Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights into Nashville SC’s most recent contest. Today, a look at the club’s first-ever win in Nissan Stadium – a big one over title contenders Indy Eleven.
Reed’s return makes for solid central midfield
The last edition of this post pointed out how there was room for improvement in the central midfield pairing of Bolu Akinyode and Vinnie Vermeer (and they were largely culpable for Nashville’s trouble passing through the Memphis press, too). For all he may lack in pure technical ability or overwhelming athleticism, the simple difference in Michael Reed’s presence along with Akinyode is visibly apparent, even obvious:
The pass map for that central midfield pairing is far more active (for both players) when Reed is the elder statesman of the duo, and a little of the pressure on Akinyode to make up for an inexperienced partner in Vermeer is diminished.
The pair were solid, with very similar locations in terms of width across the field (a slight bias to the left for the lefty Akinyode, and to the right for Reed), and height traveling up it or tracking back. Reed tends to get a little more involved in the final third, but for the most part, this pairing was two sides of the same coin, and when a player with Reed’s experience and workrate plays next to Akinyode, it makes both players better.
That’s not to say Vermeer is a bad player or doesn’t have a future as a prospect. His pure technical ability and likely athleticism is an upgrade. The experience and ability to handle the pressure of the game is something that he needs more live-action reps to fully settle into, though.
The healthy return of Matt LaGrassa should get Nashville’s best pairing on the field (he and Reed) whenever it happens, but there’s a lot to like about the duo currently available with Reed’s return to health, too.
Pin ’em back
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith mentioned in the postgame that the Boys in Gold gameplanned to keep the Indy Eleven wingbacks pinned in their own end, and unable to get involved in the offense.
“I honestly thought that we did a very good job of pinning their wingbacks a bit deeper, and allowing Lebo [Moloto] to get into some more dangerous areas to link up,” he said. “For both teams, when the ball is turned over and they could counter – we were no different – when we could counter with a little more pace and positivity, there were more gaps that were shown, and it was difficult for them to recover.”
Indy certainly did their part to help Nashville achieve its goals in that regard, playing a bit more passively in a bunker-counter mindset until the game was already out of reach, but certainly NSC did a good job keeping right wingback Lucas Farias and left wingback Ayoze García Pérez from advancing into the Nashville half to shut anything down defensively. They got up the pitch on offense:
You’d certainly expect that from Ayoze (who’s an OK defender, but very much an offense-minded fullback/wingback), and while Farias is a less extreme version of same – it’s actually Tyler Pasher, who started as an offensive winger in the front three rather than as a midfield/defense wingback – he was also involved in the offense.
On defense, basically everything they did was in their own end:
You can see that space for Moloto that Smith was referring to, as well. While you wouldn’t expect the wingbacks to be making a ton of defensive plays in the center of the pitch, they were unable to squeeze the space down to restrict the field and make things easier for their centerbacks and central defensive midfielders.
Lebo, as the kids say, ate.
Two key passes (including an assist) and plenty of time spent in that key area at the top of the Indy box. It wasn’t the only thing that led to productive offense for Nashville – Winn and Ríos thrashed the centerbacks time and again – but it played a huge role in stretching the defense. Nashville’s wingers opened the middle of the field, and when Moloto took advantage of that space, Indy’s (over)reaction to him made life easy on the other members of the front four.
Every day I’m dribblin’
Nashville SC was able to dribble the heck out of Indy Eleven’s backline. Opta counts one-v-one take-ons as “dribble attempts” and the Boys in Gold had 24 of them in this game, their second-highest total of the season (eclipsed only by the home win over Memphis 901 FC, in which they attempted 28 take-ons). They were also very successful with these attempts, completing a season-high 18 of them (tied with the same Memphis game). Here’s what they looked like:
That, to me, is good. The 75% completion rate was second-highest of the season, eclipsed only by a 14/17 (82.4%) against Birmingham Legion. Indy… is not Birmingham Legion defensively. Nashville SC’s season averages are 13.95 attempts and 8.55 completed dribbles per game (61.3%). They nearly doubled that rate, and did it with better success than typical, against one of the better defenses they’ve faced all year.
What’s wild is that Kharlton Belmar, one of the best technicians on the team, had an 0/1 mark on the day. The team was incredibly successful without one of their best players at the specific skill having a ton of the ball, or any success with it (by this particular metric).
Alan Winn went 6/8 (he was also incorrectly not credited with one on his goal, so 7/9), and you can certainly see the mechanism through which his return to full health, full fitness, and his natural position can really change the game offensively for a team that’s already been pretty good putting the ball into the opposing net.
What did you see from the match? Browse the data to come up with your own insights and share them!