Film Friday: Leaving the long ball behind?

Hello and welcome to the very first Film Friday of 2024!

If you are new here, this is a weekly-ish series where I provide some tactical and technical analysis related to Nashville SC. Today we are looking at how Nashville’s new signings and preseason might tell us what the midfield looks like in 2024.

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Moving away from the long ball

Nashville’s dependence on Dax McCarty‘s long balls from deep proved to be costly last year. While the long ball is a good method to progress the ball forward, it shouldn’t be the only method. In 2024, Nashville seemed to have shifted to a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-2-2 system.

Opposite to the diamond shape which Nashville utilized for large stretches last year, this new system requires the central midfielders to stay a bit deeper. This allows for wingers and forwards to drop in centrally for more interplay and chance creation. This space created in midfield also gives Nashville the option to push wide or stay narrow as needed.

Nashville brought in Dru Yearwood. While their profiles are different, the hope here is that Yearwood will serve a similar role to McCarty but in a different way. Both midfielders’ main job is linking the attack with the rest of the field. While Yearwood does not possess the same passing qualities as McCarty, he progresses the ball by carrying it forward.

You’ll be able to tell from a quick eye test that Yearwood is able to maintain the ball longer and moves towards the opponent’s goal. The stats also back this up. Looking at Yearwood’s comparison with other MLS midfielders in 2023, he is in and around the top 3rd percentile in the ball carrying categories.

Of course, losing McCarty comes at a cost passing wise. Nashville’s other midfielders and their new signing Amar Sejdić will still try to break the lines with the Dax McCarty pass, maybe just not as often.

While this shift means that Nashville is less reliant on the long balls, that doesn’t mean they won’t be using that method. The hope from Nashville is to add some unpredictability and diversity when in possession. Thank you for watching and make sure to share.

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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