How did Louisville City FC break the (brief) deadlock against Nashville SC Saturday? Let’s go to the film to find out.
Despite being on the back foot for much of the game, Nashville SC scored early (a Goal of the Week-nominated golazo from Daniel Ríos) and rode that lead for much of the game. However, Louisville City leveled things up on a set piece in the 64th.
Back at an even game state (with the score level at 1-1), the back-and-forth between the teams actually became a bit more level – no more Louisville dominance – than it had been earlier. Nashville is attempting to build a bit of offense just over midfield.
Sunny Jane tackles the ball away from Lebo Moloto. He takes a touch and moves it forward to Luke Spencer. Spencer recognizes that winger Brian Ownby has a step on Nashville defenders Darnell King and Bradley Bourgeois. He plays a long ball forward.
Ownby gets his hips around in order to hit a pass first-touch to in-rushing midfielder Antoine Hoppenot (in the Frenchman’s first appearance for the club). Hoppenot fades away from Nashville defender Justin Davis and takes a big swing at a volley.
Keeper Connor Sparrow doesn’t have a chance. Louisville takes the lead.
The possession map is extremely simple: tackle, pass, throughball, cross, goal:
Why it happens
This begins with Jane’s tackle on Moloto: he actually fouls him with a forearm to the back – but that’s the least of the officiating concerns from this game (of which there were many in both directions) and was consistent over the course of the game (the other concerns weren’t remotely consistent), so whatever. It happens.
Kharlton Belmar actually does a pretty good job stepping up to stop Jane from beginning a free run into Nashville territory. Bolu Akinyode is harassing Spencer (who’s dropped very deep and wide as part of Louisville’s pressing scheme, even though Nashville’s already through the press).
At that point, though, King is caught ball-watching to an extent, giving Ownby the distance to make a run into space. Spencer’s outstanding job recognizing that makes this play. King can’t catch up to Ownby, and Bradley Bourgeois is sort of caught in no-man’s land: cover for his teammate or drop into the space in the middle of the pitch to take away passing options? Ultimately, he doesn’t really do either (though it’s debatable if even a player with his athleticism would have been able to close either gap).
In the middle of the field, Hoppenot is making a run. Davis checks his shoulder a couple times, but in the end, loses the midfielder. Hoppenot gets a little bit wider, giving himself a few feet of space away from Davis. The perfectly-curled cross from Ownby gets around Davis into that space, and Hoppenot hammers home.
Moloto’s turnover begins the play (again, he’s almost certainly fouled, but boxing Jane out better, booting the ball away, fouling him, getting up to provide pressure on the back… any of these could have made it a little tougher). King’s instant of ball-watching is probably minor on most plays. Davis’s is a little more significant, regardless of context. Excellent execution from Louisville – that chemistry between Spencer and Ownby from having been on a team together for three years helps – makes Nashville bay dearly for all of it.
Nashville certainly wasn’t trying to give up this play, but certainly more often than not it’s the type that USL talent won’t be able to execute from front-to-back and finish. The majority of opponents’ goals require some combination of poor play and bad luck, and this one is fairly tilted toward the latter.
However, King’s ball-watching and more so Davis’s are things that Nashville can clean up going forward. They haven’t been consistent issues in the least (especially given that both of these guys have alternated between fullback and wingback rather than getting 100% settled in a specific position). The nature of the game – Louisville dominating possession, then suddenly showing the ability to strike on the counter, too – made it all a little bit worse. You could also see Bourgeois make a quicker decision to help run down Ownby, but that’s asking a lot of him (he could have made an exceptional play and spoiled this, but in the grand scheme I consider him effectively blameless because he’s not a superhero).
One thing I’d also take from it is actually a point that Nashville’s offense can adapt and employ: midfielders making central runs on the break. We see NSC’s strikers get in those positions at times, and certainly midfielders are running into the box in more-settled situations. However, this type of run is something we don’t see enough – especially when there’s a dedicated central attacking midfielder – and could be another thing that opens up the offense.