Gary Smith commented after his team’s loss to Indy Eleven Saturday that the flow of the game probably would have seen a draw end up as a fair result, and that’s probably accurate. However, the true result is dictated by how many goals each team puts in, and the scoreboard had Smith’s team fail to earn the point with a one-goal deficit.
How did they get there? Here are the tactical and player breakdowns (don’t forget, you can contribute to the community player ratings each week. Vote in the posts that look like this one).
Tactics and formation
For the third week in a row – this is probably becoming the base of the squad – Nashville SC was almost exclusively in a 4-4-2 formation. There were some slight tweaks (Lebo Moloto seemed to have the freedom to drop a little bit deeper to play the ball through midfield, there wasn’t as much of a shift to load up the backline in defensive postures, the high press was even more prominent than it had previously been, etc.), but it was what we’ve seen.
There was one key difference, though: the left-footed Taylor Washington play right wide midfielder, while right-footed Alan Winn was on the left side. There are two reasons that this “inverted winger” tactic makes sense: first, it allows those two players to cut inside and shoot with their natural foot moving toward the middle of the field, and second (more importantly), it gave the more natural defender, Washington, a bit of defensive responsibility against a talented left side of the Indy attack (Ayoze and Tyler Pasher at left back and mid, respectively), so the offense-minded Winn didn’t have to cope against a tough assignment.
Around the 70th minute – pretty much concurrently with Indy’s 68th-minute sub of Matthew Watson for Nathan Lewis – Winn and Washington un-inverted, and began playing their more natural sides. Shroot replaced Winn like-for-like on the right side (playing out of position as a winger), while Tucker Hume replaced Moloto and became a knock-on forward who played a little deeper than his strike partner, Ropapa Mensah.
The other sub was an obvious one for fans: the halftime replacement of Liam Doyle with David Edgar after Doyle was at least indirectly responsible for both Indy goals, and took a yellow card, as well.
Ropapa Mensah 19.49 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00 – Mensah was obviously your goal-scorer on the nice finish embedded above, and had some other nice chances at goal, including a second right before halftime, and one late in the game. He did seem to run out of gas a bit (I would have preferred to replace him, rather than Moloto, with Hume late in the game), and some of his later efforts definitely had to be frustrating, whether wild shots that were well wide or the lack of motor to try to get onto a long ball. He also has some sketchy moments in hold-up play with giveaways, but those should reduce with experience and conditioning.
For all that, Mensah was a relatively easy choice for man of the match.
Lebo Moloto 13.01 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 7.67 – It seemed a little unnatural when first made, but the move to get Moloto up top (albeit playing slightly under Mensah here) looks like a good one. He’s solid when it comes to running onto the ball, obviously has the vision to get assists (or move it into dangerous areas, and does a good job circling out of trouble when necessary. He is taking far fewer shots (only one this week, blocked out for a corner), which I take as a negative, albeit a relatively minor one. He had a couple silly giveaways by dribbling into traffic in this one.
Tucker Hume 1.52 (17 minutes) – Community rating: 5.00 – Hume came on late to be a target-man, which was sort of a miscalculation in my eyes, since that’s the role in which Mensah is more comfortable right now (though he’s a more natural goal-scorer than Hume as well), and you had a couple pretty similar players on the pitch. He did some really good head-on work, but when challenged for a header, more often than not he’s beaten for it – which you wouldn’t really expect out of a 6-5 guy. He has to be more willing to scrap to get guys off his back, and to go up for the balls.
Michael Reed 14.97 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – I took a little while to come around on Reed at the beginning of the year, and it’s become pretty easy now that he’s playing his best ball of the young season. I’m not sure if it’s simply more comfort with a midfield partner in Bolu Akinyode (who is more of a true holding No. 6 than Matt LaGrassa, who like Reed is a box-to-box guy), but he’s going forward quite a bit more – including a really nice shot that hit the crossbar – and is picking out threatening passes more frequently. He still seems to be a little loose with the ball in traffic and sometimes his short passes end up with a little less steam on them than would be required to reach the intended target, but those are relatively minor gripes compared to what I was saying earlier in the year.
Alan Winn 12.89 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – As mentioned above, Winn started the game as an inverted winger, then spent the last ten-plus minutes he was on the field on his more natural right side. To be honest, my eyeball test doesn’t quite agree with what the final rating says – I thought he was not quite this impactful. I gave out positive grades for earning free kicks (even near midfield), so that might have inflated it a bit. Still, most of what he did was positive – his negatives were things like “good idea but execution is a step off” – and the traditional stats seem to bear that out.
Taylor Washington 12.32 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – Washington had more defensive responsibility than his counterpart on the wing (as mentioned at the top), and deserves some credit for both contributing to the right side’s ability to shut down Pasher/Ayoze for the most part, and for being enough of an offensive threat in behind them that Ryan James could play a bit more conservative role as the right back. I do think Washington is a small part to blame for the first Indy goal, since he didn’t pressure the passer (I’ll have a film room on that play coming out soon), but that was about it. As expected, he got into the box a bit more than we’ve seen in the past, was his usual self on that sideline run, and he’s more comfortable cutting away from the endline and getting the ball back onto his left foot to cross from that right wing.
Bolu Akinyode 8.01 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.33 – I was a bit of an Akinyode skeptic after he drew rave reviews in the Lipscomb game (easy competition, easy role), and have warmed up to him considerably, especially as he gets more comfortable with Reed, but this performance felt (and graded) like a step back. He was very good in the first half, but after the break he almost scored an own goal trying to cut out a clearance, got wrong-footed to let a player in free (Reed saved him tracking back), and was knocked off the ball easier than you’d expect as physically imposing a dude as him to be. It was probably just one off performance, but I’d definitely say it qualifies as such (and as I mentioned to Speedway Soccer’s Ben Wright, I would have taken one of the CDMs off the pitch with the late substitutions instead of both Moloto and Winn, and after review, it would have been Akinyode).
Robin Shroot 1.52 (17 minutes) – Community rating: 3.33 – For a guy who was woefully miscast as a winger – he doesn’t have the pace to threaten wide, and is more of a goal-getter in front of net – I wasn’t too down on Shroot’s appearance, limited though it may have been. He fired in one nice cross, but was otherwise pretty quiet. He does put in great defensive effort for an offensive-minded guy, though, which can help explain putting him on the right side against that dangerous left edge of the Indy attack: he remains an offensive threat but will defend through simple workrate.
Bradley Bourgeois 17.57 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.00 – The system inflates Bourgeois as a defender a bit because of his offensive contributions on set pieces (four headed efforts from corners and free kicks, two of them on goal including one saved off the line), but those count, yeah? If any had gone in, he probably would have been my MOTM. He showed really good pinpoint long passing – especially once the guy who’s usually designated in that role, Doyle, came off – to put the ball in dangerous forward areas, which was a new part of his game from what we’ve previously seen. He’s also a headed clearance waiting to happen much of the time, which is impressive given his lack of height (also the case on the other end of the pitch, obviously).
Ryan James 16.93 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.67 – Through the first half of the game, I thought James was a pretty solid contender for NSC’s man of the match, and was expecting that to diminish in a major way watching the second half… but that didn’t happen. He wasn’t perfect, but in the role he was cast to play (defend the length of the pitch, make minimal offensive forays) he did a great job. The scoring system doesn’t even take into account the difficulty of the assignment – I’ve mentioned Ayoze/Pasher multiple times already – and that would ratchet it up another touch for me. He had some nice balls into dangerous areas in the first half, and while he wasn’t as offensively involved after the break, I don’t think that was much his fault. This was a good matchup in which to use him rather than Kosuke Kimura (who has better matchups coming up himself), and I thought he handled it well. It went unnoticed during the game – I actually believe that Pickens was incorrectly credited with a save – but he blocked a shot that would have been the 3-1 dagger in the second half after Davis and Edgar had both been beaten soundly by a nice play.
Justin Davis 10.97 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 6.00 – Davis was his usual self: generally solid play, with a couple flashy slide tackles mixed in, along with an instance or two of “the big mistake.” The latter on this day was a misguided spin move in traffic that almost led to a free run on goal (after a nice defensive interception, too). He likes to push forward centrally a little bit – rather than getting up the wings, like you might expect from a fullback – but it’s a nice dimension to the attack to move the backline up rather than creating a rounded shape.
David Edgar 3.26 (51 minutes) – Community rating: 7.67 – I suspect the community rating (tied for second-highest on the team with Moloto behind only Mensah) is more a product of the value he provided as compared to the player he replaced, rather than a simple evaluation of his performance. Edgar was solid, he’s much more comfortable with the ball at his feet, and he plays a more conservative style than Liam Doyle does. He still gave up a very scary moment at the back by overrunning in help defense (the aforementioned James block). There’s still a major role for him to play, and more comfort with his teammates should see him settle in.
Liam Doyle 0.28 (47 minutes) – Community rating: 2.33 – Liam Doyle had his worst performance of the year, which has a couple meanings: first, that this was an awful half of play for him, and second, that it’s out of the ordinary to have an outing this bad. The ways in which he struggled were generally within his wheelhouse, though: he likes to step up and take an aggressive posture (particularly when in the four-man backline, whereas in the three-man he is able to be that middle back and play pretty conservatively). The failed headed clearance on Indy’s goal was a symptom of that style of play, and the foul that he gave up that led to the free kick goal was unnecessarily aggressive in that situation. The play on which he was yellow-carded I have the least problem with, as it was a tactical foul that prevented a run on goal, and really was his only play. Still, while he can learn from the weak points in this performance, given that he generally doesn’t struggle like this, it’s just as possible to forget it and move on.
Matt Pickens 8.53 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 4.33 – Pickens was primarily to blame on the free kick goal (though I maintain that, to a large degree, it was a wonderstrike that hardly anybody was saving without a bit of luck), and more to blame than it initially appeared on the first goal: he couldn’t decide whether or not to come off his line, sort of leaving him in no-man’s land and giving Soony Saad easier finish (obviously, that was the least of the problems on that play: still a problem). Other than that, he was fine. Decent enough goal-kicks inflate the score a bit, and I gave him a point for coming out on the near-goal on which he was credited for a save but James actually blocked, because it forced a decision out of the shooter.