We’re halfway through the USL season and the inaugural season of Nashville SC, and the professors at Golden Goal are here to hand out some midterm grades.
Our grades are fairly simple, as we only gave them out to the three important aspects on the field, as well as coaching and fan experience.
Without any further delays, let’s get to the grades.
Anchored by USL midseason goalkeeper of the year candidate Matt Pickens, Nashville’s defense has been rock solid and the focal point behind its success. Pickens is tied for the league lead in clean sheets with nine, sharing those honors with Pittsburgh’s Dan Lynd, but he’s had plenty of help from his back line.
Liam Doyle and Bradley Bourgeois have been a solid pairing in the back, who have a combined 163 clearances. Bourgeois also leads the team in aerial duels won with 53, so it’s not easy to get a successful shot from a cross when he’s on the field.
Another trend is Nashville has conceded much less than they should. They've given up 11 goals against an xG of 20.89. A lot of this is down to a) Matt Pickens and b) defenders doing enough to disrupt the attacker, but they do give up a lot of quality chances. 7/
— Ben Wright (@BWrightSSP) July 12, 2018
As you can see from Soccer Speedway’s Ben Wright, the defense does a great job of keeping its opponent out of the net when they’re expected to score, but is still giving up some quality chances here and there.
The duo of Bolu Akinyode and Michael Reed has been quite the tandem. Not only do they each lead the team in some of the more underappreciated categories (Reed is tied for the team lead in interceptions, while Akinyode leads the team in duels won, tackles and tackles won), but also are in the top three in passing accuracy (David Edgar was second, but he obviously has moved on.) Both are staples in the middle of the park and continue to be tough to remove from the side.
The steady rotation of wingers has also proven to be efficient. Taylor Washington leads the team in crosses with 50, while Alan Winn continues to show how dangerous he is on either flank with his goal scoring and quality chances created.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Nashville SC’s season so far has been the finishing. We’ve touched on the xG (expected goals) stat briefly. Nashville’s xG is six goals lower than what is expected.
In what is becoming a recurring trend, poor finishing is KILLING Nashville. Despite getting a lot of relatively high chances from good areas, NSC struggles to convert or even put on shots on target. They've scored 17 goals in 17 games, despite having a season xG of 23.81. 6/
— Ben Wright (@BWrightSSP) July 12, 2018
Below is a graph of the top xG goal scorers on the Nashville side, courtesy of Wright.
As you can see, several players are on pace with their expected goals (Lebo Moloto) and even over-exceeding (Alan Winn). However, they’ve still left a lot of quality chances on the table. It’s a problem that has been with this side since the beginning of the year and was thought to be vanquished when Nashville went on its 11-game unbeaten run.
Despite Nashville’s finishing woes, Moloto has a case for being the most valuable outfield player this year, as he continues to dazzle opponents and create chances to put him as one of the top goal-scorers in the side. Ropapa Mensah has also been named as a nominee for the USL midseason young player of the year for his contributions.
Gary Smith has helped orchestrate a fantastic side that has combined a hard-nosed defense with a creative passing attack, and has put out some brilliant sides. By the same token, however, he has made a couple of questionable substitutions in key situations. Speedway Soccer has Smith with an average manager rating of 6.9 so far this season. While there have been a couple of hiccups, he’s still widely regarded as one of the maestros behind helping put this team together and still has them in playoff contention.
Fan Experience: A+
It’s hard to find anyone who says they went to a Nashville SC match and didn’t have a blast. The supporters’ songs are easy to sing along to and catchy (despite the colorful language), and it’s a fun atmosphere for all who attend. Speaking as someone who has witnessed every Nashville SC home match so far this season, if you’re on the fence about heading to a game, make the jump. It’ll be worth your time and money.
The highs and lows from this season have been undeniable, and perhaps there’s a sour taste in the collective mouths of supporters and the team alike, having dropped points in three of the last four matches. However, those results seemed to have tempered the overly lofty expectations set from the 11-game unbeaten streak when the goal of this team from the jump was to promote the beautiful game and grow the fan base in the area. I’d say they’ve exceeded those expectations, while the rest is just a bonus.
Is there reason to believe this team can get back to the form it was in a couple of weeks ago? Of course. Only three of Nashville’s next 11 games are against opponents in playoff position, so there’s still an opportunity to climb the ladder and make some noise for this Nashville side.