Nashville SC scored four(!) goals Saturday evening. Let us take a look at yet another of them, the one that got the ball rolling downhill.
We’re a minute into the game here: not a lot has gone on. However, the broader context – a third contest between these two teams in 2020, with Atlanta winning the prior two and Nashville only scoring one combined goal – is important here, too. Nashville SC needs to change the narrative around its status as a low-scoring team.
A throughball to Hany Mukhtar gets him in-behind the Atlanta defense almost immediately in the contest. While he’s unable to turn it into a dangerous chance from the run-of-play, he bangs a cross off Atlanta centerback Miles Robinson, earning a corner kick.
Mukhtar stands over the corner, delivers a ball to the top corner of the six-yard box, and finds teammate Dax McCarty there. Nashville’s captain earns his first of three assists on the evening by heading to the back post, where Domonique Badji has a simple, nearly-uncontested, finish.
“To see a set-piece that we’ve worked on numerous times work in the first – I don’t know what it was – minute or two minutes of the game, we exploit that near post,” McCarty said. “Actually, Atlanta switched it up on us. They usually play man-to-man, but they went to a zone. But Hany stuck to his guns, he played a great ball in to the near post, and my job was just to flick it, get something on it, try to get to the far post.”
Why it happens
Dax didn’t organize his thoughts in an order convenient for my purposes, unfortunately, because what he said applies alternately to the “what” and the “why.” The “why” portion? Atlanta’s zone scheme. Let us take a look:
They have two zonal lines of three, a man-to-man marker on Nashville’s best aerial threat (Mattheus Rossetto bodying up 25 Walker Zimmerman in the circle there), and a front-post defender (21 George Bello with the arrow).
McCarty manages to shake fellow veteran ginger Jeff Larentowicz to get space for his header, and like we saw with yesterday’s McCarty goal, Atlanta is caught ball-watching in a major way. You can see in the image above that the zone already has Nashville’s starting striker sneaking behind it undisturbed, and no Atlanta player is the wiser.
It’s easy pickings, even as Anton Walkes almost recovers to affect McCarty’s service.
Guzan’s positioning is also terrible (where my USMNT fans at? Sound familiar?), and his command of the defense in front of him doesn’t make up for it. He has a defender protecting the front post for him, but steps to the front post anyway when the ball reaches McCarty, leaving basically the entire goal undefended for Badji.
Atlanta has a lot of talent, but is extremely unorganized and prone to ball-watching as a unit right now. As bad as the offense was under Frank de Boer, the defense is even worse under interim coach Stephen Glass.
For Nashville, the confidence from this goal helped lead to three more over the course of this game, and we’ll see soon if the confidence also carries into the next stretch of games against Columbus, DC, and Houston. If it does – with the precision displayed here a sign of Nashville’s developing chemistry along with an improved mindset – the team could complement its already-strong defense with a big more consistent scoring punch.