England 3, United States 0

So that pretty much stunk. England dominated early, let its foot off the gas a bit in the middle (and still didn’t concede), and then finished strong to hold off any hopes of the Americans making things look pretty on the final scoreboard.

Yay.

The Americans came out with something pretty close to a first-choice group (given the options available), whereas England was young. See?:

Lineups

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Match events

  • 25′ ENG GOAL – 14 Jesse Lingard (right foot), assisted by 11 Dele Alli
  • 27′ ENG GOAL – 2 Trent Alexander-Arnold (right foot), assisted by 7 Jadon Sancho
  • 45’+1 Half time
  • 46′ ENG Substitution – On 21 Alex McCarthy, off 1 Jordan Pickford
  • 58′ ENG Substitutions – On 22 Eric Dier, off 3 Benjamin Chilwell; On 16 Jordan Henders, off 11 Dele Alli; On 10 Wayne Rooney, off 14 Jesse Lingard
  • 62′ USA Substitution – On 4 Tyler Adams, off 16 Julian Green
  • 70′ USA Substitution – On 23 Kellyn Acosta, off 20 Wil Trapp
  • 73′ ENG Substitution – On 23 Ruben Loftus-Cheeks, off 8 Harry Winks
  • 76′ USA Substitutions – On 14 Sebastian Lletget, off 8 Weston McKennie; on 15 Kenny Saief, off 11 Tim Weah
  • 77′ ENG GOAL – 9 Callum Wilson (left foot), assisted by 4 Fabian Delph
  • 79′ ENG Substitution – On 19 Marcus Rashford, off 9 Callum Wilson
  • 88′ USA Substitution – On 18 Shaq Moore, off 19 Jorge Villafaña
  • 90’+3 Full time

Thoughts and observations

This game was – as much as any other under interim coach Dave Sarachan – marred by… being led by interim coach Dave Sarachan. That’s not a rip on him specifically (though obviously his specific choices in the situation were not ideal), as much as the concept that an interim guy doesn’t have a specific plan. Is he building for the future? Is he trying to get a result? Like so many of the Americans’ friendlies in the past year, he just sorta came out coaching the game, with no designs on a bigger picture – while also not really making the lineup and tactical choices to best ensure a result.

Each choice by a manager has to be for one purpose (build to the future) or the other (win the dang game), and all too often Sarachan has been stuck in between, ending up doing neither. With no specific system to install or tactical plan to build for the future, there’s really no excuse for it.

Some of the choices in the starting lineup were shining examples of this:

  • Brad Guzan as starting keeper. I understand (though don’t much care for) the fact that he’s going to remain a part of this squad into the future. In a game like this, however, he’d either give you the far better chance to win the game, or you try a younger guy. I don’t think he was the former, so go for the latter. Horvath wouldn’t have done worse on the three goals – which I don’t think were Guzan’s fault – and you’re giving him international experience and an opportuntiy to show his club that he deserves to be playing.
  • Julian Green as the No. 10. I do get wanting Pulisic on the wing (where he plays for his club team and has built comfort), but we’ve seen a lot of Green in various roles over the past few months. He hasn’t done a whole lot to separate himself as the option that gives the team the best chance to win on a given day, nor has he shown much that indicates he’ll be that in the future. I’ve been a Green supporter (more like defender) for a while, but in this game at the very least – and going forward more generally – this didn’t seem like an implementation that had much purpose.
  • Trapp and McKennie next to each other in the central midfield. You sort of have a good central defensive mid and then a similar (but not as good) version of same next to each other, if you’re not going to let McKennie release forward a bit. Two No. 6s is fine, if not ideal. For one of them to be Trapp if you’re going to have both be strictly defensive… meh. I do understand (despite a lot of bitching about it around the USMNT-verse about it yesterday) not starting Tyler Adams. His job is with NYRB, and to risk injury by giving him too many minutes in an overseas exhibition match while his day job is on the brink of entering its stretch run is silly. But either play Kellyn Acosta next to Trapp/McKennie, or at least let McKennie push forward a bit. He did have that opportunity a bit later, but if you’re gonna get a three-spot put on you with two CDMs, might as well free one up the whole game anyway.

Goal analysis

A little film breakdown here on some items about the goals. First, Christian Pulisic has somewhat inexplicably been blamed for the first one on account of his failed attempt to score on the other end creating a break. First, uh, not only was there not a counterattack by England off the shot, there was a secondary break for the USMNT that led to a goal kick after Bobby Wood’s attempt went over the bar. That’s no counter-attack.

Secondly, the finish has been roundly criticized, but I don’t really see it. Yes, Pickford made the save, but it was a pretty nice save on an attempt to finish that doesn’t deserve the grief it’s gotten.

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See the ball between Pickford’s right elbow and right knee.

The best finish ever? No. But bad? Certainly not. As a side note, check out Wood and McKennie there. Wood made the right choice in not playing Pulisic’s initial ball forward (he was probably being held onside, but couldn’t see that), but he needs to keep playing after that and either give Pulisic a passing option – if only to create space for the shot rather than actually receive the ball – or be ready to make a play on the rebound if Pickford saves the shot across the face of goal. Pickford’s save pushed the ball back in Pulisic’s direction, yes, but Wood couldn’t have known that before the shot. He needs to be in the right spot, even if it hindsight shows it wouldn’t have accomplished much.

ANYWAY, Pulisic was one of a couple players culpable on the ensuing goal. The live shot of it was poorly directed so you couldn’t tell what the heck was going on, but fortunately ESPN gave us a replay of the wide angle afterwards (I had a nice little video breakdown but UEFA doesn’t believe in fair use):

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This mostly boils down to neither Wil Trapp nor Matt Miazga trusting DeAndre Yedlin defensively (they’re both positioned to take care of a run from Alli on the assumption that he’s going to toast Yedlin), and Pulisic not getting back to help cover Lingard.

IMG_BE63DBBDAC41-1Trapp is giving directions, and while you can’t really tell who they’re for, context would seem to imply Yedlin (calling him off, and saying to sink while Trapp takes the man mark) or maaaybe Miazga (telling him to stay deep in front of the goal, which he does). Both Trapp and Miazga are in positions where they’re not accomplishing much – you could argue Miazga is remaining in position to cut out Sancho’s run if McKennie can’t do it – and it seems to be because of that lack of trust in Yedlin. In the abstract, they turn out to be wrong: Miazga can’t recover quickly enough to stop Lingard from getting off a good shot, Trapp isn’t in position to shut down any passing or dribbling options for Alli that Yedlin doesn’t theoretically have taken care of already. But if you assume the context of thinking Alli will get past Yedlin if he wants, they’re trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, in some ways.

Pulisic could certainly help by getting back defensively into that passing lane to Lingard, or at least being in position to help on Chilwell if the ball is played back. He seemed to be frustrated with his giveaway that started the offensive opportunity, instead of embracing the chance to make up for it (he’s also more used to having less defensive responsibility in a three-man mid/forward line than as a wide mid in a 4-4-1-1, which was among the many reasons the team played better when the look became more of a 4-2-3-1).

The second goal was a more overt ball-watching opportunity by Tim Weah, which again was putting a player (forward/winger) into a position (left midfielder) that gives him responsibilities he’s less comfortable with, particularly defensively. Neither Pulisic nor Weah is used to the defensive role that comes from being the wide guy in a flat-four midfield, and it was curtains on both of those.

Other thoughts: As I mentioned above, the Julian Green thing is done for me. A 4-2-3-1 with Pulisic in the middle (while he doesn’t play there for Dortmund, he’s mentioned that’s where he’s comfortable for the United States, and the opportunities he had in this one showed he doesn’t need to be isolated on the wing to win one-on-one dribbles… or several in a row) and Weah/Saief on the wings. Depending on how you want to play and who you have available, That’d be Saief on the left and Weah on the right with more stay-at-home fullbacks behind them, or with the balls-to-the-wall experience that is Antonee Robinson (who left this camp with injury) and DeAndre Yedlin at fullback, flip the sides so Weah is inverted.

I’ve been thinking it without wanting to say it for a while, but I saw others mentioning it yesterday (so don’t give me any credit for it, since I needed others’ courage to put it out publicly), but… is John Brooks… not good? He certainly hasn’t played well lately for the US, even with Sarachan mostly giving him the opportunity to get comfortable next to Miazga. Mark me in the “worried” column, and I certainly want to keep a closer eye on his performances going forward to confirm or (preferably) disconfirm the thought. Give me some CCV on Tuesday, though.

I’ve seen complaining about Tyler Adams not starting on the field (addressed above already), with the comparison to Wil Trapp, who also played in the NYRB/Columbus series. Yo, his team lost and he doesn’t have more season to not be worn out for. “They both had long seasons” doesn’t make sense as a hilarious roast of Sarachan when Adams’s season is still in the present tense.

Pulisic’s finishing has been criticized, and I addressed the one play above, but there were other instances that have been cited, too. I’m not thrilled about it, of course, but given this is just his second appearance with the US in 2018, he’s been banged up a bit (and otherwise out of action with Dortmund thanks to great performances from the guy who played right wing for the other team in this one), and it hasn’t been a persistent issue in the past. His take-on form was great; I’ll believe that it’s worth his finishing/end-product form being a little off unless and until that becomes a persistent issue.

Kellyn Acosta has a good beard.

As I mentioned at the top, this stunk. The gameplan wasn’t good, some individual performances were mediocre (or worse), and the key moments all went England’s way. To a certain extent, that’s what happens when you play against a World Cup semifinalist (albeit one who was playing a bunch of guys who got minimal time – if any at all – in Russia).

It’s more depressing because these teams were on relatively even footing in the international world just a few years ago. The US lost steam by getting old without having new guys step up (or without that next generation even existing to be able to step up), missing the World Cup, having a couple coaches who were flawed in opposite ways and being unable to survive the whiplash of switching between those flaws, etc. No need to relitigate all of that.

Largely, this could (almost certainly would) have gone better – or at least been more productive for the future – with a permanent coach in place, and a plan to either “do what we’re gonna do and win this game doing it” or “let’s use this as a scratchpad to build for the future and develop our style along with some young players.” Sarachan, for the vast majority of his time in charge, has done very little of the former, and an underrated amount (but I’d say still not enough) of the latter.

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Preview: USMNT v. England Nov. 15, 2018

Another international break means another chance to see the Red, White, and Blue in action. England is the day’s competition.

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Here’s a different recent game. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The Essentials

Opponent: England (No. 5 FIFA World rankings, USA is No. 23)
Recent form: ENG: W-D-W-L-L (two UEFA Nations League matches, a friendly, and the World Cup). USA: D-L-W-L-D (all friendlies)
The Line: England -370, +459, USA +1079
Time, Location: Thurs., Nov. 15 • 2:00 p.m. CDT (8:00 p.m. local)  • Wembley Stadium, London
Event: International friendly
Weather: 53ºF, 9% chance of rain, 91% humidity, 5 MPH SSE winds
Watch: ESPN2 (English), UniMas (Spanish)

The Three Lions

England has called in a pretty strong squad: 14 of 26 players were on this Summer’s World Cup squad, including Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. One of the players not from the Summer’s side is DC United striker Wayne Rooney, who will certainly start in what has the appearance of being his testimonial match.

For a team that is ranked No. 5 in the world per FIFA (though one can make an argument that the ranking is a bit inflated), a fairly young United State team will have a tough ask to beat them.

England largely went with a 3-5-2 formation at the World Cup, a contrast with the traditional 4-4-2 that they’ve been known for over the years (though obviously it worked out fairly well, with a fourth-place finish the team’s best since 1990). They went with the same formation in their September Nations League loss to Spain and October draw against Croatia, before switching to a 4-3-1-2 (or 4-diamond-2) in beating Spain during the October window.

I’d expect you’ll see the 3-5-2 that they’ve been working for quite some time, given that the United States doesn’t have the athletes and skill to beat them through a five-man midfield like Spain did in September.

The Yanks

This is the strongest squad we’ve seen called up in quite some time, primarily because of the presence of one specific player: Christian Pulisic. The rest of the group is fairly similar to what we’ve been seeing with a few exceptions:

  • Keeper Zack Steffen withdrew from camp after suffering an injury in Columbus Crew’s MLS playoff loss to New York Red Bulls (he was replaced by Jonathan Klinsmann).
  • Left back Antonee Robinson has suffered a training injury and will not be available for either friendly.
  • Striker Josh Sargent arrived in camp with a minor injury and may not be available Thursday (though his sounds a bit more minor, and I would expect him to be available for one of the games, yeah?)

With Pulisic in the middle (or on one of the wings), though, the Americans have more attacking punch than we’ve seen in a while. You’d prefer that so much of the team’s ability to actually score goals wouldn’t be dependent on the presence of one player, but that’s where we are at this point in the cycle. As always, none of this matters because the Americans don’t have a permanent coach right now – let’s get to work announcing Gregg Berhalter now that the Crew are out of the playoffs.

Here’s the full squad of callups (from USSoccer.com):

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 59/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 2/0), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin/GER; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (10): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 35/3), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 1/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City/WAL; 6/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 1/0), Matt Miazga (Nantes/FRA; 10/1), Shaq Moore (Reus Deportiu/ESP; 3/0), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG; 6/0), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers; 19/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 56/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 3/1)

MIDFIELDERS (12): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 21/2), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 7/1), Luca de la Torre (Fulham/ENG; 1/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 5/0), Romain Gall (Malmö/SWE; 0/0), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth/GER; 14/4), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 3/1), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 6/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 21/9), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 3/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 9/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA; 7/1)

FORWARDS (2): Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 5/2), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96/GER; 43/13)

Projected lineups

Based on the above, here’s what I’d bet on.

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This, to me, is the game of this trip that the United States would rather put out its best XI and try to get a result (not that they don’t care about Italy, but can be a bit more experimental against a team that’s less of a traditional rival). With two squad regulars (Robinson and Sargent) on the shelf, you’ll see the next-best option at their spots – though I’d contend Wood is seen as the top striker right now anyway. Not having Robinson in this one might not be all that bad – his defensive deficiencies are not something I’m interested in seeing against Raheem Sterling.

While I’d prefer not to see Guzan in this one (or honestly, in a serious match – friendly or not – for the national team any time there are other options), I think Sarachan will go with him given the absence of Steffen.

Predictions

1-1 draw.

Preview: USMNT v. Mexico friendly Sept. 11, 2018

It is time. We may not have all the stars in Nashville, but a solid USMNT will take on hated rivals Mexico tonight in our town. What should we see?

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The essentials

Opponent: Mexico (No. 16 FIFA World rankings, USA is No. 22)
Recent form: MEX: L-L-L-W-W (most recent a friendly, all others WC2018). USA: L-D-L-W-W (all friendlies
The Line: USA+ 165, Draw +224, Mexico +177
Time, Location: Tues., Sept. 11 • 8:10 p.m. CDT  • Nissan Stadium
Event: International friendly
Weather: 73ºF, 4% chance of rain, 76% humidity, 5 MPH NNE winds
Watch: ESPN (English), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @miseleccionmxEN
Elsewhere: Stars and Stripes FC preview and Mexico scouting. Is the rivalry diminished? TBQH this is a horrible (read: clickbait) way to frame what is actually a decent story. SHAME! MLSSoccer.com previewUSA Today Network – Tennessee actually managed to get some soccer talk in(!) thanks to the homie Nick Gray.

Mexico

El Trí was thrashed by Uruguay Friday evening in Houston, with a 4-1 victory going the way of the inaugural World Cup champions. José Giménez opened the scoring in the 21st minute, before Mexico’s Raul Jiménez responded with a penalty kick just four minutes later. The biggest international name in the game – Barça’s Luis Suárez – would put Los Charrúas up in the 32nd minute, then cement that lead with a PK of his own in the 40th. Gastón Pereiro would put the finishing touches on in the 59th to make for a resounding scoreline.

It’s worth noting, this is not an A-team for Mexico (especially since they, like the USA, released several players back to their clubs after their first game in the International Window). No Memo Ochoa in net (neither of the available keepers traveled to Russia, either), and only four defenders (Oswaldo Alanis, Jesús Gallardo, Hugo Ayala, Edson Alvarez), and one midfielder (Jonathan Dos Santos of LA Galaxy) are holdovers from the latest failed attempt to make el Quinto Partido on the world’s biggest stage.

Aside from Dos Santos, the most recognizable name for USA fans is likely 20-year old American Jonathan Gonzalez (though I can’t imagine why anyone would have heard of him), who did not make the World Cup squad for Mexico.

Like the United States, this is a reasonably young squad, though the presence of dudes in or approaching their 30s (basically restate all the guys listed above as World Cup holdovers) makes it a bit more of a transitional group than an American side that includes just two players older than 25. When you make the World Cup, you have the opportunity to blend in young and old without the pressure to throw out the baby with the bathwater, I guess.

Like the Americans, Mexico is operating under an interim manager after Juan Carlos Osorio left (he was ultimately hired by Paraguay). In his last go-round as interim, Ricardo Ferretti – whose day job is Tigres in Liga MX – went 2-0-2 at the helm, drawing friendlies against Trinidad and Argentina while beating the USMNT in the Concacaf Cup (Confederations Cup playoff), and Panama in a final friendly.

USMNT

My personal opinion is as follows: getting trashed by Brazil was not fun. #HotTake

However, there’s also an element of “well, it’s Brazil,” which is only amplified by the fact that they called in something a heck of a lot closer to an A-team than did US interim manager Dave Sarachan. The downside? Still have that non-A-team, minus one of the few surefire A-team starters that was on Friday’s roster in John Brooks, and another guy who at least started that game in Pau Arriola. Since those guys are back with their clubs, we’re even a little further removed from A-team status.

That said, plenty of the guys on this team who aren’t considered First XI locks right now are on pace to be there when meaningful games resume (at least in the form of World Cup qualifiers), including some who are pretty close to top billing right now, like Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, and Matt Miazga.

The question then becomes how Dave Sarachan approaches this game. One would hope he runs out the best lineup available with the talent that remains in camp. Or I will be very upset.  Let’s do it.

Projected lineup

Assuming the same 4-1-4-1 that we’ve seen under Sarachan, here’s a guess/hope for close to the Best XI players available:

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The only changes from Friday are Weah for Arriola and Carter-Vickers for Brooks. I wasn’t enamored with the Trapp/McKennie/Adams central midfield (a lot of overlap in skillsets there), but think Sarachan probably liked it. You could just as easily put Kellyn Acosta in one of those roles.

Depending on game flow and desire to win a friendly, Andrija Novakovich for Wood, Acosta, Marky Delgado, and Christian Roldan for some combination of the midfielders, Shaq Moore for Yedlin, and Alex Bono for Steffen (half) are my most likely six subs.

Predictions

Dos a cero. That is all.

(Maybe more a hope than a prediction, but let’s get it, y’all).

Breakdown: Nashville SC 3-1 Chattanooga FC

After a review of the game broadcast, some more-informed impressions of the performances on the day:

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Matt LaGrassa was one of three goal-scorers for the Boys in Gold. Courtesy Nashville SC.

Tactics

In the first half, Nashville SC was in its standard 5-3-2, with the wingbacks pushing pretty high up the field. The difference was in the midfield, where the typical two holding midfielders and an attacking midfielder looked more like one holding midfielder, one attacking midfielder (who, since it was Alan Winn, drifted pretty far to the left wing), and one box-to-box midfielder who was defensively responsible but in neutral postures played more like an offensive specialist than a defensive one. Akinyode was always the defensive midfielder, but when he was replaced by Josh Hughes, Michael Reed (who entered at halftime) was the more defensively-oriented while Hughes went box-to-box.

The strikers also did plenty of high pressing early in the game. There was mixed success in actually earning turnovers themselves, but certainly they harassed Chattanooga into some serious discomfort that eventually paid off.

At times when Winn was at midfield, he also pushed forward when his team possessed in their own half, with the strikers spreading very wide to create gaps laterally, resulting in almost a 5-2-3 or 3-4-3 shape.

After the halftime subs, NSC kept the shapes and tactics pretty reserved, aside from – and this may be a more individual thing, not a coaching decision – left centerback Justin Davis pushing well forward on some offensive rushes while a CDM or left wingback Taylor Washington stayed back to cover him.

Keepers

Matt Pickens probably should have given up a goal in the seventh minute. A defensive turnover (and poor recovery) led to an open shot near the top of the box, and he was pulled out to the six making the save. His rebound went directly to an attacking player, but the follow-up shot was saved off the line by a defender. He also could have given one up in the second minute, not even moving for a Chattanooga shot that rang the crossbar. Presumably he thought it was well off-frame, but it was close enough to be a scary moment nonetheless.

CJ Cochran was put in a bad position early in the second half with Liam Doyle letting a player sneak behind him, but made the initial save (actually hurting the striker, though it was a clean play from Cochran) and his teammates cleared. He was wrong-footed on two consecutive Chattanooga offensive thrusts, the first glancing the outside of the post and the second (a worse chance, in all honesty) turning into CFC’s only goal. There was very poor defending/giving away on both, but you’d like to see him make any effort on the first, and not go completely the wrong way on the second.

Defenders

Since he hasn’t seen gametime since Atlanta United, you’re forgiven if you forgot the Bradley Bourgeois is really good. He was responsible for a save off the line (see Pickens’s section), and if Chattanooga had scored first, this could have been a completely different game. He’s positionally sound with a good feel for when to step up and tackle, he’s strong in the air, and he showed of athleticism by backtracking and beating Chattanooga attackers to run them down and beat them on potentially dangerous through balls. His speed was a nice dimension that could see him in the starting lineup when the games count.

Liam Doyle is generally good on a play-to-play basis, but made a couple key mistakes in the game. He made a bad clearance leading to Chattanooga’s dangerous two-shot sequence (and fell down after said clearance, so he couldn’t recover to prevent either the shot or the follow-up). He is way too prone to giveaways at the back, with Chattanooga’s only goal coming off yet another of those. Early in the second half, he fell asleep on a diagonal run with Ryan James marking two runners. It was pretty similar to the error in the Ottawa game, so maybe his communication is the common denominator (though he played a different role in this one). However, he has an absolute laser-guided leg from the back to spark long counters to his attackers and wingbacks. We saw it lead to a goal against Atlanta, of course, and it was also a weapon that he used significantly in this game – and that skillet is going to be useful this year with teams trying to overload NSC’s midfield with defenders and the over-the-top pass available. In the 43rd minute, he missed a wide open volley on the back post on a corner kick that should have been a goal.

London Woodberry is good in the air (including on the post he hit leading to a penalty and NSC’s first goal) and a solid athlete, though he wasn’t tested a ton in this game (he had a hairy moment or two closing down when Chattanooga beat NSC over the top and he had the athleticism to recover, but the positional awareness broke down – he knows when to take a bit of a tactical foul to compensate, and how to do it cleanly enough to not get a yellow card).

Ryan James was pretty fast on the wing. His lack of size (or extreme quickness) makes him a bit less of a threat on the long-ball down the sideline, but he looked comfortable getting forward. He also showed versatility sliding inside to RCB when Kosuke Kimura came on at halftime.

Taylor Washington’s speed on the left side is a good asset, which makes it a little surprising that he’s not used quite as much as an up-and-down threat on the flank: he can get back in a hurry (and often does) if he presses a little higher up the field. He was a little higher in the second half and had a nice shot on goal and a cross that could have been finished.

Kosuke Kimura brought a lot of energy when he came on at halftime. He had a nice cross early in the second half that just missed Alan Winn on the back post. His foot skills are good-not-great, but the spark and speed he provides are both potential difference-makers in the long run..

Justin Davis didn’t get a ton of second-half action, but did a good job walling off attackers on long-ball attempts and head the ball to safety. He had one bad giveaway at the back leading to a Chattanooga shot (and one of their best chances on goal, glancing off the outside of the post) – this will likely be a film room post later today or tomorrow. One thing to note about his game is that when he’s on the pitch, there’s actually an offensive threat – whether running forward to get onto passes or carrying it himself – up the pitch from the center backs.

Midfield

I thought Bolu Akinyode had an up-and-down game. He can pick out decent line-breaking passes, but seems to content to take what’s right in front of him (even if it’s like a four-yard pass to a fellow midfielder) instead of something a little more incisive, and then when the opponent closes in, he makes a more risky long pass that’s still not going to break lines. That is to say, too often he gets stuck in a low-risk, low-reward rut, then shifts to medium-high-risk, low-reward mode immediately thereafter. This is probably the sort of thing that gets worked out with more game reps – and is a reason I was happy to see the mixed lineups between First-XI and backup players in a competitive game. Akinyode remains a good, physical player in a defensive posture, but tracks back in coverage a little slowly.

Matt LaGrassa, at least early in the game, had a bit more freedom to roam than earlier in the year (it’s also been developing that way the past couple games), so rather than two defensive midfielders and a central attacker, it became one defensive (Akinyode) and LaGrassa as a right attacking mid, allowing Alan Winn to get more wide on the left (where he likes to play). LaGrassa has the athleticism to be that box-to-box guy, and has a little more offensive skill than he’s been given credit for – ringing the post on a shot from the top of the box after scoring on one against Cincinnati, converting the penalty kick against ‘Nooga, we’ll see more of that. However, he did try to dribble Chattanooga defenders a little too much, losing the ball on a couple occasions. Getting used to a more offensive role – assuming NSC sticks with that – should be helpful in improving that.

Alan Winn started the game as that CAM/left interior midfielder, then shifted up into the striker unit after the first major round of subs at halftime (as predicted, the staff wants to see where he fits in and where they can get him on the field in the standard formation). He was a little too dribble-happy as a midfielder – it seems a lot of NSC players thought they could weave through an NPSL team like a hot knife through butter, than were dissuaded of that notion – but has a really good savvy for dishing the ball to a teammate to recycle possession when he gets in a bad position. He does have the speed to beat opponents to the endline and cut back for a cross, which is probably what makes him want to dribble through guys (though going around them tends to work out better). He was taken down in the 16th minute – after a good cross from Washington – for what absolutely should have been a penalty.

When Lebo Moloto came on (at halftime he replaced Winn, who moved up top to striker as Tucker Hume exited the game), he was used mostly for short linking passes, with a few really nice dribbles mixed in. They were mostly short-area handles to find space to get it right back out more than offensively-oriented plays. He had a few really nice tackles in the “going through the motions” portions toward the end of the game. He had a cracking shot on a counter-attack after a cross was headed down that should have been a goal – the CFC keeper got a fingertip to it, and it still nicked the inside of the post and out.

Josh Hughes got his first playing time in a while, showing high energy but being a little rusty with the accuracy of his passes. Michael Reed played CDM (or the one that pushes up a bit more into a box-to-box role when Bolu Akinyode was his midfield partner before Hughes replaced him in the 61st minute), and it’s unfair to say he’s boring: that has both good (no mistakes) and bad (no exciting plays) connotations, and he’s more the former than the latter.

Strikers

Ropapa Mensah did not have his finest game, and that lack of consistency is a major part of why he hasn’t broken into the projected Starting XI after his debut goal in the Atlanta game. He takes a heavy first touch a little too often, and is a little prone to being overly physical when things aren’t going his way. This obviously pays off greatly when the foul isn’t called, such as on the shoulder check he got away with en route to NSC’s second goal. In the high press, he ends up putting himself in positions where he has to hold off on a tempting challenge (fortunately he did more often than not). The goal showed the upside with his ball skills, as well, making the physical challenge and then rounding the keeper to get a shooting lane.

Tucker Hume has had the “more than just an aerial threat” tag (it comes with the territory of being 6-5 – like white basketball players between 6-3 and 6-6 get tagged with “not just a shooter”) for much of preseason, and this was another positive game in that regard. His double cutback for his goal was reminiscent of a poor man’s (and very tall man’s) Messi-style dribble feat, and while he’s not going to be weaving through traffic game-in and game-out against USL opposition, it’s not a bad tool to have in the kit. He’s still a little on the slim side, which makes his tendency to go down easily understandable but still a little frustrating (especially for FC Cincinnati fans, but also for NSC when it leads to a wasted opportunity).

Michael Cox had a giveaway trying to dribble through traffic, whereas Robin Shroot (the duo came on together in the 61st minute) played more of a high-press defensive role from the striker spot. NSC spent much of the final 30 minutes trying to play keepaway and fine-tuning their passing accuracy and chemistry, so there wasn’t a lot to be gleaned from the offensive performances here. Cox did give up the ball trying to play for a foul in the box rather than using his strength to power through and create an offensive chance. Hard to blame him when the “contact from behind = go down” rule is rewarded frequently enough and the game was already won. Shroot was taken down for what absolutely should have been a penalty in the same spot just a minute later (right at 67′). Cox got behind the defense and may some nice skill dribbles across the top of the box, but his lefty shot was low, slow, and easily saved.

For what it’s worth, the commentators had a lot of trouble differentiating Winn and Hume – including after Hume had come off – so I had to make some corrections to what I had written down watching live. A better game for Hume than initially believed on my end.

Nashville heads to Chattanooga, returns with a 3-1 win

For the first ten-plus minutes of Nashville SC’s derby game against Chattanooga FC, it looked like their NPSL opposition may be able to spring the upset. Chattanooga smashed a shot against the crossbar barely more than a minute into the game, earned a free kick in a dangerous position just minutes later, and had consistent pressure (including a pair of solid crosses left wanting) on Matt Pickens’s net.

After that point, though, the Boys in Gold asserted their dominance. The USL side – the one that will be in Major League Soccer come 2020 – showed that a higher level in the US Soccer pyramid more than likely means a higher level of play to correspond.

In the 14th minute, a cross from central attacking midfielder Alan Winn fell to defensive midfielder Matt LaGrassa at the top of the box, and his shot went just high (ramming the football goalpost, rather than the crossbar on the soccer goal). Two minutes later, Winn went down in the box applying heavy pressure, though he couldn’t draw the foul call. In the 18th, NSC earned a corner.

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The penalty-earning corner.

That corner turned into first blood on the night. Defender London Woodberry’s header rang the crossbar, and the rebound fell to midfielder Bolu Akinyode. Akinyode didn’t find the back of the net, but only because the ball was handled in the goalmouth. The infraction earned a penalty, and LaGrassa coolly slotted it inside the right post.

Impressive physical feats from strikers Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume would follow in the 30th and 45th minutes. Mensah made a physical tackle on a lazy Chattanooga backpass, rounded the keeper and fired into the back of the net. The 6-5 Hume showed agility and skill unexpected of a player his size, cutting back twice in traffic to finish inside the box just before halftime.

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Dance, big man!

From there, it was all procedural and a matter of playing out the contest.

A Host of Nashville subs at the half saw the team struggle to find a rhythm – similar to the first half, with a mix of first-XI regulars and players fighting to make the gameday 18 going forward – and Chattanooga buzzed the net consistently. Juanito got the home side on the board in the 59th minute, firing from the top of the box through traffic and wrong-footing NSC second-choice keeper CJ Cochran.

There was a bit of chippiness in the game, with a couple second-half bookings (LaGrassa was also carded in the 20th minute), one for Chattanooga’s Daniel Valeciano in the 68th minute and from NSC’s Ryan James in the 72nd. A chance for Chattanooga also saw a player injured – while Nashville continued to work the ball up the field instead of playing it out-of-bounds for a restart to let him seek treatment. It may be that there’s a little of the old NPSL rivalry left yet.

The final 10 minutes saw only half-chances for Nashville, while Chattanooga couldn’t win this particular game of keepaway long enough to muster anything on net.

In the end, the 3-1 result in favor of the Boys in Gold – in front of 3,239 fans (more of whom were there to support Nashville than the hosts would like to admit) – was a fair one. Going forward, beginning next Saturday in Louisville, the games count.

Preview: Chattanooga FC friendly 2018

Nashville SC and Chattanooga FC are natural rivals, but the travels throughout the US league system will keep them apart for the time being after Nashville SC (then FC) left the NPSL following the 2016 season. However, they’ll face each other in a friendly this evening in Scenic City.

The Essentials

Opponent: Chattanooga FC (6-2-4 NPSL Southeastern conference, Third place)
The Line: No line, this is a friendly, you degenerates
Time, Location: 7:00 p.m. EST 63 p.m. Nashville) • Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Event: Preseason friendly
Weather: 53° F, 64% chance of rain, 2 MPH Northeasterly winds.
Watch: Get yer tickets, stream embedded below for those who can’t make it. You can also watch with the Roadies at Pastime. Those going to Chattanooga can tailgate with NSC Supporters’ Groups at the parking lot across from the stadium.
Follow: @ClubCountryUSA, @NashvilleSC, @ChattanoogaFC, @NSCRoadies, @TheAssemblyNash @Chattahooligan
Etc.: A retrospective look at the rivalry, Gary Smith recaps Cincinnati, transcripts from player interviews Thursday, BIG bonding in preseason,
Elsewhere: Music City Soccer Preview.

Chattanooga

Amateur (non-university) sides are always a little more… fluid… in who’s on the team year-by-year, but fortunately, Chattanooga posted its roster just a couple days back:

That’s a light squad – 17 players, just one short of a typical gameday roster, but in preseason when teams are making mass subs, you expect even more – so there’s not a ton of depth here.

Zeca is expected to be one of the team’s top goal-scorers at striker, and Perez and Clarke are solid scorers/offensive threats from the midfield. Defender Soren Yuhaschek is a dutch guy who played for Chattanooga head coach Bill Elliott at University of West Florida before joining CFC last year. 28-year old Spanish midfielder Juan Hernandez has been on the fringe of All-NPSL the past couple seasons, and has shoulder-length blonde hair (oh, the important information you learn from a player’s bio). Diminutive (5-6, 155) striker Felipe Oliveira was a big scorer for Elliott at West Florida, so he’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

With an amateur side, it’s pretty tough to know a whole lot of information on players’ past performances – they just don’t have the breadth of statistical and biographical stuff available due to the level at which these programs are staffed. However, “team that was good-not-great in the NPSL last year” shouldn’t pose a major threat to a good USL team.

The Boys in Gold

Nashville has run out several different lineups in the past few weeks: primarily the starting XI against Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, and FC Cincinnati (and presumably Orlando City), with varying degrees of reserve lineups against Ottawa Fury and Lipscomb University.

Will we see the former or the latter this evening in Chattanooga? I went straight to the source to find out:

“If you look at last weekend, seven of the starters played 90 minutes against Cincinnati,” Gary Smith said. “That brought our senior group of players into a world where I’d be comfortable where if they were going to start the following week, or the first week of the season at Louisville, we’d be very happy. I certainly want to make sure as we close in on our opening game, that the players that I’ve got in my mind that might well be in that starting group all things being equal, are fresh, are sharp, are ready, are comfortable in their own skin in playing 90 minutes. I think all of those guys are.

“As we work towards this weekend, I want to make sure that the lads that haven’t had as much might get a few more minutes, but I also want to keep that continuity. There’ll be a little bit of a balancing act of trying to make sure that guys I’ve got in my mind for the following weekend – which I’ll obviously keep close to my chest – are ready, but also that should any eventuality happen, everyone’s in a good place for the opening game of the season.”

So, let’s read between the lines: no more than a cameo appearance for Lebo Moloto and Ryan James (who have played the most preseason minutes of anyone on the team), and you’re likely to see more of a reserve group with some starters mixed in, rather than a full Starting XI-caliber side. You will almost certainly see Chattanooga FC alumnus Jordan Dunstan in for the full 90, both because this is his former club and because he doesn’t figure heavily into the first team, so preseason reps are his only chance to get a full game in.

It’s clear that Smith wants to win this game, but that the priority is more aligned with trying to keep the team healthy (that probably means only limited minutes from guys who have had minor injuries in the preseason), and prepared for Louisville than going all-out for a victory.

Projected Lineups

Chattanooga is a total mystery with all their turnover, and quite frankly I don’t even know what sort of tactics they trotted out last year (thanks to watching Jordan Dunstan’s highlight when he signed with NSC, I remember it was a four-man backline).

Instead, I’ll focus on Nashville’s group, which probably looks something like this:

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Why? I think you’ll see a bit of subbing to give players on both ends of the spectrum (more toward the starters and more toward deep reserves) on the pitch, but this gives guys who are going to be in the 18 but not necessarily the XI on a game-to-game basis to not only get minutes to stay sharp, but a bit of integration with some of the guys who they’d step onto the pitch with in a substitution situation.

Predictions

It’s a common trope in a rivalry game (particularly one with teams from different tiers in a system) to say this is one side’s [Super Bowl, World Cup Final, etc.] and just another meaningless game to the other, but that seems to be relatively true here. Chattanooga’s… resentment… toward NSC may be more fan-centered than the actual opinions of the clubs, but it’s real nonetheless. Meanwhile, I can say with a degree of certainty that Nashville supporters have no love lost for CFC, but the coaches and players really don’t rate the rivalry at all.

  • Nashville doesn’t see any new names enter the scoresheet, but does still manage to put up a few goals.
  • Winn is played at the No. 10 position to give him a chance to prove himself away from the front line and off the wing (which he’s had a little bit in the past, too), in a way to find him a chance to get onto the field without the Boys in Gold having to make tactical changes to accommodate his playing style.
  • Chattanooga gets on the board first thanks to the nature of the rivalry, but is outplayed after that. Despite that, NSC manages to draw level but doesn’t ultimately find a winner.

The game ends in a 2-2 draw. There’s something to be said for the rivalry, and also something to be said for NSC not wanting to portray itself as any sort of big, bad bully to teams in the state (particularly at lower levels of the pyramid) before making the jump to MLS. Even if they had a chance to pour it on, I don’t think they would, thanks to their de facto role as a bit of a soccer ambassador. That allows the higher level of emotion from CFC to keep this one close.

The Chattanooga-Nashville rivalry

This isn’t likely to be a meaningful rivalry any time soon (on the field, that is) – Nashville is headed to MLS, whereas Chattanooga looks set in the NPSL at least for the time being – but to discount that Tennessee’s largest and fourth-largest cities do indeed have a rivalry of sort would be unwise.

Certainly, there’s reciprocation on Nashville’s end, but it’s primarily one-sided, and primarily relating to Chattanooga’s insistence that Music City is not indeed Soccer City.

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Salty or nah? Chattahooligans

“Your place has had a lot of soccer, therefore it is bad at having soccer, whereas our place has had soccer for almost a decade, and just one of them, therefore it is good at having soccer” is to a large extent a self-roast, but that’s neither here nor there (as an NSC partisan, I can admit the “sold out” on the NPSL version of NFC is still funny – the only funny part of the graphic though).

So, in any rivalry, one side stereotypes the other’s fans. What are the stereotypes each way in this one?

Chattanooga fans say Nashville fans are:

  • Johnny-come-latelies to the soccer world (see above for continuation of self-roast)
  • Sellouts
  • “Less authentic”
  • Headed to big, bad, evil MLS

Nashville fans say Chattanooga fans are:

  • Passionate in the way someone like Rocco Commisso is passionate (which is to say “pretending to be authentic but caring only about one’s own interests”)
  • Jealous of an incoming MLS team – or at least what that indirectly says about the merits of each city
  • Crazy about lower-division soccer in a way that’s not productive

To a large extent, both sides’ insults are true, or have a grain of truth to them, but they’re exaggerated for the rivalry effect. That’s what rivalries are all about. In the grand scheme, though, this doesn’t have the makings of a nasty rivalry. There’s fun banter between supporters’ groups, but it feels more like the Atlanta United rivalry (which was a little spirited, but mostly good-natured) than the Cincinnati one (which might lessen in tone from the Cincinnati end when their MLS franchise is announced – for now there’s quite a bit of vitriol).

From my standpoint, there’s plenty of room for folks to support (not in the traditional soccer sense) both clubs: they play a friendly Saturday, but once NSC moves to MLS and restores its PDL team, and Memphis joins USL (presumably at the expense of its U-23 team, at least in the short-term), the state of Tennessee will be covered with various levels of soccer at the professional, semi-pro, and elite amateur levels. That’s a good thing. We can work together to improve the state of the state.

So, when the teams take the field Saturday evening, a call to reason: cheer on the teams, cheer against the other side, but keep it civil. In a lot of ways, we’re all in this together.