Film Friday: How Nashville uses strikers

Hello and welcome to another Film Friday.

Nashville has slightly altered the way they use their striker. In the five games following the CJ Sapong trade, Teal Bunbury has been the main Nashville striker in MLS. Off the bench, Ethan Zubak has only played 28 minutes. 

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When Bunbury is subbed off, Gary Smith seems to be warming up to the idea of not having a physical target man up top. We’ve seen Shaffelburg, Haakenson and Leal all come in for Bunbury to complete the forward three.

Even when Bunbury is on the field, Nashville is using him a bit differently. The main reason for this is the change in formation. The diamond allows for a lot more buildup play from the back and midfield, and decreases the dependency on long balls from deep.

Looking at match averages throughout the season, you’ll notice that Nashville’s short passing and possession have increase while goalkeeper launches have decreased since the switch. Game state and other factors play a part in these stats, but overall there is a switch in the way Nashville plays. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that Nashville is abandoning the long ball or anything like that. But I think this new formation allows for a more diverse style of play, which might slightly change the profile of the striker Gary Smith is looking for. 

Ideally, Nashville would want someone who’s a bit of a hybrid, who would have the ability to play the short passes and combine with the other forwards, but also be a target when needed. Of course those players aren’t easy to find, but Nashville’s front office’s job is to find the right man.

Lastly, I asked Gary about the switch and here’s what he had to say:

“Hany plays as a striker anyway. I think it’s the combination. If we were asking Hany to hold the ball up and we were going to make it an aerial battle,  it’s not going to work. But what you saw was that combination of players coming into the game with Jacob [Shaffelburg], Ján [Greguš] coming on with a bit of energy and freshness in there, and of course Randall [Leal] coming into the game, who had a lovely impact and we’ve not seen him in a long time. I thought he was terrific on the ball, I really did. Looked like he’d never been away.

So I think it’s that combination of players that obvously help Hany and the way that he plays, and in those final moments of the game when he was up top, I thought he was absolutely outsanding. Honestly. I think he could play center half  as well, Hany. He could play anywhere on the field. The only place I wouldn’t want to put him is in goal. Top corners would be a problem.” 

Author: Valair Shabillamoved to Nashville as a refugee from Iraq at the age of 14. A fan of soccer from a young age, he used soccer to connect with a larger community in Nashville and adapt to life abroad. He's covered Nashville SC since 2019, co-hosting Pharmaceutical Soccer, and analyzing soccer from an audio/video perspective.

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