Nashville SC

The Graphical: Nashville SC draws in Miami

“Miami” is a term which here means “Fort Lauderdale.”

Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I run through some of the stats, graphs, and analytical what-have-yous of a recent Nashville SC match to break down what went down in the game. Today, a scoreless draw in the 954.

Time to fine-tune it

Nashville SC launched 16 shots, which ties for second-most in a game in the franchise’s short history, eclipsed only by the 21 they put up in another scoreless draw, the second contest of the return-to-play schedule against FC Dallas (the other game in which they launched 16 shots was the 3-1 loss to Orlando City). Getting up a good number of shots is a positive. You’d… like to see them be a little more goal-dangerous, though:

10 of those 16 shots came from outside the box, only one of which was on-target. Three Nashville shots were blocked before they could trouble keeper Luis Robles, and two of those blocks occurred well outside his penalty area.

There is value in getting a bunch of shots up (we’ll call it “the James Harden principle”), but they have to be more consistently dangerous, or it’s simply wasteful. Nashville hasn’t been far – one of those Mukhtar (10) bombs from the top of the box was only a couple feet wide, and Dan Lovitz’s late-game shot (2) glanced off the outside of the post – but in a game where the margins are so thin, every bit of accuracy helps. For a team that seems to cause its head coach to lament the finishing after every game (we shall see if that improves with Designated Player Jhonder Cádiz added), the creation of chances hasn’t been a major problem. Using those chances to their maximum potential – or even average potential – has been.

This was just another one of those games in a season that’s already seen too many of them.

Leal rounding into form?

That his only two shots were (way) off-target obscured what was probably a significant step forward for Nashville’s Costa Rican midfielder*.

His goal against Orlando City in the midweek didn’t necessarily help him find his finishing touch, but it did let him play a little more freely, and connect more consistently with his teammates. The passing chart at the right shows that he wasn’t perfect in passing, but for a guy who you’re relying on to maintain possession and do so in dangerous areas, there’s not a whole lot to dislike here.

You see a lot less of the over-passing that plagued not only him but also compatriot Hany Mukhtar in the first few games of the restart, with the pass/shoot decisions more confidently made, at the very least. Even if they weren’t always the right choice – that’s in the eye of the beholder anyway – the moment of indecision disappeared from his wheelhouse and the passes were there against a Miami team that has been very sound defensively and added a World Cup winner in the defensive midfield for this game.

Even Leal’s two shots ending up well off the target wasn’t indicative of poor decision-making: both were mis-hit, with the first just coming off the foot all wrong and ending up well wide, and the second an attempt to curl into the top corner that he didn’t quite manage to wrap his foot around to get the necessary bend on it. They seemed to be fine decisions and poor execution, which is probably the preferable choice between those two as it correlates to success in future games.

*yes, this is sort of a “except for all the death, coronavirus has been simply splendid!” take

Inter Miami can’t create

I think the Herons are trending in the right direction, so forgive the hot-take-style section heading, but IMCF doesn’t really have a lot going on in terms of offensive cohesion. Their problems don’t seem to be the type that Nashville has slowly worked out of its system (solid creation that goes by the wayside because of a failure to link that final pass, or connect on the shot), but rather that there aren’t a ton of ideas in the first place.

Adding Blaise Matuidi may help that a bit – despite being a defense-first central midfielder, he’s been good for around .10 expected assists per game in Italy – and the upcoming signing of Gonzalo Higuaín will give them a striker who can convert on buckets of goals. But a creative attacking player other than Rodolfo Pizarro – who, fairly or not given the sample size, has been a failure in chance-creation so far this year – would be nice.

A No. 10 (both literally and positionally) whose key passes come from 1) a cross and 2) a pass in his own defensive territory is not getting the job done. Far be it from somebody who covers Nashville to criticize his finishing, but when that same chance non-creator also misses an open net by several feet from six yards out, you need help in creating.

Pizarro’s teammates also relied on crosses (either live-ball or from a corner kick) to generate any looks on goal. A team with a South American/Mexican playing style and roster build should be able to get more done than that. Again, they probably will with more talent added and that talent settling into the system. But they’re almost built (pre-Higuaín) to suffer from a Nashville-style “can create chances, cannot finish chances” struggle, whereas they’re seeing significant issues in the former, as well. Things were marginally better against Atlanta in the mid-week, so Miami could be rounding into form, in which case Nashville was probably lucky to get them early enough.

Road Warriors?

Nashville has had two pretty poor road performances so far this year – against Atlanta and Orlando – but aside from that… things are going pretty darn well?

TeamHome xG differential/game (v. others)Home xG differential/game (v. Nashville)
Portland Timbers-0.3-0.4
FC Dallas0.8-0.1
Atlanta United-0.8-0.2
Orlando City1.00.4
Inter Miami CF0.2-0.3
Usually I use American Soccer Analysis data for a table like this, but since they have one of the Dallas games missing, I’ve gone with FBref.com (using StatsBomb data) to have a consistent data source

Keep in mind we’re dealing with minuscule sample sizes here – and some confounding factors in terms of game-state, etc. – but only Atlanta has done better against Nashville than it has against its other opponents. Given the stresses of the travel schedule (and two of those away games, including the Miami one we’re discussing in this post, featuring lengthy weather delays), you’d be hard-pressed to be too upset with how Nashville has handled this phase in terms of expected goals.

As with many other aspects of evaluating this team, it’s turning those expected goals into actual goals – or defensively preventing low-xG chances from turning into world-class strikes against Joe Willis – that has been the issue.

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