Updated: Apr 8, 2019
Nashville went on the road against a very strong New York Red Bulls II team and came away with a point. Let's look at some key stats and tactics to get a better look at what happened.
Nashville had their fair share of chances, taking 11 shots and matching NYRB's three shots on goal. However, New York had higher quality changes. Nashville's 0.834 xG was only 30% of NYRB's 2.756.
Nashville had their fair share of chances, including several right after halftime. Matt LaGrassa hit the post on a half volley in the 50th minute and had a shot blocked soon after. He also played a great ball across the box in the 72nd minute that didn't result in a shot (and thus has no xG value), but probably deserved a goal.
Despite Nashville's chances, though, NYRB II had by far the better quality attempts. They only managed four more shots than Nashville, and had the same number of shots on goal, but had several shots from right around the 6-yard-box, and probably should have scored more. A mix of poor finishing from NYRB and great goalkeeping from Connor Sparrow kept Nashville in the game.
The below graph shows how the both sides xG played out over the course of 90 minutes.
DEALING WITH THE PRESS
Just as their parent club does, NYRB II uses a high press that is designed to create turnovers in their opponent's half. To try and limit this, Nashville's center backs tended to play the ball long, putting balls over the top for Ríos and Belmar to run onto.
You can see in the above graph how many passes from Doyle and Tribbett were played over the top and through the lines, and this generally worked to relieve pressure.
These long balls over the top directly lead to Nashville's opening goal. Ken Tribbett pounced on a poor touch from Stroud, and with his first touch played a long ball over the top for Ríos.
He was 20 yards inside his own half, and you can see from the above picture didn't have any real short passing options. The game plan to play long and avoid pressure worked well here. It was helped by a poor touch from a defender, but Ríos's finish was anything but easy.
For the most part, Nashville was very well organized, sitting in a low block and giving New York few options through the center. It was telling that most of New York's opportunities came from set pieces or wide areas. Justin Davis brought in, presumably because he's a better pure defender than Taylor Washington. However, many of NYRB's chances came from Nashville's left side. That's not entirely on Davis, and he defended well for the most part. He didn't cover himself with glory on New York's goal, though.
The play starts in the top left frame of the above photo. Davis wins a challenge really well, but instead of taking a touch and either passing or clearing, he pokes at the ball while on the ground and gives it right back to New York. Epps gets the ball in space and goes by Kimura and LaGrassa way too easily, before putting a cross in to White, who's all alone on the back post.
White was initially marked by Akinyode, but in the buildup you can see Akinyode move towards the near post and pass him off to Reed. Reed is slow to recognize White's run and lets him get in all alone. It was a really good run from White, but there's no real excuse for Reed not getting goalside, and at least making White fight to win the header.
The goal was a rare instance of a defensive breakdown for Nashville. They were otherwise solid, save for a well-worked free kick routine that saw New York hit the post, and a really poor back pass from Tribbett that almost saw Elney score a winner in the 89th minute.
For the most part, Nashville had a solid game plan: Sit in a low block, force New York wide, and hit them on the break. Gary Smith made four changes to the previous side, and a lot of them make sense in hindsight.
Vinnie Vermeer started instead of Bolu Akinyode as the 6. The move was surprising, but it made sense; Vermeer is quicker and better at playing balls forward, allowing him to cover more ground and get the ball up to Ríos quickly. He was unfortunate to come off injured, and Nashville lost his forward passing.
I talked earlier about why Justin Davis came in for Taylor Washington - Davis is a better pure defender. He doesn't have Washington's speed, but he wasn't asked to push up nearly as much as Washington has been. His primary role was to defend, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Davis get the start away from home against strong attacking sides.
It was interesting to see Matt LaGrassa, Vinner Vermeer and Michael Reed all start together. Reed and Vermeer played in more deep-lying roles, while LaGrassa and Moloto switched between the 10 and right midfield spots. Gary Smith addressed this in his post match comments.
"We’ve changed up one or two areas in a slightly different picture to how we played with LaGrassa in the middle with two other genuine midfield players. Because I honestly felt there would be a lot of central field play, regains, second phase, and a lot of work going on in there. To a degree, it helped. But ultimately, we’ve got a lot of good players and there’s going to be occasions where we’ve got to rotate them."
With Alan Winn getting close to full health, we should see him in that role now, as he provides more pace on the break and can rotate with Moloto and Belmar in any of the front three positions.
It wasn't a surprise that Daniel Ríos started, but many were surprised that Cameron Lancaster was left on the bench. However, he's already being played out of his natural role, and it would be even more of a stretch to ask him to play on the wing against New York, when he'd be asked to defend more than attack. Ríos got the nod up front, presumably because of his size and hold up play.
Overall, the game plan worked out, and Nashville came away with a solid point on the road.
Once Nashville has played a few more matches and we have a larger sample size, I'll start including stats like marginal points contributed and a projected table. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter with any questions or comments.