Nashville SC bounced back after a midweek loss to Tampa Bay with the biggest win in club history, steamrolling Swope Park Rangers by a score of 5-1. Let's take a closer look at the result to see how it happened and what it means for Nashville's season.
Nashville got out of the gates quickly, scoring their first goal in the opening 10 minutes this season (I'm not counting Will Vint's own goal in Atlanta here). After 16 minutes, Nashville had a 3-0 lead and had practically secured all three points.
Despite finishing the game even on total shots, Nashville had by far the better of the chances. 12 of Nashville's shots came inside the penalty area, while Swope only managed six.
Nashville's first three shots were goal, and each were relatively high percentage chances (0.242, 0.242 & 0.246).
Nashville's struggles to finish chances were well documented last season, and cost Nashville points on multiple occasions. There have been a couple poor misses this season, but overall, the finishing has drastically improved.
In 2018, Nashville took an average of 10 shots a game. In 2019, they're averaging 12 shots a game. In 2018, they scored 1.2 goals a game. In 2019, they're scoring 1.8 per game. In 2018, they finished with a 12% conversion rate, tied for second-worst in all USL. In 2019, they're converting 19% of their chances, tied for 5th in USL.
Factor into all of this the fact that they're creating more chances than they ever did last season, and it's a safe assumption that Nashville will finish the season with a lot more goals than they did last year. After 10 games, they've scored the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference.
After several matches in a 3-5-2 formation, Gary Smith switched to a more aggressive 4-2-3-1 formation. Alan Winn got his first start of the season on the left, and Kharlton Belmar pushed really high and wide on the right side.
Belmar had done a reasonable job in a more central role, but on Saturday he was consistently able to get isolated against defenders on the touchline.
This situation is Belmar at his best: back to the touchline, defenders in front of him, and attacking targets in the box. It makes the most of his pace and ability on the ball, and his delivery into the box is perhaps the best on the time. We've seen him make driving runs into the box all season, and it finally clicked on Saturday, with Ríos finally getting on the end of a cross to give Belmar his first assist of the season. Belmar has the third-highest xA (expected assists) on the team this season, and hopefully Saturday was just the start.
Belmar also got his first goal of the season. It was a good finish, but the ball over the top was a thing of beauty. LaGrassa showed fantastic vision to see Belmar's run early, and his pass took six Swope Park defenders out of the play.
Formationally, Nashville was fluid. Reed and LaGrassa played in a double pivot, taking turns pushing forward and sitting back. While Moloto primarily played as a 10, he and Winn occasionally flipped, with Moloto pushing to the left and Winn drifting centrally. Davis pushed really high up on the left. His overlapping runs provided width and allowed Winn to cut inside on his right foot.
Nashville also used a high press, putting pressure on Zendejas every time he got on the ball. They systematically cut down his passing lanes and forced him to play the ball long, where Doyle and Tribbett were able to make the most of their height advantage and win the ball back.
It was close to a perfect defensive performance from Nashville, limited Swope Park to mostly half chances.
Swope pulled a goal back in the 61st minute through Felipe Hernandez. The midfielder picked up the ball 8 yards inside his own half. He was able to push all the way through Nashville half and get off a shot from 30 yards with no real pressure. LaGrassa tried to close him down, but otherwise Nashville backed off. Once he got the shot off, Pickens had trouble dealing with the movement on the ball, but he probably should have done a better job stopping it. In the course of the game it didn't have much of an impact, but it was a frustrating lapse in an otherwise perfect performance. Going forward, one of the centerbacks will hopefully step to the ball in this scenario.
I've mentioned marginal points a couple times, and now that Nashville have played 10 games, I have a large enough sample size to include this stat. Marginal points contributed is based on the idea that different goals have different impacts on a team's total points. The value of each goal varies according to how many other goals have been scored in the game: the first goal is worth 0.85 points, the second is worth 0.99, the third is worth 0.60, the fourth is worth 0.23 and the fifth is worth 0.10. Here's how Nashville's marginal points look after 10 weeks:
Daniel Ríos leads Nashville with seven goals and 5.98 marginal points contributed. Matt LaGrassa comes in second, with two goals and 1.70 marg points.
In the East, only Tom Barlow has more marginal points than Ríos, and his eight goals currently lead the golden boot race.
Questions or comments? Things you'd like to see included in The Chalkboard? Hit me up on Twitter @benwright!