Neither team was explosive offensively Saturday afternoon, and Louisville City struck twice in counter-attack postures to earn what was ultimately a comfortable win over Nashville SC. How did the second goal – and easy tap-in for Niall McCabe – come about?
We’re in the 65th minute, and Louisville City broke through in the 56th minute, so they were able to go into a full bunker-and-counter mode. They’re keeping a lot of numbers behind the ball, and selectively picking their spots to push forward.
LCFC has a throw-in on the near (offense’s right) sideline. This plays out like a counter because they go with a quick reset and pop it over Nashville’s midfield lines, and limited numbers for both teams – just three or four attackers for Louisville, just the five pure defenders and the keeper for Nashville – in the final third.
Matt LaGrassa is able to put in an effort on Luke Spencer when he initially receives the long throw, but won’t particularly figure into this play.
That means Nashville still has a numbers advantage, but poor individual play at times allows Louisville to not necessarily even up the numbers, but succeed despite a numbers disadvantage (as should be the case for skilled attackers).
As mentioned above, this is basically a four-on-five play (again, LaGrassa is not a major factor after the very beginning), but with George Davis IV staying wide and forcing Kosuke Kimura to cover him way out there, it’s a bit more like a three-on-four until the very end.
When Spencer receives the throw, he picks up an immediate double-team from LaGrassa and Liam Doyle. Both are coming from the side – the same side, too, from the near sideline here – and slightly overrun him, allowing him to turn back from where they originated, finding a bit of free space to himself. He doesn’t hold onto the ball for too long, though, seeing a through ball to Oscar Jimenez that allows the winger to get space alone in a dangerous crossing position comfortably inside the penalty area.
How did Jimenez get so open? I’ll let Gary Smith do the explaining.
“For me, it was far too easy to get through two challenges,” Smith said of Spencer’s turn. “I think Ryan [James, after the turn] was attracted by a player in front of him and we far too easily were split as a defensive group.”
So, Ryan James was man-marking Jimenez, did a bit of ball-watching once Spencer found his space after beating Doyle and LaGrassa, and let the player in behind him. As you’ll see in the video, that forced Justin Davis to track back and help his teammate. Davis comes off looking kind of bad – he fails to close down Jimenez – but when you realize he was in coverage for a teammate, rather than failing in his own assignment, it makes this much more understandable.
By the time the cross gets in, London Woodberry, Doyle, and Kimura (who had come off the left winger to cover the interior) are all in position to cut it out. However, again there’s an instance of ball-watching: Woodberry is distracted by keeping his eyes on the crosser, rather than his mark. That allows Niall McCabe to get in behind for the easy tap-in. Matt Pickens had no chance.
“Even as the cross came in, we played a 4-v-1 in the penalty area,” Smith lamented. “The moments in a game are difficult to go back to, but I’m sure there would be some different choices and different decisions if they could have that moment again.”
So there are two major categories into which the mistakes on this play fall: poor individual tackling (exacerbated by poor positioning), and ball-watching.
More often than not, you aren’t going to see a double-team split by opposing attackers with this NSC team. That’s especially true with a solid defensive midfielder in Matt LaGrassa and the most physical centerback in Liam Doyle. Indeed, Doyle’s characteristics “iffy with the ball at his feet playing from the back, good as a physical presence” typically go in the other direction.
Even if a player does split those two, it’s going to be even more rare that he’s able to do so while so cleanly possessing the ball. That Spencer kept his feet and control and was able to get his head up and dish it made this play. It won’t happen often.
The other category is the ball-watching, and that it afflicted (at least) two separate players on this instance is a little more troubling: it may end up a bit of a theme. It wasn’t in pre-season, so there’s hope, especially with the corrective measures the coaches are certainly implementing in training this week.
This was a major learning-experience goal: it wasn’t a whole lot of “these are things we just can’t execute,” but rather, “there are correctable mistakes here.” Going forward, you can be sure Gary Smith will be able to help his players prepare to make those corrections.
Many thanks to Music City Soccer for the quotes from Gary Smith, since we were unable to make it to training Monday.