This is going to be a slightly different edition of the film room, with an emphasis on the chalkboard, rather than the videos. Let’s take a look at average player positions from Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds:
A couple things jump out immediately, and some of those can be explained away pretty easily:
- The overlap in the offensive edge of the center circle. That’s Tucker Hume, Lebo Moloto, and Robin Shroot all in one area. Hume is slightly to the right of the other two, and slightly behind, but it’s bunched nonetheless. There’s a bit of context needed, though: with no chronological component to this (rather, it’s just an average over the whole game), these players weren’t all actually standing next to each other the whole time. Moloto played up top with Shroot in the midfield at one point, and if you take two players who trade spots and average out their positions, it’s going to end up in the middle of those two. That also means that the second striker was actually farther advanced from Hume than it appears (but the average is dragged back by tie spent in midfield).
- Ropapa Mensah (3) is really far upfield. This is not a bad thing, just an observation. There are a handful of factors explaining: first, the difference between himself and the non-Hume striker is exaggerated to a degree because of the reasons listed above. Secondly, NSC was trying to find a late winner. Third, that’s just Mensah’s style. If he gets more time and keeps this positioning up, it can stretch the game.
- Justin Davis (2) played CB farther upfield and wider than Bradley Bourgeois (22). This is similar to the illusion from the first bullet: Nashville played multiple formations, so their roles were different. Bourgeois was RCB in both the 5-3-2 and the 4-4-2, while Davis shifted to left fullback in the 4-4-2.
The last point starts to lead into the main one I want to make here: Ryan James (7) is in a really weird spot for a wingback. Again, this is due to a shift in formations, and like with Shroot/Mensah, a couple different positions also come into play.
As you can see, he started at left wingback in the standard 5-3-2. Nashville SC began the second half in a 4-4-2 look, with Davis moving outside while James and Michael Reed occupied the flanking midfielder spots. When Taylor Washington came on, they shifted back to the 5-3-2, with James ending up on the right.
His average position on the field per position played would be a far more enlightening (and intriguing) map than a mere average over the course of the game. I don’t know if Opta (who runs USL’s advanced stats – and generally does an outstanding job with it) has a way to break down average positions by minute of gametime, but it’d be something to break down if we had that opportunity.
Getting back to James instead of Opta. His versatility is a major asset for the Boys in Gold. He allows Gary Smith to change tactics pretty significantly without making substitutions – or allows a substitution to come on at James’s position without taking a good player off the field, as we saw in the case of Washington Saturday evening. There’s just a lot more flexibility with players like James available.
His best position might be left back (it might not be – we haven’t gotten a full enough picture thanks to sample size, though in my charting, he seems to be about equally capable on either side). The team’s best use for him is probably right back, because it allows Washington’s speed onto the field. It reduces playing time for seasoned vet Kosuke Kimura, but given his rough start to the year, a bit of time to recharge the batteries and observe from the bench could be good for Kimura to get back into form. Pushing up the flanks with Washington and James should take a bit of a defensive load off the strikers.
I do think that there’s another opportunity here, and one that was hinted at by seeing two things in the same game: the 4-4-2 and Washington and James on the field together. That formation has more room for a wide left midfielder (with fewer defensive responsibilities), which may open a door for Alan Winn to get some playing time. While he’s not going to be a star, like Washington, his speed can be a game-changer for an offense that’s struggled to get its feet under it thus far in 2018.
Even playing the stout Davis at left fullback and leaving Washington on the bench, there’s a way to get a left winger out there – and that’s similar to what we saw in the second half against Atlanta United, leading to Ropapa Mensah’s first goal for Nashville SC. Whatever Gary Smith decides to do (and I suspect it mostly revolves around staying in the 5-3-2 and leaving Winn on a developmental track), the fact that James can make an impact in multiple spots allows for that door to be open.