It would be fair to say that both goals allowed by Nashville SC Saturday came away from the run of play (if not totally against it). The first one set the tone, and certainly came against the run of play. How did it happen?
Nashville was in its now-standard 4-4-2, while Indy played a similar formation (though with the strikers stacked on top of each other more often than not, rather than side-by-side).
Notably, the Boys in Gold are in their high-press tactic. We’ve seen them employ it plenty in the past couple weeks, mostly with success. It was beaten on this play. However, as you can see in the image below, the starting positions of the players are fairly solid, with three lines (and good spacing) holding Indy Eleven deep in their own territory:
As you can surmise from what I said above, this is what it’s supposed to look like (the ball starts at the feet of No. 6, defensive midfielder Nico Matern). Alan Winn and Justin Davis are in position to slow down a rush if there’s a big switch to the other side of the field, the two centerbacks are in relatively conservative positions, and the remaining six field players are providing plenty of pressure on the Eleven (we saw earlier this week that a lot of ineffectual passing across the backline was the result of Indy’s inability to beat NSC).
That means this will likely boil down to individual errors, rather than tactical or team-wide breakdowns.
While Nashville SC is in good positions man-for-man, Indy still beats the Boys in Gold over the top:
There are a handful of individual errors (or breakdowns; I wouldn’t necessarily classify each of the ensuing things as a mistake) that lead to the goal:
- Taylor Washington, in the high press, fails to get ball pressure on Ayoze when the ball is passed to the left back. While he doesn’t need to get directly in Ayoze’s face, Washington should certainly do a bit more to get forward and prevent him from launching an accurate pass well downfield.
- Bolu Akinyode is marking two players – strikers Jack McInerney and Soony Saad. That may be the lone problem at the beginning of the play (Winn should likely be playing a little deeper so that he can get all the way back in the unlikely event that a ball gets over the top). When McInerney sinks to show for the ball, Saad starts a run in behind.
- Bradley Bourgeois and Liam Doyle are still in pretty good position. However, Bourgeois is in an outside position on the lone offensive threat (hardly the greatest issue when he has help), and Doyle steps upfield when Saad is running.
- Thanks to Saad’s speed, an ill-advised attempt at a headed clearance from Doyle allows the striker to get in behind both centerbacks. Left back Justin Davis doesn’t have the speed to make it all the way across the field to overcome the mistake that leads to the run in behind.
- Finally (and this is probably the least of the mistakes), Matt Pickens gets caught in a bit of a na-man’s land. He can’t decide whether he wants to leave his line and try to cut of Saad’s angles, or stay on his line and be a pure shot-stopper. As a result, there are still some angles open and not enough distance between the two for Pickens to react to the shot once Saad gets it off.
Without any of those individual errors, this goal probably doesn’t happen. Doyle’s is the cardinal sin, of course, but without a bit of bad luck of all these things happening on the same play (the miracle of goal-scoring in soccer), the offensive play breaks down somewhere.
This wasn’t the lone reason Liam Doyle met the bench at halftime (giving up an unnecessary free kick that resulted in the second goal and earning a yellow on a smart play made his continued presence on the field a risk), but it certainly didn’t help. We have quite a bit of data on Doyle now, and – especially when playing in the even backline, rather than as the middle centerback of a three/five-man line – stepping up to be aggressive is a hallmark of his play. That has led to mistakes, but has also led to less-flashy (and less-memorable) solid takeaways, too.
When he’s on a yellow, and the opponent seems to be positioned to take advantage of that aggression, you start to have second thoughts at halftime. When the replacement player is a Premier League vet, it’s an easy choice.
The rest of the mistakes border on minimal: Taylor Washington will likely improve his ball pressure after just the one mistake (if you can classify it as that) was maximized to the maximum degree. Matt Pickens’s error can hardly be classified as such, though being decisive one way or the other about coming off his line could only have helped.
The only potential tactical adjustment might be to how the two centerbacks and Akinyode together handle a pair of strikers. Maybe a bit more help arrives in the form of that left midfielder, maybe Doyle sinks a bit deeper while Davis plays a more conservative position to the inside and closer to his own goal (which we’d actually seen more of before this: the fact that the ball was served from so deep in Indy’s end was the main reason he wasn’t ready).
More than anything, a whole heck of a lot of teams aren’t going to have both the talent and the luck that Indy had on this play to make every little piece count.