The Graphical: Nashville SC 5-1 Swope Park Rangers

Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights on Nashville SC’s latest game. Without time to devote to the Open Cup win over an amateur side, let’s dive into Saturday’s big win over Mike Jacobs’s (and several players’) former club.

Nothin’ until it was too late

The teams ended level on shots in this one, but that’s pretty misleading as to how the contest actually played out. Indeed, here’s the shotmap (Nashville attacking to the right) at the time of the Boys in Gold’s fourth goal:

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 2.32.28 PM.png

All four of Swope’s shots at this point were outside the box, and they’d only managed to put one of them on-frame. Meanwhile, all eight of Nashville’s shots came inside the box, only one of them missed the target, and four of them had beaten the keeper.

Until the game was way, way, out of reach, it was dominated by NSC. Indeed, even the goal scored by Hendersonville’s Felipe Hernandez wasn’t a high-value shot (second-longest taken in the game, just inside that farther-out No. 49), and but for an uncharacteristic goof by Matt Pickens, Swope would have remained off the board.

Certainly with Nashville finding a 3-0 lead in the first 16 minutes, I don’t need to show you that this one was dominated to the point of being over early. But the degree to which that was the case is surprising if you just look at the final stats.

Lebo Mo-float-o

This has been a  pretty consistent theme with formations were Lebo Moloto is the lone man in the middle – particularly when he has a single midfielder on either side of him: he likes to drift out to the left wing, finding the ball for chances to shoot or feed on his stronger right foot.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 2.39.01 PM.png

He gets to the right side a bit, but it’s very clear he likes to get out to the left. Interestingly, that doesn’t mean that Alan Winn’s average position was much affected (though it has been in other times): he was actually the wider of the two wing players on average.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 2.41.56 PM.png

You can also see that striker Daniel Ríos tended to get out to the right side. Some of that is interplay with Kharlton Belmar, some is providing the width with both Moloto and Winn chaded toward the left side, and some of it is simple random luck of where the ball bounces.

Either way, the flexibility here – Moloto can even push up as a second striker in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, if needed – is among the many reasons I prefer a single-high striker to playing two up top.

Possession without purpose

This has been a theme – mostly on offense – for Nashville this season. However, the defensive possession will be the relevant piece on this day. Take a look at Swope’s passmap:

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 2.49.41 PM.png
Attacking right-to-left

Not a lot of green in Nashville’s defensive third, and almost none on Nashville’s side of midfield in the center of the pitch. Meanwhile, a tone of passing between keeper, centerbacks, fullbacks, and defensive midfielder. That’s how you end up with 52.3% of possession while never looking capable of truly challenging for the contest.

The Rangers were absolutely incapable of finding any penetration. When you take into account that their lone goal was essentially a fluke, and Nashville was only that fluke away from a perfect defensive game.

Spinning it forward

Looking very quickly at that last section, because you could fairly say that the Charlotte Independence are a team that passes a lot (fifth in all of USL) but doesn’t turn that into meaningful scoring opportunities (10th in the league in shots, 26th in goals scored).

If Nashville can repeat the “pass as much as you want, but you aren’t getting into our box” gameplan, it should be a massive help Saturday evening. But of course, that’s for the game preview, less so for the look at the Swope game.

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