The Boys In Gold returned to Nashville to take on the unbeaten Tampa Bay Rowdies in USL Championship's Game Of The Week. Nashville dropped three points at home in a closely fought but disappointing result. Let's look at some stats and tactics to learn more about the result.
Nashville started the match on the front foot, taking four shots in the opening 16 minutes.
After Kharlton Belmar's missed header (more on that later), the game calmed down a bit, and Tampa Bay found a footing. They scored with their first and only shot of the first half, converting on a second phase ball from a free kick.
Nashville had plenty of shots on the night, and had two really good chances from headers that they failed to convert. The missed chances showed a lack of confidence from the strikers. In the last four matches, Nashville has taken 39 shots and scored once from the run of play. Granted, they've had some good set pieces, but the lack of consistent chance creation is no longer a coincidence. It's a pattern, and a worrying one at that.
Smith again set up in a 3-5-2, making two changes. Matt Pickens replaced Connor Sparrow in goal and Darnell King came in for Kosuke Kimura at right back.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the tactics was Justin Davis's role. He played on the left of the back three, but in possession he pushed really high and wide, almost playing as a true left back.
The results were a bit mixed. Davis got in good areas and contributed to a lot of Nashville's build up play, but he had several frustrating misplayed passes in both halves. Several times he over hit passes to Washington, and a poor back pass almost put Tejada through on goal. Still, he completed 77% of his passes, creating two chances. Look for a discussion on this on the next podcast, but I thought he showed good signs in a somewhat unusual role.
Nashville had some really good moments of possession, especially in the first half. But almost every time, a poor touch, bad decision, or sloppy pass gave the ball back to Tampa.
Here's one example:
And one more:
The lack of cohesiveness in the final third had been masked by Daniel Ríos's good form early in the season, but he hasn't scored from open play since the match against Ottawa - that was a month and five games ago. Attacking chemistry takes time to build. But Nashville have played nine games, and apart from a three goal performance in Ottawa, there haven't been many signs of improvement.
Daniel Ríos played up top with Kharlton Belmar, but Tampa did a great job getting defenders on him every time he touched the ball. He often had to drop really deep to find the ball, pulling himself out of position and limiting Nashville's passing options.
This brings up an issue that's been plaguing Nashville this season - the lack of a true no. 10. In the current setup, Akinyode plays as a no. 6, or a holding midfielder. Reed and LaGrassa play as no. 8 box-to-box midfielders, tasked with equal defensive and offensive responsibilities. Too often this results in huge gaps between the midfielders and forwards. Ríos and Belmar get isolated, forcing one to drop deep and find the ball. It may be time to bring in Lebo Moloto. He's definitely looked rusty this season, and he's only played 60% of Nashville's minutes this season (8th most on the team). In his limited time, though, he's created 12 chances, the most in the squad. LaGrassa has been arguably the team's best performer through nine games. Akinyode is the only true no. 6 in the squad, and a steady performer in the middle of the field. With matches coming up against Swope Park, Charlotte, and Birmingham, all of whom are poor defensively, it may be time to replace Michael Reed with Lebo Moloto and see if he can act as a true chance creator from central areas.
Nashville actually had a very strong defensive performance, limiting Tampa Bay to six total shots, and only two on target. This makes the goal they conceded even more frustrating.
It started with a poor tackle from Taylor Washington on Adam Najem. Najem had the ball on the right side of the box, with one target in the box and eight Nashville defenders in the box. Washington should have just pressured him and taken away his crossing option, forcing him to play it back to Tarek Morad. Instead, he went in from a bad angle and committed a really unnecessary foul, giving Tampa Bay a dangerous free kick.
The initial free kick delivery went to the back post, where Guenzatti beat two Nashville players in the air to get it back across the goal. Nashville has 6 defenders in front of goal, and somehow Tejada beats all of them to get to the ball. Justin Davis made an attempt to clear the ball off the line, and Washington dove in front of Tejada to try and clear the ball, but otherwise every defender was flat footed.
"It was the second ball we struggled with," said Bradley Bourgeois. "Switching on is all about individual moments and battles. Unfortunately, we were on the losing half of that."
It was an unfortunate lapse defensively. It would be one thing if Nashville was finishing well, and scoring enough to cover for defensive mistakes. But in the current run of form, with Nashville's recent issues in front of goal, every moment matters defensively.
Nashville has dropped points twice at home this season, losing to two really good teams in Saint Louis and Tampa Bay. Both games, they conceded from set pieces where the defense momentarily switched off and allowed an attacker to have space and time in the box. Both times, they had chances to score goals, but were let down by poor finishing.
They have three easier (on paper, at least) matchups coming up. Hopefully these will be an opportunity to get the attack firing on all cylinders, but until it does, the defense has to eliminate these momentary lapses.
Nashville has played nine matches. After this week, I should have enough sample size to include marginal points and a projected table. Look out for that in the next edition of the Chalkboard, and hit me up on Twitter (@BWrightSSP) with any questions or comments you may have!