One of Nashville SC’s issues in 2018 was a lack of scoring, and some of that centered around a struggle to create high-value scoring opportunities.
While NSC didn’t do much to inspire confidence by way of actually putting the ball into the net Saturday evening, they did generate looks against a very tough Saint Louis FC defense, and their best look at goal came with a few improvements over what we might have seen last season.
It’s the 81st minute. Neither team has had much luck generating meaningful looks at the target. Nashville has managed to get the ball into the Saint Louis end, but an attempted clearance gets the ball back to the top of the box.
This begins with a pass that probably wouldn’t have happened if Michael Reed had stayed on the bench (and part of why his injury might have been a bit more significant a blow to the team than his strict athletic or technical skill might make you think). In fact, it’s possible that even Reed wouldn’t have made it last year. Regardless, Lebo Moloto makes a run, Reed sees it, and hits the ball. Moloto is nominally playing right wing in a 4-4-2, but clearly has some freedom to roam. Importantly, right back Kosuke Kimura steps up to fill the space that Moloto would otherwise occupy.
Moloto does a good job to get to the ball before it gets to the endline, with a Saint Louis player putting a strong effort into trying to simply box him out. He gets a foot to it, and pushes it back into play in the box. Cameron Lancaster takes advantage of a poor clearing attempt by his defender, gets possession of the ball, and moves it to Matt LaGrassa. He gives a one-touch layoff to Michael Reed, who pushes it wide (but not that wide – Kimura’s in the box), to Kimura. Kimura’s cross finds the head of LaGrassa, but the shot is saved.
What we learned
This starts with the decision by Reed to bang the ball into the box – something I though Nashville SC didn’t do enough of last year. USL-caliber players might just make a mistake, or your guy can win a one-v-one battle, as Moloto did here. A little bit of speculative/hopeful passing probably serves this team well, especially when even a worst-case scenario isn’t likely to create much of a fast-break the other way.
Both of Nashville SC’s MLS-bound strikers do things here that I think the team didn’t have anyone capable of doing last season. Cameron Lancaster slides around a man-marking defender to beat him to the ball, keeping the play alive. Daniel Ríos keeps his head up looking for the ball, but also accepts that he’s not going to get it, and uses his movements to clear space for teammates.
I would say either of those things was probably out of Brandon Allen’s wheelhouse in terms of fluid athleticism for the play Lancaster made, and savvy (or selflessness, perhaps) for the one Ríos makes. Without either of those, this play is pretty much dead in the water.
The freedom for midfielders to make a run into the box is important, because Moloto’s opens the initial entry into the box. LaGrassa is at the top of the box, and after his layoff pass doesn’t simply sink back to maintain defensive space, but he shows a desire for the goal. That’s important. With a different group of midfielders on the field, one of those runs (or the pass from Reed) is unlikely to happen, and this relatively innocuous position remains just that.
(Also note Belmar’s desire to get involved in the play again, finding a potential shooting option if Reed wants to lay it off in his direction instead).
A little bit more ambition in the scoring department seems to be in the team’s DNA this year – eight players are within a couple yards of the offensive box as the play develops – and if plays like this are consistently worked by the Boys in Gold this year, the goals should come.