Pitch points: With plans! Maybe!

Jacobs and Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre
“We’ve GOT to formulate a PLOT” – Eminem-inspired and forward-looking. Courtesy Nashville SC

For future consideration. Bournemouth has hired a loan manager to track their players who are out with other clubs. Maybe not that interesting on its own (they’re hardly the first to do it – certainly Manchester City and Chelsea have entire departments to manage their empires) – but does indicate a seriousness about the way they intend to do business. As Nashville SC enters the big leagues, these are the sort of ideas that they’ll want to stay on the forefront of. Personnel management (from academy to senior team, to scouts, etc.) is such a huge part of being a club that gets the most out of its resources.

Fortunately, the Nashville Soccer Supporters’ Trust president David Wasiolek got a sitdown with GM Ian Ayre (must be nice 😒), and came away with some positive takeaways in that regard:

  • The club has a strong vision of what a Tennessee-wide academy system would look like and how players could be developed and monitored across all the youth organizations and age groups. Personally, Ian would like to see this begin either simultaneously with the start of the team or even earlier.

  • Ian is working hard with Mike Jacobs on identifying top talent to bring to Nashville. There is a great desire to build a team of exceptional talent that also reflects the diverse flavors that make up the stew we call Nashville.

Those are the key newsworthy items, and a positive sign. There isn’t enough talent in Tennessee to primarily build a roster from home territory – New York/New Jersey is ain’t, much less Southern California – but as the club builds, it can play a role in helping change that.

I’ve been involved in that area of things in a different sport (American football) for most of my professional career, and will be extremely interested in seeing how it plays out.

Bethlehem Steel to Philadelphia. Bethlehem Steel announced this week that they’ll be playing the 2019 season at the home of their parent club, Philadelphia Union, with a change to USL stadium requirements:

Unfortunately, we have been informed by the USL that Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium no longer meets the minimum requirements set forth by the league due to a lack of stadium lighting. Upon hearing the decision that we could not return to Goodman, we visited and analyzed multiple other potential venues with the aim of keeping Steel FC in the Lehigh Valley, but there was no solution that met all the league requirements that could be ready in time for the 2019 season, including field size, capacity, and lighting, among others.

As a result, Bethlehem Steel FC will play next season at Talen Energy Stadium while we evaluate stadium options for beyond 2019.

Steel supporters are not happy, feeling betrayed not by the Steel’s front office, but rather by the Union.

I feel multiple ways about it (first off for the supporters: if you want to feel like the organization owes it to the local fans to stay in Bethlehem, you should have worked to get more than 2,300 fans out to each game). At the same time, clearly the Steel or Union felt like they’d be able to get waivers indefinitely – “the NASL gambit” – or is truly not all that invested in staying in Bethlehem.

USMNTakes. This story with Steve Cherundolo was pretty interesting. The former Men’s National Team standout was a guest coach with the Nats during their two-game stint in Europe. He was recently fired as part of the Stuttgart coaching staff, and has some outsider takes. For subscribers to The Athletic, Paul Tenorio has much more with Cherundolo.

I also present this:

I disagree (and strongly). You call up guys who give you the best chance to win, regardless of their club situation. That’s particularly true for guys whose club situation comes with an asterisk. Is “only turned 18 in February and was ineligible to play for his club team” or “can’t beat out Neymar for a spot in the lineup” damning? Is it worse than “is mediocre starter on mediocre MLS team?” I’d say no.

If the games were meaningful, you could convince me otherwise, but given that Dave Sarachan’s lone mandate seemed to be to blood the young talent – and that it’s the one thing he did pretty well in his 13 months as MNT manager – I don’t understand the complaint. That’s particularly true when Weah in particular proved to be one of the better players for the team over this time period. Clearly “playing for club team” isn’t the only indicator of high performance (which goes back to the above).

The headline here comes across as “finally, proof Christian Pulisic cares about the USMNT” which is an epically dumb take. Fortunately, the story is much more productive. It does, however, include a mention of the hot take to end all hot takes (if only to refute it, as the story implies).

Meanwhile, Tyler Adams writes for The Players Tribune, including the unsurprising “will be going to Europe in January” news. U-20 standout Alex Mendez will sign with Freiburg. And of course, goalkeeper Zack Steffen will likely sign with Manchester City (and then almost as likely, head out on loan somewhere).

Etc.: Add Madera Café in Plaza Mariachi to the soccer bars list. Thanks to reader Santiago for bringing it to my attention. … English clubs’ academy output. … Are we still talking about Jonathan Gonzalez? In a way, yes. … Probably the one guy with a legit argument for beating Matt Pickens as USL keeper of the year does so. …  … Austin Bold’s coach is also the coach of the USVI team. … Story on Liam Doyle’s re-signing from the Isle of Man, and one on Ropapa Mensah from one of the many Ghanaian soccer outlets. … USL Players Association earns league negotiating recognition.

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Community ratings: Nashville SC 1-2 Bethlehem Steel

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Nashville took a key loss in Eastern Conference play last night, falling at home to Bethlehem Steel. How do you think the individual players performed? Have your say with a (quick, anonymous) vote in the player ratings!

Down a man, Nashville SC draws level then gives up late winner to Bethlehem Steel

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NASHVILLE – After clawing back level with an 84th-minute goal from Justin Davis, Nashville SC gave up a stoppage time winner to give up all three points to Bethlehem Steel. Pushing for the winner, NSC found itself exposed at the back, and a save from Matt Pickens could only spill the ball to Adam Najem, who slotted home with only seconds remaining to result in a gut-wrenching loss for the Boys in Gold by a 2-1 count.

At the half, a game-tying goal for Nashville SC looked like it would come from one of the attacking duo of Alan Winn and Ropapa Mensah. In reality, it didn’t arrive until both had left the field. While both offensive players had a solid night – in a tough position, down a man after Ish Jome’s 31st-minute red card – the complexion of Nashville SC’s offense changed when new signing Kris Tyrpak made his first appearance, and Matt LaGrassa entered in the midfield. Tyrpak and LaGrassa combined for several dangerous moments, and earned a number of corner kicks for the Boys in Gold.

The game-tyer would nonetheless come from the run of play, with Lebo Moloto slotting a through ball to left back Davis. Davis would make no mistake slotting far post, canceling out Chris Nanco’s first-half tally for Bethlehem.

Najem was the stoppage-time hero for the Steel, giving NSC only its second home loss on the year. Holding the Steel level for more than an hour down a man after Jome’s sending off is hardly the greatest consolation prize for a Nashville team that needs to earn points – and earn wins – to find itself playing in the postseason.

Nashville should be able to get back on the right foot Tuesday, welcoming one of the league’s worst teams, Richmond Kickers, to First Tennessee Park for a midweek tilt. Of course, we’ve seen that even low-level competition can be dangerous (a loss to Toronto in Rochester will be tough to forget).

On a night when several other results broke their way (Indy and Charleston tied Atlanta United and New York, respectively, with those teams among the competitors for playoff positioning), Nashville couldn’t get the job done.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 6′ BST Substitution – On 43 Prosper Chiluya, off 32 Matt Real (injured)
  • 23′ BST GOAL – 23 Chris Nanco (right footed), assisted by 45 James Chambers
  • 27′ NSH Yellow card – 11 Ish Jome (foul)
  • 31′ NSH RED CARD – 11 Ish Jome (second yellow, foul)
  • 45′ BST Yellow card – 5 Oliver Mbaizo (foul)
  • 45’+6 – Half time.
  • 62′ NSH Substitution – On 26 Kris Tyrpak, off 19 Alan Winn
  • 64′ BST Substitution – On 38 Santi Moar, off 35 Faris
  • 72′ NSH Substitutions – On 12 Tucker Hume and 20 Matt LaGrassa, off 3 Ropapa Mensah and 17 Michael Reed
  • 74′ BST Substitution – On 39 Drew Skundrich, off 63 Brenden Aaronson
  • 84′ NSH GOAL – 2 Justin Davis (left foot), assisted by 10 Lebo Moloto
  • 90’+3 BST GOAL – Adam Najem (right foot)
  • 90’+4 Full time

Halftime reset: Nashville SC 0, Bethlehem Steel 1

NASHVILLE – Very little went right for Nashville SC in the first half of this evening’s game against Bethlehem Steel. Even a team that lost United States youth international Matt Real in the fourth minute was defensively stout against the attack of the Boys in Gold.

Things went from bad to worse – and then even worse – when NSC goalkeeper Matt Pickens was wrong-footed on a shot from distance, and Chris Nanco got the Steel on the board first. Then, Nashville midfielder Ish Jome picked up two yellow cards in the span of four minutes, leaving Nashville down a man for the rest of the contest.

All is not lost, of course: you may recall these teams played mostly to a stalemate in Bethlehem at the beginning of the season after the Steel gave up a sixth-minute red card and penalty kick. If Nashville can do the same, and nick an equalizer, it’s a whole new ballgame.

They certainly have the personnel on to do just that. Against a heavy-footed Bethlehem defense, Nashville started the speedy Ropapa Mensah and Alan Winn up top. They’re capable of producing game-breaking plays regardless of whether the team’s a man down. Now, of course, they’ll be tested in that capacity. Nashville shifted to a 3-5-1 with Jome’s departure, Winn sliding outside to the vacated right mid spot. With speed up top and down the flanks, the Boys in Gold will have to muster something on the counter-attack. The pair have linked up for some nice moments already, but will need to put the end product together to finish the job.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 6′ BST Substitution – On 43 Prosper Chiluya, off 32 Matt Real (injured)
  • 23′ BST GOAL – 23 Chris Nanco (right footed), assisted by 45 James Chambers
  • 27′ NSH Yellow card – 11 Ish Jome (foul)
  • 31′ NSH RED CARD – 11 Ish Jome (second yellow, foul)
  • 45′ BST Yellow card – 5 Oliver Mbaizo (foul)
  • 45’+6 – Half time.

Preview: Nashville SC v. Bethlehem Steel 2018

Bethlehem Steel will go down in Nashville SC history as the first team to give a professional victory. Will the Boys in Gold remain undefeated against the Baby Union? (This is a much less fun diminutive than the other MLS2 teams).

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“Now lean back. Lean back” – Regular-width Mike

The essentials

Opponent: Bethlehem Steel (11-10-6 USL). 46 GF, 32 GA so far in 2018, 5th in USL East, 9th in USL East Power Ratings and 9th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: BST (W-W-L-W-W) NSC (D-W-D-L-W)
The Line: Nashville SC +117, draw +224, Bethlehem Steel +206
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m.  • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 88ºF, 0% chance of rain, 58% humidity, 7 MPH Southerly winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, stream with a subscription to ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch in a game atmosphere.
Tailgate: With the Assembly in the green space just East of the stadium, the Roadies at Pastime.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @BSteelFC, #NSHvBST
Elsewhere: USL preview, Fox 17 previewGolden Goal fearless forecast, which includes plenty about how this game is played at Lehigh? Might wanna check the notes there.

Bethlehem Steel

Last time Nashville played this team, the Steel were down to 10 men for nearly the entire contest, but only conceded the lone goal that resulted from the red-carded offense. We thought that was a terrible result from Nashville at the time (and given that NSC failed to score from the run of play with 84-plus minutes of a man advantage, it may well have been), but Bethlehem’s form since then makes it quite a bit less worrisome.

That game dropped Bethlehem to 1-2-0, with the lone win against the Richmond Kickers, but since that time, they’ve gone 10-8-6, and have placed themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff positions (comfortably so, at fifth place, though the third through tenth spots are separated by only 12 points). Like basically every team, though, they’re below .500 away from home, and some First Tennessee Magic® could make things tougher for them tonight.

This will certainly be a tough, tough challenge, but our guys enjoy being at First Tennessee Park and in front of our fans,” said NSC head coach Gary Smith. “In our current run of form – with two really good road results around a home win – we are ready to get back out there.”

Santi Moar has been the star for the Steel this season, and though he has only six goals, I feel like every time I’ve watched them his impact has been greater than that. He’s third on the team in minutes played, and tied for most (read: all but one) with centerback Matthew Mahoney. Where Moar separates himself is assisting his teammates, where he has twice as many as the next-highest player, despite his status as also the best finisher on the squad.

Anthony Fontana is another key player for the Steel as their playmaker at the 10 spot in a USL-standard 4-2-3-1, though he’s not played in the past few games. As is always the case with these MLS 2 teams, there is a lack of consistency in who’s with the team (rather than the top-division side), much less who’s actually going to be in the squad and/or play.

“We are going to run into a young group who have matured throughout the course of the season,” said Smith. “Never sure who is going to travel with the second teams but I expect some very creative individuals and it will be an extremely tough game. They know this is an important game with four games in hand against us. They’ll need a win tonight.”

Matt Real, the left back, is a youth national team player, though he’s also missed games here and there playing with the Union. Nonetheless, he’s been a fixture lately for the Steel, so I’d count on him being available.

The Boys in Gold

Last we saw the Steel, Nashville came out in a new-look 4-4-2. It was unclear if that was a pure tactical shift or just a special case after the Steel went a man down six minutes into the game.

Now, we’ve clearly seen that it was the direction Nashville SC was going to go. We’ve also since seen them go back to the odd backline (though it’s more a true 3-5-2 than the 5-3-2 we saw earlier in the year). What NSC tries to do against the Steel is still a bit of a mystery… but I would project the back three is more likely than a back four.

There have also been changes in personnel for both teams, though more so for Nashville. One of the Steel’s starting strikers the last time these sides met up? Brandon Allen. He’ll be wearing Gold tonight, though.

“I like it a lot better here,” Allen said of Nashville. “I like the fans here, there are a lot more fans at the games and it’s a bit more exciting to play here for me.”

Similarly, Michael Cox started up top and scored the lone Nashville goal last time around, but he’s no longer with NSC. Instead, former San Antonio FC striker Kris Tyrpak joined as a forward/mid, and I’m betting he (finally) sees the pitch tonight for his new club.

With Bradley Bourgeois back to health and in the starting lineup, Michael Reed having played full minutes since a minor injury in the Ottawa game, the same for Matt Pickens… we’ll see a full-strength Nashville side. I would imagine they’ll stick with the recently-successful 3-5-2, but they have the flexibility to come out in one look and present it as another depending on game situation, too.

Projected lineups

I’m going with the 3-5-2 for Nashville, because they seem to have settled back into that in the past three or four games. The 4-4-2 was also relatively ineffective (albeit due in part to personnel) the first time around in this matchup.

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Nothing controversial, I don’t think, but I have to put words under the image or it looks weird so here we are. I think Tyrpak plays. There’s something substantive for you.

Predictions

Bethlehem is better than they looked at the time of the first game, but notably, Nashville is also much better (if you’re not a member of the “durrrrr what happened last gamr is the only thing that ever happened” crowd, which you should not be). With that said, here we go:

  • Tyrpak gets his first NSC point, assisting on a Brandon Allen opener.
  • The only other goal in this one is provided by a sub, and fan favorite Ropapa Mensah gets on the scoreboard for the first time since the now-famous June winner over North Carolina FC. Lebo Moloto (unsurprisingly) provides the assist.
  • You Nashville SC subs: Kosuke Kimura for Taylor Washington, London Woodberry for Ish Jome (Justin Davis to left wingback), and Mensah replaces Tyrpak at the half as Nashville tries to give both of them as much time as possible while acknowledging that neither has really done the work during the week to be a 90-minute player on the weekend.
  • The Steel finish with seven shots, but four of them come from outside the box, and only one is on goal.

Nashville wins 2-0. It’s a satisfying if not dominating win, but considering the improvement from the Steel over the course of the season, a multi-goal win is more than enough to satisfy NSC fans.

The meaning

Here’s a new section.

Nashville can only climb to sixth place in the standings (at best) with a win this evening. Thanks to the Steel’s mid-week win over Ottawa Fury (literally the worst of the three possible outcomes for NSC in the table out of that game, so if you tweeted “got some help” about it, you are wrong), their upside is capped.

However, Nashville will also have at least one game in hand on all but one team (Louisville) in front of them, so there’s upside there. No, wins from games in hand are not guaranteed, but if the concept of having the opportunity to get more points versus already losing out on those points is confusing to you… I don’t know what to say.

With the games in hand that they have, their fifth-best PPG in the East against what has been the hardest schedule should equalize and hopefully mean challenging for a home playoff game. Giving away points against Ottawa and Toronto probably ends the dreams of finishing third or higher, but this team still has big goals to accomplish.

The Wrap: Bethlehem Steel 0-1 Nashville SC

Welcome to The Wrap! In my efforts to figure out how a full postgame package will play out during the regular season, trying out the final piece on the last game before moving onto the next one. While you’re here, don’t forget to follow the site on Facebook and Twitter.

Local content

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The postgame story:

This team still needs to develop its cohesion, particularly in the offensive third – indeed, I would have very few worries defensively, with Matt Pickens saving all four shots on target comfortably enough, and the defense locked-down enough to allow only those four shots on the frame.

Community player ratings voting. Results included in the breakdown and player ratings, with your Man of the Match, Alan Winn:

I tried to be very conservative in my evaluation of Winn’s performance: the hype train for him (and for Ropapa Mensah) has been a little out of control, and I understand a lot of the reasons he hadn’t seen as much time yet. Still, he was my man of the match, and like I’ve said about Taylor Washington in previous weeks, it’s the simple presence of his speed on the pitch just as much as anything he accomplishes with the ball at his feet that makes him so dangerous.

More on Winn, with a film breakdown and some diagrams:

That is all to explain that these aren’t mistakes I’d expect Winn to continue making. With more experience, with more time in the professional setup, and more time getting used to game speed in regular-season USL action, he’ll be ready to make those plays, be ready to keep the head up and look for runners, and be ready to know what can and can’t work technique-wise in one-v-one situations.

Much more at each of the links.

Elsewhere

From Nashville: A surprisingly-extant game story from USA Today Network Tennessee. Fox 17 covers the win. Real short story in the Columbia Daily HeraldGolden Goal game story. From the Nashville Post, yet another game story.

From Bethlehem: Quick gamer from the local news. Philly Soccer Page brings the game coverage.

National (and international!) view: USL’s league content and Eastern Conference notebook. Ropapa Mensah gets a shoutout on a “Ghanaians abroad” feature.