Analyzing Nashville SC’s midfield

A strong midfield leads to success

Lobo Moloto fires a shot on goal for the Swope Park Rangers

Lobo Moloto fires a shot on goal for the Swope Park Rangers. / USL

Midfielders have one of the toughest roles on the pitch and usually cover the most ground every match. They have to play both ways setting up the attack and creating pressure on defense.

The best midfielders control the game both offensively and defensively through ball possession, accurate passing, and on-field positioning. A player’s positioning can easily be overlooked because it doesn’t end up on the scoresheet, but it is crucial for midfielders to find open spaces on offense and fill gaps on defense.

Teams that control the middle of the field usually create the most scoring chances and limit shots on their goal. This is a recipe for success at every level of soccer.

Two key indicators of a midfielder’s quality are interceptions and passing accuracy. These stats help measure a player’s overall soccer intelligence, awareness and vision.

Nashville SC has signed four midfielders – let’s see how Matt LaGrassa, Lebo Moloto, Ryan James, Bolu Akinyode and Josh Hughes stack up.

Passing accuracy

The last thing a midfielder needs to do is give the ball away. A strong midfield keeps possession and controls the tempo of a game. Nashville SC’s current midfield completed nearly 84 percent of its passes last season, 8 points higher than the league average.

Matt LaGrassa

Matt LaGrassa / USL

LaGrassa was one of the most prolific and accurate passers in the USL, completing the fourth most passes (1,520) and finishing with 85.2 percent pass success rate. The 24-year-old is not afraid to look for downfield targets, completing 74 percent of his long passes. Head coach Gary Smith gave LaGrassa high praise after his signing, calling him the “heartbeat of the midfield” at Reno 1886 last season.

Meloto didn’t complete nearly as many passes as LaGrassa, but generated twice as many scoring chances (52). Meloto finished 14th overall for number of key passes and 19th for passing accuracy in the opponents half. Nashville traded for Meloto from the Swope Park Rangers to be the centerpiece of the offense.

James’ 76.8 percent passing accuracy is the lowest of the group. The 23-year-old is listed as a midfielder, but coach Smith said he can play six different positions on the field. I expect Smith to utilize James’ strength and speed as a wing-back getting wide up the field to send crosses into the opponents box. He sent 43 crosses last season for the Rochester Rhinos.

Akinyode competed in the NASL for North Carolina FC. The defensive midfielder rarely gave the ball up, completing 88.2 percent of his passes and 74.3 percent of his long passes.

Hughes spent year in the Major Arena Soccer League playing midfield for the Baltimore Blast. Unfortunately, the league doesn’t keep passing accuracy stats, but Hughes brings depth to Nashville’s midfield.


Intercepting a pass is vital to a midfielder’s game. It shows a player has quickness, anticipation, and knows how to be in the right place at the right time.

James led all USL midfielders last season with 100 interceptions for the Rochester Rhinos. This ranked second overall out of all players behind FC Cincinnati’s top defender, Harrison Delbridge, who had 123 interceptions.

LaGrassa was not far behind finishing with 96 interceptions, which tied for third most overall with fellow Nashville SC defender Taylor Washington. Both players averaged 3 interceptions per 90 minutes.

If you combine interceptions with tackles won, James (153) and LaGrassa (150) were the most disruptive midfielders in the USL last season.

Akinyode only had 17 interceptions last season, but averaged two interceptions per 90 minutes.

Moloto will lean on his fellow teammates to lock down the middle of the field. He finished last season with just 12 interceptions (0.42 per 90 minutes) for the Swope Park Rangers. As stated earlier, his mission is to create scoring chances and fuel Nashville’s offense.

Future roster moves

With 13 roster spots sill open, Nashville still lacks offensive firepower. The team is heavy on defense and needs to add more attacking midfielders and forwards to balance out the squad.

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