Nashville SC had its biggest offensive game yet – at least in USL competition – and held off Penn FC with relative ease. Whose performances were crucial?
Quick note: my ratings are score-based after a film review, and on a scale that… there’s technically no range but anything over 15 is generally good and under 9 or so is bad for a full game worth of performance. Community ratings are on a traditional 1-10 scale.
Formation and tactics
Penn was shifting between an odd backline (3-5-1-1) and an even one (4-4-1-1) depending on the game situation – when they had the ball high up the pitch, they’d shift to have a sweeper in the middle, while one fullback would hang back and the other would make his way into the midfield. Nashville SC countered this by not adjusting anything, and sticking in its 4-4-2 the whole game.
There were some interesting things to watch within that 4-4-2, though. They started the game with a left winger and right winger who are both left-footed (Ish Jome and Taylor Washington, respectively), then the first sub took Jome off the field, and CDM Matt LaGrassa shifted out to the right side, Washington over to his natural left, and the sub, Bolu Akinyode, replaced LaGrassa as a central defensive midfielder. Later in the game, when Alan Winn came on, he played on the left side with LaGrassa remaining on the right, and we had the opposite of the situation at the beginning of the game: righties on both wings. (The third substitution was a like-for-like swap of Ropapa Mensah for Brandon Allen – but NSC did drop Lebo Moloto a little deeper into a 4-4-1-1 once the game was mostly decided after Alan Winn’s goal).
Once NSC built its two-goal lead, it went from a lot of pressure from the forwards and wingers (sometimes token pressure, sometimes actually trying to win the ball) into two blocks of four and the forwards sitting back absorbing pressure in their own defensive third. As I suspected when writing yesterday’s Graphical post, the Boys in Gold were out-possessed in the second half because it was their goal to let Penn waste its time kicking around the back with nowhere to penetrate: meaningful possession was limited, while total possession was built up nonetheless.
Penn did start threatening about midway through the second half, and I wonder if Gary Smith would go back to the token pressure (or at least push his forwards up to midfield in defensive postures) if he had it to do all over again: of course, Penn’s goal still came mostly against the run of play, but the opportunity to build up pressure from a short run of possession in the offensive third is something that Nashville was willing to concede for perhaps a little too long – and even then, it took a couple mistakes for them to finally find the back of the net.
I also talked about Penn’s building frustration in the second half in yesterday’s Graphical, and that bore itself out on the film review. Heinemann is more a whiner than a dirty player, but there were some pretty aggressive challenges (from him and others) that seemed more about making a statement that you could physically compete, even though Penn didn’t really stand as much a challenge on the scoreboard. (About which: lol Raoul Voss).
Gary Smith community rating: 8.88
- “Three points!”
- “I wish Smith would have gone a bit more for the throat with the two-goal lead, since he clearly was mad at Penn’s coach.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:
Brandon Allen 20.51 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 8.75
As I alluded to yesterday, Allen had about the closest thing as a striker can to a perfect outing. There were a couple missed opportunities (a Matt LaGrassa early cross hit him right in the numbers, but he couldn’t control the chest for an open shot at the top of the 18, for example), but it’s hard to fault him for not doing everything perfectly. He worries opposing backlines, making more room for Moloto and the midfield, and even if that were his only contribution, he’d be a valuable addition. Instead, he’s also dunking speculative crosses and dishing out assists on golazos. Oh, and being a factor in the high press in a big way – which is especially encouraging because that’s something he had the reputation for not doing at Bethlehem at the beginning of this year.
Community comment: “Best performance from anyone this year!”
Lebo Moloto 17.58 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 9.00
Moloto was pretty quiet in the first half, and was more up-and-down than we’ve seen on any sort of regular basis (he really seems like he needs a bit of rest). However, he also showed his potential when he found the game a bit. He made some pretty impressive forward runs, was active in the press until NSC stopped pushing up the field, and of course, scored the aforementioned golazo. He did a little bit of his early-season “over-dribble or try to squeeze a pass through a tiny window” routine early, but when he has the confidence to get the ball to open players or shoot when he has opportunities, he’s a major asset.
Ropapa Mensah 4.62 (14 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00
This is a really good score in my system, given how few minutes Mensah played. He’s looking more match-fit (though knowing he only has 11 minutes of regulation to play, and there’s no need to conserve energy, may play into that), and had a bunch of long runs to force Peiser to play balls that he would rather not have. Then of course, he almost chipped the keeper for a goal after a strong turn in the box (the play that resulted in Winn’s goal), and should have added an assist at the death (the play that, uh, didn’t).
Justin Davis 19.31 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25
Davis was very nearly man of the match. He was eclipsed by Allen both on the scoreboard and by the eyeball test, but he was the engine for a lot of NSC’s best chances. His touch around a defender, then dish to Michael Reed on Moloto’s wündergoal was impressive, he was dangerous up the sideline (playing him as a centerback is doable, but takes away one of his best assets; fortunately he hasn’t has to play there much lately), and he didn’t have to make too many backtracking runs and sliding tackles – though the one he did make was impressive. He was clearly gassed at the very end of the game, but his communication skills are really helping younger guys improve, too.
Bradley Bourgeois 17.21 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.63
The book on Bourgeois is pretty much the same each week: a monster in the air much more than any player his size has right to be, and just inches away from a set-piece goal in every game (two in this one). He was physical with Tommy Heinemann, was able to box him out so balls could harmlessly go out for goal kicks, and generally got in his head. He also wasn’t responsible for any free runners in the box (of which there were a frustrating bunch).
Kosuke Kimura 14.80 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13
A nice day for Kimura: the more he plays well, the more I’m convinced he just wasn’t 100% at the beginning of the year. He made a couple nice sideline runs in the first half that weren’t reward by service from Washington, shows a ton of energy getting forward (and tracking back), and has the best knack of anyone on the team of getting a foot up to block crosses.
Liam Doyle 12.71 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00
Doyle is a walking headed clearance, and that’s what he did in this one. He did have a couple marks escape him entering the box, which resulted in chances for Penn FC. He also made a couple dangerous lateral passes when Bourgeois and Davis were under pressure, though fortunately those didn’t result in turnovers. He banged some long passes with great accuracy, and also had a couple more that were more speculative than anything. A solid day other than the lost marks.
Matt LaGrassa 16.67 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.38
LaGrassa played in multiple positions – starting in central defensive midfield and shifting out to the right wing for the rest of the game – and was good in both of them. He’s a more well-rounded player than either of the other CDMs to me, with the confidence of Reed and a touch closer to Akinyode’s (Akinyode might have the best touch on the team). He did make a couple big mental – completely missing a wide open player to pass out-of-bounds – and physical – whiffing a pass, giving Penn a dangerous rush near the top of the box – mistakes, but the adventurous qualities going forward are a good makeup. He tends to drift centrally even when playing on right wing, for what it’s worth.
Taylor Washington 11.33 (76 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75
On a re-watch, I thought there was less of an issue with Washington being unwilling to cross with his right foot than I’d thought live. He didn’t cut in to shoot at all, though, and with Jome really liking to do that, flipping the wingers might have been a better way to start the game. Washington was really active in the press, and is using his defense to get involved offensively even when teammates aren’t hitting his long runs. With a full 95 minutes, he might have ended the top-rated midfielder.
Michael Reed 10.44 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25
The central defensive midfielders weren’t that involved in this one (hilariously, Voss’s team tried to bypass the midfield to generate its offense much of the game… good pregame smack talk, bro), so Reed’s meager score was mostly a result of low volume. Letting LaGrassa be the more ball-dominant CDM when they were at the position group together played a role in that, too. There were a couple instances tracking back defensively where he needed to show a bit more urgency, but that’s hardly the greatest sin.
Ismaila Jome 7.00 (61 minutes) – Community rating: 8.50
Most of Jome’s negatives were a matter of not being on the same page as his teammates – the natural consequence of being a mid-season addition. He left a couple passes thinking that they weren’t intended for him, made a run other than what was expected, or passed to a player who was zigging when Jome expected the zag. That’s about it for the negatives, though. He really likes to get shots off, which might make you think he’s a better fit on the other side (as I said in Washington’s section), but when you see the inch-perfect placement of the cross on the assist to Allen, you get why he’s over here.
Alan Winn 2.14 (19 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00
Winn’s goal was simply cleaning up the garbage – as I’ve said previously, that’s not a bad thing: you want guys on the goalmouth to make the plays that are available there – on his goal, though he might have been considered offside if the ball had come to him on the initial blocked shot, rather than it ricocheting off a second Penn player (offside rule notes: he’s benefitting from being in an offside position on Mensah’s shot if the blocking of the shot gets him the ball; it’s not benefitting directly from Mensah’s “service” if it’s played back in – even inadvertently – by a Penn player). He’s also learned a lot defensively, and you could see him listening and adjusting to instruction from Davis: that’s a guy who’s improving a lot, and quickly. His only big negative was the final kick of the game being a whiff. Use the left foot, son!
Bolu Akinyode 1.73 (34 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13
I thought Akinyode was fairly poor right when he came onto the field: he was muscled off the ball by a smaller midfielder, he had a patented leisurely jog back that gave Penn FC numbers in the NSC box, and zipped a pass over the middle from his own defensive end to a well-defended player who had no chance to receive it. Akinyode quickly settled down, but with barely more than a third of the game played (and Nashville willing to sit back and bunker/counter in his time), there wasn’t time to build up positive scoring.
Matt Pickens 10.59 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13
Pickens was not tested early, coming off his line to cut out a semi-dangerous cross and making a casual save (on a spinning volley) his only first-half action. It was… a bit different after the break, when Nashville got the early insurance goal and was willing to let Penn FC possess a ton in hopes that the strong D would hold. It mostly did… but Pickens had howlers back-to-back that led to the goal. First, he almost had an own-goal on an easy save that snuck between his arms (fortunately, he made the kick save on himself), then on the eventual ensuing corner, he misjudged the initial service, lost his balance and fell down adjusting when he realized where it was headed, and made a bizarre falling attempt on the ball while it was easily headed past him. In between, of course, he had one of the saves of the year: he had the rare -2, +2, -2 plays (anything other than -1, 0, or +1 is rare in my system) on back-to-back-to-back events.
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