Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for some insights into Nashville SC’s latest result. Today, just a couple quick graphs that tell the story of a 2-1 loss to Louisville City FC. If you haven’t voted in the Community Ratings yet, be sure to do so here. For more conventional game coverage, see my postgame column here.
Tilting the field
Louisville dominated the first half, and while Nashville ultimately evened things up a bit after the break, there was a certain feeling that the dam was going to break at some point. Take a look at the teams’ combined touchmaps from the first half and the second half:
Nashville is attacking right-to-left. The second half is the one where the ball actually makes it into Louisville territory (where there’s a red spot anywhere in the upper-left quadrant).
Nashville was on its heels in the first half, and much more capable in the second. Reconciling that with the fact that Nashville scored in the first half and conceded twice in the second probably comes down more to the aggregate effect of the defense being worn down (and the nature of the goals: Nashville’s was mostly against the run of play; Louisville’s first was a set piece that was mostly against the run of play and second was on a pure counter-attack).
I named possession as one of the keys to the game in the preview, and while the way I thought it would be important didn’t quite pan out, the fact that it did turn out to be crucial is unmistakeable.
Playing over the press
So how did Louisville City force Nashville into horrible possession? By pressing high up the field, and forcing the Boys in Gold to play over it. Even when things got better in the second half, it certainly didn’t come from playing out of the back:
That’s way, way more long passes than Nashville would like to play generally. Especially if you contextualize that Justin Davis tends to get higher up the pitch anyway (though his passing success higher up that left touchline didn’t seem to pay off a ton either, with lots of red in there), the backline and keeper found themselves having to boot it up the field to get over Louisville’s voracious front.
What’s interesting is that Louisville wasn’t actually getting a ton done defensively in Nashville’s end of the field (at right).
Their press was more about taking away short passing options from Nashville’s defenders – and Sparrow, who is NSC’s better keeper at playing out of the back, and probably not as good as Matt Pickens at booting it long, so the keeper rotation backfired to a small degree – and being general pains in the butt when Nashville was trying to build.
Do that, and the Boys in Gold will feel like they have to go long with it, creating 50/50 balls downfield, and essentially doing your job for you: preventing NSC from smoothly moving the ball into the middle and attacking thirds.
For what it’s worth, I did feel like some of the long passes (particularly Liam Doyle playing it up to the right wing, where he regularly found an open teammate) were by design of Nashville’s gameplan. The majority were forced by Louisville nonetheless.
Maybe muster more offense
Nashville SC scored first, and while it’d be a little unfair to characterize it as completely against the run of play, there’s no question they didn’t control the game in the first half.
What’s troubling is that after that goal (the 14 on the bottom left here), they shot just five more times all game: just once more in the first half, three times in rapid succession at the beginning of the second half, and then at the very end.
In between those stretches, it was all Purple:
I’m not exactly breaking news here that Nashville didn’t exactly dominate the game. But the stark reality of it is that even the lopsided possession numbers tell only part of the story.
I don’t quite know how to reconcile Nashville bringing the possession numbers much closer in the second half but allowing Louisville to basically pepper the net – possession without purpose is the phrase we’ve been using all year, but this seems to go even beyond that – but certainly losing Cameron Lancaster early, Michael Reed at halftime, and then Matt LaGrassa in the 69th minute (in between the blue “5,” Paco Craig’s equalizer, and the next shot in Louisville’s sequence) didn’t help.
Even if Ropapa Mensah, Kharlton Belmar, and Lebo Moloto are comparable to the men they replaced in terms of ability to hold onto the ball (they probably are not, except maybe in the case of LaGrassa/Moloto, even if there’s an argument that maybe Mensah and Belmar are better than Lancaster and Reed in other tangible and important ways), certainly they weren’t able to generate many shots.