Pitch Points has the Funk

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Ryan James. Photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.

The Funk. The friends over at Golden Goal bring the human interest piece on NSC defender Ryan James.

“He always had a funk about him where he could do things no one else could and get him out of trouble,” Nichols said. “That’s the funk we are talking about. He learned to position himself a bit better and not to rely on that stuff. He’s got more of complete game now and learned to use the funk in special moments.”

Good stuff in getting to know some of the players on the field as more than just… the players on the field. This NSC roster is full of good dudes, and interesting ones. They’re more than just guys who get paid to run around for a couple hours on weekends from Spring through Fall.

The benchmark(s). Let’s check in on how the last ten MLS expansion teams performed in their inaugural match.

That is eight points in ten matches, with a goal differential of plus-5. Obviously, every team has a bit of a different run-up, and NSC will likely be taking a team that has been playing together up a level rather than starting from scratch (and will be ramping up the talent in the course of the next two years). That’s most similar to Vancouver, Montreal, Orlando, and Minnesota – with Orlando and Minnesota the tightest comparisons.

Obviously, this dataset just includes one match per team and we can get into more robust comparisons over the next couple years.

Other comparisons? The USL inaugural game attendance record is 20,231 and the move to Nissan Stadium is obviously to accommodate the potential of breaking that record. For what it’s worth, the overall USL record is 30,417, but that one’s more likely to fall (if at all) for the July 7 Cincinnati game than the home opener.

In pitch points, we talk about development. (Like every time). The MLS minutes matrix is going to be interesting to follow from a #playyourkids perspective. As regular readers know, I’m a little torn about that specific worry as it relates to development. Better academies, more second-division clubs to get players on the field, etc. are far more pressing matters than giving time to the guys signed.

Meanwhile, Shaq Moore took the “head to Spain” development path, and is hoping to figure in the USMNT picture soon. As I’ve said (including very recently), the more paths to professional soccer for young Americans, the better.

From across the pond, an academy system success story. Obviously the English academies are far more established (80 years straight and counting of a homegrown player on every starting lineup for Man U, whereas we’ve had our current Division-1 league for barely over two decades, much less academy systems), but there are lessons to be learned about the value in developing young players. Being able to collect solidarity payments, sell players’ rights, and continue the development cycle… check back later.

Etc. Does roster consistency correlate with better results during a season? The causal direction of this relationship is an interesting thought exercise. … Cincinnati Soccer Talk‘s podcast post-NSC. … Pro-rel arguments (on both sides) have become v. v. stupid, and this is one of those. Anything saying “the USSF de-sanctioned NASL to protect MLS” instead of having a grip on reality starts on a real weak foot with me. “Ricardo Silva made an obviously bad-faith ‘offer’ for MLS media rights that I actually use as an important argument in my column” is grounds for my not reading past the first few paragraphs. … Some World Cup performance analysis and what it mean for the Americans. It’s a little on the overly harsh side, but there are obviously some salient points, as well. … Refugees are almost always good people. Sometimes they are also good soccer players.

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Pitch Points is renamed Lebo Golazo

Cranking out a Pitch Points before this afternoon’s Cincinnati content, because some of this stuff will be a little stale once we’re focused on FCC.

More like Lebo Golazo, am I right folks? Bad pun and a GIF:

Lebo Moloto Nashville SC Orlando City SC golazo gif clubandcountry.wordpress.com

Meanwhile, that guy’s team is 75/1 to win a USL title. Anybody trying to pool some betting money (kidding! I’m way too scared of losing money to bet on sports).

Justin Meram. This article came out within a couple hours of the last Pitch Points I published, which is unfortunate because it’s great. Former Michigan Wolverine and lifelong American Justin Meram on choosing to represent the country of his parents’ birth, Iraq:

It was the first time I could sing that anthem surrounded by the fans who live and breathe for the national team. And I didn’t just see one Iraqi flag as I had during my club games, I saw dozens and dozens, as well as scarves decked out in our colors of red, black and white. As I sang, I could hear thousands of others singing with pride and passion.

Our team is nicknamed the Lions of Mesopotamia, and as we stood on that field in Basra, I felt like one for the first time.

This is important in various contexts, not least of which is understanding the thought processes of eligible dual-national players. Obviously this comes into play when it comes to conversations about Jonathan Gonzalez (which, like, let it go, folks. I’ve just started catching up on the Max and Herc podcast and it might be literally the only topic they ever talk about. It’s over, move on) and other dual-nationals lost.

When he retires from MLS – Meram was traded from Columbus Crew to Orlando City this season, and has a few years left in him – I would see huge value in including Meram on a US Soccer Federation dual-national committee (that I’ve previously proposed) both as a recruiting tool for those players, but also helping folks understand the thought process and the decisions of those who choose not to play for USMNT/WNT.

Joint World Cup bid in jeopardy. And you’ll never guess why. The world we live in: the US Soccer Federation has to say “don’t worry, this moron will be six years out of office by the time the 2026 World Cup takes place” to take the United States out of “we are North Korea”-level international reputation. FIFA – FIFA! – sees the president of the United States as too corrupt (or just generally detestable) to allow our nation to host a sporting event. Verily, America has been Made Great Again.

Meanwhile, talented young kids using soccer to go to college on scholarship are getting deported for… reasons. …and we’ll end the potentially political conversation there. Let’s just say it’s understandable why basically every country outside of the Western Hemisphere (and likely many within it) won’t bat an eyelash about doing anything they can to vote against the United States.

Development: a play in multiple acts. The US Soccer Federation has built a national training center. It’s been in the works for a hot min, but now completed. Will be a good tool in developing coaches… probably shouldn’t be super-relevant in (direct) player development on the grand scheme.

Speaking of which, read this from The Ringer on Christian Pulisic’s initial move to Germany. As I’ve stated in the past, there’s not a problem with players developing in USL/MLS just like there’s not a problem with their heading to Europe (duh on the latter point). Saying one or the other is the only reasonable path is how we get into situations like missing the World Cup. More options is better.

How about developing franchises? Depending on how it comes off, Chattanooga FC’s summit next weekend could be a pretty positive step in growing the game in terms of club opportunities. Yes, I’m well aware of the bad blood between supporters groups from Chattanooga and Nashville, but… there’s a lot to be said for Chattanooga appearing to do everything the right way as a community club.

US Soccer General Manager. US Soccer CEO Dan Flynn met with media earlier this week. The topic? The new National Team GM positions (one for men, a separate one for the women). His vision… is bad.

According to Flynn, the GM will be responsible for “hiring and firing senior team head coaches,” building “an integrated national team staff,” managing the “day-to-day environment” of the senior team, monitoring the player pool and integrating new players. The GMs will report directly to Flynn and not to newly elected US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro.

Somebody whose core function is to hire and fire a coach is not what the national teams need – maybe it’s what Carlos Cordeiro needs to take some of the pressure off his extremely high-stress job of being USSF President.

What USSF needs is a GM for each national team program, not just team. Some of the tasks – e.g. “monitoring the player pool” – are more program-oriented than individual team-oriented, but things like that should be the most important duties, not the single hire of a national team coach (and presumably assisting him or her with the evaluation and hiring of assistants and support staff). Recruiting dual-nationals, helping make sure youth players get into good club/development situations, etc. …these should not be

Having GMs is a big step forward. This vision for what the GM role entails is at least a similarly-sized step back.

The GMs will be part of a larger technical structure focusing on those senior teams—“a brain trust,” Flynn called it—and won’t be directing all of U.S. Soccer’s on-field initiatives.

“In an indirect way, those general managers will have input on what we’re doing on the player development side,” Flynn said.

That certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Nor does USSF’s recent track record.

Etc.: Are you a talented female player over 17? Try out to play WPSL this Summer. Nashville Rhythm tryouts that were previously rained out have been re-scheduled for this weekend. … Some MLS storylines, including #MLS2Nashville. … Want to learn a ton about every MLS team? You’re in luck. … I’m down with Ranting Soccer Dad‘s National B-team idea.

The lost goals: Nashville SC posts highlights from Ottawa and Orlando friendlies

Did you, like everyone else, not get a chance to see Nashville SC’s goal in the friendly against the Ottawa Fury. Were you interested in what the three tallies against Orlando City looked like?

It’s your lucky day. The club has released some highlights on social media:

The team is back in action tomorrow at 4 p.m. against Lipscomb University.

Nashville SC reportedly defeats Orlando City SC 3-1

We’ll never get official word on the outcome of today’s closed-door friendly against Orlando City SC, but according to multiple tweets from players and the club’s official account, Nashville SC took down the Lions by a 3-1 count.

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Michael Cox reportedly scored one of NSC’s three goals. Photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The closed-door nature of the scrimmage typically (though not always) means both teams are going to try to win it, though obviously having no public consumption of the contest gives a little plausible deniability on that front for either side.

Those three goals are Nos. 3 through 5 of the franchise’s history (albeit in friendlies, and thus unofficial), and winger/striker Alan Winn has certainly established himself as a playmaker with two of the tallies and an assist on a third – and possibly more than that, given that we don’t have full details of the scores from today’s friendly.

Nashville SC will next take on Lipscomb University Thursday afternoon at the school’s campus in Green Hills. You can buy tickets at the Lipscomb website here.

Nashville SC v. Orlando City SC: What’s the value in a closed friendly?

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Approximately as full as the stadium will be today (Courtesy Orlando City SC).

This afternoon, Nashville SC and Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer will play a friendly, and you won’t be able to see it. No, that’s not a “the stream drops out for 16 minutes so you miss the goals” inability to watch. The teams are playing behind closed doors, with no stream and no fans in the stadium. We might get a final score, we might hear who the goal-scorers are.

Why?

There’s plenty of justification for teams playing out of the public eye, especially with the regular season fast approaching. Orlando City begins competitive play in six days (hosting DC United at Orlando City Stadium), while NSC heads to Louisville City March 17. Both teams are winding down in their tune-up process. This is Orlando’s final preseason friendly, while it’s Nashville’s last of three against MLS competition (losing 3-1 to Atlanta United and drawing Chicago Fire 0-0 in earlier action. While NSC still has several friendlies, they’re against lower-level (NCAA side Lipscomb and the NPSL’s Chattanooga FC) or equal (FC Cincinnati) programs.

The value in a closed-door friendly is that both teams are able to play 100% game-ready lineups and tactics, without fear of giving away gameplan information before the matches count, or in the case of Orlando, forfeiting plausible deniability if the result is closer than it should be against a USL side. Realistic substitution patterns (and NSC has been preparing for that, playing its starters little more than half an hour against Ottawa Fury Friday), tactical adjustments, and more are on the table, without the fear of looking too good or too bad if things go wrong, or letting DC United and Louisville City know what the finished product is going to look like.

It may seem a little on the paranoid side, but it’s important to keep in mind that at least one closed-door friendly per preseason is standard issue in many sports, including the opportunity for teams to play across competitive levels (though in college basketball, for example, closed-door scrimmages are often between geographically close teams at the same level who aren’t planning to face each other in the regular season).

Is it disappointing that one of just a handful of preseason friendlies takes place outside of the public eye? Certainly: Nashville SC fans are hungry for as many glimpses of their team as they can get. But in order to ensure the best shot from the opponent and keep a little mystery as the run-up to the inaugural USL season winds down, the disappointment is worth the preparation.

Nashville SC Preseason view

The Atlanta United friendly is well into the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean Nashville SC is on the cusp of the regular season. Indeed, there’s plenty of soccer to be played before the games count. Here’s what to look forward to over the next few weeks.

Feb. 21

Nashville SC v. Chicago Fire
IMG Academy • Bradenton, Fla.
5:00 p.m. EST • Watch online

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IMG Academy: home of many palm trees. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
The Fire were a solid squad last year, finishing third in the Eastern Conference with the third-best offense in MLS (1.79 goals/game) and a decent defense (tied for seventh-best in the league at 1.38allowed per contest). They were blasted 4-0 by New York Red Bulls i the first round of the playoffs, ending their season.

The Fire were led offensively by Serbian forward Nemanja Nikolic (24 goals, four assists), midfielder David Accam (14 goals, eight assists) – who is now with the Philadelphia Union – Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw (three goals, eight assists), and former Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger (three goals, six assists). The 33-year-old Schweinsteiger is retiring at the conclusion of this season, as well.

Starting keeper Matt Lampson was traded to Minnesota United, so expect Richard Sanchez to take over the firs-team role.

Obviously both the Fire and NSC, with condensed schedules (Chicago played last Wednesday and hits the field again Saturday, NSC has another friendly Friday), will see lots of rotation in their squads. However, at least from a Nashville perspective, we’ll probably get a first-team and hopefuls to make that unit to start the match as the coaches try to settle a final depth chart.

Feb. 23

Nashville SC v. Ottawa Fury
IMG Academy • Bradenton, Fla.
3:00 p.m. EST • Watch online

Nashville SC’s first-ever competition against a fellow USL side will come against a team from the Great White North… in the Great Sunshiny State (or just “Sunshine State” if you aren’t going for name symmetry).

Ottawa Fury finished 10th in the USL East last season. You can read a little more detail on their preseason roster comings and goings here.

In this game, Nashville will probably be a little more experimental with the lineup for a couple reasons. First, it’s the middle game of a very tight three-game stretch over the course of five days. Secondly, they’ll want to hold a little bit back from a fellow USL team, given that they’ll be playing twice in the regular season.

Feb. 25

Nashville SC @ Orlando City SC
Orlando City Stadium • Orlando, Fla.
Closed-door match • No online coverage

The concept of closed-door friendlies is not particularly novel in soccer (most MLS and USL teams will have at least one or two in preseason). Even NSC’s media relations staff won’t be in the house here, so we may be lucky to get even as much as a final score.

March 1

Nashville SC @ Lipscomb
Lipscomb Soccer Complex • Nashville
4:00 p.m. • Tickets

Following a bit of time on the road in Florida, Nashville SC will return home… but still play a little ways across town at Lipscomb University in a friendly match. You can safely assume that this will be the “guys fighting for regular squad time” lineup of the pre-season, with a college team unlikely to stand much of a challenge if NSC were to play its starters. You’ll probably see a whole lot of third keeper Micah Bledsoe, a Lipscomb alum.

There’s certainly an element in there of the club looking out for soccer in the area, giving Lipscomb not only some good preseason competition, but most likely one of its biggest crowds of the young season.

March 3

Nashville SC @ FC Cincinnati
Gettler Stadium • Cincinnati
4:00 p.m. • Tickets (Streaming info to come)

This will be a matchup of two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. It’ll be interesting to see whether both squads go with a full-strength lineup and winning tactics, or are happy to get a little bit of competition, give the fans a bit of a show, and be a little bit more conservative after the game really gets under way.

From my perspective (and I would say most agree), Cincinnati is the favorite to emerge as the top team in the East, with a Nashville team that is completely new – rather than bigtime additions to an existing roster, like Cincinnati – one of the clubs with the chance to be a major contender themselves.

March 10

Nashville SC @ Chattanooga FC
Finley Stadium • Chattanooga, Tenn.
7:00 p.m. • Tickets

NSC heads down I-24 to close out the preseason and do a bit more missionary work in helping out the little guys in the state.

Chattanooga FC’s supporters have an… odd… complex when it comes to Nashville SC. For whatever reason (one must consider “inferiority complex” as the most likely explanation), they really hate Nashville SC. Naturally, neither Nashville’s club nor supporters are going to apologize for having the ability to climb the US Soccer ladder and end up in MLS in a couple years.

Either way, this will be a homecoming for centerback Jordan Dunstan (who was with CFC last year), and he’ll probably see plenty of the field. The rest of the lineup will most likely, again, be a bit more of a depth selection. However, thanks to the one-sided rivalry, NSC certainly won’t want to take an L to Chattanooga, so if things get a little dicey, you could see some of the more accomplished players hit the field (though the preference would be to let them rest up for the regular-season opener in Louisville a week later).

NSC’s full preseason schedule released

It’s not just Atlanta United and Cincinnati: Nashville SC’s preseason friendly slate will also include the MLS’s Chicago Fire and Orlando City FC, as well as fellow USL outfit Ottawa Fury.

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Those three games will take place in Central Florida, with the first two at IMG Academy in Bradenton, and the Orlando City matchup in the Lions’ home city.

NSC’s regular season begins with a trip to Louisville March 17 and the home opener against Pittsburgh Riverhounds the following Saturday.