Nashville SC

From the film room: That old McCarty magic

Nashville SC scored four times Saturday evening. That’s a lot of times! Here’s a look at the third goal, a headed effort by Dax McCarty.

The situation

Nashville SC has largely been on the front foot through the first 35-plus minutes of the first half. The Boys in Gold scored within the opening minute of the game, and although Atlanta responded, once again NSC was able to get a player in behind and take a 2-1 lead.

The preference is to build on that lead, rather than sit and risk an Atlanta comeback. After a long cross from the right wing is cleared away by Atlanta right back Franco Escobar, Five Stripes midfielder Brooks Lennon chases to the sideline to keep the pass inbounds. Escobar folds inside, and makes a run to try to give his team a chance to hit on the counter.

What happens

Under pressure from left winger Alex Muyl, Lennon tries to slide a pass into Escobar’s run. It never finds its target, with Nashville left back Dan Lovitz intercepting. Lovitz plays a one-two with Muyl, and gets into acres of space near the left endline.

Lovitz chops back onto his right foot, forcing Lennon to overrun his mark, and need to recover. A second overrun as he tries to compensate gives Lovitz the ball on his favored left foot and acres of space to cross cleanly. He does exactly that, firing to an area of open grass near the Atlanta penalty spot.

But lo, his captain is arriving! Central midfielder Dax McCarty finds that open grass as well, and hammers a header for the far post. After taking a deflection from the thigh of Atlanta central defender Anton Walkes, the ball finds the back of the net.

Why it happens

This obviously starts with a couple of Atlanta players getting out of their expected positions: there’s not really anything wrong with Lennon becoming the right back (it’s actually been his preferred position this year) and Escobar playing as a midfielder. Indeed, the interchanging of their roles can provide Atlanta opportunities to overload opponents. The problem is that Nashville is very organized, and Lennon’s pass to Escobar is a horrible decision:

By the time he actually hits the pass, there’s no chance that it will reach the intended target, barring a massive mistake by Lovitz. Indeed, Lennon tries to play the ball behind Escobar (who falls trying to slow down for it, even), and it’s still really simple for Lovitz to burst forward for the interception.

Lennon compounds his mistake by trying to take a dive when Lovitz bumps him. That means if he doesn’t get the call, Lovitz has all sorts of space to run into, and Lennons is going to be playing catch-up the whole time:

While Ezequiel Barco – off the screen at the end of the speculative line to the right there – is playing the Pity Martinez Memorial “lol I’m not even going to consider getting back into the defensive shape” role from his attacking midfield/wing spot, striker Adam Jahn (the small circle closer to Muyl) is making up the numbers in midfield, along with holding midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.

With Lennon and Escobar’s roles switched, Atlanta’s shape wouldn’t be that bad, save for the fact that Lennon is getting back to his feet and looking for a whistle, rather than running shoulder-to-shoulder with Lovitz. That turns it into a one-v-one battle in which he starts at a disadvantage, and can’t make up the ground. Of course, losing that one-v-one battle only means that Nashville SC gets a cross off.

“I actually thought that Daniel Lovitz did a wonderful job out on the left,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “He looked like he was going to cross it two or three times, worked a terrific angle and of course the assist from him was sublime.”

Crosses can obviously lead to goals, but they’re generally a low-probability tactic. Letting a guy launch even from the edge of the penalty area isn’t the worst outcome. Crosses are even less successful when a stout defense like Atlanta closes down open grass in dangerous areas, and tracks runners into the box. Certainly the vaunted Five Stripes wouldn’t be caught ball-watching.

Alternatively, every Atlanta eyeball can be tuned in to Daniel Lovitz’s new cooking show, where his debut episode breaks down an effective recipe for Roasted Brooks Lennon.

Larentowicz, Jahn, and Mattheus Rossetto have no interest in tracking McCarty’s run into the box. Once he gets there, the non-Lennon (remember, he’s slotting at right back temporarily after trading roles with Escobar) defenders don’t particularly care to step to him either. The surprise of Dax being the one to make the run probably played a role in the sneak attack here.

“He doesn’t make those runs into the box as often as I saw him maybe in the past,” said Smith. “Certainly, the way that I’ve asked him to perform and his leadership well in the group, doesn’t always see him in that position. You know, I certainly know what he is capable of and I think the one thing that you can expect from somebody of his experience is that he makes those choices and selects those opportunities maybe far better now than he did when he was younger.”

I’ll say, ‘good selection, Michael!’

Here’s the whole thing as it played out:

Going forward

You may have guessed that, as much credit as Lovitz and McCarty get – and they should get plenty – this is more a “what went wrong for Atlanta” goal than a “Nashville SC is basically Man City” goal. Of course, basically every goal is going to require the opponents to make mistakes. Lovitz and McCarty made the most of those.

In a year where we’ve seen a millimeter here and there go wrong for Nashville SC, and promising moments spoiled, this was an example of the opposite: everything went right with a couple of veteran players very precise, and seven or so Atlanta defenders more interested in a field-level view of a soccer game than participating in it. Nonetheless, getting contributions from atypical goal-scorers can help kick-start things, and in a match where the other three(!) goals were scored by pure attackers (and assisted by McCarty), a little midfield help is no problem.

That’s something that the team is a little more comfortable with in Nissan Stadium than, say Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they lost to Atlanta just a couple weeks prior.

“When we’re at home, I think it’s incumbent upon us to just be aggressive, to try to be the aggressor and to try to really put teams under pressure,” McCarty said. “Whether that’s [fellow defensive midfielder Aníbal] Godoy going forward, or whether that’s me, it doesn’t really matter: we needed to support the attacking players. It just happened to be me tonight.”

As the chemistry builds – worth noting that Lovitz’s second chop not only got him on his preferred foot, but allowed McCarty to time the run for a driven cross – NSC may not need McCarty to score, but knows that’s available.

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