Ivey’s Three Thoughts: Nashville SC’s home loss to Minnesota United

Nashville SC lost yet again at home. The Coyotes are now 3-4-5 at GEODIS Park. It’s an abysmal home record, yet somehow the teams behind Nashville continue to lose as well.

With just eight matches remaining, Nashville sit barely above the playoff line. However, it’s an illusory position. Several teams chasing the ‘Yotes hold a game in hand. Sunday night was a prime opportunity to create separation. Instead, the gold-clad supporters walked home empty-handed.

Here are my three thoughts on the match:

The Secondary Scoring Problem – Part 1

It’s no secret that Nashville SC have a problem finding sources for goals beyond Hany Mukhtar. His 22 combined goals and assists account for a staggering 65% of Nashville’s total attacking output this year.

The goal rate has dropped from last year’s total of 1.59 goals per match to 1.31 goals per match this season. 

With the 34 goals on the season, Nashville are scoring well below their expected rate. Depending on your outlet of choice, Nashville’s Expected Goals for the season lie between 35.8 and 38.6 xG.

It’s a rough regression for Nashville, who over-performed their xG last season by approximately eight goals. A course correction was always in store for the Boys in Gold. But this season has been a wild swing toward underperformance. If you are an “xG Truther”, it means last year’s results papered over legitimate concerns with Nashville’s offense and poor luck may be driving poor results this season. 

But as they say, “game’s not played on spreadsheets, mate!” Nashville cannot sit back and hope the Law of Averages issues a course correction with just eight matches remaining. The team needs to create its own luck and generate more scoring chances from secondary sources.

Part of the problem is a dearth of attacking talent. 

C.J. Sapong, while excellent for Nashville last season, has a storied career of inconsistent scoring. He’s never put together back-to-back, double-digit goal seasons. He hasn’t score since May. His prolonged dry spell compounds the problem. 

The Aké Loba story has been discussed ad nauseam. The hope was that he would provide a second source for goals next to Hany Mukhtar, but he has never blossomed in Nashville. 

The Secondary Scoring Problem – Part 2 

If Nashville want to fix their scoring woes, they needs their players to take up better positions to create those opportunities. 

It starts with Randall Leal. 

I am a big believer in the Costa Rican. He is quietly Nashville’s best two-way player outside of Walker Zimmerman. His career began as a technically gifted wide attacker. As he has matured, he has found himself in a more central role where he plays as a hybrid #8 / #10 in Nashville’s formation.  

The problem is that whether by instruction or inclination, Leal tends to drift out wide.

Doing so creates a couple of problems. 

First, as you can see from last night’s passing chart, a massive hole develops in the center of the pitch. Leal’s average position during possession is practically on top of Shaq Moore who was brought in to patrol those wide attacking positions for Nashville. 

Secondly, by drifting to this area, Nashville become even more reliant on crosses into the box without any secondary runners to provide an option for cutback passes or cause havoc off rebounds poaching from the top of the box.

Of course, Leal still manages to create dangerous opportunities. He finished with a shot on goal and put one just wide of Dayne St. Clair’s far post that had the home crowd buzzing. However, I’d still like to see Leal take more central positions on the pitch to generate more shots with the goal squarely in front of him. 

But as long as he continues to attack the half spaces by driving toward the end line, Nashville must have one of its deep-lying midfielders join the attack. A 33rd / 34th-minute sequence illustrates this well.

As Randall Leal plays the ball in, there are nine Minnesota defenders touching the penalty box. It leaves only two remaining attackers for the Loons off screen. 

Do Nashville need Dax McCarty, Sean Davis, Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney, Daniel Lovitz, and Shaq Moore to prevent a Minnesota counterattack? Do they need all six to stop two and a half potential Minnesota attackers? Should someone fill the massive gap between the forward line and the deep-lying midfielders? Would it kill Nashville’s defense to have just one midfielder sneak up to the top of the box or even the penalty spot? 

Maybe in this instance, it doesn’t lead to a goal or even a high-percentage shot. But for a team struggling to find secondary scoring sources, the midfielders must make more marauding runs into dangerous areas.

Part of this midfield problem could be quickly solved by Anibal Godoy’s return to the lineup after an injury-plagued season. Godoy has always been willing to make more of these types of runs to support the attack. However, it is unclear why such patterns must shrivel in his absence.

Teal Bunbury had been on an absolute tear as of late scoring four goals in four matches. A groin injury kept him out of Sunday night’s match. But even if available, you can’t expect his heater to continue much longer. Bunbury is now averaging 0.69 goals per 96 minutes this season – ninth best in MLS among players with at least 500 minutes played. Previously, his best scoring rate came in 2017 when he scored at a rate of 0.47 goals per 96 minutes. I expect his final numbers to finish closer to that previous high water mark. 

Beyond the forwards, Nashville have benefited from just five goals from its wingers and midfielders in league play. A year ago, these positions contributed fifteen goals to the cause. If Nashville want to find help for Hany Mukhtar and a struggling C.J. Sapong, this is where the club needs to look.

Soccer is a sick, sick drug

The section title says it all. If you are a regular reader of this column, I am sure you feel the same way. Despite the generous heaps of disappointment, we keep coming back for more. 

This weekend highlighted the addictive nature of the sport for me. Saturday consisted of my two teams abroad suffering in simply unimaginable ways. As a Manchester United fan, I sat in Knoxville’s supporters’ bar as United turned in yet another abysmal performance. A 4-0 first-half thrashing to Brentford stacked along the last decade of failures is enough to question whether the Red Devils can ever return to any semblance of past glory. 

A couple of hours before United’s dismal display, Coventry City, a club I have followed since their days in EFL League Two, were dealt a one-two sucker punch. First, it was announced that yet another home match must be rescheduled due to an unplayable pitch. Coventry’s home ground recently hosted the rugby sevens competition as part of the Commonwealth Games. The endless rugby dug more divots than my golf game leaving a bare and unplayable surface. It has embroiled the club in yet another tenancy dispute with the rugby club that owns the grounds. Hours later, the Sky Blues, away to Millwall, took a 2-0 lead only to squander it by conceding three unanswered goals. 

After Saturday, a more rational supporter may say that is enough for a weekend. Yet, I decided on a second dish of disappointment. Sunday night matches in Nashville usually are a “no go” for me. With work the next morning and the time zone change driving back, it becomes too difficult to manage. Yet, here I am writing this week’s three thoughts from a Nashville hotel room. 

With vacation days to burn, others might choose a relaxing day at a spa or an extended weekend exploring a new city. Me, I chose soccer. I am a junky. I just can’t help it. 

Even when the sport slaps us in the face, we keep coming back for more. 

Author: Chris Iveyis a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His work includes his "Three Thoughts" piece after every Nashville match that highlights the important storylines and incorporates key video clips from the match. Chris' other articles often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS roster rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney serving as in-house counsel for a large insurance company. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Manchester United, Coventry City, and USMNT.

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