This isn't going to be a normal version of The Chalkboard. I initially hadn't planned on doing these for Open Cup matches, but there were some big picture issues on display in last night's match that I think are worth discussing. The following is an edited version of a thread I put out on Twitter.
I put out xG stats last night, but here they are again. It's worth looking at again because apart from the scoreline (the only stat that matters), #NashvilleSC were completely short of dominant.
Here's the xG for both teams in graph form. Side-by-side it's pretty shocking.
Nashville dominated possession, but more importantly they had plenty of possession in the final third. That's been a struggle this season. I've used Smith's "possession is meaningless unless it's actually productive" quote several times, but this possession was productive.
To further the previous point, Nashville had 49 (FORTY NINE!!) touches in Charleston's box (attacking the goal on the right in the graph). Not a lot to say on that besides the obvious - you have to score more than one goal with that type of volume.
Defensively, Nashville did a good job limiting Charleston. Charleston was never going to control possession - that's not their style . They look to hit on the counter, and had opportunities, but for the most part NSC defended well, only allowing 12 touches in their box.
Nashville attempted 35 crosses and completed seven (20%). That % is lower than their 23.9% average this season, and it's pretty worrying that late in the game they default to crossing when they can't break down a defense.
Nashville did resort to crossing towards the end, especially once Tucker Hume was brought in. Still, they were able to create plenty from central areas as well. They had 4 key passes from Zone 14 and 4 from inside the penalty area.
With their 2 penalty kicks, NSC average 1.556 xG per game. Ignoring penalties, they average 1.453. That's not a major difference. It's still enough xG to reasonably expect a team to score between 1-2 goals per game.
If you want xG strictly from open play (ignoring corners & free kicks, both important parts of a game), they've scored 18 goals against 19.84 xG. Set pieces are an important part of Nashville's attack, but they've actually been quite good from open play. Before last night's Open Cup match, they had actually outperformed their open play xG (+0.603 G-xG).
Finally, the most concerning stat of all: When conceding first, Nashville have 0 wins, 15 losses and 4 draws. On the flip side, when they score first, they have 21 wins, 8 draws and 0 losses. Nashville aren't great when conceding at all (4 wins, 12 draws, and 15) but the fact that they have yet to win a game from a losing position after 54 games as a professional club is unacceptable.
After the loss to Saint Louis FC in the second match of the season, Gary Smith said "possession is worthless unless it's actually productive." Some version of that quote gets thrown around any time Nashville have possession without scoring, and at times it's fair. In this case, however, that use of the phrase couldn't be more wrong.
Smith set up Nashville to attack and they did. They took almost 30 shots against a team that thrashed them two months ago. Their 21 shots in regular time is tied with the 2-0 win over Memphis for their highest total of the season. Their 17 shots from inside the penalty area is their highest total of the season. Yes, Nashville dominated possession. However, it was actually very productive. It was the final touch that was lacking.
I get that there's a certain perception of Gary Smith among Nashville fans. He's often labeled as a defensive coach, and while I think it's a lazy narrative, it's true that his teams are typically defensively strong. In Nashville, though, he's largely been a victim of poor finishing. Last season, Nashville finished 11.8 goals behind their xG. Granted, they were pretty average in terms of chance creation, but converting at the expected rate would have moved them from 10th to 6th in the Eastern conference scoring charts.
This season, the finishing has been much improved. Nashville have scored 26 goals in all competitions, 2.659 more than their xG predicts. There have been matches where they've outperformed and overperformed, but overall it has evened out.
Although the finishing has overall been better, too often Nashville has failed to kill games off. "I think a feature [of our play] has been that we’ve looked very purposeful in those opening exchanges," said Gary Smith after the 1-1 draw with Charlotte Independence. "Some good opportunities, some good areas, some good moments, but just not enough quality in vital moments."
For Nashville to take the next step, to be able to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league and truly compete for trophies, there has to be a change. Not necessarily in how they approach games. Not necessarily in how the possess the ball or create chances. Could those aspects be improved? Sure. But even more basic than that is making the most of periods of play when they're on top. Nashville have the pieces on this roster to be one of the best teams in all USL. For them to come close to that potential, they have to be more ruthless.