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 Indy Eleven loss here at For Club and Country, and don’t forget to vote in community player ratings before today’s deadline.
Pressure makes diamonds, not always goals
Nashville SC was able to put a ton of shots up against Indy: 19 of them, 12 coming from inside the box. Count even just the shots that were on-target (green lines), and it looks like the Boys in Gold dominate this one:
All the pressure in the world doesn’t matter, though, if you can’t solve the goalkeeper (or a defender saving it off the line, and Ayoze Garcia Pérez’s save of an Alan Winn appears to be erroneously excluded here, so increment shots inside the box up by one, even). Nashville probably deserved a goal in this one: five shots on target, all but one from extremely dangerous positions.
To quote Unforgiven, though: deserve’s got nothing to do with it. You only deserve a goal when it goes in. All the pressure in the world is meaningless if you can’t find the back of the net. Indy did twice (once thanks to an uncharacteristically poor effort from Matt Pickens), and that’s that counts in the end.
Gary Smith gave a refreshingly honest and enlightening response when I asked why Ropapa Mensah didn’t come into the game earlier:
“I was looking at what we were achieving with Lebo centrally,” he said. “Certainly, I wanted the pressure to build and for them to be deeper so that we could get two forwards on. You can sometimes get overrun in that midfield, and before you know it, you just don’t have enough ball to recycle and to be effective with.”
Of course, the move there would have been replacing Brandon Allen (who seemed to be struggling), not replacing Moloto, but Smith’s answer does tell us a bit about how he views his team’s structure, more a 4-5-1 than a 4-4-2. On the pitch, it often gives the appearance of a 4-4-1-1, which is in line with the former rather than the latter. Either way you want to look at it, he likes Moloto being free enough to drop into the midfield for possession or to work back defensively. That prevents the opponent from having a major numbers advantage in the midfield – and of course still gives Moloto the opportunity to get forward as a side-by-side striker when the posture is a bit more offense-oriented.
His heat map doesn’t necessarily indicate that he’s stuck in the center of the pitch:
But it does give the strong impression that he has the freedom to cover the entire width of it. His touchmap and the locations of his defensive actions show more of the same:
It’s not that Gary Smith wants him stuck in the center of the pitch, feeding it to a striker whose position is stacked on top of his. It’s that Smith wants Moloto to be able to do a little bit of everything.
Jome comes back to Earth
Ish Jome’s integration to the squad took a couple weeks, but he’s been spectacular in the past few games. Not so much against Indy, unfortunately. He’s a solid performer in the middle third of the field, but his outstanding ability to get it done in the scoring third didn’t make an appearance Tuesday evening.
The passes are easy to see (they’re the ones with lines coming off them), but this also includes all of Jome’s attempted dribbles (three downward-pointing triangles) and his lone tackle (upward-facing triangle).
The passing obviously dried right up when things advanced into the more dangerous areas of the pitch. Whereas in previous weeks he’d been able to find teammates at the top of the box or inside it, no dice this week. Of course, some of that may be on the strikers and fellow midfielders, as well. He either had to cycle the ball backward or laterally, or lump it into the box on a semi-hopeful move. With Justin Davis not on the field, there were few overlapping runs from LB Ryan James.
More worrying to me, though, is the success with his dribbling. All three attempts resulted in turnovers, and as Jome tries to push up into the channel, a giveaway there can be really dangerous. Adding the eyeball test to what the graphs show, he’s over-reliant on one move: a scissor with each leg, then pushing straight upfield to the outside of his defender. I’d actually like to see him go immediately with the burst of speed, especially now that opponents have a half-season of film on him with this team. Against the better defensive sides, he’s going to have difficulties unless he can show more breadth of skill.
That his replacement, Alan Winn, seemed like a breath of fresh air (to the entire team, not just the position) indicates that it probably just wasn’t Jome’s night.
Nashville SC has pretty good defensive depth, and that’s allowed them to mix up personnel, particularly as the season comes out of a really crowded stretch after which some of the key players have basically not come off the field. With personnel shuffling, though, comes a necessity of changing up what the team does schematically.
Particularly at the fullback position, Nashville SC ran out a couple real stay-at-home types in this game. Ryan James on the left side (he’s generally more offensively oriented, leading me to believe this game had a specific plan) and London Woodberry (who started the year as a centerback) did not get as involved in the offense as we’ve seen out of others. See?
That’s James and Woodberry’s heat maps (James contributes a bit to the bottom piece, since he flipped to the right after Woodberry’s substitution, but it’s generally Woodberry down there and James on the top, with the team attacking left-to-right). You can contrast either or both of those with the typical Justin Davis/Kosuke Kimura map at right.
While the hottest points are still on Nashville’s side of midfield, there’s a bit more of a stretch up each sideline. Given that the example I chose was just the most recent game, there’s something to be gleaned, too. While NSC scored one goal against North Carolina and zero against Indy Eleven, I think it’d be fair to say (and the top graph in this post would underscore) that this was a far more offensive game overall for the Boys in Gold. That it was that way without involvement on that end of the pitch from the fullbacks tells you quite a bit about 1) what the gameplan was, and 2) how the contest played out. When Taylor Washington replaced Woodberry (playing at the back for the first time in ages after having moved primarily to midfield) and James flipped to the right side, they got forward much more frequently and comfortably.
The team’s plan was clearly to build through the middle, and let the wing midfielders get the penetration up the sideline to create width and get danger in the deep areas of the pitch, while the fullbacks hung back a little bit to be defensively sound. I think it would be fair to say that style played a role in the second Indy goal, for what it’s worth: Woodberry was neither in position to pressure the passer nor to drop back and harass the recipient (though he was loosely marking striker Jack McInerney at about midfield), giving the Eleven a relatively easy path to getting into a dangerous spot on the counter.
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