Nashville’s record signing Aké Loba made his first two appearances this week for the Boys in Gold.
Loba made his Nashville SC debut on the road at Columbus. Head Coach Gary Smith brought on his newest striker to close out a road draw against the defending MLS Cup champions. At the weekend, Loba came in against FC Cincinnati with a similar assignment – preserve the Nashville clean sheet while giving C.J. Sapong a much-earned rest.
In watching the clips below, the game state should be top of mind. The squad’s principal concern was to preserve the clean sheet and bleed the clock. Gary Smith would have loved a goal from Loba. But my guess is that Smith is just as happy to see Loba contribute defensively and take the ball to the corner, as Loba did on several occasions. Those moments of playing for the team rather than the self will endear Loba to his teammates and the coaching staff.
Against Columbus Crew
TOUCH 1: Loba’s first touch in blue and gold. He receives a ball coming in hot and lays off to a teammate to preserve possession.
TOUCH 2: Faces up and lays off. Doesn’t try to do too much.
TOUCH 3: Great job maintaining control, spinning around the defender, and passing back to Brian Anunga.
“TOUCH 4”: So, it is not really a touch. But the clip is worth featuring. Loba’s hustle and willingness to press nearly creates a calamitous situation for Columbus keeper, Eloy Room.
“TOUCH 5”: Loba managed to avoid touching the ball forcing the Crew defender to clear out. This earned Nashville a deep throw in and a dead ball situation to bleed the clock in the 90th minute.
TOUCH 6: Loba’s best contribution of the night. First rate time wasting. He takes the ball to the corner and creates another deep throw in.
TOUCH 7: Loba again seeks the corner but is unable to ricochet the ball off Jonathan Mensah. Possession is lost, and Columbus earns a goal kick.
TOUCH 8: Jonathan Mensah beats Loba to the ball and wrestles away possession for Columbus.
Against FC Cincinnati
Loba entered the match in the 68th minute. Nashville already built a three-goal lead on the back of C.J. Sapong’s brace. Loba’s entry into the match earned chants from The Backline as the Nashville SC faithful were eager to see the prized signing for the first time with their own eyes.
TOUCH 1: Loba’s first involvement in front of the home crowd. A little too excited and sends the ball behind Randall Leal slowing down the attack.
TOUCH 2: Wins the header on a long ball and earns possession for Nashville. This is a trait that really caught my eye in watching clips of Loba at Monterrey and Querétaro. Loba proves you can be sub-6 foot and still be a target forward based on body strength and positioning.
TOUCH 3: Loba shows some defensive tenacity but commits a foul.
TOUCH 4: Gary Smith is probably watching this clip on loop all week. That is his club-record striker being a defensive pest and winning the ball for Nashville. It is not every day that you see your striker put in that type of work deep in your own defensive half.
TOUCH 5: Loba’s closest opportunity to finding the scoresheet this week. I go back and forth as to whether he should have attempted a shot instead of the square ball to Hany Mukhtar. I lean slightly toward wanting him to fire one in there. If nothing else, a rebound could cause some chaos in the box. But the square ball was not a terrible idea either – just good positioning from Nick Hagglund to get in front of Mukhtar.
TOUCH 6: Quick decision and good pass to start the counterattack after a bad Cincy giveaway.
TOUCH 7: The dribble attempt does not work, but Loba recovers and draws the foul against Geoff Cameron who is booked for the cynical take down.
TOUCH 8: Another unsuccessful dribble attempt. But you know that Assistant Coach Steve Guppy loves to see the intent to dribble right at the defender. It is the coaching point Guppy is known for most. Again, it is easy to see why this staff chased Loba for two straight years. His profile just fits so well with what this coaching staff emphasizes.
TOUCH 9: Loba draws the foul. The dead ball allows Nashville to push up its defensive lines that had become far too condensed as they absorbed pressure.
TOUCH 10: Loba’s header helps clear the ball from the box on a FC Cincinnati corner kick and preserve the clean sheet.
How do you think Loba has performed in his first two appearances in a gold shirt? Let us know in the comments.