Nashville SC

From the film room: Set piece goal dooms NSC against Tampa Bay Rowdies

Hey, there were two USL games within four days of each other, so I didn’t get to wrap up the loss to Tampa Bay. This will not be fun, but here’s a look at the Rowdies’ set piece goal Wednesday.

The situation

Nashville SC has had the majority of play through most of the first half, but its best chance, a header by Kharlton Belmar, whizzed inches wide of the post. Nashville left back Taylor Washington has already been called for a couple iffy fouls, but commits one that’s the right call here.

The Rowdies are set up for a free kick on the right (offensive) edge of the Nashville penalty area. It’s somewhere between a corner kick and a shooting position. They’ll essentially play it like a corner set piece.

What happens

Leo Fernandes takes the free kick for Tampa Bay, against a two-man wall for Nashville SC. The left wingback serves an in-swinging ball to the back post, where striker Sebastian Guenzatti nods it back across the face of the goal.

His fellow striker Juan Tejada closes on the ball to tap it in with his right foot.

TBRgoal.2019-05-11 12_08_59

Nashville goes down 1-0, and that lead would hold up for the Tampa victory on enemy soil.

Why it happens

Nashville has a combination of man and zonal marking in the box. Tampa Bay has only five players in the box to get on the end of the service (and therefore four field players in defensive positions – though two of them are in spots to get on the end of a potential long rebound.

Darnell King and Daniel Ríos form the wall. Michael Reed, Bolu Akinyode, Bradley Bourgeois, and Taylor Washington man-mark their opponents. Matt LaGrassa is zonally marking the back post, and Ken Tribbett and Justin Davis zonally mark the front post. I’m fairly certain one of Tribbett or Davis is supposed to be marking Tejada… because he’s ultimately left unmarked.


Reed is beaten by Guenzatti, who gets a free header by having the unimpeded run to the back post, and LaGrassa can’t rise high enough to deny him the header back across.  Tejada is left alone as Davis and Tribbett both get inside the frame of the goal, and neither can rise up to head Tejada’s ball off the line.

That’s a minor sin in mediocre man-marking (Reed), and a more significant one by one of the two defenders who execute the same assignment while leaving the Tejada assignment unaccounted for.

“I can guarantee that a ball worked in to the back post, when it’s that narrow, it’s a difficult set piece to deal with,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “I’d have to look again at our start positions, but it looked like one of their bodies [Guenzatti] peeled off at the back post. Then, as always, when you concede from a second phase, one of their players [Tejada] has taken a gamble, and one of our players hasn’t followed that [Davis or Tribbett]. It’s almost a tap-in. To be perfectly honest, it’s a routine set piece. Difficult area, but routine. Hugely frustrating.”

That was in the immediate aftermath of the game, so Smith hadn’t had the chance to review the specifics of the goal. It appears to me that there’s less of a risk taken by Tejada and more of a missed assignment on him. One of the players not following him applies still, for sure.

“To be honest, on the first look of it, it just seemed to be one on the back post,” Bourgeois said. “After that, it’s just second balls. It’s literally just staying switched on. I wouldn’t say that’s something that we’ve struggled on this year, but it still stings a little bit from last year, especially: giving up goals in key moments.”

Staying switched on to know which player has the zonal mark and which has the man-mark should be fairly simple set-piece defense, but of course it wasn’t on this day.

I’d also say keeper Matt Pickens was a little slow to react to the ball back across (albeit in part because he’s expecting more help from his defenders). That’s just the game sometimes, but certainly a quicker slide back across his goal into a position to make a play on the second ball could have helped. It’s a lot to ask the keeper, though.

Going forward

Nashville has conceded nine goals on the year, and four of them have come from set pieces (just one of those on a direct free kick). It’s a weakness of the team’s defense, and it was last year, too. Sometimes, those are just the whims of the soccer gods.

This one was a result of a missed assignment, and that seems to be a bit more correctable – a miscommunication between a guy who’s rotated in and out of the lineup and another who’s new to the team as of this season can be hammered out in fairly short order. That’s especially true given the location of the set piece was one of the more dangerous possible (can be played like a corner kick, but also opens a shooting opportunity by being removed from the endline, and it’s very short overall), and probably not one that teams practice defending on a regular basis.

However, it’s fair to say that Nashville, even if it cleans up this specific problem, is going to count set piece defense as a slight chink in the armor for most of the year. Reducing the opportunities for opponents (and Washington’s foul wasn’t the most silly, but probably not the move in that location) is just as important as playing the set piece itself well.

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