Nashville SC to get preseason taste of Louisville City

Nashville SC hasn’t shied away from testing itself in friendlies – the Boys in Gold took on a number of MLS teams (Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, Orlando City SC) prior to the inaugural season last Spring. They’ve already announced a game against New York City FC before season two and will also take on Montreal Impact in Florida.

Now, we also know they’ll be taking on the reigning USL Champs. You know, the team whose record-setting 2018 goalscorer… now suits up in Music City.

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Cameron Lancaster will be wearing a different shade of Gold in 2019.

There’s probably not too much to read into the scheduling – NSC also scheduled USL favorite FC Cincinnati in last year’s preseason – beyond that the team wants to get competitive games under their belt before the season begins.

That they won’t play the two-straight USL Cup Champions (will the name be changing with USL’s new nomenclature?!?! USL Championship Cup Champions?!?) in the regular season until July 6 is a boost. The closest thing to a local derby can be played in preseason, because both sides will have played more than half their regular-season schedules by the time they meet again. Each team will know what the other brings to the table, but the style of play and personnel usage will have shifted by the time they meet up when it counts. Last year’s friendlies were alternately taken seriously (first half of most games, entirety of one or two of them) and with an eye toward evaluating and developing depth. I would expect this game is played in the same mindset.

It’s also positive to see as many contests as possible between these two teams: they played three times in the regular season last year, and again in the US Open Cup with Louisville taking a 2-1-1 series win overall. They’ll play only twice during league play this year (USL expansion has seen every team in the East get a home-and-home with their conference-mates, rather than last year’s unbalanced slates). They’ll be in different leagues in 2020 and beyond when Nashville moves to MLS. It’s nice to get as much of it as we can before that change.

Hopefully, NSC will turn the tide in the series, starting Feb. 9 in Bradenton. It’s high time for Lancaster to find the back of the net for the first time in the rivalry.

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Nashville SC adds preseason friendly against Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC Nashville SC USL soccer 2018 usl schedule
(Courtesy USL)

From club release:

NASHVILLE (January 4, 2018) – Nashville Soccer Club will renew its rivalry against two-time defending USL Cup champions Louisville City FC earlier than expected in 2019. While the matchup isn’t on the USL Championship regular season schedule until August, the teams will meet in the preseason at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. on February 9 at 2:00 p.m. CT.

Nashville and Louisville met four times last season, three in regular season play, and in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The teams split the regular season matchups, as each won once and the sides played to a draw once. In the Open Cup, Louisville beat Nashville to advance in the domestic tournament.

The preseason contest will also serve as Nashville SC forward Cameron Lancaster’s first game against his former club. Lancaster spent the last four seasons at Louisville City, leading them to back-to-back USL Championship titles in 2017 and 2018 before becoming the second signing with Nashville MLS. Lancaster has been loaned to Nashville SC until Nashville MLS begins play.

IMG Academy is a popular destination for many USL and MLS teams during preseason training camp, and Nashville SC will be making its second trip there in as many years. Last season, Nashville SC played twice at IMG, picking up draws against the Chicago Fire (0-0) and Ottawa Fury (1-1). In addition to the Louisville City game, Nashville will play the Montréal Impact on Feb. 6, although that game will be held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakeland, Fla.

More analysis later. It’s cool to play the best (especially with Nashville wanting an early measuring stick), and an opportunity for Lancaster to get acclimated to his new team while playing against his old one.

Pitch Points is annoyed that #stadium_stuff is back in the news

Rounding up the latest across the internet in links that are interesting and relevant to soccer in Nashville, the US National setups, and beyond. If there’s anything you’d like me to share in a future post, you can always let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram – and hit those socials with a follow while you’re there – or drop anything in the comments.

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how dare you disrupt this post-industrial wasteland with nice new buildings! Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

#stadium_stuff. Save Our Fairgrounds has inexplicably been allowed to continue their frivolous lawsuit against Metro trying to stop construction on the MLS stadium. If you had any questions about whether they’re actually concerned for Nashville, or just want their way or the highway, with the citizens of Davidson County on the hook for the legal costs… well, you shouldn’t have needed more evidence, but now you have it. (As an aside, maybe they should link up with their spiritual companions in the NASL leadership? Spitballin’ here).

Meanwhile, Nashville’s NPR affiliate has a (very very brief) story on the Community Benefits Agreement, with a throwaway quote from the author of Field of Schemes saying “yeah well this is just another way to get people on your side,” which, yeah? That’s the, uh, point?

Elsewhere in #stadium_stuff, this is actually old news (Mortenson-Messer awarded construction bid), but pending the outcome of SOF’s frivolous lawsuit, we have a timeline:

According to city documents, final plans should be submitted to the MLS by Feb. 25, 2019, with construction starting the following June. The stadium is scheduled to open Feb. 19, 2021.

I would assume we get public release of the final-final plan within a week or so of submission to MLS, and the stadium is scheduled to open in plenty of time for the second season in the big leagues.

MLS to Copa Libertadores? This would be interesting, essentially a combination of the current Copa Libertadores (the South American club championship) and Concacaf Champions League (North American version of same). It’d be similar to Copa America Centenario on the national team side of things: cooperation between the two confederations.

The travel might be… interesting… but there are certainly ways around that. I’ve advocated for some time that the continental North and South American nations band together to form a new confederation (while the Caribbean teams band together to form their own, which would feature a lot fewer 10-0 scorelines against the USAs and Mexicos of the world – each group finds its level with a new confederation, essentially), and any cooperation is a symbolic step toward that, if not an actual one.

TFCII piece. The Athletic also covers life in the USL($), though (and this is not the fault of the author, their TFC beat reporter), I’d wager that MLS B-sides have a pretty different experience from independent teams at both ends of the spectrum. It also frames life in USL in a way that I don’t much care for – though I don’t think it was the intention of the author to slam the league – it’s just been interpreted that way.

It’s one thing for college players to have crappy life on the road where they’re not paid and coaches (more in revenue sports, but college soccer coaches are well-compensated, too). Somebody – the labor! – is getting the raw end of the deal there. In a minor league sport where the players are making about as much as possible while the team is barely surviving (or in many cases, unable to do so)… I have more of a problem acting like somebody is being wronged, except inasmuch as everyone is being wronged by the market’s lack of making soccer profitable. Obviously, I would love for there to be a world in which guys can making a living playing second-division soccer in the United States (and teams should obviously thrive to do as much for them as they can). But the reason we *don’t* have that isn’t some greedy-owner situation, either.

MLS2 sides and independent USL clubs also have very different organizational goals and finances from each other… perhaps it could be considered an indictment of Toronto FC from top-to-bottom ($28 mil in salary among MLSPA members) more so than the USL system.

NPSL Pro. The long-rumored/planned/whatever professional division of NPSL will launch in 2019. The teams:

New York Cosmos, Detroit City FC, Milwaukee, Chattanooga FC, Miami United FC, Miami FC, San Diego Albion, Cal United, Cal FC, FC Arizona and Oakland Roots.

At least two of those are extremely expected (Detroit and Chattanooga), while there’s a notable exception in Jacksonville, though there’s a note at the bottom of the story that they’re still exploring the professional opportunity while keeping one foot in a commitment to the amateur variety of NPSL.

My thought? Cool! More opportunities for soccer – and particularly professional soccer – in our country is always a good thing. Much like I’ve said the anti-NCAA (the college soccer pathway, not the objectively evil organization) zealots are wrong: the more pathways, the more opportunities for the sport to become profitable and the more opportunities for development. That’s good!

I do question the viability long-term, especially in markets with at least one MLS team (New York, Miami) and the smaller markets with USL competition (Chattanooga, Cal FC), but I hope they’re successful. Not sure how I’d feel about every non-MLS/USL-affiliated professional league failing over time. It would say bad things about our soccer culture. (No problem watching the fake NASL fail over and over again, though. Screw those guys, even if two of them are involved in this project).

fh. Good stuff on Dos a Cero (and its death?) from The Athletic($). … The basics of the Dortmund bus bombing story aren’t exactly new. That doesn’t make the story any less wild. … World Cup tactics and the return of the counter-attack. … Louisville City helped energize the area’s soccer community. We’re seeing that in Nashville as well, though perhaps starting from further behind. … Memphis’s USL team announces first signings. … USMNT losing prospects to Mexico as players head to the land of their heritage for opportunities. … This agent-fee story is probably way more interesting to a Europe-focus audience. … Nissan will host a Gold Cup semi next Summer. Holy cow I’m out here clearing oooooold links. … USYNT’s Konrad de la Fuente one of the 60 best 2001-born players in the world.

As always, thanks for reading. Like what you see? Share FCAC with a friend!

Preview: Nashville SC @ Louisville City 2018 – Regular season round two

Yes, it’s Nashville’s second regular-season game at Louisville City FC this year, but it’s the fourth matchup between the teams overall – they’ve already played Nashville’s home leg in the three-game regular-season series, and NSC also traveled to Derby City for a US Open Cup game.

If trends hold, that Nashville is on the road is pretty damning for their chances to win.

 

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Instead of this beautiful soccer stadium, let’s play on the worst surface in USL! Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The essentials

Opponent: Louisville City FC (11-4-6 USL). 40 GF, 26 GA so far in 2018, 4th in USL East, 2nd in USL East Power Ratings and 5th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: LCFC (W-D-W-W-L) NSC (W-D-L-W-L)
The Line: Louisville City -196, draw +300, Nashville SC +398
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. local (6:30 p.m. CDT)  • Slugger Stadium Louisville, Ky.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 80ºF, 14% chance of rain, 68% humidity, 7 MPH Northerly 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. With The Roadies at Pastime or Party Fowl Murfreesboro, The Assembly at Tailgate Music Row. It’s also not too long a haul if you want to head up there in person.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @loucityfc, #LOUvNSH
Elsewhere: Nashville SC preview. Louisville City with what to know. Louisville Coopers March to MatchdayBarrel Proof Podcast.

Louisville City FC

This has been a weird season for Louisville City. They didn’t make a ton of offseason signings, and have struggled with depth (particularly defensively) thanks to plenty of bad luck with injuries. Then, uh, they lost their coach, James O’Connor, to Orlando City, and named three of their best players co-head coaches. This week’s game will be the first under former US U-17 coach John Hackworth.

They had a really poor run of form that actually began well before O’Connor’s departure: from May 19 through present, they’ve had only one above-average performance at home (and for a team that’s one of USL’s best, you’d expect nearly all of their games to be comfortably above-average). From June 9 to July 14, they won only one game, on the road at Tampa Bay.

So, where are they now? For starters, we don’t know what the heck Hackworth is going to want to do schematically.

“The Louisville group have been playing a particular way for a good period of time and had a lot of success from it,” said Nashville coach Gary Smith. “I have no way of telling what John will do with the group. I believe he’s only been there a couple of days. It will be an interesting time for John, having been in the position myself coming in to a new group that are doing well.

“Do you change things, do you leave things the way they are? You have good players in and out of the group, do you need fresh legs or carrying on with the same team? None of those questions I can answer.”

A few things we can count on? Greg Ranjitsingh in goal, Kyle Smith in the backline, and Paolo DelPiccolo (one of the tri-coaches) in the midfield. That trio has played every game, and DelPiccolo’s 25 minutes on the bench represent the only all season that any of those guys hasn’t been on the field. Midfielders Oscar Jimenez and Speedy Williams, and defenders Paco Craig and Sean Totsch are the next-closest things to guarantees in the lineup.

Despite the defense having a few stalwarts, it’s been one area hit hard by injury. That’s why LCFC has brought in reinforcements, in the form of defensive midfielder/right back James Sands, who joins on loan from NYCFC. That’s not only an MLS player (albeit one who gets no MLS minutes for NYCFC), but one with whom the new coach is familiar, having coached him with the U-17 national team.

Up top, Nashville faced Louisville City last time without forwards Luke Spencer and Cameron Lancaster due to injury, but both are back to fitness – and Lancaster has placed himself in the discussion for the USL’s Golden Boot award. His connection with winger Ilija Ilic has been a key.

“Those guys who are scoring a lot of goals, you kind of put a lot of focus on them, but I think collectively, defensively, I think if we are sharp and compact and we stay tight, I think we should be able to do a good job on him,” defender Bradley Bourgeois said. “We just can’t really give him any space.”

Louisville has the pieces in place to finish strong and end in the top couple positions in the Eastern Conference.

The Boys in Gold

There’s some shakeup for Nashville, as well. The Boys in Gold have come out in a 3-5-2 formation in the past two games… and of course, that’s the look that went over like a lead balloon in Louisville the first time. Will NSC risk it on the narrow, multi-surface pitch of Slugger Stadium again?

“In terms of the dimensions of the field, it’s one of the tighter pitches, [but] we have a tight field here that we train on,” Smith said. “It’s been ideal for the preparation for this game. More so our personnel, the way and shape we’re going to play, and going into such a competitive game, the mindset. We went in the early part of the season, and Louisville were the better team and they deserved to beat us.”

He teases that the shape is going to be important without mentioning what it is. I go back-and-forth on this – the 3-5-2 was so poor on that narrow pitch last time, but Nashville has snapped out of its funk by going back to that formation recently. What’s more important, marrying tactics to the game situation, or rolling with what has the players feeling good? There’s no way to know.

Speaking of feeling good, Bourgeois played a relief role in last Friday’s win over the Ottawa Fury, and is working his way back to health. I would expect that he sees the pitch tomorrow, even if once again it’s coming off the bench.

“I think it’s just a combination of things really,” Bourgeois said of how he’s been able to return so quickly. “Myself, Sydney, the trainer, and ultimately it’s the coaching staff’s decision to put that trust and that faith in me to allow me to step back on the field.”

With him in the backline, I feel a bit more comfortable if NSC reverts to the four – it’s where he found his success, and is a good fit for his skillset. I really can’t decide what Smith is going to do in this one… nor really what I think is best. A narrow pitch makes for shorter crossing distances (and thus plays into the 3-5-2 as a tactical choice), but it also restricts space laterally, and with five midfielders Nashville might get to crowded in that area of the pitch. The 4-4-2 gives better spacing in the midfield, but allows a strong Louisville defense to have the opportunity to shut down attacks coming up the middle.

Projected lineups

I’m going with the 4-4-2 for Nashville, just because of how poorly the 3-5-2 worked the first time around, and because the four-man backline has led to two decent performances against Louisville. A 2-0 loss on the road with the 3-5-2 versus a 2-0 home win and 2-1 road loss (on a different pitch, to be fair) out of the four-man backline.

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I don’t think Hackworth will mess around too much with what’s been successful for Louisville: they play with three centerback-types, but are pretty multiple (including the ability top put two strikers up top, depending on personnel, as well).

For Nashville, I picked a lineup that could also be a 3-5-2 with the same personnel, just a different shape (Taylor Washington would drop to left back, Lebo Moloto to the No. 10 position, Kris Tyrpak joins Brandon Allen up top), though if that’s the formation I’d expect Tucker Hume or Ropapa Mensah in the starting lineup instead of Allen.

Predictions

I think Nashville will get a result on the road in Louisville, which may sound a little surprising given how the previous two contests there have played out.

  • Louisville City opens the scoring, and like in the US Open Cup game, opens a 2-0 lead. This time, though, the goals come from more obvious sources: Cameron Lancaster and Ilija Ilic each bag one before the break.
  • However, Nashville is able to claw back this time. Bradley Bourgeois gets the long-awaited headed goal from a corner kick, and Ropapa Mensah steals the road point after the 80th minute on a nice piece of cutback-and-shoot skillwork. Tyrpak and Moloto get the respective assists.
  • We see a Nashville opponent end up with a red card for just the second time this year, when Oscar Jimenez commits a hard foul shortly after Bourgeois’s early second-half goal.
  • Nashville’s subs are Bolu Akinyode replacing Matt LaGrassa (half), London Woodberry replacing Bradley Bourgeois (70th minute), and Ropapa Mensah replacing Kris Tyrpak (72nd minute).

The game ends in a 2-2 draw. Nashville will feel (justifiably) like it stole a point, despite being the stronger team in time of possession over the course of the game. For an NSC side that was floundering not so long ago, its third result in three games feels pretty good (especially when the two draws come on the road against the best two teams in the East).

Pitch Points plays catch-up

Hey! It’s been a while since one of these posts. Herein, I round up links of interest in the world of Nashville and US Soccer. If you ever find something you want me to include, you can hit me on the socials or via e-mail. On with the show.

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US Soccer taking notice of Nashville. This was a hype piece for the US Open Cup game against Louisville, but it ages pretty well.

“Coming in from Sporting Kansas City, the Open Cup, and what it means to American soccer, is just part of my DNA,” said [Mike] Jacobs, an understated front-office wizard who had a large hand in finding the talent to fit the needs and desires of coach Smith. “We’re making a statement in the Open Cup in our first year and that’s massive for the equity and credibility of this club and for the future of soccer here in Nashville. We’re showing we can compete with teams from all levels of the American soccer scene.”

Nashville aren’t just competing with teams higher up the food chain, they’re beating them

Yes, the loss to Louisville stunk. It prevented NSC from getting the national hype that Cincinnati received for its Open Cup run. However, some of that groundwork has hopefully already been laid, and the club can grow from it.

There may be positives in terms of reduced fatigue down the home stretch as well, though I’m sort of skeptical that playing two extra games really tired FCC out all that much last year: they were just the sixth-best team in the East, and earned a deserving first-round playoff exit.

Of course, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Nashville SC’s trajectory, including inaugural season ticket record. Hopefully that means we don’t have to have extended season ticket discussions ever again (unfortunately, “Twitter” and “the FC Cincinnati fanbase” still exist, so that’s a pipe dream).

World Cup on the way. It doesn’t feel like the World Cup in the United States is eight years away – the level of celebration has been higher than something not happening for nearly a decade – but that’s fine. It’s going to be a massive positive for the United States, no matter how far off in the distance it is.

Sorry for subjecting you to the absolute nightmare that is SI.com. How have they not hired new web designers?

Anyway. It’s a big first step for USSF president Carlos Cordeiro (along with hiring Earnie Stewart as the GM for the MNT), and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where his focus goes now. He campaigned largely on a platform of “change but not too much change” and “landing the World Cup is very important.” Will he focus on development? Stay on the side of building finances for the federation? A lot about the future of US Soccer depends upon where he goes with it.

So far, the federation has been more “let’s stay focused on this big win“-oriented, which is fine for the short-term.

The striker whisperer. I’ve actually been higher on Gyasi Zardes than literally every other USMNT fan ever, so it shouldn’t surprise that I’m very happy to see him thriving in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter.

Perhaps no team in the league has as defined a system as Crew SC. Columbus play one of the more consistent, recognizable styles in MLS. They’re committed to playing nearly everything out of the back, they almost always dominate the ball and they’re very rarely out of step with each other. The system makes them better than the sum of their parts – and it regularly serves up gorgeous chances for their strikers.

That… also sounds like a system that you’d like to see the USMNT play, yeah? Berhalter has been one of the most-mentioned names for the managerial position, and he and Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls) have probably emerged as my top two, if General Manager Earnie Stewart intends to hire domestically.

Bobby Wood could certainly use a guy to generate scoring opportunities for him schematically to help snap out of what feels like a two-year slump (but is actually only one year and ticking).

Hot takes are dumb. It sucks when your team doesn’t make the World Cup. There’s a lot of blame to go around in the case of the USMNT in 2018. “The team lost its fight,” however, is a dumb hot take. However many former US Internationals (or current US Soccer staffers!) say that, it’s a level of analysis that you expect from a sports talk radio caller, not someone who’s actually interested in identifying or solving the problems.

Again, it sucks. How many countries made the previous seven World Cups in a row, though? (Hey, time for me to make a Sporcle quiz!). Evaluating actual weaknesses that you can take action upon (like don’t hire somebody to be coach and technical director if you’re not willing to implement his plan, don’t then fire him only to hire a worse coach, etc.), rather than “DURRR GRITTY GRIT” is preferred, thanks.

Etc.: All sports is political. Part 2. … US Soccer feature on Timothy Weah. … A country that’s the subject of “hey, not quite as racist as you think, but still really racist” columns is currently hosting the World Cup, by the way. Not that the US is a whole lot better these days. … Entracht Frankfurt opening an academy in the States. … Livin’ the blog dream.

Boys in Gold crash out of US Open Cup in Louisville

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Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nashville SC didn’t necessarily come out flat in Lynn Stadium Wednesday evening – they fired 15 shots to the hosts’ 12 and controlled 55.2% of possession – but the quality in the final third just wasn’t there as they fell to Louisville City FC by a 2-1 score. Paco Craig scored for Louisville in the 24th minute, and Paolo DelPiccolo added another in the 58th, and while Matt LaGrassa got Nashville on the board in with just over 20 minutes in regulation, Nashville couldn’t find the equalizer.

Thus ends the club’s US Open Cup run, with Louisville advancing to the quarterfinals, where they’re slated to take on MLS side Chicago Fire July 18.

“I don’t understand on a one-off occasion, with the run we are on, why we just wouldn’t go and feel more confident about ourselves,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “We were too slow to get into our rhythm. Saying that, they were certainly the better team in the first half and we were the better team in the second half. We had enough chances to not only take that game into overtime, but to possibly have won it. I think with how the game unfolded, a draw was a fair result, but unfortunately it was not to be.”

LaGrassa earned the surprise start after a couple weaker performances in USL play, and vindicated the choice by heading home a London Woodberry cross to give his team hope after digging into a 2-0 hole. While Nashville buzzed the net in the second half, they were unable to find the back of it.

Ropapa Mensah missed an open net moments after hitting the frame when the score was just 1-0, and six shots after LaGrassa closed the margin back to 2-1 all were unable to trouble Louisville backup keeper Tim Dobrowolsi.

“We have been on a good streak and all good streaks have to come to an end at some point, but you hope it comes in a game where things didn’t go your way,” LaGrassa said. “It wasn’t our best performance to start the game. We started too slow. It came back to bite us.”

Louisville will be this year’s USL darling in the US Open Cup (fellow league side Sacramento Republic fell to LAFC on the road Wednesday night, and all seven remaining teams outside of Louisville are MLS sides), while Nashville will have an opportunity to take a step back from cup competition and focus on USL play.

The team current sits fourth in the USL’s Eastern Conference, and takes on No. 6 Indy Eleven Tuesday in the friendly confines of First Tennessee Park. A victory could push Nashville as high as second in the conference, with a game in-hand on No. 1 FC Cincinnati.

Match events

  • 24′ LOU GOAL – 5 Paco Craig (right foot), assist to 19 Oscar Jimenez
  • 35′ LOU Yellow card – 36 Paolo DelPiccolo (foul)
  • 45’+2 Half time
  • 52′ – LOU Yellow card – 10 Brian Ownby (foul)
  • 58′ LOU GOAL – 36 Paolo DelPiccolo (left foot)
  • 62′ NSH Substitutions – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 2 Justin Davis. On 32 Brandon Allen, off 3 Ropapa Mensah.
  • 65′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 11 Ish Jome
  • 66′ LOU Substitution – On 21 Shaun Francis, off 19 Oscar Jimenez
  • 68′ NSH GOAL – 20 Matt LaGrassa (headed), assist to 28 London Woodberry
  • 76′ LOU Substitution – On 7 Magnus Rasmussen, off 10 Brian Ownby

Preview: Nashville SC @ Louisville City FC 2018 – US Open Cup

Nashville SC has split its two games with Louisville City to date… but the home team took each one. Can the Boys in Gold break the streak and win in Derby City?

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Less of this in the third matchup. Thanks.

The essentials

Opponent: Louisville City FC
Performance: 7-2-3 USL East, 17 GF, 10 GA, 2nd the conference. 1st in USL East Power Projection, 9th in USL power ratings. Fifth round US Open Cup, 9-2 GD in three games. 3-0-2 last five games all competitions.
The Line: Louisville City +112, Draw +229, Nashville SC +234
Time, Location: 7:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 Central)  • Lynn Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
Event: US Open Cup Fifth Round.
Weather: 81ºF, 34% chance of rain, 76% humidity, 9 MPH WSW winds
Watch: In person! Or stream on USSoccer.com. Roadies are hosting a watch party at Pastime.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @LouCityFC, #USOC2018
Elsewhere: MLSSoccer.com with a (mini) preview. Orlando City previews the round. Nashville SC feature from the USL, and some really good insight into the strategy on both touchlines. This awesome feature from US Soccer:

Louisville City FC

This is a really good team, but as was the case the last time Nashville played them (they only dressed six subs!), they’re really banged up. Further complicating matters when it comes to the US Open Cup, the international slot rules have made for an even more limited LCFC roster:

“For example, second-string goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski has started each tournament match because leaving first-stringer Greg Ranjitsingh (a Trinidad and Tobago international) off the roster opens up a slot,” said Danielle Lerner of the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The injuries have certainly also taken a toll, so I would expect Wednesday’s lineup to look different, particularly up top, than both past Open Cup games and USL games.”

Luke Spencer and Cameron Lancaster – the former of whom you may recognize as the first goal-scorer in a Nashville SC game, way back in March – are out with injury. Louisville has been light on centerbacks for much of the season after the opening several games. So what will we see in terms of a lineup?

“I have a hunch James O’Connor will try to recreate the same lineup he used in the New England game,” Lerner opined. “Louisville City could feasibly field a nearly identical lineup just by replacing Lancaster with Ilic.”

That would be pretty close to Louisville’s strongest available lineup, minus Ranjitsingh and the two primary strikers (though it’s worth noting that Ilja Ilic has comfortably outscored the much-injured Spencer 4-1 so far this year, albeit in nearly twice as many minutes. That’s right, Spencer’s only goal came in the opener against Nashville). They used it to knock of an MLS side, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, even if the injury situation would typically have us casting the side-eye.

The other thing fans remember from that Louisville City loss? A pretty crappy pitch in Louisville. We won’t see that become a factor here, because the game’s at a different venue anyway: LCFC has hosted US Open Cup games at University of Louisville’s Lynn Stadium, a 5,300-seater about ten minutes south of Slugger.

“Some might say they have an advantage at Slugger Field over visiting teams who aren’t familiar with the turf/grass mixture, but I’m not sure there’s truth to that,” Lerner said.

Nashville fans would disagree!

“Attendance for the weeknight Open Cup games at Lynn has been so-so but increasing every match,” she continued. “The smaller venue also makes it feel fuller and the atmosphere for the New England game felt very rowdy.”

A couple dozen Nashville SC fans (at least from the supporters’ groups; there may be some unaffiliated fans making the trip as well) will try to counteract that noise, but a midweek game in a different timezone is going to make that pretty rough for those who don’t have the luxury of requesting work off early. This will definitely be a home pitch for Louisville, nothing approaching neutral.

The Boys in Gold

 

Louisville hasn’t had its full roster available in a while, and it’s less so for Open Cup games.

(By the way, if you were wondering if Nashville is harmed by the international roster slots: a lot less so. Among guys who are regular contributors:

  • Kosuke Kimura is Japanese, but holds a Green Card and is not considered an international.
  • Ish Jome and Bolu Akinyode were both born in west Africa, but grew up in Minnesota and New Jersey, respectively, and are likely U.S. citizens (like Kimura, not subject to the roster restriction).
  • Liam Doyle and Robin Shroot are British. Lebo Moloto is South African and Ropapa Mensah is Ghanaian. Ryan James is Canadian. That’s only five guys who are likely subject to the restriction and also likely to play. It’s even possible that Doyle, James, and Moloto, who all went to college in the US, have citizenship or green cards.

Thus ends #rulebooktedium for the day)

Nashville beat a similarly-strong Louisville team at home just a few weeks back, but it’d be unfair to say that either team is as good on the road as it is at home: that’s part of why the host has taken both between the sides so far.

Nashville’s roster situation, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction from Louisville’s: with London Woodberry and Alan Winn coming off the injured (or just banged-up) lists, this is about as healthy as NSC has been – enough so to loan out a handful of players who were struggling to find gametime. Finally getting a rest after six games in 16 days (they had a full week off before Saturday’s win over North Carolina FC, and they have nearly a week off after this game, thanks to a blank weekend and Tuesday hosting of Indy Eleven early the following week) means fatigue shouldn’t be a consideration.

There’s a motivation for Nashville SC to prove itself – even more so than that’s a motivating factor for literally every sports team ever – and I think that we see whatever Gary Smith believes is his best XI. Brandon Allen and Ropapa Mensah should split time, but if Alan Winn (for example) can go 90, he should. We should get some clarity as to pecking order between Taylor Washington and Ish Jome, a better picture of where Ryan James fits into the 18, and how this team wants to play when it wants to play its best.

It should be really fun.

Projected lineups

Here we go:

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That’s basically the same lineup Nashville saw last time aside from injured Lancaster and internationals Souahy (France) and Ranjitsingh (T&T). Of course, one of the replacements (the Serbian Ilic) is an international as well, but sitting Ranjitsingh to have somebody to play striker is probably the only choice here.

For Nashville, it’s what I think is the Best XI – and there were some really tough choices of guys to leave off. Ropapa Mensah is obviously growing into a late-game supersub role, and he’ll have that in this one, too. Other subs will include a midfielder (either Washington on the left or Lagrassa/James on the right) and Woodberry into the game if NSC has a lead to protect at some point late in the game.

Predictions

I have a really tough time with this one, because so much is up in the air about Louisville’s roster fitness (and quite frankly, it might make sense to… not throw this game, but certainly not focus on it at the expense of USL play). I know NSC’s motivation is going to be high: as an expansion team, there’s a lot to prove, and this is the way to do it on the national stage. Also, the team is playing well enough to spend energy on USOC and not sacrifice too much in USL play.

  • Louisville City opens the scoring on a set piece, and does so relatively early in the game. That creates a feeling of “here we go again” for Nashville fans. The Boys in Gold have never come back to get a result after conceding first (they’ve had, uh, just two opportunities, the initial 2-0 loss to LCFC and then again by a 2-1 count to Indy a month later).
  • However, Nashville manages to wrest control of run-of-play after that point, and has some chances to close out the first half, with wing play from Ish Jome and Alan Winn major factors in that.
  • It’s Winn who creates the game-tying goal, crossing one in to Michael Reed at the top of the box (more of a pull-back pass than a true cross), and while Reed’s shot is saved, Allen is there to poach it home, as is his job. This comes about ten minutes into the second half.
  • Both teams play defensively in the second half. Nashville, because it seems like they tend to do that (and especially on the road), Louisville because they don’t have the depth to run for the whole game and still have the energy to both attack and defend.
  • “The whole game…” means more than 90 minutes in this one. We go to extra time.

Nashville SC wins 2-1. Whether that “2” comes in a penalty shootout or in added time from the foot of Ropapa Mensah is the question mark to me. Louisville just doesn’t have enough dudes to spend all their energy in the Open Cup, while it means everything to Nashville at this point in the year, and that’s the difference. Yes, it’s worth $25k to either team, but the monetary prize isn’t either one’s motivating factor. Nashville wants to be this year’s Cincinnati in terms of national pub (and not in terms of “finish 6th on the table but pretend like it’s as good as first because something something attendance).

See you in Atlanta.