Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights into Nashville SC’s most recent contest. This is a sad one: the end of the USL road with a 1-0 loss to Indy Eleven.
Not incisive in Zone 14
Nashville SC ultimately had more possession than Indy Eleven – certainly thanks to the game state, with a deficit for over a third of the contest – but despite also building a shot advantage, was unable to find the back of the net. Certainly there were some finishing woes involved: even a spinning look from Daniel Ríos or a shot on the run from Alan Winn wasn’t great, but was a more realistic scoring chance than the one Tyler Pasher converted for Indy.
Even more important, though, was Nashville’s inability to move the ball from the most dangerous feeding zone on the field into scoring areas. It’s called Zone 14, have you talked to your kids about it?
As you can see, essentially all of Nashville’s successful passes within that area went to spots on the field that aren’t as dangerous. Plenty of that speaks to Indy’s quality: they not only made the passing lanes look unenticing, but when NSC attempted them anyway, the Boys in Gold were unable to convert.
What’s particularly interesting here is the distribution of players making those passes. That’s a lot of central defensive midfielders (20 Matt LaGrassa and 30 Bolu Akinyode) as NSC pushed numbers forward to deal with what was essentially an eight-man block (three centerbacks, three defensive midfielders, and two wingbacks) for Indy all game long. Almost nowhere to be found is the No. 10, who you’d expect to occupy that spot.
Indy did a great job of forcing Lebo Moloto wide, where he was less able to orchestrate the offense:
Indy was willing to be overloaded on the flanks – Nashville had Moloto, a winger, and a fullback on either side, largely defended by a wingback with help from those interior defenders. Those overloads didn’t matter, though, because all the space was wide, and Nashville couldn’t use that time on the ball to find penetration into more dangerous areas.
All this speaks to larger final-third woes, mostly for the same reasons. Even when Nashville pushed the ball into the corners, the wingers were given one-on-one opportunities against centerbacks. That’s a matchup you typically like (there’s an entire section on is in a moment!), but the Boys in Gold were unable to win those.
Getting into the final third saw the team run up against a brick wall, with no ability to penetrate into the penalty area. An extremely compact and disciplined Indy Eleven team executed its gameplan basically to perfection, and Nashville didn’t have enough answers.
Typically, you’d hope for an individual moment of brilliance, or a set piece. Those opportunities arrived, in fact. They were just not converted.
You shall not pass (me)
Alternate section heading: You shall not dribble
At least before the substitutions began, Nashville’s plan to handle the packed-in defense of Indy seemed to be isolating Alan Winn on a centerback (while wingback Ayoze García Pérez was more interested in getting upfield to play offense), and having him dribble that player.
The problem it turned out, was that the player in question was Neveal Hackshaw, who is awesome. The Trinidadian denied Winn from even attempting to get around him on several occasions, with a Winn shoulder-fake to test the waters, and then a backpass resulting each time.
Here are all of Nashville’s attempted dribbles in the game. Winn’s only two attempts (the 19s in the right-middle portion of the image) were well outside the most dangerous areas on the field.
Because of Hackshaw’s size and athleticism, Winn was unable (or unwilling – wisely, because he wasn’t given any indication he’d win the matchup) to even try to move outside-in and get into a feeding or shooting area near the edge of the six-yard box, which is his typical weapon.
I almost wonder if Taylor Washington (who is a very good left-sided player, but unlikely to even attempt one-v-one dribbles from the wing, since he’s a converted fullback) stayed on the pitch too long. Having Ropapa Mensah get into the action sooner would have placed him on the right side to challenge Hackshaw – perhaps with the same lack of success – but given Winn an easier matchup on the left side with the less-quick Karl Ouimette. Of course, the counter-adjustment there is to have the right wingback (Macauley King, who is an OK defender) play a more defensive role to handle it, so it may have ended up all for naught, anyway.
It’s (not) a physical game
Insert whatever cliché you desire about the playoffs being the time that teams get chippy (or about “these teams not liking each other” or whatever) but this was an extremely chippy contest. Here are the disciplinary actions – fouls conceded and/or won (pretty much by definition, each event has to have one player committing the foul and the other has to have one receiving said foul) – for both teams:
That sort of seems like a lot… but it’s not. Some of this was the nature of the game – it was, at times, a slow-paced slog where each team was content to let the opponent pass around the back as long as there was no advancement into the final third – but these were much lower foul numbers than we’ve come to expect from these two sides.
Nashville SC committed 13 fouls and Indy Eleven committed six. Over the course of the season, Nashville committed 12.6 per game and suffered 10.7 per contest. Meanwhile, Indy committed 13.4 fouls per game and was fouled 13.0 times. Each team committed fewer fouls than they average over the course of the year, and Nashville was fouled about half as frequently as they were all season (while Indy matched their number). What felt like a physical game was not, at the very least in ways that reflect on the scoreboard.
Indy’s number compared to the rest of the season could be borderline fishy (it’s well under the number they committed, and the number Nashville suffered, over the course of the season), but largely it’s about the game state. They weren’t overly physical when the game was tied, because NSC wasn’t creating much danger, and they sat back even more once they got the lead.
As always, take a look at the data for yourself, and share anything you’ve gleaned in the comments or on social media.