From the film room: Charlotte counters for the lead

Nashville SC dominated the first 14 minutes against Charlotte Saturday. However, the Independence got on the board first. How did it happen? We go to the film.

The situation

We’re just shy of 14 minutes into the game, and The Boys in Gold have a handle on it. They’ve completed 54/65 passes (83.1%) while Charlotte has had success on only 42/61 (68.9%) of theirs. Nashville has already registered four shots (three of them inside the box), and Charlotte has just two.

After an extended possession in the Charlotte offensive third, the Independence finally clear it to midfield. Nashville recovers the clearance, and after a couple touches, left back Justin Davis passes it back to keeper Connor Sparrow (I actually think he was trying to get it to Liam Doyle and put too much sauce on the ball, but it doesn’t really matter).

What happens

Davis’s pass to Sparrow is returned by the keeper. The veteran left back traps and tries to move it immediately to Alan Winn, but his pass is inaccurate. Independence centerback Hassan Ndam moves it quickly to midfielder Michaël Maria to spring the break, and Charlotte is off to the races.

Ultimately, veteran striker Dominic Oduro (who used to be quite fast! but is very much not anymore) curls a beautiful shot behind Nashville centerback Liam Doyle and into the bottom corner.

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Ndam moves the ball to Maria, he takes a couple touches away from pressure, passes to Zyen Jones, whose first-touch pass is accurate for Enzo Martinez. Martinez takes two touches to get it to Oduro, who does the rest himself.

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The finish there is something else (and I certainly didn’t notice Saturday how beautiful it was).

Why it happened

This play starts with the turnover, obviously. Sparrow’s pass to Davis is fine, though Davis catches a little high with his left (strong) foot. He panics just a bit, making his pass to Winn inaccurate. That Nashville’s team is expecting a safe, comfortable possession out of the back (and is suddenly thrown into defensive transition) sets the stage for the rest of this.

Here’s the sequence from Opta’s chalkboard, starting with Davis’s unsuccessful pass:

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The first major problem for me is Lebo Moloto’s indifference to closing on the ball as Ndam earns the interception. It’s available for his taking, and he doesn’t seem interested in beating a 6-4 centerback to the ball, much less challenging him for it (the latter is understandable, at least: Moloto is one yellow card away from a one-game suspension and a fine). Alan Winn doesn’t recover to make the forward pass difficult for Maria, either.

It’s unclear which of the two players marking Jones is in the wrong, but one of them is: midfielder Michael Reed and centerback Ken Tribbett both try to step up to prevent him from dribbling, leaving Martinez unmarked. I would guess (though it’s just a guess, so don’t go damning any individual player based on my opinion) that it’s Reed, since Tribbett would logically be man-marking Jones, a striker. Either way, his first time pass is exactly what Charlotte needed in the situation, eliminating two defensive players from the play.

That puts Martinez and Oduro in a two-on-one with Doyle. Given that an additional touch from Martinez may allow fullbacks Davis and Kosuke Kimura to recover and get involved in the play, he smartly passes to Oduro to put him one-on-one with Doyle. From there, it’s mostly individual class.

There’s an argument that Doyle should make a (mild) foul, taking a yellow card to prevent the shot getting off, but he has reasonable defensive position, and is taking away half the net to make life a little easier on his keeper. Oduro just had the individual quality to put it into the part of the net that should have been taken away.

Going forward

Nashville would give up a few other big chances to a pretty poor Charlotte team (though only scoring one goal is the far greater sin against a horrible defense than allowing a counter-attack goal to a mediocre-not-horrible offense). However, the trend of giving up one golden chance per game is a little troubling.

If the causes were consistent, it’d be easy to tweak one thing, replace one player, etc. It’s something different every time, though. At this point, we’re going to have to live with it, I think, and hope the offense carries its weight in a game like this. The tradeoff for being a little more aggressive offensively and in the counter-press probably pays off more than it costs.

There is a potential personnel change still: new signing Derrick Jones missed Friday’s training (the final before the game, obviously), and wasn’t prepared to be in the squad. He’s known as a destroyer from the CDM position, and likely has the best technical skill among the purely defensive players in the role. The latter may not have been super-relevant here (though having another technician on the field always helps), but the former could have. It’ll be interesting to see if his playing time picks up (and whose it eats into) as he gets integrated into the squad.

For the most part, though, some bad luck, a bad touch – and a great one by an opponent – and a solid strike is going to beat you. It happens many times in a game, but more often than not, it doesn’t come together all at once to make a team pay. On this instance, it did, and it cost Nashville points.

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