Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for some insights into why each game ended with the result it did.
Nashville SC earned a 1-1 draw against New York Red Bulls II in Montclair, N.J. Sunday afternoon. However, the way it happened will leave the Boys in Gold bitter they didn’t come away with all three points. What were some of the statistically interesting aspects of the game?
Gary Smith was pretty open in preseason that Connor Sparrow is a different kind of keeper than incumbent starter Matt Pickens. That seemed to anecdotally be true during the preseason, but now there’s some #data after Sparrow’s first regular-season debut. Take a look at his heatmap from Sunday:
That’s a dude who’s comfortable all over his own box, and even leaving the penalty area, as well. Certainly some of that was the style of the opposition (though it did seem like they lived in the offensive zone at times, and 14 passes completed to recipients in the Nashville penalty area bears that out). A lot of it, though, just goes to the “modern keeper” that Sparrow is.
For context, here are Pickens’s heatmaps from the first two games:
Just a couple touches outside the box in each. Obviously, there are more complicating factors at play than just the personnel (both Pickens games were at home while the full breadth of the data we have on Sparrow is away, the first two opponents attacked in a very different way than NYRBII, etc.), but we at least have a glimpse at the differences.
Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, but the stylistic differences certainly will affect the rest of the Nashville gameplan.
The new guys
A few players got their first (or first significant) time of the year Sunday. I’ve already talked a bit about Sparrow above. Justin Davis’s one major mistake – a failed clearance from a seated position – led directly to New York’s lone goal, but he was solid outside of that. He did have a tendency to hoof it long up the wing and hope:
…but that’s also a consequence of the opponent’s style (about which more in a moment).
Vinnie Vermeer’s day was a short one, with some impact:
The fouls he committed (pentagons) included one yellow card and the play on which he took a guy down, and that player ended up rolling up on his ankle. It looked serious, his reaction to it was serious, and hopefully it’s not a longer-term deal – though Gary Smith’s comments after the game didn’t give a ton of hope in that regard.
There really wasn’t enough data to really evaluate Vermeer, and while the eyeball test was positive, the whole point of this exercise is to not have to trust our lying eyes, so that’s not going to count here.
Alan Winn’s day was similarly minimal in its impact:
Of course, just one of those crosses connecting in the box (one was a corner, one was from the run of play) turn it from what looks like an unimpressive outing into a huge one. Again, he felt like he made a bigger impact with his movement and speed.
If he’s back to full health, allowing both he and Kharlton Belmar to play the majority of next week’s game against Ottawa Fury, it really changes what this team can do in its efforts to attack.
Since early in the preseason, Daniel Ríos’s ability as a hold-up striker, rather than simply a pure goal-getter, has been impressive to me. He was extremely involved in his 80 minutes:
That’s shooting (only once, oddly, though it was a goal), passing over varying distances, winning fouls in the attacking third… there’s a lot to like about that performance. The two passes pulling it back from the left edge of the box – it’s worth noting he was far more present on the left side of the field, even though he was hypothetically playing as a lone central striker – led to scoring chances. One went directly into a dribble attempt by Lebo Moloto, while the other saw Matt LaGrassa feed Kharlton Belmar for a weaker shot attempt.
As Ríos gets more comfortable with his teammates (and hopefully Cameron Lancaster gets that same vibe, though I do think they’re two guys who play best as a lone striker – with Winn healthy, I’d like to see Lancaster get a shot as a creative No. 10), there should be even more end product.
Red Bulls II are known for their high press, and it’s going to be a feature of Nashville SC’s tactical approach this year. However, at least in terms of defensive actions, neither team got a ton done in opponent territory. Here’s Nashville’s press in the offensive end (left) and New York’s in their offensive end:
Other than Daniel Ríos’s interception that led immediately to his goal, much of the “play offense by playing defense in the offensive end” factor in Nashville’s approach didn’t really come off. Defensive midfielders account for eight of the 18 actions, and defenders proper another pair.
Plays by the offensive personnel were only made on a few occasions, and they tended to be farther from goal (either near the center circle or on the flanks).
New York Red Bulls II had only 19 defensive actions in NSC territory – one more than the Boys in Gold – though they had a greater instance in dangerous areas. Marcus Epps recovered a loose ball in Zone 14 (the dangerous area just outside the center of the box), while Jared Stroud and Derrick Etienne each had one near the corner of the 18.
The Baby Bulls are committed to the press, and are more well-drilled in it than basically anyone else in the Championship, so having a worse day than them in that regard (particularly on the road) is nothing to frown about. That Nashville was basically dead even with them – minus a couple dangerous-area plays for NYRBII – is impressive.