We’re a few days (and on my part, a couple viewings, with plenty of note-taking) removed from Nashville SC’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC.
What did a couple more viewings reveal?
Offense is a work in progress
After last year’s output, it’s understandable to feel skeptical or uneasy about Nashville SC’s inability to generate a ton of looks at net in this game. Per the official stats, they were outshot 9-5 by NYCFC (my viewing came away with one more shot for each team, 10-6), with none of Nashville’s attempts actually going on the frame of the goal. Here’s my shot map from the contest.
As you can see, only one Nashville shot came from outside the box, while four of NYCFC’s did (three of the shots on goal, including Alexandru Mitriță’s wonderstrike). All of them came from the right side, which was partially a coincidence and partially a product of Nashville attempting to build down the right side in the second half. The formation actually seemed to shift the left midfielder or winger more centrally (first Alan Winn, then Lebo Moloto) while there was more overload concentrated on that side.
One of the bigger issues – and it was an issue last year, too – was a lack of confidence for players in hitting the shots that they have openings for. Here are a couple examples (from guys who otherwise had very nice days; I don’t intend for these to serve as burn reels for them in the least):
Winn’s is a little more egregious here – look at all the space he has with good body position where I have the freeze frame – but Hume’s was a problem, too. At times, the younger players seem hesitant to pull the trigger on a shot. That’s even true when they’re mostly all alone offensively – so having a shot saved or blocked won’t find Nashville susceptible to the counter the other way. Getting quick-change offensive opportunities is one of the reasons you go with a high press, and in a situation with a low-risk shot available in both of these, let’s hit it.
It seemed like Winn just didn’t have the confidence to hit this one lefty, and given that he’s a scoring winger, rather than a crossing one, it probably makes sense to flip him to the left side (which Smith did later in the game) while the more balanced Belmar (both in terms of what he can provide in service and scoring and in being two-footed) can play on the right.
Still, the major moral of the story here is that NSC needs the confidence to shoot. Neither of these plays came from the two big offseason signings at forward, so it’s possible that it won’t be a problem long-term, but they didn’t have any opportunities themselves, and being willing to swing away here could help open things up for them at other points in the game when Winn or Hume gets a bit more respect as a shooter from the defense.
That’s where Ropapa Mensah comes in. For better or for worse (last year, we saw it was for better more often than not, of course), he’s got the “tries shit” gene that Clint Dempsey made famous to an American audience. The attempts didn’t come off Friday evening – and it’s probably going to (again) be halfway through the season before he’s in good enough shape to be trusted in a starting lineup – but that’s the element that too much of the rest of the team is missing.
He made a couple bad choices Friday when trying to make something happen, and decision-making (and maybe something, anything from his left foot) are areas of his game in which he can make huge strides in relatively short order and become the player fans have seen exciting flashes of. However, the chip attempt close to the end of the game… probably could have been a goal with a less audacious attempt.
Live and die by the exciting play, I guess. The limitless potential is still there.
All new signings (plus trialist Genki Miyachi) saw the field, with varying levels of effectiveness. Kharlton Belmar came in for some griping after the game, and he didn’t have his finest performance. A little bit of giving up on a run a split-second too early (or not quite timing a pass to a running teammate), and some technical letdowns were part of his game. A re-watch did underscore some of the positives he provided, including setting Winn up for another shot opportunity not taken. He was much better against Birmingham Legion, and has a long track record of success at this level, so I wouldn’t sweat it.
Both Cameron Lancaster and Daniel Ríos played pretty extensively, and had solid performances in the high press (their upgrade in athleticism over Brandon Allen from last season was pretty clear in that role, even if Allen was a guy who would try to put in the work for it). They didn’t get great service, and when they played alongside each other, you could see that there’s still chemistry to be developed with each of them missing some time in training so far this season. Lancaster showed really good body control and foul-drawing ability, while Ríos’s technical skill was among the cleaner on the day.
Ken Tribbett was very calm at the back, both playing defense and when he had the ball at his feet (not an easy task against a high-press team like NYCFC, especially one with MLS-caliber athletes rather than USL talent). He was less prone than his teammates at the back to just lumping it upfield against the press (though everybody had a few moments of that).
Darnell King didn’t have a ton to do in his 29 minutes, but he showed off that he might be a little more technically clean than Kosuke Kimura, while the motor to get up and down the field… well, is anyone ever going to compete with Kimura?
Sparrow made the one huge free kick save shortly after entering the game, and on re-watch, it was even more impressive to me. Because of the positioning of his wall, he had no look at where the ball was headed until it had already cleared said wall (which may be something to adjust slightly in the future, or perhaps it was just the right amount of confidence), and didn’t react until that point. He still managed to make an impressive-looking – but probably a little easier for him than it appears – save of the ball.
Vinnie Vermeer is a very comfortable metronome at a No. 6 position for Nashville SC, with accurate passes and an ability to turn away from pressure and protect the ball in pressure. His ability to get forward was also on display on the above-embedded Hume video. That shot ended going out of bounds not super-close to the goal frame, but based on the angle from which he shot it, it wasn’t that far from being on-target.
Genki Miyachi got just a few minutes, and as a central defensive midfielder (No. 6) rather than a centerback, which is where he primarily played against Birmingham Legion – though he played both positions in that one. He showed some nice composure against the press with the ball at his feet once or twice, but didn’t have a big enough sample size to know much.
Some rest in the midweek – don’t expect the key players, particularly those who entered the season coming off injury (or otherwise less than 100%), against Lipscomb – probably means that Nashville will be able to go for another first-choice group against Indy Eleven.
Obviously there are some position battles still ongoing, or spots at which NSC has two starter-caliber players. We’ll get a bit more about what the latest is in the tinkering against Indy Eleven.