Nashville SC

The Graphical: Nashville SC 1-0 Inter Miami CF

Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I run through some of the numbers, charts, and maps that tell the story of recent Nashville SC contests. Today, the first home win in club history.

The Anunga Introduction

Without going into a tangent about how USL signings are viewed in exactly two opposing ways (often by the same people) – making fun of clubs for signing USL players, or complaining that not enough deserving USL players get signed to MLS – it’s fair to say that Tah Brian Anunga’s debut was more in the “Mark-Anthony Kaye” than the “[2019 FC Cincinnati player goes here]” category.

That’s not to say he looked like a star, but it was very clear that Anunga fit in at this level. Aside from one potentially-crucial mistake, he had a very solid outing:

Anunga had 55 touches (eclipsed only by defenders Alistair Johnston, Walker Zimmerman, and Dan Lovitz, with 62, 60, and 56, respectively), and completed 39 of 43 passes. He made two tackles and an interception, and recovered nine loose balls.

The negative? that pentagon just outside the defensive penalty area led to an extremely dangerous free kick for Inter Miami – Lee Nguyen’s resulting shot forced a save from Joe Willis, as well – and was as ugly in form as it was in its graphical representation. For a guy whose USL reputation was built around variations on the adjective “hard-nosed,” you’re generally willing to pay that price. Next time, just not in a dangerous FK position.

The passing was a pleasant… “surprise” may not be the right word for a guy who was over 80% completion rate in USL. But with a small sample size, an improvement on his USL numbers as the caliber of competition stepped up is v. nice indeed.

Non-left Leal

With Hany Mukhtar’s game-opening rest (after a very strenuous few weeks) taking the typical attacking midfielder off the pitch – but Gary Smith still using the 4-2-3-1 formation that necessitates somebody in that role – typical left winger Randall Leal began the game as the No. 10 in the formation. The Costa Rica international typically likes to float inside from the left to find shooting positions on his favored right foot anyway, but it was a significant change (with Alex Muyl playing on the left) nonetheless.

It didn’t necessarily open up the offense a ton, but it looked like Leal was actually more comfortable anyway, even if it’s not his preferred position. I posited during the game that putting him in more traffic actually made the game easier for him, and after further review, I’m ready to say that’s indeed the case.

He still wasn’t connecting many of his passes in the final third, but Leal was able to make quick decisions based on feel. Out in space on the left, he’s seemed to be overthinking things (even when folding inside), given more time on the ball. Interestingly, when Mukhtar came on at the half, Leal moved to the right wing, where he’s played sparingly – and more as a result of free-flowing shifting in a front four than a design of the offense – over the course of the season. He also floated to that right side, rather than the left, with the ball.

Being on his crossin’ foot rather than his shootin’ foot (right foot outside, easier to send in balls from the wing, rather than shooting with that foot to the inside of the field with more of the goal available to it) meant no shooting at all: he literally was not credited with a single shot in his 74 minutes on the pitch. You don’t want to get rid of that shoot-first mentality completely, since long shooting is something that makes him special. But I feel like a game in a different position to focus on other aspects of what he does best on the pitch, and get his mind right will serve him well if and when he moves back to his preferred position.

Willis stands tall

Joe Willis has only been tested sparingly this year, thanks to the quality of his backline. Unfortunately, when they have let opponents give Willis a go, it’s either been for pretty easy finishes, or he’s been victimized by a world-class strike. It’s been boom-or-bust when shot upon, which makes for difficulty evaluating his quality as a shot-stopper.

The body of data is getting a little more robust, though, and Miami had some reasonable looks – albeit the closest ones headed (and the shots themselves not particularly strong) – and we’re beginning to see that Willis is the keeper Nashville SC’s front office believed.

Nguyen’s free kick (No. 24 just outside the box) drew a nice save, while the rest of them were relatively simple catches to the chest. But Willis did what was asked of him, and through seven games of data, that seems to be the case.

GamesShots facedxG on shots facedGoals allowedG/xG
* Does not include Nashville’s 1-0 win against FC Dallas

While he’s allowing 1.25 Goals/expected – worse than average – per American Soccer Analysis, some of that is simple bad luck: the quality and placement of Emerson Hyndman (first Atlanta game), Diego Valeri (Portland) and Pity Martinez (second Atlanta game) strikes belied what an xG model is aware of. The ASA dataset also doesn’t include the first Dallas game, in which the Toros had five shots on goal and Willis saved all of them – his numbers would be slightly better with the full data available.

Soccer, like life, is not fair

Nashville’s two victories this season – coming by 1-0 scorelines against FC Dallas and now Inter Miami CF – were probably their worst offensive outings of the year (the loss in Atlanta may have an argument, as well). Sunday evening, there was nothing doing in the final third for the Boys in Gold:

That’s successful passes originating in the offensive third of the field, and it ain’t pretty. There was just one key pass (a pass leading to a shot) that came from the attacking third – though to be fair, it came from the most dangerous place on the field, “Zone 14” just outside the top of the penalty area.

Of course, Nashville SC was a VAR review and a missed penalty from having not only its first multi-goal outing in MLS, but a three-goal contest. Go figure. Such is the nature of a low-trials high-variance sport. Nashville has gotten unlucky a handful of times: Atlanta, @ Portland, @ Dallas (second game), @ Atlanta. They’ve been lucky a couple times: @ Dallas (first game), and Sunday night. They were very deserving losers to Orlando last week.

Very rarely does the split between what is deserved and the result stand so stark. The bigger picture though is that these things tend to even out over the course of the season, regressing to the mean. The good-luck games and the bad-luck games even out, while the deserved results (hopefully) make up a lion’s share of individual contests. Given how NSC has performed, they’d rather have a run of play like their draw in Dallas or even loss in Atlanta than their win over Miami. Most of all, though, they want the positive performances and good luck to be reflected on the final scores. That would be a playoff team in the East.

What did you see? Check out the Opta widgets and share your observations in the comments or on social media.


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