For the second week in a row, Nashville SC came from behind to earn three points, this time in a wild, back and forth match in Hartford. Let's take a closer look at the result.
Despite giving up two goals, Nashville was nothing short of dominant. Their 32 total shots was by far the highest total they've managed this season, even including their 120 minute performance against Charleston in the Open Cup (they took 26 shots in that one).
Other than the penalty kick, Hartford created almost nothing in the second half. Nashville's defense isn't leading the league like it was last year, but in terms of goals against per game, it's actually better. In 2018, they averaged 0.91 goals against per match. In 2019, they're averaging 0.87. They're on track to concede just 29 goals this season.
They've also scored 14 goals in their last six matches. The past two weeks, they've bettered their previous best xG total. It hasn't been all good on the attacking side (they've been held to one or fewer goals in seven matches), but they're starting to show more consistent signs of being the offense we all expected before the season.
As you'd expect in a match where one team controlled 56% of the ball and took 32 shots, Nashville got on the ball frequently in Hartford's half.
I've talked before about how crossing isn't a high percentage method of chance creation, but Nashville found success from wide areas, crossing 39 times and completing 17 (44%). Despite this high number, they weren't reliant on crosses to create, finding plenty of space in central areas from which to play their entry balls.
A big reason for Nashville's success against Hartford was Lebo Moloto. The no. 10 created sx chances and scored Nashville's equalizer, despite missing the target with four shots that should've been on goal, and failing to connect his passes in the final third. The South African had 26 touches in and around Hartford's box, and did a great job at drawing defenders to him.
Moloto hasn't had the perfect season by any means, but he quietly leads the team in assists (4), expected assists (3.59) and chances created (27). Keeping him involved in central areas with passing options ahead of him will be key to Nashville's success going forward.
Often times when we see a team get numbers behind the ball, the term "parking the bus" comes up. However, plenty of teams sit deep and invite pressure as an intentional tactic to open up space. Gary Smith did this against Hartford, setting up his team in a low block.
Nashville got numbers behind the ball, allowing Hartford to get high up the pitch and create space behind their backline. This tactic worked well. Daniel Ríos was able to get isolated agaisnt their centerbacks, giving Ropapa Mensah all kinds of space to get in behind in a more free role.
Speaking of Ropapa Mensah, he was yet again the best player on the pitch. He created five chances, in addition to setting up Ríos for Nashville's opener.
It was a really heads up play from Mensah, who anticipates Due's pass to Gdula and cuts it out. He takes a really good first touch to get into space, and does well to pick out Ríos instead of taking the shot himself. He's only played 388 minutes in the league, but he's fifth on the team in chances created, second in assists, and third in goals. He came into this season in really poor shape, but now that he's back to full fitness he's shown significant improvement from last season. If he can continue this type of development, he could turn into a serviceable player at the MLS level.
Another interesting nuance to Nashville's tactical approach was Justin Davis's role. He played on the left of a back three, but in attack he pushed REALLY high up the pitch.
Davis didn't just overlap like a traditional fullback, though. He got upfield in central areas, at times acting as a third central midfielder, allowing Taylor Washington to create width on the left.
Davis got the assist on Lancaster's winner, again pushing up in a central area and playing the ball to Lancaster's feet. It was an interesting use of Davis, and took advantage of the space Hartford allowed in midfield and the playing surface at Rentschler Field. It will be interesting to see if this continues on the smaller field at First Tennessee Park.
Hartford has struggled this season, but in recent weeks have been a much improved side, and looked more than capable of hanging with the top sides in the East on Sunday. Coming back to get three points was a fantastic result for Nashville, who continue their strong road form.
The Boys In Gold return to First Tennessee Park, and will be tested against Ottawa and New York, both of whom seem to be in the top tier of the Eastern conference. It is crucial for Nashville to get results in both matches and really take advantage of playing at home. Nashville needs to be able to get results at home against the top sides in the league to be considered a truly elite team.