Nashville SC

From the film room: Face of the Week

Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati each had a semi-fluky goal Saturday evening (Cincy’s on a penalty kick from a bizarre Joe Willis mistake, Nashville’s on a wonderstrike from Randall Leal), and each had a well-worked tally, too. I’ve already broken down FC Cincinnati’s team goal, and it’s time to take a look at Nashville’s.

The situation

Nashville is in an early hole. the Boys in Gold have given up two goals to an FC Cincinnati team that sported one of the most anemic offenses imaginable. That’s not great! NSC has to get something out of the first half or the 2021 season opener could spiral.

A goal to bring the score back within one some time soon may very well give the team the momentum needed.

An FC Cincinnati attack fizzles out with a harmless ball into the box, and Joe Willis clears it long for the Boys in Gold. Thus, we start with what is essentially a no-man’s land ball that isn’t necessarily dangerous.

What happens

Cincinnati midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo heads the ball back somewhat aimlessly in the direction of Nashville’s end, and the Boys in Gold embark on doing something they do best: winning second balls in the midfield and turning the resulting possession into instant offense.

Aníbal Godoy heads it pretty precisely to Alex Muyl, who passes it back to Godoy first-touch. That allows Godoy to get into space behind defensive midfielder (and converted winger) Yuya Kubo, and suddenly he’s running at Cincinnati’s unprotected backline with speed.

“For me when I saw him give me the little header, I knew that he was going to carry his run on,” Muyl said. “I saw the space, and I knew that it was a little bit tight, and I knew I was going to have to play fast. Luckily, I was able to give a good ball back that kept him in stride and kept his momentum, because that’s also very important: if you have to slow down, you can get caught a lot of the time. I was just trying to get him the ball and let him do his thing.”

With central attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar and striker Jhonder Cádiz near the edge of the Cincinnati box, holding those defenders deep (and on the far side of the pitch), there isn’t the opportunity for anyone to step to Godoy in the immediate future. Either RCB Nick Hagglund or RB Joe Gyau will eventually have to make the move.

Godoy implores left winger Randall Leal to get in on the fun:

“For me watching that, it was hilarious,” Muyl said. “I didn’t really notice how much he was basically telling Randall to get wide until I saw it after. For me what I’m thinking is ‘ok this is a big moment.’ And I was just trying to get into the box.”

Gyau somewhat-inexplicably turns inside, in a direction that prevents him from marking Leal, and with a body shape (and amount of lost momentum) that prevents him from having much of an opportunity to step to Godoy, either. As a fullback… well, he’s a converted winger, and it showed.

Leal got the ball in space, and the coup de grace is LCB Tom Petterson leaving striker Jhonder Cádiz totally unmarked on the back post. Leal sees it, and slides the pass behind the backline thanks to the space Gyau has given him. Keeper Przemisław Tyton knows his only chance to accomplish much of anything is to intercept that pass, so when his effort to do so fails, it’s a tap-in for the big Venezuelan.

What it means

As with most goals scored at a high level, there are multiple opponent mistakes necessary to make this play happen: Kubo overcommitting to Godoy’s initial header, leaving tons of space in midfield gets things going, and two separate defenders either picking the wrong mark and technique (Gyau) or just falling asleep and leaving a dude unmarked on the back post (Petterson on Cádiz) allow the Boys in Gold to pay off.

The precision of Godoy’s header, the quick thinking of Muyl to get him the ball back, and then of course the tactical leadership of Godoy to get his teammate into a dangerous position are also huge.

Largely, it’s players making smart moves and executing the openings that the defense gives them in transition. That’s what the Boys in Gold would like to do.

Going forward

NSC is – and ever shall it be – a team that likes to win that second ball and preferably start a transition opportunity, and that’s what happened here. It’s the mentality (and physical ability) to actually go out and win that ball that is a hallmark of what this team has been for years.

Most opponents won’t make the cacophony of errors that FCC did (unlike Nashville’s defensive mistakes, some of them aren’t excusable as “made a decision that could be right had the play finished differently.” There is no “leave the striker free on the back post because you miss your CB partner” play). But Frequently enough, the advantage gained from getting on the ball in unsettled situations is going to be helpful.

NSC will also play 1-2s up the sideline or whip in crosses – or even play true Route One soccer at times – but the more this type of play turns into a legitimate transition opportunity, the brighter the future for the attack.

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