Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights about how Nashville SC’s most recent game came to the result it did. This time, that result was a two-goal breeze past Swope Park Rangers 2.
Losing the (possession) battle, winning the war
Nashville SC’s ability to win games while losing the possession battle (or vice versa, or various riffs on the theme) has been a common part of these pieces, but, well, here we go again:
My word, they did it again! How did Nashville manage to earn the win despite not tilting the possession battle? For starters, the timing is important: Nashville won the possession battle in the first half, when they also found the game-winning goal. The Boys in Gold tend to let the opponent (especially a toothless one, about which more in a moment) control the ball once a lead is built, and getting a second goal just minutes into the second half left NSC content to cede the possession to Swope.
That works in tandem with the No. 1 rule in real estate and “relevance of possession stats to winning a game of association football” (you know, that classic genre, with its many rules): location, location, location. Swope may have had a lot of the ball, but they very much did not have it in the places that matter.
Yo, that’s not good! To me, the Swope Park Rangers would have been much better off doing passes in and around the center of the right side of that graphic! That doesn’t include incomplete passes or set plays, but regardless, it’s very clear that they wouldn’t (or more accurately couldn’t) get the ball into scoring locations on more than one or two occasions.
If passing stats are generated by number of passes per team (and they are), a pass between centerbacks – you’ll note there are many in the graphic above – is worth as much as an assist. In winning soccer games, we know that not to be the case. While we largely assume (for decent reasons) that those things even out over the course of time and possession is indeed meaningful, on a game-to-game basis, it can be just a little misleading.
To hammer home the point, here are SPR’s first- and second-half heat maps:
They generated a tiny bit in the attacking third (mostly through set plays) in the second half, but that was still an attack that wasn’t going to rattle any cages on the Nashville sideline.
The Nashville kid
What if I told you one (1) player from Tennessee was on the field Saturday evening, and it wasn’t for Nashville SC?
Swope Park Rangers midfielder Felipe Hernandez was the lone goal-scorer for his team in the previous game against the Boys in Gold, and while he wasn’t able to find the back of the net this time around (as was the rest of his side), he had a solid performance.
Born in Ibagué, Colombia, but raised in Music City, Hernandez played for the Sporting Nashville Heroes club program as a youth before moving to Kansas City to join the academy proper in 2014 (before Mike Jacobs’s time with SKC).
Here’s his pass (square) and dribbles (triangle) map from Saturday’s game:
Perhaps just a so-so evening overall, but the ambition of his passes was nice, obviously the rest of his team was somewhere between ineffective and incompetent – as had been the case at First Tennessee Park, too – and he was the one making things happen.
He’s on a USL contract, not MLS, but Sporting Kansas City owns his homegrown rights. Hernandez won’t be aging out of SPR any time soon (Lebo Moloto left Swope when he was 26 prior to the 2018 season, Kharlton Belmar did the same prior to this season – that’s an organizational decision by SKC, not a coincidence), but you have to wonder if, as a guy who’s turning 22 next season, Sporting KC might be willing to deal his homegrown rights, since it’s looking less likely they promote him to the first team before that magic age hits (to be honest, I’d thought he was a little younger).
If they’re even half-thinking it, I’d snatch up those rights as a little service to the hometown for the initial Nashville SC roster, since there aren’t a ton of opportunities to get a hometown kid in Nashville, Tennessee. That’s just me speculating, of course, but it makes me do the thinking guy emoji, for sure.
It’s not the reason Nashville SC parted ways with Liam Doyle this week (since accurate long passing is a part of the game that he’s particularly strong in), but it’s worth noting just how ambitious Forrest Lasso’s passing was Saturday:
Plenty of passes back to his keeper or across to fellow CB Jimmy Ockford (whose pass map does not show the same desire to get forward, for what it’s worth), of course, but a lot of big vertical or long diagonal passes. Some of them were incomplete, but that’s a pretty impressive hit rate nonetheless.
We’ll see in this week’s film room piece how important those passes can be at times (like we saw last week how that same confidence in going forward is important to the midfield), and MLS2 sides in particular can be susceptible to line-breaking passes.
No wing switching
After the previous week’s flip-flopping on the flanks, with Alan Winn going to the left side while Kharlton Belmar went to the right about 30 minutes into the Indy game, Nashville SC started with that orientation and stuck with it in this one:
You could essentially draw a straight line through both penalty spots and everything above it is Winn, who was firmly on the right wing (including the stuff in his own 18-yard box), and everything below it is Belmar.
We know the duo is versatile, we know some of the differences between what they can do on each side (though the more left foot Winn shows, the more portable he is to both sidelines). It’ll be interesting to see if the matchups going forward determine where they each play.
Belmar was tearing guys apart on the dribble from the right early in the year, but the final piece of service wasn’t there. His move to free himself to assist Lebo Moloto wasn’t the slickest dribble he’s performed this year, but it did allow him to feed with his right foot across the top of the box – you’d typically expect shots with the right and assists (crosses) with the left on that side – and the versatility of both of those wingers has opened up the offense for Nashville SC.
What did you see out of the graphics? Check ’em out here, and share your observations on social media or in the comments.