A major bounceback game for Nashville SC was spearheaded by some familiar faces. How did NSC get back on the right side of the ledger?
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
Nashville went with its 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 (with Lebo Moloto sinking into more of a midfield role) throughout the game. NSC’s gameplan was very clearly to catch Atlanta United being aggressive down the flanks, and countering in behind their fullbacks with runs from the wingers and from their own fullbacks. It worked well!
The middle of the pitch didn’t get much love: thanks to the style of play by Atlanta, the cetnerbacks and central midfielders had mostly a spectator’s role (though the CDMs did push out toward the sideline a bit to get involved defensively). Don’t take low scores in my ranking system as an indictment here: they just didn’t see much action on this day, and for defensive players, that’s a good thing.
Gary Smith’s substitutions were solid to me, though I might have liked to get Alan Winn out of the game a little early after he took two yellow card-worthy fouls (shockingly, neither of them actually drew even a whistle from the ref, who had a real struggle with this game). I’d also like to see Ropapa Mensah come on a little earlier – 13 minutes pre-stoppage is not much of a run, though the five minutes of stoppage time in a 3-0 game that already saw the team who was down starting to get really chippy (again, the ref had poor control of the game here) gave him a bit more.
Since I’ve broached the topic of officiating: calling off the goal by Michael Reed was the right decision, not because keepers deserve more protection, but because it was an obvious foul by Reed no matter who the player was. You can’t shove a guy in the box and then score a goal (the contact was significant enough that it probably would have been a penalty if a defensive player had given that amount of shove, and we all know how conservative officials are whistling penalties on set pieces). Nashville committed one or two fouls that probably could have been carded but weren’t. Not giving the penalty when Brandon Allen was swept from behind with a wide-open goal was unconscionable. That’s “you don’t get assignments for a little while even though you’re not officially suspended”-level bad. Then, after missing both takedowns of Winn, he did give a yellow card on a hard tackle from behind of Lebo Moloto, but given the… attitude with which Atlanta was approaching the end of the game, there’s a chance it was red-worthy. Certainly came as an indication that there was no need to give five minutes of stoppage time in the game. Awful performance from the man in the middle, and Nashville only got the slightly worse of it.
Gary Smith community rating: 8.71
- “Not the toughest team to bounce back against, but getting the job done is getting the job done.”
- “Navy uniforms at home gets a 0.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:
Alan Winn 19.60 (66 minutes) – Community rating: 9.57
That Winn racked up such a huge score in only 2/3 of the game speaks volumes to what he contributed. His speed up the wing (especially against a team that’s really vulnerable in that area) is a game-changer when he’s fully healthy, and he appears to be just that. Notably, he’s more comfortable making plays for teammates now, and I was really impressed with his desire to make an impact defensively. If we get more performances like this (probably not too many: Atlanta was particularly vulnerable to his skillset), the sky is the limit on this season
Community comment: “Alan Winn looks back to form, and it came at a really good time.”
Taylor Washington 15.54 (76 minutes) – Community rating: 7.86
Washington had a lot of success for some of the same reasons Winn did: his speed down the flank is able to exploit a particular weakness of this Atlanta United 2 team. He was pretty involved offensively for more than just crossing (which he’s done well in recent weeks, but we need more than just that), and he’s a good defender for a midfielder – we saw midweek he’s just an OK one as a pure fullback. He took a couple shots, and was unlucky not to score one of them. He doesn’t combine with Justin Davis quite as well as Jome, which meant less Davis involved in the offense, but clearly NSC didn’t need the left-sided fullback to get forward.
Michael Reed 11.32 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.86
Again, remember that the center of the defense was left mostly alone by ATL UTD 2, so while his score in my system is low, that’s not because Reed had a poor performance. He was his usual self… there was just less of it. He did have the foul on the would-be goal (though he wouldn’t have been able to poke the ball home without fouling the keeper, so it is what it is), and was a little hesitant to rip a shot late in the game even with a numbers advantage and his team comfortably winning the game.
Bolu Akinyode 10.83 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.71
Akinyode suffered from the same problem as Reed when it comes to high scoring: a simple lack of volume. One of the main weaknesses of his game (tracking back in defensive transition) didn’t make an appearance because the Baby Five Stripes didn’t want to attack that way. He remains hyper-conservative on the ball, and doesn’t get his head up to survey options even when he has plenty of time and space. The back-passes are better than the alternative of a turnover, but especially against a team whose attack was so toothless, I’d like to see more aggression in the passing.
Matt LaGrassa 1.97 (23 minutes) – Community rating: 6.43
A decent bounceback game from a guy who’d struggled in the previous few outings. Having Atlanta players barreling straight at him actually seemed to help: while it led to some mistakes, there was also an element of “play, don’t think” added to his game where he wasn’t overdoing it on the mental side of the game. He did get smoked in a man-to-man mark on Lagos Kunga, but also made an extremely nice run that Ropapa Mensah reward with a long pass, though the final product wasn’t there in the end. I’d still like to see him play centrally a little bit, but he showed he can hang on the wing in the right situation.
Ish Jome 0.73 (33 minutes) – Community rating: 7.14
A second straight quiet game for Jome, though this one was less troubling to the eyeball test: it was more about coming on well after Nashville had a 2-0 lead and was willing to pack things in and counter intelligently (which prevents a player with his skillset from being super-involved, since he’s a gifted offensive player). He did run out of ideas breaking into space down the left channel a couple times, which also plagued him in other games where he struggled, but he showed more offensive diversity at other times. Just not a lot for him to do in this one.
Lebo Moloto 17.18 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 8.71
I know there’s been discussion (including the latest Soccer Speedway as well as a complementary piece on Golden Goal) about who Nashville SC’s MVP to date is, and Moloto is one of only two options that’s remotely reasonable (the other is Pickens – guys like Winn or Mensah aren’t a big enough piece of the whole picture, even though they have exciting moments). He dominates so much on the ball for Nashville, and is such an important part of creating what offense they do have – though the wingers are starting to play a bigger role lately. He’s also an effort player defensively, including high up the field. For a guy who has near-ironman status, you can’t ask a whole lot more. He didn’t create the goal he scored, but it was a nice reward for a guy who does basically everything else right.
Brandon Allen 8.99 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 8.14
Allen dunked one Alan Winn cross home, should have earned a penalty on another, and hit a post and then suffered a diving save on the rebound on a third. That’s pretty good production for a striker (especially one with a poacher reputation/style). He’s also a guy who came in with a reputation of not having any effort defensively, but I’ve been impressed with how hard he works there. The negatives? His full-90 fitness is poor, and I think he should have been taken out of the game sooner, not least of which because the replacement is a good one in Ropapa Mensah (and while the big Ghanaian also doesn’t have 90-minute fitness, certainly he’s capable of at least 30-45 minutes). Allen had a great score at the half, but had a negative score for each of the three divisions (coming out of the break, then after each of the two substitutions that came before he was taken out of the game) before being subbed.
Ropapa Mensah 3.82 (18 minutes) – Community rating: 7.57
I’ve encouraged patience on the Mensah hype train multiple times, not because he’s anything other than an outstanding talent, but more because he’s a young guy prone to inconsistency (and with no ability to perform over a full 90 just yet). While there were mistakes in this game – his attempts to do something crazy result in turnovers, but sí vale la pena to me – the level of creation for a guy who’s mostly a pure striker is great. The long service I mention in LaGrassa’s section above was borderline jaw-dropping. He in no way deserved an assist on Moloto’s goal (an Atlanta player had a crappy clear that went right to Moloto, though Mensah was standing near him), but in terms of performance, it was a just reward. Give him another 20 minutes or so pls.
Kosuke Kimura 16.90 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.29
While I thought Kimura had a good game, I was surprised to see the spreadsheet churn out a number quite this high. He was solid in positional defense, benefitted from Alan Winn’s increased comfort combining with his fullback, but to have one of the highest overall marks on the field? It’s interesting. He did seem to be highly involved though, and defending in the half-spaces and higher up the pitch can help rack up a high number. I doubted Kimura very early in the year, and he continues to excel to prove me wrong.
London Woodberry 11.07 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.43
Woodberry was the more aggressive – yet less mistake-prone, though those seem to end up being opposites more often than not – of the centerbacks in this game. He took away a lot of shooting angles (which, yes, Atlanta United 2 also managed to do itself), and deflected a shot or two, made a lot of simple clearances. I was a little surprised to see him score this highly in my system nonetheless.
Justin Davis 10.44 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.71
Davis would have been higher-graded than Woodberry but for the late stages of the game. He got a little more involved in the offense (honestly, it seemed almost “I’m bored, let’s goof around a bit – though the insertion of Jome plays a role there, since they like to combine with each other) and had a couple mistakes with the ball. While that’s generally a problem for a defensive player, the game situation makes me sort of shrug at it. Before that, he was solid in his positional defense, had a few patented slide tackles, and generally looked like himself.
Liam Doyle 6.67 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 7.14
Doyle had a questionable play or two on which he stepped up improperly (or overly aggressively, you could say), springing a player in behind. Fortunately, ATL UTD2 is generally not good enough to take advantage of that, though Matt Pickens was called into service on one such occasions. His other main negative was a little bit of composure lost on the ball when the Baby Five Stripes tried to press high: there were a couple opportunities to play out of the back, but he saw the pressure coming and just booted aimlessly upfield. With his leg strength, it’s hardly the greatest sin. As mentioned above, just not a lot for the players in the center of the pitch to do.
Matt Pickens 11.60 (99 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00
Pickens had basically nothing to do. He was credited with five saves, two of them legit (very early in the game, he pushed one out for a corner, then he came off his line to cut out the angle on the aforementioned Doyle play), and three of them just letting a 25-yard attempt slowly dribble into his arms. He still ended up with a decent score in my system because his distribution was mostly good, and making no mistakes (he had one goal kick go out of bounds only) is a good way to be.
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