Breakdown: Nashville SC 3-1 Chattanooga FC

After a review of the game broadcast, some more-informed impressions of the performances on the day:

NSC18_0310_ChattFC-57_large
Matt LaGrassa was one of three goal-scorers for the Boys in Gold. Courtesy Nashville SC.

Tactics

In the first half, Nashville SC was in its standard 5-3-2, with the wingbacks pushing pretty high up the field. The difference was in the midfield, where the typical two holding midfielders and an attacking midfielder looked more like one holding midfielder, one attacking midfielder (who, since it was Alan Winn, drifted pretty far to the left wing), and one box-to-box midfielder who was defensively responsible but in neutral postures played more like an offensive specialist than a defensive one. Akinyode was always the defensive midfielder, but when he was replaced by Josh Hughes, Michael Reed (who entered at halftime) was the more defensively-oriented while Hughes went box-to-box.

The strikers also did plenty of high pressing early in the game. There was mixed success in actually earning turnovers themselves, but certainly they harassed Chattanooga into some serious discomfort that eventually paid off.

At times when Winn was at midfield, he also pushed forward when his team possessed in their own half, with the strikers spreading very wide to create gaps laterally, resulting in almost a 5-2-3 or 3-4-3 shape.

After the halftime subs, NSC kept the shapes and tactics pretty reserved, aside from – and this may be a more individual thing, not a coaching decision – left centerback Justin Davis pushing well forward on some offensive rushes while a CDM or left wingback Taylor Washington stayed back to cover him.

Keepers

Matt Pickens probably should have given up a goal in the seventh minute. A defensive turnover (and poor recovery) led to an open shot near the top of the box, and he was pulled out to the six making the save. His rebound went directly to an attacking player, but the follow-up shot was saved off the line by a defender. He also could have given one up in the second minute, not even moving for a Chattanooga shot that rang the crossbar. Presumably he thought it was well off-frame, but it was close enough to be a scary moment nonetheless.

CJ Cochran was put in a bad position early in the second half with Liam Doyle letting a player sneak behind him, but made the initial save (actually hurting the striker, though it was a clean play from Cochran) and his teammates cleared. He was wrong-footed on two consecutive Chattanooga offensive thrusts, the first glancing the outside of the post and the second (a worse chance, in all honesty) turning into CFC’s only goal. There was very poor defending/giving away on both, but you’d like to see him make any effort on the first, and not go completely the wrong way on the second.

Defenders

Since he hasn’t seen gametime since Atlanta United, you’re forgiven if you forgot the Bradley Bourgeois is really good. He was responsible for a save off the line (see Pickens’s section), and if Chattanooga had scored first, this could have been a completely different game. He’s positionally sound with a good feel for when to step up and tackle, he’s strong in the air, and he showed of athleticism by backtracking and beating Chattanooga attackers to run them down and beat them on potentially dangerous through balls. His speed was a nice dimension that could see him in the starting lineup when the games count.

Liam Doyle is generally good on a play-to-play basis, but made a couple key mistakes in the game. He made a bad clearance leading to Chattanooga’s dangerous two-shot sequence (and fell down after said clearance, so he couldn’t recover to prevent either the shot or the follow-up). He is way too prone to giveaways at the back, with Chattanooga’s only goal coming off yet another of those. Early in the second half, he fell asleep on a diagonal run with Ryan James marking two runners. It was pretty similar to the error in the Ottawa game, so maybe his communication is the common denominator (though he played a different role in this one). However, he has an absolute laser-guided leg from the back to spark long counters to his attackers and wingbacks. We saw it lead to a goal against Atlanta, of course, and it was also a weapon that he used significantly in this game – and that skillet is going to be useful this year with teams trying to overload NSC’s midfield with defenders and the over-the-top pass available. In the 43rd minute, he missed a wide open volley on the back post on a corner kick that should have been a goal.

London Woodberry is good in the air (including on the post he hit leading to a penalty and NSC’s first goal) and a solid athlete, though he wasn’t tested a ton in this game (he had a hairy moment or two closing down when Chattanooga beat NSC over the top and he had the athleticism to recover, but the positional awareness broke down – he knows when to take a bit of a tactical foul to compensate, and how to do it cleanly enough to not get a yellow card).

Ryan James was pretty fast on the wing. His lack of size (or extreme quickness) makes him a bit less of a threat on the long-ball down the sideline, but he looked comfortable getting forward. He also showed versatility sliding inside to RCB when Kosuke Kimura came on at halftime.

Taylor Washington’s speed on the left side is a good asset, which makes it a little surprising that he’s not used quite as much as an up-and-down threat on the flank: he can get back in a hurry (and often does) if he presses a little higher up the field. He was a little higher in the second half and had a nice shot on goal and a cross that could have been finished.

Kosuke Kimura brought a lot of energy when he came on at halftime. He had a nice cross early in the second half that just missed Alan Winn on the back post. His foot skills are good-not-great, but the spark and speed he provides are both potential difference-makers in the long run..

Justin Davis didn’t get a ton of second-half action, but did a good job walling off attackers on long-ball attempts and head the ball to safety. He had one bad giveaway at the back leading to a Chattanooga shot (and one of their best chances on goal, glancing off the outside of the post) – this will likely be a film room post later today or tomorrow. One thing to note about his game is that when he’s on the pitch, there’s actually an offensive threat – whether running forward to get onto passes or carrying it himself – up the pitch from the center backs.

Midfield

I thought Bolu Akinyode had an up-and-down game. He can pick out decent line-breaking passes, but seems to content to take what’s right in front of him (even if it’s like a four-yard pass to a fellow midfielder) instead of something a little more incisive, and then when the opponent closes in, he makes a more risky long pass that’s still not going to break lines. That is to say, too often he gets stuck in a low-risk, low-reward rut, then shifts to medium-high-risk, low-reward mode immediately thereafter. This is probably the sort of thing that gets worked out with more game reps – and is a reason I was happy to see the mixed lineups between First-XI and backup players in a competitive game. Akinyode remains a good, physical player in a defensive posture, but tracks back in coverage a little slowly.

Matt LaGrassa, at least early in the game, had a bit more freedom to roam than earlier in the year (it’s also been developing that way the past couple games), so rather than two defensive midfielders and a central attacker, it became one defensive (Akinyode) and LaGrassa as a right attacking mid, allowing Alan Winn to get more wide on the left (where he likes to play). LaGrassa has the athleticism to be that box-to-box guy, and has a little more offensive skill than he’s been given credit for – ringing the post on a shot from the top of the box after scoring on one against Cincinnati, converting the penalty kick against ‘Nooga, we’ll see more of that. However, he did try to dribble Chattanooga defenders a little too much, losing the ball on a couple occasions. Getting used to a more offensive role – assuming NSC sticks with that – should be helpful in improving that.

Alan Winn started the game as that CAM/left interior midfielder, then shifted up into the striker unit after the first major round of subs at halftime (as predicted, the staff wants to see where he fits in and where they can get him on the field in the standard formation). He was a little too dribble-happy as a midfielder – it seems a lot of NSC players thought they could weave through an NPSL team like a hot knife through butter, than were dissuaded of that notion – but has a really good savvy for dishing the ball to a teammate to recycle possession when he gets in a bad position. He does have the speed to beat opponents to the endline and cut back for a cross, which is probably what makes him want to dribble through guys (though going around them tends to work out better). He was taken down in the 16th minute – after a good cross from Washington – for what absolutely should have been a penalty.

When Lebo Moloto came on (at halftime he replaced Winn, who moved up top to striker as Tucker Hume exited the game), he was used mostly for short linking passes, with a few really nice dribbles mixed in. They were mostly short-area handles to find space to get it right back out more than offensively-oriented plays. He had a few really nice tackles in the “going through the motions” portions toward the end of the game. He had a cracking shot on a counter-attack after a cross was headed down that should have been a goal – the CFC keeper got a fingertip to it, and it still nicked the inside of the post and out.

Josh Hughes got his first playing time in a while, showing high energy but being a little rusty with the accuracy of his passes. Michael Reed played CDM (or the one that pushes up a bit more into a box-to-box role when Bolu Akinyode was his midfield partner before Hughes replaced him in the 61st minute), and it’s unfair to say he’s boring: that has both good (no mistakes) and bad (no exciting plays) connotations, and he’s more the former than the latter.

Strikers

Ropapa Mensah did not have his finest game, and that lack of consistency is a major part of why he hasn’t broken into the projected Starting XI after his debut goal in the Atlanta game. He takes a heavy first touch a little too often, and is a little prone to being overly physical when things aren’t going his way. This obviously pays off greatly when the foul isn’t called, such as on the shoulder check he got away with en route to NSC’s second goal. In the high press, he ends up putting himself in positions where he has to hold off on a tempting challenge (fortunately he did more often than not). The goal showed the upside with his ball skills, as well, making the physical challenge and then rounding the keeper to get a shooting lane.

Tucker Hume has had the “more than just an aerial threat” tag (it comes with the territory of being 6-5 – like white basketball players between 6-3 and 6-6 get tagged with “not just a shooter”) for much of preseason, and this was another positive game in that regard. His double cutback for his goal was reminiscent of a poor man’s (and very tall man’s) Messi-style dribble feat, and while he’s not going to be weaving through traffic game-in and game-out against USL opposition, it’s not a bad tool to have in the kit. He’s still a little on the slim side, which makes his tendency to go down easily understandable but still a little frustrating (especially for FC Cincinnati fans, but also for NSC when it leads to a wasted opportunity).

Michael Cox had a giveaway trying to dribble through traffic, whereas Robin Shroot (the duo came on together in the 61st minute) played more of a high-press defensive role from the striker spot. NSC spent much of the final 30 minutes trying to play keepaway and fine-tuning their passing accuracy and chemistry, so there wasn’t a lot to be gleaned from the offensive performances here. Cox did give up the ball trying to play for a foul in the box rather than using his strength to power through and create an offensive chance. Hard to blame him when the “contact from behind = go down” rule is rewarded frequently enough and the game was already won. Shroot was taken down for what absolutely should have been a penalty in the same spot just a minute later (right at 67′). Cox got behind the defense and may some nice skill dribbles across the top of the box, but his lefty shot was low, slow, and easily saved.

For what it’s worth, the commentators had a lot of trouble differentiating Winn and Hume – including after Hume had come off – so I had to make some corrections to what I had written down watching live. A better game for Hume than initially believed on my end.

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