It looked like Nashville would come back to win for a third consecutive week against Ottawa until the visitors scored late, holding the Boys In Gold to a draw at home. Let's take a closer look at the result.
This match was an odd one. Despite scoring three, Nashville missed plenty of chances that they should have scored. Despite conceding three, they were actually decent defensively. It became yet another match where missed chances in the first half cost Nashville points.
After conceding 11 shots in the first half, Gary Smith made a tactical switch, taking off Liam Doyle for the more pacy Bradley Bourgeois. Nashville only allowed four shots after that, which should have secured the win. Unfortunately, two of those shots were goals, and Nashville again dropped points at home against playoff opposition.
This season, Nashville is proving the "Gary Smith is a defensive coach" narrative to be inaccurate. They've scored 10 goals in their last three matches, and are just one goal behind New York for the top scorers in the East.
However, just as their attack has started to impress, their defense has regressed. They've given up six in their last three, and it's worth noting that they've been without Ken Tribbett in their most recent two. The defender hasn't been practicing after suffering a calf injury against Bethlehem, and his absence has been notable.
Nashville are still exceeding their xG when it comes to finishing, and overall they've been decent defensively, but they need to patch the dam a bit, especially with high-scoring NYRB II coming to town. In Nashville's three home matches against teams in playoff position, they've only earned a single point. That has to change if they want to make a run in the playoffs. On the road, only two teams earn more points per game than Nashville. At home, nine teams take more points per game than Nashville. At some point, that discrepancy has to end.
Gary Smith stuck with the same 3-4-1-2 system he's used for the past four matches, and for just the second time this season named an unchanged 11. Defensively, they sat in a mid block, not allowing Ottawa to consistently get the ball into the final third.
Ottawa were only able to take four shots inside the box, a testament to Nashville's defensive setup.
In attack, Smith continued his trend of pushing Davis forward on the left. When Nashville had the ball, they almost played in a 4-4-2, with Washington playing more as a left winger. In defense, they played with two clear lines in a 3-5-2.
Ríos performed his typical role as a target forward really well, receiving the ball with his back to goal and allowing Ropapa and Moloto to operate in more free-roaming roles. Ropapa consistently found pockets of space on the back shoulder, popping up on both wings and getting plenty of looks on goal.
Mensah got in on goal in the first minute, with a glorious opportunity to give Nashville an early lead. You'd bet on him to score with that kind of chance, but he couldn't keep his shot on target. He had a great match (1 goal, 0.881 xG) and Nashville got on the scoresheet just a few minutes later, but those are the types of chances Nashville has to finish at home to start getting better results.
The first goal Nashville conceded game from a rather needless foul just outside Nashville's box. Liam Doyle went in for a tackle on Wal Fall and was a step late. It wasn't a horrible foul, but he had plenty of teammates around him and didn't need to lunge in like that just before half time. The finish from Haworth to convert the free kick was exceptional, but it was a free kick Nashville shouldn't have conceded in the first place.
After allowing 11 shots in the first half, Smith replaced Doyle with the more pacey Bradley Bourgeois. "There were a couple of things that I felt Bradley might just deal with a little bit better," said Smith. "We were getting ourselves in more positive areas higher up the field, and I just thought there were signs that it could be a little bit of an issue against a pacy front line that Ottawa have."
The move actually worked well, as Bourgeois snuffed out several attacks and Nashville only conceded four shots. However, on Ottawa's second goal, he got outpaced by Christiano François.
Dakota Barnathan played a 50 yard ball over the top while Nashville had numbers committed forward, putting François through with only Bourgeois and Davis within reach of him.
Davis didn't take a great angle initially, but Bourgeois was able to stay tight with François , even forcing him to go wide, not directly at goal. However, François's final touch bought him a half yard of space, and he hit a perfect shot into the top corner. There wasn't much Nashville could have done differently there, and 9/10 times the opponent doesn't take the shot there, or even put it on target at that distance, angle, and speed. It was frustrating to concede at that point in the match, but I don't think it was emblematic of a larger defensive issue.
Ottawa's third goal was close to inexcusable. After going up in the 71st minute, Nashville continued to push numbers forward and look for a fourth goal. It's been a criticism of this team that Nashville isn't ruthless enough, failing to kill games off. I have no problem with trying to get another goal in this scenario, but the defending on Fall's goal was really poor.
Fall receives a pass played from Nashville's left wing, and although Nashville has plenty of numbers back, no one steps up to pressure the ball. After Fall's first touch sends him to his left, LaGrassa slowly begins to step up, but doesn't get close and is beating by a quick cut from Fall.
When he eventually takes his shot, there's still no Nashville defender within two yards of him. He struck it well, and it was a low percentage chance, but when you're up a goal at home, you have to be quicker to get pressure on the ball. It was a frustrating and preventable goal to give up, and a failed opportunity to pull closer to teams at the top of the table. As I said last week, it's crucial for Nashville to be able to win points at home against top sides, and with a high powered New York Red Bulls attack up next (and Ken Tribbett likely unavailable yet again), these types of defensive lapses have to be cleaned up.