Nashville SC

The Graphical: Nashville SC 1-1 Orlando City SC

Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I look at the Opta charts and stats to provide some insight about NAshville SC’s results. Here lies a draw against Orlando City, passed before its time.

Aníbal, unleashed

After his game-winning goal against Inter Miami CF last weekend, the narrative became one of how the Panama International was given free rein to move forward in offensive postures, and that allowed him to be in position to score. That was a slight exaggeration (not only was the goal from a set-piece situation, Godoy had zero successful passes – and only two attempts – in the offensive third in that contest), but it does point toward a bigger trend: when Godoy is able to get involved in the offense, the team finds greater success.

Here’s his full map from Wednesday’s game:

That’s clearly not a guy who’s the straw stirring the drink on offense. But he is a player involved in the attack, with big switches on the edge of the attacking third, some longer vertical passes into scoring zones, and the ability to link up.

Much of the activity well in his own defensive half of the field was in the offensively-impotent time before the break, whereas the more open second half saw him progress a little more forward. Some of that difference was more about what the Lions were doing, but the case remains the same: Godoy getting forward helps Nashville create more chances. Some of that is a cause-effect confoundment (he’s getting forward because the offense is running more smoothly) or co-causal (the offense is running more smoothly and he’s more able to get forward because of things like Orlando’s less aggressive approach to handling the midfield battle), but if you’re looking for signs that Nashville will be able to create some real danger in games where it hasn’t happened quite yet, look for Godoy’s comfort ini pushing forward to be one early sign.

Of course, that may also apply to other central midfielders (though Dax McCarty is generally more willing to push forward anyway).

DPs dialing in

Another major aspect of Nashville’s first-half/second-half improvement against the Lions was the precision of the two most important players to the attack: Designated Players Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar. Obviously the duo linked up on the goal, but their overall performance leaves even more to analyze.

While it looks like they were a lot more active in the first half, a big part of that is time: they both played the full first frame and Leal got just 26 minutes in the second half, and Mukhtar 45 of 49 minutes. NSC was also seeing out the game without trying to make major offensive pushes (which led to some scary moments on its own late in the contest, to be fair), so you wouldn’t expect attacking midfielders to be involved in that final 10 minutes or so.

Gary Smith was happy to see them not spending so much time in defensive areas, as well.

“In the first period, it was far too easy for their defensive shape and team organization to deal with two of our most creative players, Smith said. “Randall spent too much time in front of defenders, and in a position where he’s easy to mark – or certainly he found it very very tough to get away from anyone. There were two instances where he stayed wide and got himself in good positions, and he actually created – on his own – two shooting opportunities.

“Slightly different to Hany, you know. When we’re building out, he’s got slightly more license to overload areas, but he’s at his very best when he’s behind midfield players, in front of defenders, getting in those half-pockets and on the half-turn, and asking questions of the backline. Second half, he did that more often.”

Mukhtar playing the ball forward, rather than receiving on the half-turn and pivoting right back around was big.

Either way, interconnecting along that right side was more progressive, with fewer passes away from the goal (and while the intended recipients aren’t shown here, more passes between Leal and Mukhtar, rather than less-ambitious involvement of fullback Alistair Johnston). Connecting on the scoring play was nice, but it wasn’t the only chance that pair had to play the ball to each other, and you’re seeing less of the “short pass incomplete” in the attacking third that’s plagued the team early in the year and prevented shots from even getting off.

Willis a wall

Since he tends to get so little action (and because some of the goals scored on him so far this season have been basically unsaveable anyway), Joe Willis goes without commendation all-too frequently. That’s starting to change as Nashville gets the results, but once again he came up big on a relatively low number of trials:

That looks like a shotmap where he gave up a softy, and probably saved two weak set-piece headers, but that… was not the case. As noted, the goal was an incredible strike from Benji Michel (in the vein of the hits that Atlanta has gotten on him four times – terrible luck against the Five Stripes for Willis – while that save against No. 11 was anything but a simple header into his break basket.

Indeed, depending on how much vacation time I want to spend in front of the computer screen, that may very well be worth a film-room breakdown.

What did you see in the Opta data? Check it out and have a report on my desk by end-of-business today.

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