Nashville went to Kennesaw and fought through a rain delay to get a 2-0 win over Atlanta United 2. Let's look at the stats and tactics to learn more about the result.
Note: this was a really strange match with the weather delay, so this will be a shorter Chalkboard than usual.
Nashville got out to a quick start. Their best chance of the game came after 15 seconds, with Ríos missing a 1v1 chance that he normally would finish.
The game really changed after the weather delay, with Atlanta getting on the front foot and creating several of their own chances.
Nashville created double the amount of chances as Atlanta before the delay (they're attacking the goal to the left in the above graphic). They took four shots in the first 34 minutes, and only managed three in the final 56 minutes. This was in part due to the fact that they jumped out to an early lead (they were up 2-0 after 11 minutes). However, even after LaGrassa's goal, they continued to press, with two good chances from Ríos before the delay.
After the game resumed, Atlanta was on the front foot. Sparrow had to make three saves, but two of them were very routine. Atlanta took half of their shots outside the box, and Nashville did a good job limiting them to half chances.
Nashville has shown a lot of progress this season, both in terms of chance creation and chance conversion. Through eight matches in 2018, they scored 7 against a 9.908 xG. Through eight matches in 2019, they've scored 13 goals against a 11.469. Not only are they creating more chances, they're finishing much more consistently. Nashville finished the season with 12 goals less than their xG predicted. Already in 2019, they're outperforming their xG by 1-2 goals. That's a significant improvement.
ROLLING WITH THE 3-5-2
With five games in 14 days, Smith only made one change to the team that drew in Pittsburgh. Justin Davis replaced Liam Doyle at the left center back spot, but otherwise the lineup was unchanged.
One of my favorite things about this system is how high the fullbacks can push up. Taylor Washington has the pace to exploit space on the left, and his final ball into the box has been really good this year. The outside center backs push really wide in possession. Tribbett and Akinyode are able to provide cover in the center, but this width gives Nashville plenty of options passing the ball. Bourgeois has been really good passing the ball this season. He completed 75% of his passes, including the ball over the top to spring Ríos in the first minute. Justin Davis isn't as good on the ball as Liam Doyle, so Nashville lost that threat on the left side in Atlanta, but in general, the formation really helps Nashville in possession.
Before the break, Nashville pressed really high, looking for turnovers deep in Atlanta's half. This led to the own goal from Will Vint. Nashville pressed high and forced the ball out of play. After Atlanta threw the ball in, they again pressed Vint and cut off his passing options, forcing the ball back into his own net.
After the delay, there was a clear shift in Nashville's approach. They sat back in a low block and gave Atlanta the ball in middle third of the pitch. We've seen this approach from Nashville before, especially in New York. They're content to give the ball away in non-threatening areas and try to break on the counter.
The heat maps show how little Nashville got forward, especially after the first 34 minutes. Meanwhile, Atlanta had plenty of the ball, but were limited in the final third.
I just talked about how Nashville have finished much better than last season. There's unquestionably more attacking talent on this team, and Ríos is tied for third in USL with 5 goals so far. It's worth noting, though, that he hasn't scored from open play for 370 minutes. I wouldn't call it a slump, but he's had a couple chances in recent games that he should typically bury.
Here's a still of his chance in the first 15 seconds in Atlanta. He probably should have taken the shot right here, but instead took an extra touch and allowed Campbell to put him off balance. "He just hesitated a little bit," said Gary Smith. "I have seen him many times in training and otherwise finish those off. I am a bit shocked that he didn’t."
Ríos and Belmar have shown moments up front together, but it doesn't seem like it's completely clicked for the pair. And as good as Belmar has been this season, he still hasn't delivered an end product.
Granted, it's only eight matches, and the two games they've played up front together have been difficult to say the least. With the weather in Atlanta and the decision to sit back in the second half, the forwards were REALLY isolated, and got little to no service.
I'm not saying fans should be worried, or that Smith should change anything. Hopefully the end product will come as they play more against worse defenses. After the midweek match against Tampa Bay, they'll play Charlotte and Swope Park at home - the two sides have conceded a combined 32 goals so far.
Again, not calling for a change or for either Ríos or Belmar to be dropped. Quite the opposite. However, it's important that they consistently produce in the final third.
After eight matches, we've started to see consistent trends in terms of player selections. Matt LaGrassa has played all but seven minutes this season (99%). Ríos and Belmar are close behind with 96% and 93%, respectively. It will be really interesting to see how these numbers change over the next two weeks with so many matches. I'd expect Tucker Hume, Ropapa Mensah, and Alan Winn to all see increased minutes up front. Darnell King will almost certainly start at least one match in place of Kimura.
The midfield is interesting. Nashville doesn't have many central midfield players (LaGrassa, Reed, Akinyode, and Vermeer). With Vermeer still working his way back to full fitness, I'm interested to see how Smith rotates the midfield. Ramone Howell could play in one of the central spots, and Smith very well may move away from a three man midfield against weaker opposition. With only 19 outfield players in the squad, rotation will be crucial as the schedule gets congested.
Once Nashville has played 10 games and we have a larger sample size to draw from, I'll start including stats like marginal points contributed and a projected table in my Power Rankings column. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter with any questions or comments.