Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights into recent Nashville SC results. We’ll take it back to a week ago today, and break down the crucial win against Louisville City FC.
Did Louisville tilt the field?
From around the time Nashville took an early lead until Gary Smith made a couple substitutions, it felt like Louisville was strongly on the front foot – to the extent that when I saw some complaints that he was getting overly defensive by replacing Ropapa Mensah and Taylor Washington with Bradley Bourgeois and Derrick Jones, respectively, my reaction was “he has to, because Louisville has a hold of the game right now.”
To my surprise, though, the field wasn’t that tilted in Louisville’s favor during that stretch:
LCFC had more shots during that stretch, but even their best efforts (only three of which weren’t blocked by defenders) were basically equivalent to some of the worst that NSC had in the same stretch. Eight attempts, five of them from outside the box and none on frame – I’ll take NSC’s seven, all inside the box, with two testing the keeper.
So how else might we be able to evaluate some dominance by LCFC? Let’s take a look at the heatmap, again just limiting it to the stretch between the fifth and 74th minutes.
Again, that’s maybe slightly in Louisville’s favor, but certainly not to the degree you’d say they were dominating in this stretch: both penalty areas are about evenly covered, and while more of the game seemed to be happening on Nashville’s side of the midway line, it was all concentrated in the midfield (and NSC’s attacking “zone 14” – the area just outside the top of the box in the center of the pitch – has much more coverage).
So finally, let’s take a look at just possession. I’m not going to go in and add up the individual passes (like I often do) to calculate the number, because the visual representation makes it clear enough:
That’s a lot more – and a lot more successful – passing from Louisville than from Nashville. The age-old debate about turning possession into production can continue, but it does appear, based on the above sections, that NSC was mostly able to let Louisville have the ball as long as it was ineffective with that possession – and potentially opening up counter opportunities for the Boys in Gold.
Of course, Louisville scored
There’s something to be said perhaps for that method ultimately wearing down Nashville’s midfield and backline, though. The way LCFC scored seemed to be indicative of a gassed Nashville unit, despite getting the reinforcements five minutes earlier.
- A successful dribble by Antoine Hoppenot (29) around a slide tackle attempt from Justin Davis (upside down triangle). That’s sort of Davis’s style – take the risky slide, for better or for worse – but the lack of success in it was likely in part a result of fatigue.
- An unsuccessful cross from Hoppenot (red box and line) into the box, where it’s cleared by Jimmy Ockford (right-side up triangle with 15 in it).
- Ockford’s clearance not even clearing the box – again, likely fatigue-oriented – and an unmarked runner (Luke Spencer, 9) there to head it home from inside the six-yard area.
- Matt Pickens was on the ground having attempted to punch away the initial clearance, while Darnell King and Derrick Jones completely lose Spencer, whom they appear to be marking (at least one of them should be), and Ockford couldn’t recover from his initial headed clearance to make the play.
This one might actually be interesting enough for a Film Room later this week, though with plenty of content from the past two games to crank through, no promises.
Forrest Lasso was the player of the game
He may even make the Team of the Week since he contributed an assist (annoyingly, goals and assists being the main stats that the league office seems to look at when nominating players to said teams), but Lasso’s defensive contributions were nothing short of massive.
That’s 22 clearances plus recoveries, some of them in crucial locations (a couple of them were basically goal-line clearances – i.e. goals saved through individual effort). It’s so hard to statistically represent a defensively dominant performance, but that’s about what one looks like.
Of course, as alluded to above, he also contributed offensively. Given NSC’s non-possession-oriented gameplan after taking the early lead, his overall passmap isn’t much to write home about, but here’s the assist itself, along with his foul map (pentagons: note that he was fouled twice, and didn’t commit a single foul, which would be in red), and his dribbles(!) – the upside-down triangle.
An all-around performance from a guy who has – along with Ockford – helped turn NSC’s defense from good-but-disappointing into one of the best in USL since arriving.
I am the crosser now
Something we’re used to seeing when Nashville SC faces an odd backline is an offensive gameplan centered around crossing (for reasons we’ve discussed plenty of times: in short, that’s what the defense baits the offense into doing). In this one, though, it was Nashville going with three at the back, and Louisville incapable of finding many ways to solve it.
Here are the teams’ respective crosses from open play:
That’s Louisville forced into plenty of crossing – with literally not a single one successful from open play – and Nashville being sparing with its own crosses, and firing successfully a third of the time.
For what it’s worth, I’m also encouraged to see Nashville limit its crossing attempts, given that they tend to be a little cross-happy – regardless of what the opponent does – with the odd backline, because the wide players end up hugging the touchlines so much.
In the analytics world, crossing is a low-percentage method of generating offense (it’s similar to a Hail Mary in football: certainly some of them are going to be successful, but the rate is low enough that making them part of the gameplan by choice is unwise), and Nashville won the tactical battle in this one to avoid having to lump the ball in over and over.
Of course, given NSC’s backline talent – with the sheer size of Lasso in addition to his talent, along with the aggressive aerial style of Davis and Ockford – it’s even better for NSC to let opponents hopefully fling the ball into the area, because they aren’t winning a ton of headers over these guys.