Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for some insight about Nashville SC’s most recent game. Today, a scoreless draw against Indy Eleven.
Nashville’s three-man backline wasn’t the biggest surprise (I speculated in the preview that it might happen), but some of the personnel that saw the field was basically a wholesale change from recent weeks.
That included fan favorite Ropapa Mensah, who has played his way back into game shape, and earned his first league start of the year. He was… a little all-over the pitch without being in any specific spot:
That’s for a couple reasons, one of which is a little more obvious in terms of explaining the above: Nashville listed its formation as a 3-4-1-2 (with Ropapa playing alongside Hume), but in practical terms, it shifted between that and a 3-4-3 (with Ropapa and Lebo Moloto playing wing positions and switching side with each other regularly). With a handful of different roles, it stands to reason that Mensah wasn’t in any particular spot long enough to get the heatmap really cookin’ (did I take the metaphor a step too far and make it bad? I think I did).
So that, in and of itself, is not damning, but I think consensus is that he did not have a particularly fine day. Mensah’s known for his inconsistency, and this was an example of one of the down games. The “why doesn’t Ropapa play more?” crowd has to take a look at games like this and know that they’re the reason. Also the fact that, while he’s capable or exciting things and game-winning goals, this is much more the norm than those are.
In the big picture, more is needed from him offensively on a more consistent basis:
Of course, that’s the first start of the year, and against a really good defense (comfortably the best in the league, particularly at home). Also the guy is 21 years old.
The path to more playing time (and a really bright future) is there. He has to grasp that opportunity.
There were certainly some sketchy moments as Nashville broke out a tactical approach it uses only occasionally. A bit of luck here or there could have seen the Eleven score. That was also the case on the other end of the pitch. In the big picture, though, both teams prevented the opposition from generating much in the way of opportunities:
Eight total shots for Nashville, four of them outside the box. However, two of those were direct free kicks (as was Bradley Bourgeois’s on-target shot in the 70th, though obviously NSC played is indirect), balancing out a bit. It also means just five shots from the run of play, which is not super-great.
Meanwhile on the other side, Indy had more shots, with 10, and half of theirs also came outside the box. Only three all game were on-target, including a couple from closer to the halfway line than the top of the penalty area. Your milage may vary when it comes to those three off-target strikes from inside the box, but other than a Karl Ouimette header that was easily snagged by Matt Pickens, the Eleven had just as much futility as Nashville.
This was a great defensive performance for both teams, and while each certainly could have done more on offense to make proceedings exciting, there’s no shame in being shut out by either D.
We built cross city on crossing ballllllls
Remember last year when Nashville played a three-man backline, they’d always launch a metric ton of crosses? Yeah, they did that to Indy.
That’s a lot of crosses, and basically none of them successful (except for on that’s not a genuine cross; it’s a short-corner set piece that for some reason is showing up in open play crosses).
There’s also something to be said for the nature of Indy’s offensive structure here, with wingbacks (particularly Ayoze García Perez, though he’s only responsible for a couple of the crosses) who really like to get up the edges of the pitch and provide service, but don’t have much in the way of cutting inside. They also have a banged-up and ineffective front line – and that ineffectiveness is despite adding one of 2018’s top USL players, Thomas Enevoldsen, though not having a clue how to use him is part of the issue there.
Either way, it’s clear that Nashville was able to force Indy wide and make them cross the ball to get service into the box. That’s far from an ideal way to generate great scoring opportunities, and it’s why – despite those shots inside the penalty area – there weren’t many true threats on the Nashville goal.
This is now a Derrick Jones blog, thank you for reading
Recent signing Derrick Jones got his first USL start, and his first full 90 in league play. I thought things went very well.
The lateral and vertical range of his involvement, the number of defensive actions (I don’t know for sure, but would guess those point-up triangles are the most for a central midfielder this season), the ability on the ball… five successful dribbles and one other attempt to take on a defender on the dribble might be a single-game high on this team regardless of position (though there’s a chance Kharlton Belmar has done it once or twice).
His passing was a little more conservative in this one – or unsuccessful when he was trying to be a little bit more ambitious – but the lengths of the passes, even laterally, were long. Changing the point of attack in build-up is a valuable trait, and one that this team would benefit from adding much more of.
This is a guy who’s still just a couple weeks into his time with this team and has missed multiple training sessions to get settled in Nashville. A little more experience and chemistry with his teammates, and he could be a piece that unlocks another level of performance for this side.