After taking a break for a few weeks, it's time for another edition of The Chalkboard. Nashville SC got their first ever win over Indy Eleven in front of 13,000 fans at Nissan Stadium. Let's take a closer look at the result.
Nashville didn't blow Indy out of the water by any means, but a), they were able to create more clear-cut chances and b), they took advantage of those chances.
After outshooting the visitors 7-3 in the first half, Nashville was on the back foot a bit more after the break. With a two goal lead, Nashville was able to absorb pressure and limit Indy to mostly half-chances, and save for a pair of headers at the very end of the match, Indy didn't really pose any significant threats.
Despite the odd game in which they've struggled to convert chances, Nashville's finishing has significantly improved this season. Currently out-performing their xG by 3.63, their 17% conversion rate ranks fifth in the league. This is in large part because of Daniel Ríos, who is currently second in the Golden Boot race with 13 goals and converting just over 30% of his shots.
After using a 3-4-1-2 formation for six matches, Gary Smith has gone back to a 4-2-3-1 system, giving Nashville plenty of threats from wide areas.
Akinyode sat in front of the centerbacks, allowing Moloto and even Reed to have more free roles in the center. Defensively, Reed returned to typical central midfield areas, but in attack, he had the freedom to get forward, drift wide and find space. Moloto played similarly going forward, but without the ball he had more freedom to press and pick his own spots to cut off passing angles, occasionally pushing higher than Ríos to hassle Indy's centerbacks.
Nashville had acres of space to work with in the first half. In the above still, Akinyode has the ball just past the midfield line, and has four passing options at varying ranges, and has no one at all pressuring him. He has as much time and space as he wants to move the ball.
As the second half progressed, Nashville became more compact, switching to a 5-4-1 / 5-3-2 formation. The sat in a mid block and limited Indy to short passing options with no runners in space. Ropapa Mensah had the freedom to push forward and join Ríos in possession, but in defense he dropped back into a right midfield role, doubling up with Kosuke Kimura to limit Indy's options on that side of the field.
Ken Tribbett made his first appearance in 49 days, and played in a more advanced role than he typically does. He positionally sat in the same area as a holding midfielder, but acted purely as a defensive screen in front of the defense, eliminating threats before they even got to the backline. After Tribbett was introduced, Ockford and Lasso only made four defensive actions between them, the same number as Tribbett had on his own. The move completely eliminated Indy's ability to create centrally, forcing them wide where Nashville's pacy fullbacks were able to keep them contained.
I said on our preview podcast that whoever played in the attacking midfield role would be vital to Nashville's success, and Moloto stepped up big time.
Moloto touched the ball 60 times, and consistently found pockets of space in central areas. An issue with Nashville's attack at times has been an overreliance on wide players to get balls into the box, but against Indy, Nashville attempted only two crosses, relying instead on passes through the lines to get looks on goal.
The ball from Moloto to set up Winn's goal was indicative of why he's been so vital to this team. He dropped into a pocket to get on the ball, kept it close with a clean touch, and played an inch-perfect pass into space while under pressure. Most players would have put the pass in the air towards the corner flag, but he kept it on the ground through an inside channel, right into the path of Winn. With seven assists so far, he's averaging a goal or assist every 139 minutes. In the 4-2-3-1, with options in front of him and out wide, he's dangerous.
Just two days after arriving in Nashville, Forrest Lasso slotted right in at the heart of defense. Partnered with Jimmy Ockford, another new signing, Lasso was dominant on and off the ball.
Both centerbacks showed a good range of passing, attempting more ambitious passes than just hitting their fullback or playing it back to the other centerback. They each completed more than 85% of their passes and kept the ball moving to unsettle Indy's defense.
Defensively, both players had strong showings. Lasso especially showed an impressive ability to read the game and recover the ball, and did a really good job retaining the ball after winning it. After struggling to cope with Tribbett's lengthy absence, the club brought in two elite-level centerbacks at the USL level. With Tribbett back to fitness, Gary Smith has a plenty of options in defense. Going forward, Nashville's defense should be in good shape, especially if Jimmy Ockford's loan is extended.
Sorry for the long break in this series. If you have questions or observations about matches, feel free to let me know on Twitter and I'll do my best to answer them.