Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights about the previous Nashville SC game. For more traditional game coverage, try the game story or column. If you like cartoonish representations of a soccer field, on the other hand, this is the post for you.
Getting to the spots
Nashville SC may have lost to Charleston Battery 3-1 (and 2-0 in the run of play), but the lopsided nature of the score belies that the Boys in Gold had pretty good chance quality to Charleston over the course of the game. Indeed, if you take into account how many touches in the box NSC had, it’s a wonder they were unable to be more productive.
Here are touches and shots, broken down by game state:
That’s 35 touches in the box (despite a Charleston gameplan specifically designed to avoid those, about which more in a moment), including 10 shots. Some of those were low-percentage shots, no doubt. Still, you wouldn’t think a penalty was the only goal with so many shots in dangerous positions. Three shots outside the box (actually four, given Lebo Moloto should have been credited with one for forcing a save of Kuzminsky, though Opta coded it as a cross) are less likely to score, but as discussed in previous editions of this post, they can loosen up the other stuff.
Perhaps there’s a lesson about finishing or having the confidence to pull the trigger in there – certainly after last year, it’s something you’d worry about – but in aggregate, it’s also a lesson about bad luck. It sucks, but sometimes it happens.
Nashville went down 1-0 and poured on pressure. Alas, even though it resulted in some really good chances, it didn’t create goals. Then, when the lead was extended in relatively quick succession, the team didn’t have the juice to mount the comeback. Obviously, that’s far from ideal. It hasn’t been a consistent issue yet this year (in the only other loss, they struggled to create meaningful chances of any variety, with 25 touches and nine shots inside the penalty area, but almost all of those shots coming from set piece situations), and unless and until it is, I wouldn’t sweat it. When facing Saint Louis or Charleston? Yes, there will be questions. Generally, Nashville won’t be facing defenses this elite on a weekly basis.
Block Ríos? Call it a dam!
Pun game on 100.
The finishing issues of yesteryear have seemed to be mostly moot in 2019 thanks primarily to the abilities of one Daniel Armando Ríos Calderón. He’s not only been more confident in taking shots, but more adept at finishing them than Nashville experienced last season. Charleston certainly seemed aware of this, and made a specific effort to make his life tough, even if it meant opening up things for his teammates.
He took exactly one shot that made it past the first defender in front of him – a penalty kick, which by definition didn’t have any defenders other than the keeper to beat. The blocked shot inside the box was a simple matter of fortune (he found the ball at his feet after a scramble, couldn’t get the cutback cleanly, and decided to bang it off the defender for a corner rather than try anything fancy), but there’s something to be said for the level of effort shown by the Battery in preventing him from being the guy to beat them.
When a striker is converting at a 33% rate coming in (four goals on 12 unblocked shots), it’s smart to make sure he is unable to test you. Charleston forced NSC to spread the shooting production. Ríos was 100% on finishing in this one (official Opta protocol is that blocked shots don’t count against shooting percentage), but only had a chance because of that penalty shot.
Ríos’s night was made difficult by the focus (and overall quality) of the Charleston defense. When Ríos isn’t on, this team is going to struggle to score – at least until someone else steps up or Cameron Lancaster is healthy enough to be in the starting lineup. Look how deep Charleston was able to make him play, too:
Keeping him away from dangerous positions, making his shots ineffective, only fouling him once: An all-around impressive performance from the Battery on Nashville’s star.
I wrote a bit about the three-back defensive structure Charleston used last season when NSC played in the Holy City, and although it didn’t look like it’d be relevant coming into this one, the Battery switched back to it from the four-back system they’d been using so far in 2019 (perhaps because coach Mike Anhaeuser was aware of how well it worked against NSC last year). Philosophically, it invites crosses while reducing the number of times players have the ball at their feet in scoring positions.
The 4-4-2 is particularly susceptible to being caught in a rut of hopeful crossing. Against a packed-in defense, it tends to lead to the empty bucket syndrome that I’ve managed to bring up in basically every Graphical since Gary Smith switched to that as the team’s primary tactical approach.
Here’s the combined heatmap for the Battery’s three central defenders:
You can clearly see the areas that they’re giving up (crossing positions, and when you take into account that those disembodied blobs on either touchline probably came in offensive postures, it’s even more packed in defensively). However, you can also tell why it’s going to be difficult to actually complete those crosses: no man-marking, but a lot of bodies in the box to get through.
Even Tucker Hume – every bit of 6-5 – is going to have trouble getting on the end of those, and with the 6-4 Leland Archer among those trying to prevent him from doing so, Nashville banged the ball into the box many times (32 of them, to be exact) without completing a ton (31.3%, actually a decent mark considering the volume), and without turning many of those that ended up completed into meaningful chances.
Despite the final scoreline, the performance defensively didn’t seem to be that bad on aggregate. Certainly there were some individual mistakes on all three goals, but the positions that NSC afforded the Battery were otherwise not too dangerous. Yes, that turns out to be very much in the vein of “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
However, the overall performance over the course of 90 minutes is likely to be more strongly correlated with opponent scoring going forward than are some breakdowns. Look at Charleston’s passing in the offensive third. That’s a bunch of meaningless passing along the touchline, and some hopeful crosses. In a lot of ways, their bucket was just as empty as Nashville’s.
One assist (the yellow No. 7 near the bottom left with the arrow going al the way across the field) was an insane big switch that took advantage of an inexperienced grouping on the field together and an incredible finish from Jarad van Schaik (the third goal was individual brilliance from him as well). The other assist was a throughball (No. 25 in the left-middle part of the graphic), again taking advantage of the inexperience of those same defenders when it comes to in-game familiarity with each other, from Zone 14 to the center of the box, and played a striker in alone on the keeper.
One of those is a pass you’re willing to give up (and happened to be accompanied by a great finish), and the other is one you absolutely never want to give up. Otherwise, there was a whoooole lotta nothing offensively for Charleston. In a low-trials high-variance sport like soccer, just one or two individual moments can matter. They punished Nashville SC maximally in this one, and the Boys in Gold deserved to lose Saturday.
A similar performance on another day is extremely unlikely to produce three goals for the opposition, though, and taken as a predictive measure, it’s not all that discouraging – if not necessarily encouraging, either – going forward. It’s easier to correct one or two individual errors than a systemic problem. The lack of meaningful chance creation over the course of the game indicates Nashville was bitten by the former, not the latter.