Nashville ground out a 1-0 win in Birmingham on the USL Championship Game of the Week. Let's look at the stats and tactics to get a better look at the result.
The term "cagey" gets thrown around a lot when describing soccer matches, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I think it's a fair descriptor of this match.
After attempting 20 shots against Charleston, Nashville hit only 30% of that total against Birmingham, taking only six shots. That's their lowest shot count of the season, and yet they still came away with three points on the road.
As I said earlier, the penalty kick skewed Nashville's xG totals a bit, but even including the PK, neither team created much.
Twitter user @NSCGoldenBoy asked me a good question on Twitter, and while I get why he's concerned, I think the performance in Birmingham was definitely the exception to the rule. Nashville is averaging 1.67 goals per game and 1.47 xG per game. They've scored multiple goals in half their matches so far this season. In the six matches they've been held to a goal or less, they've created 7.544 xG (enough to typically score 1-2 goals per game).
In response to Ken's question, throwing out the 5-1 win over Swope Park doesn't actually impact Nashville's averages per game that much.
The short answer to both of these questions is this: I don't expect them to score five goals in a match very often. I also don't expect them to be held scoreless very often. I think we can reasonably expect Nashville to score 1-2 goals in a typical game.
With Nashville SC having played just over 1/3 of their 2019 matches, it's worth taking a look at how much Nashville's attack has improved this season. Through 12 games, they've scored eight more goals than at this point last year, and have +4.08 more xG. It hasn't always been pretty, but this team is much, much better.
Like we've seen a lot this season, Nashville had plenty of the ball, but couldn't consistently create from central areas.
Attacking the goal on the left, Nashville was able to get the ball wide, especially on the left with Alan Winn. Birmingham played a narrow diamond in midfield, and left Nashville's wingers hug the touchline and receive the ball in space.
Birmingham kept their midfield and defensive lines compact, giving Nashville space in midfield to play the ball wide, but making it difficult for Nashville to advance into the final third.
Nashville was able to push players forward, but Birmingham got nine or ten players behind the ball on defense, forcing Nashville to play wide and largely eliminating balls played to Daniel Ríos's feet. When he did get the ball, he was immediately swarmed by multiple Birmingham defenders.
Despite being the focal point of Birmingham's defense, Ríos still led the team in shots (3) and xG (1.052). His goal ties him with New York's Tom Barlow for the top scorer in the East, and two behind Kevaughn Frater in the golden boot race. Ríos is finishing at an unbelievable rate of 36% - of players who have scored more than five goals, only three have a better conversion rate.
One final point to wrap this week's column: Alan Winn has been really good. He's started the past 4 matches, and he's had two goals, two assists, and converted 33% of his shots.
In the 62nd minute, Winn forced a turnover just inside Birmingham's half and ran with the ball. He isolated Hollinger-Janzen (a striker playing as a centerback) on the edge of the box and beat him, forcing a tackle from behind and earning the penalty kick. After being one of Nashville's best performers in preseason, he was really unfortunate to pick up and injury and miss the start of the regular season. He's back in form now, though, and he's turning into a crucial part of this Nashville attack.
Comments or questions you'd like me to answer? Let me know on Twitter and I'll try to include them in the next edition.