Ivey’s Three Thoughts: Nashville SC’s draw with the Galaxy

Nashville SC’s winning streak came to an end with a stoppage-time penalty kick converted by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Ricky Puig’s goal found the back of the net and stole a point on the road.

Here are my three thoughts on the match:

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LA on the front foot

The story of the match is rather simple. The LA Galaxy came to Nashville, dominated the ball, and prevented the hosts from establishing attacking momentum. 

Nashville not winning the possession battle is a normal occurrence. The Coyotes have held possession longer than their opponent in just nine matches this season.

Finishing with less than 50% of possession is okay. Long spells with the ball are not part of this team’s DNA. They are at their best when operating quickly on the counter. With that said, there is a breaking point. 

You cannot expect to hold on forever. When trying to maintain a precarious one-goal lead for an entire half, you need a pressure release valve. Seeing a game out requires spells with the ball. Instead of retaining possession and milking the clock, Nashville cheaply conceded control to the Galaxy. 

In the 81st minute, Nashville committed to parking the bus. Jack Maher entered the field and immediately signaled his teammates into a 5-4-1 formation. The tactical switch made clear Nashville’s intentions. They were going to sit deep with two compact blocks of defenders.

The decision led to a disjointed final ten minutes. The Coyotes only had 20% of the possession in the final 15 minutes. Nashville’s defenders and midfielders sat on top of each other. The condensed lines closed down space for the Galaxy, but it also made possession retention nearly impossible for Nashville. 

When everyone is on top of each other, what other choice do you have other than to lob hopeless long balls to your target forward….Hany Mukhtar. As wonderful as the MVP leader is, he is not as well equipped to play the C.J. Sapong hold-up role.

On another night, it may have worked. After all, a deep block is a tough nut to crack. But the more pressure you invite, the more likely you are to concede.

Play with fire and get burned

As much as Nashville supporters may want to blame PRO officials for awarding two penalties to the visitors, the team on the field only has itself to blame. 

The more you play with fire, the more likely you will get burned. In soccer, the more touches you allow inside the box, the more chaos you invite. 

Funky deflections, stray arms, lucky bounces, and questionable calls all occur in the game of soccer. If given a large enough sample size, we can expect these “anomalies” to occur. 

When you give up 69% possession, 22 shots, and 38 touches in the box, you should not be surprised when an unlucky break goes against you. That is especially true in this day and age of soccer. 

VAR ushered in a new age of over-officiating every deflection in the box. Bang-bang plays in the box are now slowed down to frame-by-frame replays with every moment re-officiated looking to see if an outstretched hand came in contact with the ball. It is no coincidence that the number of penalties awarded has increased since the introduction of VAR.  

Nashville both benefited and suffered from penalty calls on Saturday.

The Boys in Gold were awarded a first-half penalty from a handball off a Hany Mukhtar free kick. The MVP front-runner stepped up to the spot and gave Nashville the early lead. In the second half, the Galaxy was awarded a pair of penalties. The first came via a Shaq Moore challenge on Chicharito. Joe Willis preserved the lead with a clutch save of Chicharito’s penalty. But late in stoppage time, Nashville shot itself in the foot.

The more you play with fire, the more likely you will get burned. 

Nashville invited LA’s pressure for the entirety of the match. As the Galaxy crashed the box with waves of attacks, Walker Zimmerman’s stray hand did Nashville in. The more shots you allow the more penalties you will concede. 

After the match, Gary Smith declared the handball a lucky break for Los Angeles.

His post-game comments were correct, but they also missed the point.

Of course, it was lucky for the Galaxy that they were bailed out with a last-second penalty. But when you are on the front foot, “lucky” breaks seem to find you. As General Neyland’s Maxims say, “Play for and make the breaks, when one comes your way – SCORE.” 

The Galaxy played for and created the breaks. They controlled possession and kept firing away shots. When a break came their way via Zimmerman’s handball, LA took advantage and found a crucial road point.

A missed opportunity

I keep coming back to the playoff picture at the risk of sounding like a broken record. With just three matches remaining for the Boys in Gold, it is hard to not keep one eye on the Western Conference standings. 

Nashville remains in fourth place. However, the margin is razor thin. The Coyotes hold a one-point lead on fourth-place Portland and only six points on the eighth-place Galaxy. 

A win at home against Greg Vanney’s men would have put Nashville all but out of reach for the Galaxy, even with two matches in hand. It was a missed opportunity. 

The draw at GEODIS Park was also a missed opportunity to put pressure on Dallas and Austin. Nashville could have finished the weekend with 48 points. It would have put the club just three points behind Austin heading into a weekend trip to the Lone Star State. It certainly would have added another layer to the affair beyond the Mukhtar-Driussi MVP battle. 

Instead, Nashville will be feeling the pressure the rest of the season. With just one home match remaining and away days to Austin and LAFC, Nashville figures to end the season around the 50-point mark. It should be enough to secure a ticket to the playoffs, but not without some late drama. 

Nashville still has a chance to secure home-field advantage for the first round. But there will be plenty of scoreboard watching between now and then.

Bonus thought

Joe Willis’ performance between the posts will be forgotten in the fog of another home draw. But he deserves some praise for nearly saving Nashville’s bacon on a pair of penalty kicks. 

Willis stopped Chicharito’s 55th-minute penalty with a diving save to his right. It probably helped his odds to know that the Mexican star would not go down the middle after his disastrous panenka attempt last week. But the shot still required a quick dive and a strong arm to keep the ball out of Nashville’s net. It was a vitally important stop to maintain the lead. 

Later, Willis nearly pulled off the feat a second time. He got a paw on Ricky Puig’s stoppage-time equalizer, but the shot had enough power to still find the back of the net. 

After a series of mid-season struggles, Willis has bounced back nicely delivering steady play. He has not been perfect by any means. Willis contributed to Nashville’s possession issues on Saturday with a few poor long balls that traveled straight out of play. But distribution pails in importance to shot stopping for a Nashville keeper. As long as Willis keeps up his steady play, the Boys in Gold will be well positioned to steal a playoff win or two.

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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