Nashville SC midseason grades

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.

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Matt Pickens takes a minute to rest while warming up for a match. | Golden Goal

Defense: A

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.

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.

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Michael Reed dribbles the ball in the match against Atlanta United 2. | Golden Goal

Midfield: A-

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.

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Lebo Moloto looks up for a teammate. | Golden Goal

Forwards: B-

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.

Below is a graph of the top xG goal scorers on the Nashville side, courtesy of Wright.

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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.

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Nashville SC coach Gary Smith walks toward the tunnel before a match. | Golden Goal

Coaching: B+

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.

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The Nashville SC supporters section cheers the Boys in Gold on. | Golden Goal

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.

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The starting 11 for Nashville SC says a quick final word to each other before the match against FC Cincinnati. | Golden Goal

Overall: B

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.

Nashville SC player ratings vs. FC Cincinnati

Nashville SC came away with a 0-0 draw against future MLS side FC Cincinnati Saturday night at Nissan Stadium. Here’s how the Speedway Soccer Pod rated each player’s performance.

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Gary Smith – 7.5: Set up his team well and they looked likely to score multiple goals in the first half. Can’t be blamed for poor finishing. Was a little slow to make changes, especially to the wide players, but Bourgeois’s injury definitely complicated his substitution patterns.

Matt Pickens – 9.0: Didn’t have an incredibly busy night, but made two key saves in the last five minutes to keep Cincinnati from stealing three points.

Kosuke Kimura – 8.0: Worked hard all night, keeping the left side of Cincinnati’s attack pretty quiet. Got into the attack well and was always available to receive a pass.

Bradley Bourgeois – 7.5: Made a valiant effort, but was visibly struggling from the first few minutes. Still put in a good shift and shut down a couple Cincinnati attacks, but couldn’t last past the 53rd minute and was replaced by Woodberry. Hopefully it’s not a long-term injury.

Liam Doyle – 6.5: Shaky. Was lucky not to be called for a penalty kick in the first half, and was incredibly nonchalant in an attempt to win a ball deep in his own half, letting Cincinnati through on goal. Pickens bailed him out, but it wasn’t his best showing.

Justin Davis – 8.0: Found himself in all kinds of space on the left and took advantage of it, serving some fantastic balls into the box and creating four chances. Left Doyle isolated once or twice, but overall one of his best showings of the season.

Matt LaGrassa – 8.0: Fluctuated between a central and a wide role, rotating with Moloto. Always dangerous around Cincinnati’s box and saw some strong shots go just wide. He’s in a good run of form, but he needs to put some of those efforts on frame. Came off for Jome after 79 minutes.

Michael Reed – 8.0: The captain was everywhere. He passed aggressively and got in positions to shut down several Cincinnati passing moves. A good showing.

Bolu Akinyode – 8.0: Completed a casual 90 percent of his passes and made five tackles. Just another day at the office against the best team in the east. He’s quietly making a case for Nashville’s best player of the season.

Alan Winn – 8.0: One of Nashville’s best players on the night. Pacey and lively on the ball, giving former Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte all kinds of problems. Created three chances and was unlucky not to notch an assist. Came off for Washington after 73 minutes.

Lebo Moloto – 8.0: Dangerous all night, but loses points for poor finishing. Hit the post from 20 yards and missed two headers from close range, one just glancing past the far post and one saved by Newton for point blank range. Overall a good night, but his job is to score goals and he didn’t.

Brandon Allen – 7.5: Was dangerous in Cincinnati’s box. Had several good looks, creating two chances and taking five shots. Probably should have scored, though, and was gassed towards the end. If Bourgeois hadn’t been forced off with injury, Allen probably would have made way for Ropapa.

SUBS:

London Woodberry – 7.5: Replaced the injured Bradley Bourgeois after 53 minutes and picked up where he left off, defending well and passing well out of the back. Could see more time depending on how long Bourgeois is out.

Taylor Washington – 7.5: Came on for Winn and continued to stretch the field. Put a few decent balls into the box and kept Cincinnati’s defense occupied.

Ish Jome – 6.0: Replaced LaGrassa after 79 minutes and was pretty invisible. Hasn’t been good in recent weeks.