Preview: Nashville SC @ Charlotte Independence 2018 Round 2

Nashville’s second three-play of the year will be completed this evening. The rubber match against Charlotte Independence after each team got a shutout win at home… will happen in Queen City. Will NSC earn a better result than their last trip to the Tar Heel State?

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Hashtag throwback. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The essentials

Opponent: Charlotte Independence (7-11-8 USL). 32 GF, 46 GA so far in 2018, 12th in USL East, 12th in USL East Power Ratings and 27th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: CLT (L-L-D-L-D) NSH (W-L-D-W-D)
The Line: Charlotte +149, Draw +214, Nashville +163
Time, Location: Saturday, Sept. 1 7:30 p.m. local (6:30 p.m. CDT)  • Sportsplex at Matthews
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 82ºF, 23% chance of rain, 69% humidity, 4 MPH Easterly 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.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA (in all honesty, I’m probably going to be doing alcohol and college football too much to be live-tweeting the game. Adjust as necessary for this game only), USL gametracker page, @CLTIndependence, #NSHvRIC
Elsewhere: Nashville SC preview. The homie Claudio Villalobos lockin’ it down for mis hispanohablantes.

Charlotte Independence

We’ve done this twice already (one of those a postgame, one a preview), so there’s not a whole lot new going on here. We know what Charlotte is about.

Andrew Dykstra is the man in net, though after giving up 12 goals in four games (despite one of them a shutout!) maybe it’s time to rethink that? Of course, the defense in front of him is to blame as well – backup keeper Brandon Miller’s raw numbers are actually worse. They’ve tried a few different things in recent weeks with varying degrees of success.

There’s no question that a road draw against Pittsburgh is an extremely good result (especially down a man for most of the second half). There’s even less question that giving up six to an offensively impotent North Carolina FC is terrible. The latter saw Charlotte go to a back three after getting trashed against Louisville and Bethlehem… and based on the result, something tells me there won’t be an odd backline this evening. Bilal Duckett has featured in all four of the most recent games (at right back in the Pittsburgh result), while Joel Johnson has played both right fullback and midfield, with Samuel Vines at left fullback/wingback for the most part. Je-Vaughn Watson and Betrand Owundi Eko’o among the more-used defenders.

My guy Jorge Herrera, all 37 years old of him, remains the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals, and he’s the co-leader in assists with three. Cordell Cato has eight and is another of the co-leaders in setting up teammates (Kay Voser, Alex Martinez, and Vines also have three apiece).

This is a team that can score, but can’t prevent teams from scoring on them (UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU ALLOWED TO CHECK THE SCORE OF NASHVILLE’S PREVIOUS GAME IN CHARLOTTE). In several ways, they’re a platonic opposite of NSC. Nashville’s loss in Charlotte was one of just five clean sheets they’ve kept in 26 games – Nashville has 13 in 25 games, despite an uncharacteristically crappy run of form in July. The Independence don’t stop anyone; opponents stop themselves. If you think Nashville’s done with the “stopping itself” phase of the schedule, this should be an OK game.

The Boys in Gold

Is Nashville done with said phase? They’ve gotten results in four of the last five (and scored in the loss), with two of those games against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. That seems to be a new segment of the schedule, at the very least. Still, even the shift back to a 3-5-2 after the 4-4-2 had lost its bite is no guarantee of continued success.

Indeed, that formation will have to overcome a new hurdle, with Justin Davis serving a suspension for his sixth yellow card of the year (and fifth without a streak of five games discipline-less to recharge the ol’ accumulation chart). That probably puts fellow lefty Liam Doyle at left centerback, with London Woodberry slotting between him and Bradley Bourgeois in the back. Expect Taylor Washington (who sat against Richmond Tuesday with a minor knee injury) and Kosuke Kimura or Ryan James to serve as the wingbacks.

There’s plenty of flexibility with the front three, especially on a crowded week: Lebo Moloto has played 180 minutes this week, while Alan Winn, Kris Tyrpak, and Tucker Hume have all seen at least some time in both games already this week. Add in that Ropapa Mensah is the lone squad regular to be on the injury report (questionable with a strained back), and there can be plenty of intrigue as to what the offensive personnel will entail.

Projected lineups

Forgot to bring the ol’ graphicalizer with me out of town. I would bet you see Moloto start with Tyrpak and Brandon Allen up top, in the most intriguing lineup question of the day.

Predictions

Keeping it short because we’re like 4 hours later than I meant for this to go up:

Nashville earns a 1-1 road draw. That’s still slightly disappointing, all things considered, but it’s what you aspire to in the USL. Against good teams (or bad ones that are OK at home), getting any sort of result is hardly the worst thing that can happen.

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Community ratings: Charlotte Independence 1-0 Nashville SC

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Nashville SC went on the road and took a loss Wednesday. How did the players perform in the outing? Have your say by voting in the community ratings.

As always, thanks for participating, and feel free to share with friends to get a broad view of the Nashville SC fanbase.

Preview: Nashville SC @ Charlotte Independence 2018 round one

Nashville SC easily handled Charlotte Independence last time these teams met. However, that was in First Tennessee Park, and now we’ll see Queen City (not that Queen City) in the flesh. What should we expect?

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The essentials

Opponent: Charlotte Independence (6-6-6 USL (rock!)). 27 GF, 27 GA so far in 2018, 9th in USL East, 11th in USL East Power Ratings and 23rd in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: Charlotte (L-L-D-D-D) NSC (D-W-L-L-W)
The Line: Nashville SC +191, Charlotte Independence +125, Draw +219
Time, Location: 6:30 p.m. CDT  • Matthews, N.C.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 94ºF, 4% chance of rain, 38% humidity, 5 MPH Westerly winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, stream with a subscription to ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch with fellow supporters (Roadies watch parties at Pastime and Party Fowl Murfressboro, Assembly at Tailgate Demonbreun),
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @fccincinnati, #NSHvCIN

When last we met

 

Charlotte was 2-0-1, and folks were thinking that they might end up one of the best teams in the USL. I cautioned that it was almost certainly a strength of schedule award, and… well, “Ottawa-Toronto-Atlanta” is almost literally as far as you can get from a murderer’s row in this league.

Nashville scored early, and while they waited until the final few moments to put the last nail in the coffin, they were never seriously challenged over the course of the game.

The Independence

Only one major thing has changed for Charlotte (as long as you had a handle on their not being the best team ever prior to the last meeting), so I’ll start with the look from last time around:

The Independence is led offensively by Jorge Herrera, who’s currently tied for top scorer in the league with four goals. He’s played most of his career in Colombia and Charlotte, and at 37 years old, is obviously no spring chicken. Still gets goals tho.

Over-focusing on one player is risky, of course. Thanks in large part to Herrera’s ability to put the ball in the net, four of his teammates are on the league leaderboard in assists (which includes everyone with at least one, in fairness. Also in fairness: Nashville has zero). Target striker Caleb Calvert leads the way with two (tied with defender Joel Johnson), and he’s also put in a goal. Midfielder Cordell Cato has a pair of goals early in the season.

Keeper Andrew Dykstra has made only four saves while allowing three goals on the year – seven shots faced through three games indicates solid things from his defense or bad things from the opponent, as debated with myself above – not a great indication of his ability just yet. Certainly what we’ve seen to date indicates that NSC might as well just try to put shots on him and see what happens.

The main change? Calvert does. not. see. the. field. anymore after being one of the key players early. We can have a much better feel for the rotation, as well, particularly on defense.

I have Charlotte as the USL’s 19th-best offense and 22nd-best defense, so even though they’re better at home – basically exactly on average, rather than comfortably below it like they are on the road – there’s only limited amounts to like here.

The Boys in Gold

a team like Nashville should be looking at a draw as worst-case scenario. Taking an L would be a massive disappointment.

That said, it does happen: Cincinnati went into Charlotte and was blasted 4-1 back in May. There were some mitigating factors there (Cincy didn’t have experience against this iteration of the Independence yet, Charlotte had a good gameplan that took advantage of a leaky Cincinnati defense) that probably don’t apply this evening. It can still happen.

Nashville is probably feeling of two minds about drawing FCC last week: there’s the letdown of an opportunity wasted, but also the motivation of knowing you need to make up for it. NSC has dropped from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference (still near the top in the power ratings and projected table, of course) as a result of failing to capture all three points. They can climb back up to third with a win tonight.

 

Predictions

Going to keep it short and sweet because we’re running pretty far behind schedule today, yeah?

Nashville wins 2-1, with goals from Ropapa Mensah (as a substitute) and Taylor Washington.

 

The Wrap: Nashville SC 2-0 Charlotte Independence

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

The halftime reset basically could have served as the game story, minus one outstanding save from Matt Pickens and Ropapa Mensah’s cherry on top.

Fortunately, the full game story allowed me to use a groan-worthy pun in the headline!

7,487 screaming Nashville fans witnessed a triple-dose of history, with the team’s first home win, first run-of-play goal, and first multi-goal outing in club regular-season history. They also witnessed Charlotte fail to earn a result, something the previous league leaders had yet to do this year.

Postgame presser video of Gary Smith and players. A transcript of Smith’s comments, and one of Alan Winn/Bradley Bourgeois.

Breakdown and player ratings. (Don’t forget that you can always contribute to the community player ratings):

For the second week in a row, Alan Winn is my man of the match. This time, though, the positives that he brought weren’t nearly as dragged down by the negative of “what-if” or lost potential for plays he didn’t finish. His goal included an effective-if-clunky cutback with the backheel, and the finish was much more impressive than it had seemed live. He was willing to provide a bit of a high press at times, and his speed continues to change the game down the wings.

A little lighter content-wise last game, but you’ll survive, yeah?

Elsewhere – blogdom

Music City Soccer gamer615 Formation game columnGolden Goal game story. The Soccer Speedway/Golden Goal player ratingsNashville SC Soccer quick recap. Frenchy.

Elsewhere – newsy types

Alan Winn is up for the league’s goal of the week, while Matt Pickens is up for save of the week. Winn was already named to the Best XI of the week.

The USL’s game story. The Eastern Conference notebook includes quite a bit more about the game. Some love for Alan Winn in their stat-oriented weekend wrap-up. Nashville enters the league’s power rankings (seven spots behind the team they just trashed). … I love Ghana Soccernet so much. They talk about Mensah’s tally. … What we learned, from USA Today Network Tennessee.

Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 2-0 Charlotte Independence

As always (at least at this point in the season), don’t put too much stock in scores week-to-week: I’m tweaking the formula a bit between weeks to find one that I like. The post should be internally consistent at the least. Community ratings are on a 1-10 scale (don’t forget, you can vote in them each week).

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Man of the Match for the second week in a row. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Midfield

Alan Winn 25.96 (93 minutes) – Community rating: 8.75 – For the second week in a row, Alan Winn is my man of the match. This time, though, the positives that he brought weren’t nearly as dragged down by the negative of “what-if” or lost potential for plays he didn’t finish. His goal included an effective-if-clunky cutback with the backheel, and the finish was much more impressive than it had seemed live. He was willing to provide a bit of a high press at times, and his speed continues to change the game down the wings.

Bolu Akinyode 17.23 (93 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 – I’ve been a bit of an Akinyode skeptic (at least in comparison to some folks, like my friends at Soccer Speedway), but I really felt he turned a corner for me in this game. Whereas he’s typically extremely conservative with his passes – willing to pass back or laterally, and often very short, which results in nice completion percentages but not necessarily effective soccer – he was more willing to push the ball a bit, and even carried it at his feet upfield a bit more. He’s still improving in controlling it out of the air (he’s often winning headers, thanks to his height, but not quite getting the touch right), and needs to be more effective working back, given his role as a defense-first midfielder, but I thought he had a great game.

Michael Reed 14.77 (93 minutes) – Community rating: 6.25 –  Reed has been very quiet in past games, and was quite a bit more active in this one, given the quality of opposing offense he has to deal with. Simple volume of involvement is a big factor in these ratings (trying to figure out exactly how to value it is part of what I’m tweaking each week), and he was in the mix a lot. He still seems to be a little inaccurate on passes – or puts them in unnecessarily risky areas – but his role as a defensive field general from midfield allowed him to step up.

Taylor Washington 8.89 (68 minutes) – Community rating: 6.50 – Given Nashville’s desire to attack 1) with Alan Winn and Kosuke Kimura and 2) down the right side of the offense generally, Washington wasn’t super-involved in the game. His speed down the left does make the opponent stay honest, and he was a step or two away from running down longballs from his opponents on multiple occasions. That he played seven minutes or so after receiving the knock (a minor hamstring injury) that eventually took him out of the game also depressed his score.

Matt LaGrassa 0.33 (25 minutes) – Community rating: 6.25 – LaGrassa came on for Washington and mostly played out of position on the left wing (though he and Winn flipped sides a couple times, as well). NSC was trying to run out the game by the time he came on, so there weren’t as many opportunities for him to make an impact. He had a couple mistakes – including two separate instances of dribbling out of bounds under minimal pressure when he was supposed to be taking the ball to the corner flag and earning a throw – that he didn’t have enough involvement to come back from.

Forwards

Lebo Moloto 20.42 (88 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 – This was a bounceback game for Moloto after he was quieter in the forward role last week. He was much more comfortable playing a second-striker role running onto passes in hold-up play (albeit partially because he was starting from deeper positions, giving him a bit of familiarity as a usual midfielder), and was able to both pass to players down the sidelines or even run them himself. He drew a ton of fouls against a physical Charlotte defense, as well.

Michael Cox 11.18 (77 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 – I’ve finally figured out what I think of Cox, and at this point it’s a pretty tight comparison: he’s a bit of a poor man’s Jozy Altidore. He’s at his best getting long balls with his back to the goal and a defender that he’s boxing out, and quickly distributing them to runners. The problem is that he has a tough time getting a soft first touch from chest to foot, with it often bouncing away when he gets that first foot to it (in this game, Moloto was among those who made that not-too-damaging to the team). He also likes to run behind the defense a bit, though with Winn running the wing, it wasn’t as necessary here. He provided a pleasant defensive spark in the high-press game, too.

Ropapa Mensah 2.96 (15 minutes) – Community rating: 7.25 – Like Cox, Mensah often takes really hard first touches, allowing the ball to get away from him. He also has a big, strong physique to box out, but that’s pretty much the end of the comparison. He relishes getting behind the defense – although in this one, he didn’t trust his speed on two occasions (that looked almost the exact same, though one was a turnover and one was a shot), instead dribbling in slowly after a defender has recovered, trying to cut back across his face, and losing advantageous position. Of course, he also had a beautiful first-touch goal, as is tradition.

Defenders

Kosuke Kimura 15.62 (92 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 – I’ve been harsh on Kimura in past performances (though not unfairly), so I definitely need to give him props in this one: he was great. He’s a ball of energy willing to get up the field and work back fast if possession is lost, and that was a good fit for what NSC needed alongside Winn up the right side. He’s still iffy with his passes at times, but he cleaned up some of the things he’d struggled with in previous games (keeping his feet on the outside when a winger tries to cut back on him, bizarrely inaccurate free throws that had to be due to some sort of hand injury), and it’s clear that the 4-4-2, at least for now, seems to be a better fit for him. The overlapping run, rather than having space of his own on the wing with a tightly-packed central midfield trio, is good for him.

Justin Davis 13.17 (92 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 – Davis continues to be, well himself, even after the shift to a 4-4-2. He likes to get up in the offense, but it’s more of a ball-carrier position toward the center, rather than the “raging fullback” that Kimura’s style seems to be (and with a winger on his side in Washington who’s totally comfortable being a wide defender, that’s a good fit). He still seems to make some really scary moments for his own team, but a desire to push the ball up the field with well-placed long passes and a knack for timing his crunching sliding tackles works out well.

Liam Doyle 11.59 (92 minutes) – Community rating: 6.75 – Doyle is a walking, talking headed clearance much of the time, and he’s a sniper on long-balls starting offense from the back. He still has a tendency to step up with inopportune timing (see: Ottawa game), springing a second runner in on the goal, but the even backline seems to make that less dangerous: he’s one of two guys locking down the middle, rather than the final line of defense. He gave up an awful free kick at the top of the box when solid positional play would have been more effective, too. Overall, it was a decent game, but only that.

Bradley Bourgeois 10.31 (92 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 – Bourgeois had a couple really nice chances on corner kicks – like, three or four, so it had to be something NSC identified on film – and if he’d hit one of them, his offensive contributions would have been impressive to go along with a fine day defensively. He did give it away at the back a time or two, and got turned sideways to give up space a couple times.

David Edgar 2.16 (5 minutes) – Community rating: 5.00 – Edgar’s low rating both in my system and presumably according to the community were a simple product of limited time on the field. His entry put NSC into a five-man backline with him in the center (Doyle left, Bourgeois right in a defensive 5-4-1 holding the lead), and I thought he was fantastic for what little we saw of him. A few more weeks with the team might see him in the starting lineup.

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 14.40 (92 minutes) – Community rating: 8.75 – Pickens could probably be the man of many matches, but his total lack of involvement in the first half is both 1) a good thing, and 2) going to keep him from racking up big point totals. His free kick save was awesome (probably the USL save of the week, though there were some strong contenders this week, as well), and the difference in the game in the end. Of course, it was worth about one goal though, so can it be valued more than Winn’s or Mensah’s goals? That’s up to the reader to decide.

Community comment: “The save Pickens made was so good it made my wife cheer.”

Don’t forget to vote in next week’s community player ratings to have your opinion heard!

Postgame press conference: Alan Winn and Bradley Bourgeois after 2-0 win over Charlotte Independence

Goal-scorer Alan Winn and defender Bradley Bourgeois (who helped his team to a clean sheet) met with the media after Saturday night’s win over the Charlotte Independence. Here’s what they said.

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Gonna use this Bourgeois photo at basically every opportunity. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Alan Winn

The confidence gained from his first regular-season goal:

“I’ve always had a high confidence, and I thought was it was good finish, so I just hope to keep going for game-to-game like that.”

Shoe selection for the post-game press conference:

“My shoes, I don’t know exactly where they’re from. I think they’re Gucci; my girlfriend got them for me. They’re on point. Everyone’s talking about my socks (because I haven’t got socks on), but they’re pretty swaggy to me. I don’t know what you guys think.”

On the right side of the offensive attack running the show against Charlotte:

“I just think we had a good thing going in training with our 4-4-2 going in with that right side. It’s not that anything’s wrong with our left side, we just kept practicing right side, right side, and I thin knext week we’ll practice the left side. From there, we’ll be very dynamic on both sides.”

His favored position after moving around all preseason:

“Anywhere I’m in good position to score and assist, really. I do like the wing positions, those are my more natural, but whatever Gary tells me to play, I do it with a pep in my step.”

 

On being described as relentless by head coach Gary Smith and others:

“I thank them for saying that, I would hope so. As a forward, you always have that mentality of keep going, keep going, and have a short-term memory of when you do miss, you’ve got to keep going. This game never stops, even if we would have lost this game, you have to keep going; you’ve still got to make results; still gotta score goals. I would say that’s a very humbling characteristic they’ve said for me, and I hope I can show for it each wee, game-in and game-out.”

On scoring after missing some chances last weekend:

“You just need to have a short-term memory and keep going. You’re not going to make every one, and I was very blessed to get this opportunity, and to get it in the back of the net. It’s one of those things when you do hit it in the back of the net, it’s a rhythm. You never can settle for what happened in the past, you’ve got to go to the next game. This is a great game that we won, but we have the next game to take care of.”

On the team having a strong bench:

“It just shows competitiveness. Everyone’s starting – this is a team game of course – but you also want to be on the field; you want to start. It’s a good environment where we’re all competitive, but we have this family-oriented mentality at the same time. When someone does mess up, you have their back, or you try to make up for what they did. It’s always something, and there’s no laying back, no laying off the gas pedal.”

Bradley Bourgeois

On barely missing the goal on a headed corner kick:

“I felt like throughout the game, I was getting myself on a couple headers. I felt like I was getting myself into good spots. If I could have it again, of course I would want it back, and would want to hit it to another place. I have to be happy with just being in that position. I have to give myself a chance to score, and I did, and maybe another night it’ll go in.”

Defense:

“I think it comes down to just jelling: having a consistent back line. Also with the big man in the back. Pickens has been huge. As you can see, he’s come up big time and time again. Like I’ve said, that’s the saves that most keepers might not make, but he’s there and he makes them.

Overall team performance:

“I could say this is our best one so far. We got off on the front foot from the beginning in the first 15 minutes. We really fed off the energy at home, and that’s what we wanted to do: we wanted to create a positive environment, especially at home, and I think overall as a 90, that’s something we can be happy with. It’s just a process, so hopefully it continues to get better.”

Maintaining a long shutout streak:

“Whenever you go into a game, especially on the back line, we’re not really thinking 296, 297, 298 in that, that clock turns in our head of course, but whenever you step on the field, we said at halftime if we get the clean sheet, we win the game, it’s plain and simple. For us to do our job in the back, if we can hold that clean sheet, we give guys like him [Winn] an opportunity to score. So, for us, it builds confidence but all it’s just kind of a thing we like to strive for, we put that in the past and now we’re starting at minute zero. We want to continue just to get that next 90.”

Goalkeeper Matt Pickens:

“It gives you that comfort, but we don’t want to get too comfortable, where we’re going, ‘all right Matt, you’ve got it.’ We don’t even want to give him those chances to [have to] make those saves. It is such a relief to have a guy like that with such experience, and for him to continuously come up big: iot’s huge. It allows you to keep going and keep going, and keep going, and you know if you mess up, he’s got your back.”

On beating the first-place team in the East:

“That’s the challenge we had set forth for the game. We knew they were top of the table and that was one of those things where we need to step up and make a statement, not only for the fans at home but especially throughout the league. We knew they were top of the table and that was the challenge was set in front of us by Gary. He said step up to the table and let’s see if we can knock one out of the park.”

Baseball metaphors.

 

Postgame press conference: Gary Smith following 2-0 victory over Charlotte Independence

Gary Smith spoke with the media after his team’s 2-0 victory over Charlotte Independence Saturday evening. Here’s what the gaffer said:

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Opening statement

“The focal point for the group really coming into today’s game was to be as positive, to be as purposeful, and to try and start to create and form some foundations for home advantage. That, I thought, was prevalent in the first 45 minutes: the team was very bright. We pressed the Charlotte group very well. I thought we won the ball in some nice areas and certainly created some opportunities. The goal was a terrific effort from Alan Winn.

“The second period, I felt Charlotte slightly changed the dynamic of their group. They took a couple more chances. They had some joy once or twice playing out of the back, and that started to affect how we defended. I certainly felt Charlotte edged the possession and maybe some of the more adventurous play in the second period. But overall, I’m absolutely delighted with the way the players have attacked the game, the mindset and some of the quality . more so in the first period. We’ve also shown a different quality today which is when we’re under pressure, we’ve shown some great resilience, some very determined defending and that in itself starts to form good camaraderie and an appreciation that, when you’re in front, you’re going to be difficult to beat. That’s not a bad quality to have, so I’m very pleased. Two goals in open play, which is great news. Another clean sheet: also great news. And some really good performances again, so we take another step in the right direction.”

Shutting out a team that had been offensively dominant in previous games:

“They certainly played some better soccer in the second half, and they found more of a rhythm. It was part of the gameplan to constantly break up that cohesive play that they have. They’re a talented side: albeit three home games, but they’d won two and drawn one, and scored plenty of goals and confident. So part of the plan was to make sure that we were as bright and forceful as we could be. I think when they had their best period in that middle part of the second half, I thought we showed some real determination and desire to, in last-ditch moments – which there were – to put our bodies on the line. Matt Pickens has been terrific again. His save from the free-kick was absolutely world-class. It’s a combination of factors in the end: a resilient group, some individual defending, some bravery, the goalkeeper’s extremely talented. But that’s his job; that’s why he’s here; that’s why he won a championship in 2010, because he is a top-class goalkeeper, and that is part of our team, and he’s done his job again. His job is to keep that goal intact. I’ve been with Matt a number of years now, and he does that as well as anyone. There were a combination of things, but of course pleasing again, it’s a confidence boost. The players feel as though they’re capable of weathering some pressure and better quality from an opponent. We’re not going to outplay teams for 90 minutes. Every team has a spell in the game where they’re on the back foot. This team know how to deal with that at the moment, which is great.”

Alan Winn’s goal

“Firstly, it is an absolutely terrific goal. Alan’s a naturally right-footed player, comes inside on his left foot, and strikes an absolutely terrific ball across the face of the goal and into the far corner, and it really does change the face of the game. If you’re in front, there are things that I can do, the team can do, there’s a confidence within the group, there’s an appreciation of better possession, and just working a team over rather than getting a little too anxious. That was the first thing. The second thing is, Alan brings a fearless approach to attacking. He wants to run at defenders, he has almost seemless end to his energy: he just continues to work tirelessly throughout the game – on both sides of the ball. He’s great going forward, but he’s also a real tenacious individual coming back defensively. He’s brought a terrific dimension to our attack. At the moment, it’s going to be difficult to take him out of the team.”

Does Winn’s presence allow Kosuke Kimura to play better?

“The only change today was Ryan James coming out and Kosuke coming in, and that was no slight on Ryan: he’s performed very well. I just felt that with a little bit more experience down that right-hand side, and I know Kosuke will want to get forward and join in. I honestly thought that combination would cause some problems down the [defensive] left-hand side, and in the end it’s worked out that way. We’ve scored our first goal from it, whether it came from a combination of the two or just an individual. But I always thought that Kosuke’s appreciation and guidance and just that tad more experience to offer to Alan would serve us well, and it did.”

Was the heavy dose of high-press a plan we’ll see more of or a matchup situation?

“I honestly felt that we could take advantage of a team that want to maintain the ball. They have got a good philosophy. Their coach, Mike Jeffries, I know. He’s a good coach, and he wants to build his teams through good possession. If we could win the ball higher up the field and just disrupt what they were about, it was going to be our best opportunity to one, put them out of their stride, and two, as I said at the start, try and build some sort of home advantage. What sort of team do we want to try and be at home? This is our very first league game at First Tennessee Park. We have another 14 games here. I need to quickly work out – and so do the players – what the benefits of being here are going to be.

“It’s the best field that we’ve played on so far, unequivocally: great surface, it lent itself to our style of play, and at times to theirs, because they want to play soccer too; they want to be in possession. But in general, I want to try and be aggressive at home. I want the crowd to feel as though they can get behind us, that we’re going to put teams under pressure – whether that’s through our high pressing when we can, or a dynamic attack – either way, I want to be bright and purposeful.

“If you noticed in the second period, on a couple occasions, Charlotte did a great job of playing around us, did a really good job. That starts to just, depending on the stage of the game, position you’re in as a team, starts to maybe ask a question as to maybe, ‘what do we need to do right now to make sure that we win this game?’ From a standpoint of where we want to move towards as a team, yes: we want to be as aggressive as possible, and that will of course be determined by the type of team we’re playing against. With or without the ball, we want to be positive.”

Taylor Washington came off injured, what’s his status?

“Taylor had a little bit of an issue with his hamstring. One or two of the guys were shouting at me that he had a problem, and I couldn’t work out why, because he seemed to moving quite freely. When I managed to grab Taylor’s attention, he said he was fine. Then he had the collision, and our head athletic trainer went out, I just said to her, ‘can you just find out if there is a problem?’ And she, ‘he’s got a little bit of a problem with his hamstring,’ which enabled me to get somebody ready, and to introduce Matt LaGrassa.”

Having a player like LaGrassa on the bench is a good situation?

“Not just Matt, but the guys that I look at down the line who, in all honesty, could be part of that first XI group any time. If you look at the guys that I’ve brought on today, Matt LaGrassa is a top-class midfield player. Ropapa Mensah has just scored what really is the final nail and winner in the game. David Edgar’s an international. They’re three great players to be able to bring into the game. I’m very fortunate at this point in time that I’ve got such strength on the bench, and in many ways, you’ll have heard the same: that you’re only as strong as your bench. When I look down the bench at the moment, we have a very, very good group of players, and some of them are not making the game at the moment. But I think over a period of time that you’ll see that we might need to freshen things up a bit, keep some sharpness, and when you’ve got good players, you can do that.”

Five of the next six games are on the road

“I’ve looked at the schedule, as you might imagine, and this is the toughest period of the season, bar none. You’re right: five out of six away and then the champions at home, so the next six games are pretty tough. Indy have started off very well. They’ve just won 1-0 today. I watched the game last week, against Cincinnati, which was very, very tight, they performed well. It doesn’t look an easy environment to play. But what we have is good confidence, we have a group of players that have taken another step in a positive direction, and I think we’re slowly-but-surely looking like a group of players, a team, an organization on the field that we can all be confident and excited about. There is no doubt about it that the five away opponents – any away game in this league is very difficult; It presents so many different dynamics and challenges – there isn’t an away game in the league that you’ve not got to prepare fully for and be majorly aware of what the home team is going to bring. My honest thoughts about the next period of time is, given our form, given the confidence in the group, I see no reason why we shouldn’t come away from these games with some real positives.”