Nashville SC

From the film room: What went wrong on Portland’s goal?

Nashville SC lost another one-goal game after giving up a frustrating tally Saturday. Two’s not a trend just yet, but there seems to be a theme. What happened?

The situation

Portland hasn’t had much settled offense through the first 10-plus minutes of the game. The Timbers try to build some offense from wide, banging in a cross that is headed away inadequately. Not to be deterred, the Timbers send in another cross.

What happens

Once again, the cross is headed away. Once again, it doesn’t completely clear danger. Hany Mukhtar loses the second-ball header to Andy Polo.

While Polo doesn’t exactly direct the ball anywhere specific (other than “forward”), it finds attacking midfielder Diego Valeri on one hop. Valeri – curiously unmarked, curiously onside – has the time and space to wind up and fire a wicked half-volley past Nashville keeper Joe Willis.

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There’s a lot going on here, but there are a couple major mistakes necessary to make this play happen. Aside from the headers failing to clear the defensive zone, Valeri shouldn’t be both onside and in that much space all to his lonesome.

To me, you should probably mark the opposing team’s best player in the penalty area.

Why it happens

Nashville SC right back Eric Miller has gotten all sorts of grief in the aftermath of Sunday’s game, because he was the one keeping Valeri onside, when it looked like the rest of the team was playing something of an aggressive offside trap. On a closer look, that appears to be the case:

replays

Were it not for Miller – who is admittedly lackadaisical in recovery from that second cross – Valeri would indeed be in an offside position, and even his sublime strikew would have gone for naught. Knowing what we do about Nashville’s defense, though, I don’t think that error is the key one here.

In fact, if you look at the players’ positioning in the still frame before the side-angle view runs, you can get a good look at the backline’s (and the midfield line’s) positioning:

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 1.27.45 PM

While Miller has sunk too deep (he’s still recovering from the crosser there), and may be pushed out too wide (while he does have responsibility for Jorge Villafaña still, a pass back out to the wide area would give him plenty of time to bump back out), right centerback Walker Zimmerman – the guy who has turned the backline’s shape into a Harry Potter tattoo, rather than a straight line in the photo above – overreacted bigtime to Villafaña’s cross, and has tucked in too tight to his CB compatriot Dave Romney.

Neither Miller nor Zimmerman is in position to cover the opposing team’s most dangerous player – whether you want to define that term by positioning on this play or by “being Diego Valeri” – and both are somewhat culpable here. It’s Zimmerman, however, who doesn’t seem to have a valid reason for vacating his area.

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Middle of the frame, starting closest to the near post.

I’m not absolving Miller of anything here, but Zimmerman turns 180 degrees away from a player inside the six yard box, and floats away from him even more. Leaving Miller one-on-two with a player outside the penalty area and one inside the six-yard box is a tough ask.

Going forward

I thought Zimmerman took way more responsibility in postgame than he should have for Atlanta United’s first goal in Week One. That’s a guy – probably this team’s No. 2 choice as captain – taking the pressure off a teammate. In the film room (the team’s film room, not mine), I’m certain things sounded a little different.

This time, I think Zimmerman is getting away a little scot-free while Miller absorbs the blame in the court of public opinion. When you factor in that he was responsible for one of the two mediocre clearing headers on this play, there’s a lot he could have done to prevent it before it got going – or at other points before the ball found the back of the net.

Zimmerman’s aggressiveness (both as a defender and going forward) is the characteristic you sign him for. To a certain degree, you’ll live with mistakes like this one, especially since the majority of them aren’t going to turn into goals. A thesis statement of the film room series has always been “here are the little things that went wrong, any one of them going right would have meant the opponent doesn’t score” (or vice versa). You take a couple little things going wrong most of the time for the ones that go right.

I do think that Anibal Godoy’s clearing header is a little more troublesome because it’s the second week in a row that he tried to head one clear, didn’t get it out of the box, and saw a half-volley goal put on his team’s face. That’s not to say it’s an inherent problem with his game, but – like Zimmerman’s error – is something he has to focus on cleaning up going forward.

We’ve seen through two weeks that the little things have made the difference for Nashville SC defensively, with a negative impact. They haven’t yet had that happen in their favor (or been close enough, and consistent enough, to be in position for a little serendipity to help create a goal). This team is close, but until there’s a little more cohesion that can only come from game reps, not quite close enough to win without being perfect.

pop shots

All GIFs via ESPN/Major League Soccer reproduced under Fair Use Doctrine.

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