From the film room: Lebo Moloto takes Nashville’s best chance

Offense was hard to come by for Nashville SC in Louisville Slugger Stadium Saturday. Louisville City FC used the narrow dimensions of its pitch and a heavily packed formation when in defensive postures to prevent the Boys in Gold from generating much of anything.

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However, shortly after the second half began, midfielder Lebo Moloto had one of NSC’s best chances.

The setup

Both teams had a lackluster first half, with neither mustering much on offense (though a couple dangerous headers from Louisville were mixed in there). Coming out of the break, Nashville is trying to get on the board first.

I pick up the play a little early, so you can see how the narrowness of Louisville’s pitch played into Nashville’s inability to get what they wanted in the offensive third. LCB Justin Davis plays a ball to LWB Ryan James that should put him in a dangerous position, but since the sidelines are so close to the middle of the field, it’s easy for Paolo DelPiccolo to close down from inside and clear away – on the width we’re used to seeing, James easily gets onto the end of that ball.

DelPiccolo’s clearance lands right at the feet of CDM Matt LaGrassa, who initiates the play.

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What happens

As you can see, Louisville City is absolutely packed in: when the ball gets to LaGrassa, two midfielders will close down from behind, meaning there are ten defenders within 25 yards or so of the goal. There are four defenders back for two striker, and Louisville has a four-on-three on their right defensive wing (where James, Davis, and LaGrassa are).

However, with all the defensive bodies LCFC has, they haven’t devoted anyone to man-marking Moloto. That’s theoretically Craig’s job, but since he’s sunk so far back, Moloto takes a very nifty touch to get past him (actually splitting Craig and Smith, who closes down from the outside when LaGrassa dishes the ball) and fires away.

This is an example of one player demonstrating: 1) recognizing the weakness in what is otherwise a very tightly packed regiment, and 2) the first touch and technique required to exploit that weakness. Unfortunately, his left-footed strike doesn’t have the power and placement to beat Greg Ranjitsingh.

Video

Like usual, I’d recommend watching, re-reading the prose, and giving it another watch. The video loops a couple times, as well.

Takeaways

It’s easy to be very down on NSC’s offensive performance after a simple viewing of the game, but this demonstrates why that was the case:

  1. Louisville’s field prevented Nashville from generating space with width on offense.
  2. LCFC was content to pack numbers behind the ball and hope to score on the counter (one goal came on a set piece, the other did indeed come on a counter).
  3. Louisville is man-marking both strikers, and has them flanked by a couple extra defenders. That has the side effect of leaving Moloto uncovered, but NSC had too much trouble building through the middle before substitutions.

This is a big part of why you saw Tucker Hume’s entry manage to change the nature (or effectiveness) of Nashville’s offense even though he wasn’t individually all that productive: a true hold-up striker can be a target even when man-marked or doubled up, and if he can get his head to a ball and it falls to a teammate, the numbers devoted to him create openings.

Louisville has a good defense, a tough pitch for visitors, and was willing to sacrifice offense for defense throughout the game, knowing they could hit on a counter. Other opponents won’t have the luxury of all three (and very few will have the luxury of even one of them). There are legitimate questions about the Cox/Shroot pairing, since neither managed to make an impact through the double-teams, and they didn’t play off each other well enough to create openings despite the heavy defensive cover.

I do think that they’ll be better in future games, but a target-man like Hume ca ope things up in na way that we haven’t seen them do just yet.

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