Welcome to The Graphical, in which I mine the Opta data for insights as to how Nashville SC’s most recent result came about. You can also see more conventional game coverage from the Charleston draw here at For Club and Country.
The big story
Charleston ended with a slight advantage in possession (51.7% to Nashville’s 48.3%), but there’s no denying that his game was played primarily in their defensive half of the field. It doesn’t matter how much you possess the ball if you can’t advance it into the scoring third. That’s especially true when you have a hard time preventing the opposition from possessing in your own defensive third. Let’s look at the touchmaps for each team:
That’s Nashville’s touchmap on the left, and Charleston’s on the right. Nashville was attacking right-to-left, and the Battery obviously vice-versa.
It’s pretty notable how much of both teams’ movement was around midfield, slightly tipped in the direction of Charleston’s end. When you combine that with the fact that Nashville has solid presence in the Battery’s box, while Charleston’s almost-lone foray is the one that resulted in the goal, you can see how Nashville controlled the game without controlling possession.
Of course, that also underscores that Gary Smith was right when he said Nashville will feel hard-done to only earn a single point on the road. This isn’t quite a return to the “dominate, but fail to put the ball in the bet” form of earlier in the year, but it’s certainly going to be a difficult result to stomach (when the game-winner was taken off the board on a head-scratching call, especially).
Passing: Major key
One way Nashville was able to control the game? Putting the ball into dangerous areas with key passes.
Not only is that a wide disparity (nine for NSC, four for Charleston), they also come from – and are intended for – plenty of different areas on the field. Moloto’s No. 10 at the top of the 18 is the assist on the Doyle goal and is a very short key pass. Others came from corners, deep crosses, and other types of probing balls into the box.
They have one thing in common, though: they place the ball near the center of the field, in positions where the resulting shot is going to be far more dangerous than an attempt at a low-angle strike. The lone exception was Reed’s semi-hopeful longball… that ended up being a laser-guided missile to Mensah, and while the resulting shot was indeed low-angle, it was dangerous on account of putting him one-on-one with the keeper.
The diversity of different ways Nashville was able to get itself into scoring positions, like the “makes chances but isn’t finishing them” of previous games, is a positive sign for the future, even if it didn’t result in an offensive explosion Saturday. The more ways you can score, the more likely you are to finish opportunities when they arise again.
Why did the chicken cross the ball?
Still workshopping the pun, folks.
Nashville SC launched a ton of crosses, and was actually pretty successful with them:
The yellows (aside from that 20 at the top of the box, which was a key pass from LaGrassa, but had to be included because otherwise we were going to lose crosses that were also key passes) are successful crosses that resulted in a shot – combo key pass/crosses.
Including set-piece crosses (the corner kicks from Davis at the top and Moloto at the bottom), Nashville SC launched 20 total, completing six of them:
- One from LaGrassa (successful)
- Six from Washington (one successful)
- Six from Davis (one successful)
- Four from Moloto (one successful)
- One from Kimura
- One from Reed (successful)
- One from Mensah (successful)
It’s a lot of crossing the ball. Six completed crosses is nearly a third of NSC’s total on the year to this point (through nine games).
Was it random chance? A gameplan against Charleston’s 3-4-3? A matter of changing personnel with the addition of goal-getting striker Brandon Allen? We can try to evaluate that final point first, by breaking down the crosses by the striker in the game.
In the first 66 minutes (with Ropapa Mensah on the field), the vast majority of Nashville SC’s crosses took place. From 65:37 on, the Boys in Gold launched seven of their 20 crosses. At right is the crossing chart when Allen was on the pitch: when you take into account that both successful ones (and one of the unsuccessful attempts) were corner kicks, it becomes clear that crossing was actually less, not more of the gameplan when Allen entered the game.
That makes sense: Allen stands 6-1, the same height as Mensah, but he has a stockier build and doesn’t project himself as an aerial threat (he had zero headed goals among his nine scores for New York Red Bulls II last year) the same way the lanky Mensah does. It makes less sense to try to play to his head when he’s not a towering guy, or overly comfortable in that phase of the game.
That actually makes me wonder whether it might have been smarter to try Tucker Hume when the change at striker was made, rather than more of a like-for-like replacement (without the aerial threat) in Allen coming on for Mensah. In the long run, it’s great to give Allen minutes, and he’s going to be a big part of this squad going forward. For this game as a standalone entity, a 6-5 target striker could have been effective.
Why is lobbing it up to strikers on crosses the method of choice against a three-man backline? Stay tuned for a film room later this week (and it will be relevant soon: NSC’s second-most cross-heavy game was the first game against Pittsburgh, with the second of them coming Wednesday).
Why couldn’t NSC find a winner?
Taylor Washington absolutely should have had the winner with his header that was called back on a foul. NSC probably deserved all three points even despite that.
Aside from crossing the ball in to strikers being a generally low-converting offensive strategy (again, more on this in the film room), one reason Nashville SC couldn’t find the winner was Charleston’s ability to pack it in late. They cleared the heck out of the ball:
And by the time Nashville replaced Matt LaGrassa with Ryan James (in the 86th minute), they were ready to concede that they wouldn’t in… with the payoff being that they wouldn’t lose, either. Taking Taylor Washington out for Ish Jome in the 81st minute had a similar effect, albeit less directly “sacrifice offense to shore up defense.”