Louisville City entered last Sunday’s game as one of the top teams in the USL East. Despite losing to Indy Eleven in their prior outing, this was still a juggernaut of a team. Nashville SC pretty much dispatched them with ease – at least on the scoreboard. How did it happen?
It all began with a first-half strike from Lebo Moloto.
Neither team has generated many legitimate scoring chances, but Louisville City FC has certainly had more of the ball in the first half. The field is a little tilted in LCFC’s favor, but offensive rushes with little end product (which would be the case for the Boys in Purple all afternoon) compared with fewer – but more dangerous – opportunities for NSC was the name of the game.
After Matt Pickens scoops up a loose ball in the box and distributes to left centerback Liam Doyle, the ball is switched across the field a couple times, then Doyle feeds defensive midfielder Bolu Akinyode along the left sideline.
Akinyode pushes the ball over the top to striker Ropapa Mensah. Mensah cuts back at the edge of the box, picks his head up, and spots Matt LaGrassa in a decent shooting position. He cross the ball to LaGrassa for what appears to be a solid shooting chance.
Before LaGrassa can swing his left leg through the shot, he’s called off by Mensah’s fellow striker, Lebo Moloto (playing as a bit of a false nine, dropping into the midfield at times, as at the beginning of this play – that will actually be important, too). Mensah rips with his right foot, and goes near-post.
With Louisville keeper Greg Ranjitsingh setting up to save a lefty shot from LaGrassa (more than likely going to the keeper’s left), he’s caught flat-footed, and Moloto beats him along the ground into the bottom right corner.
This is a matter of at least a couple separate individual battles won. Take a look at Louisville’s marking at the beginning of the play:
Every offensive threat for NSC is covered, with two free Louisville defenders. The precision of Akinyode’s pass is an important start, but after that Mensah has to win his one-on-one battle against Alexis Souahy. He does so by pushing toward the endline, then cutting back onto his preferred right foot.
Moloto also needs to win his battle. That’s a bit easier a task: even though Devon Williams is a defensively-oriented midfielder, and Moloto is a striker, when Moloto starts his run, Williams just plants his feet and watches the dangerous player run on by. That’s compounded when both Sean Totsch and Paolo DelPiccolo sink to Mensah, rather than either of them noticing that Mensah is without a marker.
There are a couple underrated off-ball movements that make the whole thing possible, too. When Akinyode plays the ball over the top, Nashville left back Justin Davis stays wide, and left midfielder Taylor Washington sinks back toward the direction of the initial pass, drawing Totsch away from Mensah, and making it a one-on-one situation (preventing anyone other than Souahy from recovering).
The movement of the defenders – Paco Craig slides into a sweeper role, which should be the safe move given that his team has numbers, and DelPiccolo is running back to try to recover to Mensah – opens a passing lane in the direction of LaGrassa. (The yellow line is the lane, which three defenders on one offensive player should be able to cover. Blue is Mensah’s pass).
If LaGrassa takes the shot, there’s a decent chance Ranjitsingh makes the save: he was set up to dive to his left, and LaGrassa would have had to have really nice placement with his weaker foot (or go opposite post, something tough to do on a first-time strike, though obviously not impossible) to beat a strong keeper.
Mensah gets the majority of credit here, though Moloto’s strike was obviously a good end product. Akinyode’s initial service to Mensah was good, and the savvy of Davis and Washington to give Mensah more space helped create the window. A great team goal.