Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta game data (and this time, some of my own data) to get insights about Nashville SC’s most recent performance. Today, it’s a 3-1 win against the Charleston Battery in the USL Championship playoffs. If you haven’t yet, please vote in the Community Ratings for this game before Friday morning!
Token pressure high, Shut down low
Nashville SC has flashed the ability to press high up the field (or not press up the field) with varying degrees of vigor over the course of the year, and this game was an example of a bit more heavy a press. You can see it didn’t result in a ton of defensive actions for Daniel Ríos and Lebo Moloto high up the field by taking a look at al defensive actions for the front four:
There are still a couple interesting items here: for one thing, even 14 Ríos and 10 Moloto were doing most of their defensive work wide. For another, it’s notable (though perhaps not surprising) that 23 Taylor Washington – who also plays fullback in addition to this moonlighting as the left mid in a 4-2-3-1 like he did against Charleston – tended to sink a bit deeper defensively than did 19 Alan Winn, his counterpart on the left side.
So, with Nashville SC’s front four pressing just a bit, but focusing on wider defensive play, surely Charleston ate in the middle of the field, yeah? Not exactly:
Uh, no. It’s hard to graphically represent (including in the actions for the front four: Ríos’s token pressure doesn’t necessarily result in a defensive action or an incomplete pass, but can force an opponent to make a safer pass than the one he’d prefer) exactly the impact that central defensive midfielders have on a game with their own defensive actions. However, you can see that Kelly-Rosales and Lewis hit a dang wall when they tried to progress the ball in the center of the field after crossing midfield.
That’s dominance by Matt LaGrassa and Bolu Akinyode, whose defensive contributions might go unnoticed at times because they don’t result in a number on the statsheet. Their positioning (at times a weakness for Akinyode, but not lately) can control opponents with its mind.
Kuzminsky: is he bad?
I sort of posited this in the preview, and I was expecting to find counter-evidence during this game. Kuzminsky had a couple nice stops. Can’t fault him on the Ríos goal (headers from corners aren’t necessarily high-conversion plays, but they’re difficult for the keeper to do much about if they’re on-frame from that distance). But the Derrick Jones goal was an absolute softie on his part (and a combination of pathetic play from those in front of him and incredible play from Jones prior to that), and the Moloto tally was a similar script.
So: all that said, with a 50% save percentage, and two soft goals on six total shots, I will somewhat confidently say: his 67.8% success rate on saving opposing shots on goal is not a result of statistical noise, and is in fact low (the USL’s website is… less-than-ideal in comparing save rates, but above 70% is my unofficial bar for being quite good, and it sort of gets adjusted for how good the defense in front of you is) because he has a bad mustache. OK the last part is a lie, the mustache is actually a little on the rad side.
So, how did things go on the other end?
Here is every shot faced by Matt Pickens from the run of play, along with all of Charleston’s touches in the box:
Aside from a penalty kick (justly given, but foolishly so, since Forrest Lasso took down a player who wasn’t likely to get a meaningful shot off), Charleston generated very little.
Their five shots from the run of play included three from outside the penalty area (one of which was blocked, one of which was off-target), one off-target from a dangerous position at the top of the six-yard box, and two more from inside the box blocked from weaker shooting angles wide.
Opta also didn’t code a potential game-tying shot that hit the right post in the second half, so while that was technically off-target, it was also certainly the most dangerous moment all game for Charleston. However, I will say that it was more about finishing and decision-making in the final third. They had plenty of possession in the Nashville penalty area in the second half. They just didn’t pull the trigger.
“Even though there were one or two moments that just looked brighter for them, I didn’t ever feel that there were too many clear cut opportunities for them to score,” Gary Smith said after the game. That seems a fair statement.
Some of that is NSC’s players being in the proper positions to dissuade those shots, certainly, but a lot of it was just a team that wasn’t ready to sacrifice individual quality of shots to increase overall volume of them in a game where that probably would have been the wiser move. Especially given that the alternative is “literally zero shots on target,” Mike Anhaeuser’s side was pretty much embarrassing in its decision-making.
The defense has dominated
I’ve posted a version of this chart before (and it doesn’t come strictly from the Opta data – we regret the error), but here’s the latest chart of Nashville SC’s defensive performances over the season:
Including Saturday, NSC has had three (3) worse-than-average defensive performances since Jimmy Ockford joined the team (with Forrest Lasso joining just a game later): A red-card-influenced 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls II (in a game NSC had led before having to start from the beginning due to rain), and a pair of victories against Charleston Battery in which they gave up a single goal.
Really erratic performances to begin the year have been eliminated, and NSC has been somewhere between “quite good” and “elite” since the pair of Major League Soccer loanees arrived.
Offensive generated all over
Nashville SC’s development into an elite defense has come with a corresponding waning in what had been an early-season offensive juggernaut. Some of that is indeed on account of adjusting the AI sliders to be more defensively-focused. Some of it has just been bad luck as NSC’s star strikers were injured (Cameron Lancaster) or just in a mediocre run of scoring form (Daniel Ríos) in the stretch run of the regular season.
At times, Nashville’s offense became predictable, as well. That was less the case than ever against Charleston, though. Here are the key passes (including assists) from the contest:
Especially against stout defenses, you’re going to see NSC generate some of its offense from crosses, frustrating though it may be at times (and of course, while you want to reduce cross-reliance, having crosses available as a weapon diversifies your offense and opens up other stuff even when it doesn’t result in goals).
Here, though, you saw NSC get it done from basically everywhere: including Taylor Washington’s assist on the Derrick Jones capper (OPTA EMPLOYEES DO NOT READ: Jones took more than six touches, so technically it shouldn’t be scored as an assist by their own event definitions), Nashville was able to find shots on passes from the wings, from the ever-dangerous “Zone 14” at the top of the Charleston penalty area, and even a pullback pass inside the box by Daniel Ríos, a play that is highly effective but that NSC has struggled to find this year.
Largely, there’s not one thing that opponents can shut down and confidently say that they’ll be shutting down all of Nashville’s offense, and that’s a good thing, particularly moving into single-elimination cup play. With Ríos finding his form at the right time and all the above developing as well, the offense has been as consistent – and consistently excellent – as ever in the late run to close the season:
What did you see in the Opta data? Poke around and share your thoughts in the comments or on social media.