Nashville SC

The Graphical: Nashville SC 1-0 DC United

Earlier today, I broke down a game that turned out poorly for the Boys in Gold, despite not playing particularly poorly. Now, they got back on the winning side of the ledger, and some signs that it could (should?) have been worse.

Possession dominance

I already looked at how Nashville’s advantage in possession was built against Columbus, and why it ultimately wasn’t that meaningful to the result. In the big picture, soccer is a high-variance game and even controlling the run of play doesn’t necessarily mean much. We saw that this is particularly if the opponent is ready to dictate the style of play at the expense of a possession advantage.

Generally, though, a team with more of the ball has the opportunity to control where scoring chances are going to come from (and ultimately have a greater volume than the opponent). Control possession and do it in good areas, and you’re cookin’.

Take a look at all that Nashville possession, and in particular contrast how many passes were made or received in DC United territory and in the central third of the pitch. If you’re not only keeping the ball, but – as Gary Smith would say – asking questions of the opponent, you’re feeling pretty good about the way the game is going to turn out.

Of course, Nashville SC still managed to score just once, and that came on a set piece opportunity. So let’s move on to why that may be…

Beating a bunker, or: how I learned to stop worrying and whip it into the mixer, lads

One of the issues with Nashville SC dating back to the USL days has been beating a team that will let them have the ball, and even have it in dangerous (or dangerous enough) areas, as long as they aren’t getting uncontested shots from inside the penalty area. In short, Nashville SC has had a hard time beating a bunker.

All too often, the gameplan for a defense that plays a deep, narrow formation, with eight field players in its own box is… lump in a ton of crosses. This is an inherently low-probability offensive philosophy (executed largely because “low probability” is better than “don’t even have a chance to get a shot”). Well,

That’s crosses from open play only (no corner kicks or free kicks), and only those which didn’t become key passes (i.e. lead directly to a shot – there were two crosses for a shot, fwiw). It’s also a whole mess of ’em!

Of course, some of this comes down to available personnel: a central midfield creator is pretty crucial when it comes to breaking down a packed-in defense, and Nashville SC’s only one (Hany Mukhtar) was out with a minor injury against DC. Relatively inexperienced players, like MLS rookies Taylor Washington (23) and Alistair Johnston (12), are going to have fewer changeup options in their skillset, or less confidence to bust out the ones they do have.

A little more composure, and a little more patience against a bunker, and Nashville SC could have either turned these opportunities into something a bit more effective. Crosses are completed league-wide at under 25%, and even successful crosses are converted into shots at a low rate. A learning experience, and opportunity to earn a win even without key personnel (and the gameplan that they enable Nashville SC to use), and maybe let’s not do this one again.

That SAID,

Even with an over-reliance on crossing, Nashville SC – thanks in part to that possession dominance outlined in the top section – was able to create a fair amount of danger.

Certainly the shots from well outside the box – particularly those that get blocked before they even reach the penalty area – can get a little tedious. While I maintain that those are valuable as long as they provide some sort of threat on the opponent’s goal, a re-adjustment of priorities may be due for the Boys in Gold here.

But three shots on-target from just outside the area, six shots inside the penalty area (including the goal – which came from a set piece), and all that despite a DCU bunker and the resulting low-percentage offense Nashville felt forced into? Not a half-bad day. Indeed, a little bit more luck – per American Soccer Analysis, that’s 1.47 xG, which obviously turned into just one goal – and nobody’s super-concerned about the outcome.

(Now, whether it’s all truly “luck” or if NSC is going to consistently under-perform expected goals on offense throughout the year may be another topic altogether).

Defensive juggernaut

OK, maybe that heading’s a bit of an overstatement, particularly considering that Nashville SC gave up two goals in the preceding game, and a late goal to drop points in the subsequent one. Also because DC’s offense is terrible and was shorthanded for a half. But anyway:

That’s four total shots, and both of those that came from within the box were off-target headers from set-piece service. United simply didn’t threaten once all day.

Now, that may very well say as much (or more!) about DC as it does about Nashville – this is the fourth-least effective in the league, with only Atlanta(!), Vancouver, and Cincinnati less productive compared to their opponents’ averages – but given that NSC was able to hold DC to that level of effectiveness and put as many shots up on the other end as they did… it’s not the best-played game (as viewings through lenses other than this one would tell you pretty quickly), but it’s effective enough.

What did you see from the chalkboards, numbers, and graphs? Poke around and share your thoughts in the comments or via social media.

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