Nashville SC

From the Film Room: Boys in Gold correct mistakes to stop the break

Nashville SC gave up Saturday’s first goal to Ezequiel Barco after a couple individual mistakes. What happened? We go to the film to find out.

The play

Early in the contest, Nashville SC is pressing Atlanta just a bit: it’s mostly a token press from the top two (striker Dominique Badji and attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar) with a mid-block behind it. On certain triggers, though, other players are activated to provide additional pressure.

Left winger (midfielder in the pressing shape) Randall Leal activates on this play, but slips as he moves to prevent Franco Escobar from pushing forward.

That gives Escobar plenty of space, and plays a 1-2 with striker Josef Martinez. After the return pass, Escobar plays it first time to winger Ezequiel Barco, who slips past Eric Miller, cuts to the middle of the field, and finishes past keeper Joe Willis.

Miller #15

There are some mistakes in here (we’ll get to them in a moment, in fact), but it’s worth noting that players who made $300k (Escobar), $3 million (Josef), and $1.43 million (Barco) combined on this one. It’s largely a talent thing!


Why it happened

This play obviously started with Leal’s slip, giving Escobar all sorts of room on the ball. NSC intermittently activated third and fourth players into a true press – less so after this one backfired – and this is an instance in which that bit them. You can see why Gary Smith’s tactics have traditionally been more conservative on that side of the ball, with a risk-reward equation that’s particularly exploitable by talented players.

The first big problem here, though, takes place at the point of Escobar’s pass. Walker Zimmerman and Anibal Godoy move to mark Martinez, leaving Miller one-on-two at the back.

Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 11.51.00 AM

Miller compounds that by whiffing on the ball, putting himself in a pure recovery position with two players in behind him. Walker admitted after the game that his communication with Miller was lacking. Instead of letting him know that the wide player was covered, both players moved wide, leaving Barco basically unmarked and on the ball.

“It was kind of scramble mode,” he said. “As we’re dropping as a line, I’m kind of ready to take the runner. Eric’s thinking the same thing… I take some responsibility for that as well. Whether it’s telling Eric to slide, or telling him to stay with the man, that’s obviously something we can talk about and work through.”


Godoy and David Accam – who, to be fair, don’t expect Miller to complete miss on the initial 50/50 – don’t make Barco feel the pressure from behind, allowing him to confidently get onto the right foot and finish.

How Nashville fixed it

Largely, it was about improved effort (on the basis of not assuming your teammates are going to make the right play) and communication. Here’s another potential counter-attack, this one in the second half, on which the Boys in Gold succeeded in slowing down the break.

First, take a look at Godoy getting on his motor after McCarty is left in a trail position:

Godoy #20, Zimmerman #25

Contrast that with what he was doing above. He put in the work to ensure that Pity Martinez knows he’s got defenders bearing down, so he can’t do what he wants. That forces Pity to give the ball away to Josef Martinez.

Also keep an eye on Zimmerman, who points out Josef Martinez’s run to fellow centerback Dave Romney. Both CBs are on the right page, allowing Zimmerman to help force Pity to stay between McCarty and Godoy while Romney prevents Josef from finding space, and forces him into a spot where he just swings through a shot, knowing the break is complete.

Going forward

Nashville won’t face a whole lot of teams with this level of individual offensive talent. LAFC and LA Galaxy are the only two that spring immediately to mind (with NYCFC perhaps close). Even this level of mistake – and Miller’s first and second mistakes are both pretty massive, while Leal’s is more an unfortunate slip than a mistake per se, but still set the whole thing in motion – won’t be punished with a goal in many contests this season.

More importantly from my perspective, they learned from an early mistake, fixed both communication and tactics (the amount of pressing they can do against a team with the counter-attacking talent that was on the field for Atlanta Saturday will be very different than against most other teams in MLS), and didn’t let it happen again.

They won’t be perfect in every game the rest of the year – heck, they won’t be perfect in any game the rest of the year – but the effort put forth indicates that they should be competitive at this level even with an error here and there.


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