Nashville SC

From the film room: Leal gets his goal

Nashville SC got a crucial goal from one of the players who has been most frustrated with bad luck (and his own lack of sharpness) so far in 2020. How did it happen? We go to the film room.

The situation

Nashville SC emerges from the locker room with a 1-0 deficit after a first-half blast from Orlando Homegrown winger Benji Michel. The Boys in Gold were frustrated throughout the first frame, with active defense from Orlando City making for a difficult time connecting and progressing in midfield.

In the bigger picture, both of Nashville SC’s designated players – attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal – have had moments of brilliance over the course of the year, but both have also been pretty disappointed with their own performances. Their full scoreboard contributions include two free-kick assists from Mukhtar, and precious little from the run of play.

What happens

Nashville SC builds from the back after a turnover by Orlando City striker Daryl Dike. It ends up being a 13 pass sequence…

…that begins as a transition moment, but Nashville slows it down enough that by the time it gets into the attacking third, it’s just a traditional offensive build. Here’s what that looks like on the chalkboard:

A 4-4-1-1 defensive structure without the center forward involved isn’t inherently problematic (indeed, it’s pretty common), but it made life quite a bit easier for Nashville vis-à-vis the first half. There’s a matchup zone – typical soccer marking, essentially – going on here: Orlando’s centerbacks are checking strike Dom Badji, the fullbacks are marking Nashville’s wingers, the central midfielders are sharing responsibility on Hany Mukhtar, the wide midfielders are marking Nashville’s fullbacks, and No. 10 (in both position and jersey, conveniently) Mauricio Pereyra is making it tough for Nashville’s Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy to connect with each other and the players ahead of them.

In the end, Godoy and and Mukhtar both play individual 1-2 passing combinations with Leal, freeing the Costa Rican in the box, and he puts the ball past Orlando City keeper Pedro Gallese to level the score.

Trying a new thing here with gfycat uploads instead of hosting the GIFs on this here website. Let me know if it stinks and I’ll go for a different solution.

Leal’s movement and the quick decisions of him and his teammates allow for him to get open in the box, with Orlando’s sudden inability to play defensive soccer providing some serious help.

Why it happens

This starts at the back, with Dike getting muscled off the ball by Walker Zimmerman (a bit of payback for the opposite happening in the previous game between these two teams), and staying on the turf for a second. When this offensive push for Nashville begins in earnest, he’s back on his feet, holding the Nashville centerbacks deeper so they can’t get involved offensively – at least not without Nashville sacrificing some of the territory gained in what has been a trench battle so far.

You can see that he’s not involved in the defensive play, which is very different from what had been going on in the first half. While he didn’t get credited for many defensive actions, he would sink back into Nashville’s midfield, adding another body to the mix and giving McCarty and Godoy worlds of trouble as they were trying to build from their double-pivot.

With a little more freedom, McCarty is able to release Godoy wide, where Nashville doesn’t quite have an overload (There are five Orlando defenders for four Nashville attackers), but thanks to some Orlando players’ brains completely shutting off mid-play, and some intelligent runs from Leal, the opportunity arises.

Godoy plays the ball to Leal, then makes an off-ball run upfield, drawing left DM Uri Rosell and fullback Kamal Miller to him. Leal loops behind, so winger Robinho, stepping out to man-mark Leal, has his momentum going the wrong way when Leal makes a run back inside in service of playing his give-and-go movements.

Urso, the right DM, and Pereyra, the attacking midfielder for Orlando, both volunteer to not be involved in the play: Pereyra passes the responsibility of marking either of Nashville’s talented Central Americans to his teammates, and steps out to mark fullback Alistair Johnston – who wisely hangs back from the play, preventing Pereyra from revering. Meanwhile, Urso is ball-watching to an incredible degree, and simply lets Mukhtar go where he wants with nobody defending. It’s an incredible lack of locked-in play after the Lions had been so precise and engaged throughout the first half.

tfw you’re ball-watching and the player you should be marking isn’t even in your peripheral vision

This is just simply incredible, after how well Orlando had played early. It frees Nashville SC’s best player to distribute unperturbed from Zone 14 (the connections weren’t quite precise, so Mukhtar had to make a creative sliding pass, but if Urso is in the same zip code like he should be, it’s just a dead play).

Miller – worth noting, he’s Orlando’s backup LB after João Moutinho suffered a groin injury in the previous game – also doesn’t do a good job reacting to the runs in front of him. He’s sorta stuck trying to defend both Godoy and Leal, ultimately giving up any reasonable angle he has to stop either of them.

Both are in-behind, but it’s Leal who gets on the end of the pass and coolly slots home past Gallese.

Going forward

Any goal requires good offensive play, and more often than not some sort of defensive error. Nashville hasn’t been the beneficiary of enough of the latter this year, and while you’ve been able to see the team attacking talent on display, not enough precision when it comes to the former this year.

Indeed, even on this play, you can see that Nashville wasn’t perfectly precise, but the poor decisions by Pereya and Urso allowed the Boys in Gold to take advantage nonetheless. When the attacking players – in particular the two who combined in the final stretch of this play – clean up the technical aspects of the game that have been up-and-down, there will be plenty of chances for these to pay off in goals. You can easily think of a number of similar plays that broke down one or two passes (or decisions not to pass) earlier. If Nashville cleans up the decision-making or first-touch and pass-precision just a bit, the opponent mistakes won’t have to be quite as big to result in goals.

Nashville won’t be one of the highest-scoring teams in MLS this year – even if a third Designated Player is added at striker – but it’s plain to see where the chemistry simply needs to come together, and also where that’s starting to happen.


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