After taking a couple weeks off for the summer, the Chalkboard is back. Nashville SC went to then-second place Tampa Bay Rowdies and left with a massive 2-1 win, taking over the second place spot in the East. Let's take a closer look at the result.
Nashville has consistently shown an ability to win without winning possession. In fact, they're often better when they're out-possessed, limiting what their opponents are able to do with the ball and hitting them on the counter. This was the case in this match, certainly in the second half.
Nashville was the better side in the first half, controlling possession and creating plenty of chances. However, Tampa Bay came out of the break revitalized, and was the better side for 20-30 minutes. Nashville only managed two shots in the second half to Tampa Bay's 14, but were able to find the winner through Kharlton Belmar.
Gary Smith continued with the back five system he used last week, dropping Ken Tribbett back to his natural role in defense and surprisingly starting Bradley Bourgeois ahead of Jimmy Ockford.
Nashville defended really compactly throughout the whole match, with the back five sitting deep (Taylor Washington is off camera on the right side marking Malik Johnson), and dropping Lebo Moloto and Ropapa Mensah into midfield. This really limited Tampa Bay's effectiveness in the final third and closed down passing lanes into the box.
You've probably heard the term "parking the bus", when a team drops huge numbers back in defense with the sole goal of preventing the opponent from scoring (Davey is actually a huge fan of this tactic).
After Belmar gave Nashville the lead in the 79th minute, Nashville parked the bus. Gary Smith brought on Justin Davis to play on the left side of defense. At times Taylor Washington pushed into midfield with LaGrassa and Akinyode, but he often dropped into defense to form a back six. Matt Pickens still had to step in with three saves after the switch, but for the most part the defense was effective in holding onto the lead.
Cameron Lancaster started the match up front, and was incredibly isolated, especially in the second half. He touched the ball just 29 times, and not a single time in Tampa Bay's box. This wasn't because of anything Lancaster did wrong, but rather because he often was alone against three centerbacks with Moloto and Mensah drifting into wide areas.
Smith brought on Alan Winn and Kharlton Belmar to replace Moloto and Lancaster, and moved Mensah to a central role, flanked by Winn and Belmar. This immediately gave Nashville a nice triangle in the final third, and the fresh legs stretched Tampa Bay's otherwise compact defense.
Belmar's goal late in the second half, and it's a bit surprising how high Nashville's line is - they're in position to take a point on the road against one of the best sides in the league, but all 11 players are in the attacking half, and the two outside centerbacks are pushed really high and wide.
Akinyode wins the ball back in Tampa Bay's half, and Nashville cycles the ball around from the left wing across their back line. LaGrassa plays a simple 10 yard ball to Bourgeois, who's in acres of space.
Bourgeois has time and space to turn and spot the early run from Belmar, who gets in between two defenders and takes advantage of a lapse in concentration to get in on goal with a yard or more of space in which to work.
Everything about this goal is so well executed, from winning the ball back high up the field, to the centerbacks finding space in the attacking half, to the early run from Belmar, to the 40 yard pass from Bourgeois and finally the finish from Belmar. It was a really well-worked move from Nashville, and a goal that could have massive implications on their final table position and the Eastern conference as a whole.
It's worth noting that they've won two in a row without their top scorer and arguably their best player, Daniel Ríos. The striker has missed the past two matches with a groin injury, and in those two matches, Nashville beat Charleston (who had beat them twice this season already) and Tampa Bay (who was in second in the conference and have one of the elite defenses in the league). Having Cameron Lancaster to fill in lessens the blow of losing Ríos, but with Lancaster struggling to find last season's form, the rest of the squad has really stepped up, with four different players scoring their last four goals. It's a promising sign for a side who look poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.