible for this goal) is way out of position, leaving Brandon Vazquez (19 – though I couldn’t see the number on the broadcast, he and Gressel may actually be flipped) in a ton of space marking left back Taylor Washington and left winger Winn at the same time.
- Michael DeGraffenreidt at right back starts with the ball in a bit of trouble. Forward Romario Williams goes to help defender Jose Hernandez, giving DeGraffenreidt an easy outlet to Doyle.
- Doyle takes a nice first touch to set up his left foot, sees all the space on the left, and bombs it deep. As you can see on the chalkboard here, basically every NSC player is being man-marked by an Atlanta United player. Larentowicz, however, is doing… something. He’ll continue not helping his team’s cause throughout the course of the play.
- Striker Tucker Hume, with a nice piece of target-forward savvy, heads the ball onwards into plenty of space. Winn, all alone, can run onto it. The ball is far enough ahead that centerback Sal Zizzo can’t catch up with Winn.
- That means the other centerback, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, has to leave Williams to try to prevent Winn’s free run and at the very least try to prevent the cross.
- The inability of Zizzo and/or Larentowicz (or left midfielder Chris McCann, who leaves NSC’s Ramone Howell to try to recover numbers) to get back in time to either prevent the cross or mark Mensah means he has a one-on-one with the keeper.
- Winn’s first-touch cross and Mensah’s cheeky first-touch chip finish combine to put the ball in the back of the net.
So what did we learn here? This was a pure counter-attack goal. Atlanta was pressing high to try to win the ball back in their offensive end, while (at least) one player missed his assignment, giving NSC an odd-man rush. Atlanta United could never recover numbers, and that was all she wrote.
It shows the importance of center backs who are comfortable receiving the ball under (potential – remember, Williams had left Doyle alone in trying to double DeGraff) pressure, and can pick out players downfield. It shows that a target striker can use his head not just to bang in goals off service from the wings, but also as a quick-strike version of hold-up player. It shows that speed on the edge can be a difference-maker, and that Winn is very capable of finding space and using his speed to take advantage of it. Most importantly (and perhaps underrated here), it shows off clinical finishing skill from Ropapa Mensah.
Winn and Mensah in particular showed very nice things on this play (though DeGraff, Doyle, and Hume all had important contributions, as did the pure luck of Atlanta United overloading one side to try to press). They’re two guys who hadn’t practiced with the team as much as most of their teammates – Mensah had a travel delay, while Winn was a new signing last week – and stand to only get better after being halftime subs, rather than starters. A scoring corps that seemed pretty thin has a couple extra important bullets in the chamber.
It’s the nature of soccer that any goal is going to require a bit of luck, whether in the form of poor play by an individual (Larentowicz here or DeGraff on the final Atlanta goal), multiple players breaking down (look for an analysis of Atlanta United’s Nagbe-assisted finish for their second strike a bit later on), or simple nature (the opening goal of the game). The trick is to put yourself in positions get lucky, and to take advantage of what avails itself to you.
It’s looking like Nashville SC will be able to do that. If they can do it against the most expensive side in MLS, certainly there will be opportunities against USL sides.