It’s even weirder to say “boys” when you’re talking about just a single adult man! Anyway, the scoop on Nashville SC players on loan or, in this case, on international duty.
Note: If you don’t see a ton of GIFs in this post, visit clubcountryusa.com to see it in full glory.
Winger Randall Leal
On international duty with Costa Rica Nov. 9-16
Leal played the second 45 minutes (plus three of stoppage time) of Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw against Qatar in Austria, and the first 45 of their 2-1 loss to non-FIFA side(!) Basque Country during the international window.
He was mostly superfluous in the first game, playing around 35 minutes as a left winger in a 4-4-2 block before playing second striker in a 4-4-1-1 to close things out. The second game was quite a bit more interesting. He played primarily left winger in that same (boring) 4-4-2, but also got some time as one of the two strikers, and even closed out his time on the pitch as a left mid in a 5-4-1 with some cameos rotating through the forward position.
Having watched Leal very closely during his time before joining Nashville SC, and then with the Boys in Gold, an obvious question arises: Are his increased effort and technique defensively a simple matter of being in a system that values it more, or is it something he’s added to his game. A return to non-NSC action indicated that the latter is the case. He doesn’t end up making any sort of play here, but this level of energy, positioning, and spatial awareness… was not in his game before joining NSC:
Costa Rica also tried to press a little bit, and Leal was energetic and instinctual when he had the opportunity:
That probably should have ended up in an MLS assist, but a shot from the doorstep went wide.
He was involved in a few nice offensive sequences, such as this dummy into a slick 1-2-3 that should spark a really nice opportunity to play in-behind. However, the striker doesn’t see his compatriot making the run (I’ll get into Costa Rica’s big-picture issues at the end), and it goes for naught.
If the quick ball gets played up the wing, Leal should have all sorts of space to run into as the Basque defense has to widen.
Leal was also responsible for one of Costa Rica’s best first-half chances, even taking the shot (albeit a very bad one!):
The 1-2 he plays to create it needed a really solid (or lucky) play from the hold-up striker to handle a hot pass that may or may not have been intended for him. I’m fairly sure the problem with the shot is that he’s initially intending to hit Campbell on a slip pass, but has to change his mind a split-second too late when Campbell inexplicably doesn’t make the gratingly-obvious run.
Unfortunately, Leal was largely responsible for Basque Country’s opening goal:
That’s impressively, pathetically bad defensive play from his teammates on the cross, yes. But Leal’s initial miss on that duel (this is from a cleared corner kick), and then the inability to run down the player who beat him… not a pretty tableau. Speaking of not pretty, he also got accidentally kicked in the head after taking a foul. This doesn’t say a lot about his game, but it’s – as the kids say – “a fun* gif!”
Costa Rica was down 1-0 when Leal was replaced at halftime, and ended up losing 2-1. The goal that he played a role in giving up (and the shot he swung for without getting solid contact) were, unfortunately, consequential in the end.
HOWEVER, Costa Rica’s streak of two straight World Cup appearances… is absolutely going to end unless something changes in a hurry. This is a really bad team. There’s little direction or organization to basically anything they do, and it seemed like a lot of the inability to generate much of anything offensively was a direct result of a coaching philosophy that was designed to bunker-counter (against a non-FIFA side!), but actively discouraged getting out on the counter-attack. It’s ultimately hard to say whether any individual weakness – by Leal or some of his teammates – reflects on the player or upon a system that provides no mechanisms for success.
From a Nashville SC perspective, it’s frustrating to see Costa Rica insist on calling Leal up (through NSC’s requests that he remain with the club team), while not using him a whole lot, and certainly not putting him in positions to not succeed. For his efforts, he gets to miss action through the second round of the MLS Playoffs. The only hope from an NSC perspective is that they can thrive without him enough that he’ll be able to return after they earn a couple early-round wins.