Pitch Points might try to form megaclub

Running through some links of interest to Nashville and US Soccer. As always, please feel free to follow (and share stories!) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or your social media platform of choice. If you have a story you’d like me to cover in one of these posts, never hesitate to reach out to me on those social channels, in the comments here, or at t.w.sullivan1@gmail.com.

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Club images courtesy those respective clubs. Beautiful graphic by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Major local youth shake-ups. You can read into a couple organizational changes in youth clubs whatever you’d like. I have thought (and continue to think) that by and large the most prominent clubs in the area are trying to position themselves to either be acquired by Nashville SC when it founds its Development Academy team in the not-so-distant future, or at the very least trying to become affiliated clubs.

There have been various mergers (at the very least, consolidating and sharing of resources) in the past year-plus, and Nashville FC Youth and Tennessee Soccer Club are the latest to explore combining forces.

Club leaders said the merger discussion was the product of their collaboration to support the push to bring a Major League Soccer team to the city in 2017-18. Both clubs had coaches and volunteers on the MLS2Nashville Committee.

The clubs stressed the potential merger is designed to provide more opportunities for youth players in Middle Tennessee to develop and play at a higher level. Each club now has approximately 1,500 players at either the recreational or competitive levels with teams based in Davidson, Williamson and Rutherford Counties.

Does it seem weirdly premature to announce that you’re in discussions with another club with the possibility that nothing happens? It sort of does to me. I guess there’s a bit of a responsibility to families already involved with either club, and a bit of a feeling-out of public sentiment, but… still weird.

Meanwhile, Nashville United Soccer Academy is reorganizing its administration, in a way that seems to be geared toward a more “True Academy” and professional structure top-to-bottom. You may recall NUSA was one of the programs involved with a major merger over the summer, joining forces with Tennessee United and Murfreesboro United.

My thoughts on the matter are basically the same as they’ve always been: more opportunities for kids (and particularly more opportunities with good coaching and good development) are aways better. If these moves help do that, great. It’s always possible that a laudable goal is not achieved – fewer distinct clubs could mean fewer opportunities if teams within different clubs are merged as well, etc. – so it’s worth keeping a skeptical eye on, as well.

Obviously, our state doesn’t produce nearly the number of high-level players it should, so anything that can move toward growth is good.

My ideal layout would be more hyper-local clubs whose best players feed into bigger academy-type clubs, and in turn those clubs’ best players entering a Nashville SC in-house academy. I understand the organizational overhead costs saved by pooling resources in a slightly different way, and just hope it doesn’t mean less soccer for anyone out there. More soccer is better.

The Fury-Concacaf saga plays on. Then it ends with minimal fanfare. USL obviously wasn’t particularly concerned about Concacaf’s refusal to sanction the Ottawa Fury for cross-border play in 2019, having released the Championship alignment and schedule, but it had to go  (or didn’t if an obviously CYA and untrue statement from Concacaf is to be believed) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Also, the headline here is, uh, something else:

Is CONCACAF playing its own games with the intention of crippling Fury FC?

No? Of course not? What would their motivation be to cripple the Fury? There is none (other than some semi-wild conspiracy theories in there). They’re enforcing the rules of FIFA and their Confederation. They’re doing it in a way that’s overbearing and not in a sporting spirit, perhaps, but to assume malice when there’s an obvious, non-malicious motivation – even if there’s a selfish one by former Canada Soccer head (now Concacaf head) Victor Montagliani – to get Canadian teams playing in the federation and league they’re bound to by FIFA statute doesn’t seem unfair.

There was basically never a chance that the Fury couldn’t play in USL this year, given that they always had the blessing of both the Canadian and American federations.  It’s more likely a power play by Concacaf to set up the “OK, but for this year only” situation where they force Fury into CPL in 2020 and beyond – which seems pretty fair to me, actually. Of course, it resolved to the positive Friday afternoon.

For whatever reason I’m obsessed with MLS roster rules. Fortunately for our purposes, that will become relevant in about 10 months’ time. For now, we’ll just call it a weird quirk.

Anyway, Paul Tenorio predicts the distant future at The Athletic ($), primarily in the form of trying to decide what the salary cap, designated player, and other roster rules will be within a couple years of the United World Cup:

I think it’s possible that MLS clubs will have a $20 million salary budget in ten years’ time, about five times more than in 2018. In this vision, there are four designated player spots, which allow teams who want to spend substantially more on star players to continue to do so.

There’s obviously a hell of a lot more there, including the reasoning for this structure (and more detail to it).

The Lancaster-ing. This will obviously be a running topic on the site (along with all the other offseason player movement), but it should come as no surprise that Cameron Lancaster’s signing has drawn some big attention. USA Today Sports Network Tennessee spoke with Lancaster the day his signing was announced:

“I was really impressed with the vision and ambition they (Nashville MLS GM Mike Jacobs and Nashville SC coach Gary Smith) had with turning Nashville SC, already a top USL club, to a top MLS team,” Lancaster said in an email to the Tennessean. “After facing Nashville last season and seeing the improvements they made each time, and then to make the playoffs in their first year as a team, I knew Gary was a top manager. He had a good group of players, and that excited me.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal discusses the Englishman’s departure from LCFC.

Bundimericans. Gregg Berhalter has been on a tour of Europe, checking in on US Internationals in the various overseas leagues. The Bundesliga’s official site caught up with him to talk about some of the key Americans plying their trade in Germany’s top flight.

On Christian Pulisic:

“I’m not too concerned about where he’s lining up. We want him affecting the game, we want him playing between the lines, taking on players one on one, and it will be up to the team to get him in, and find him in, those positions.”

Weston McKennie (after making fun of Schalke for the bizarre – and ongoing – center forward experiment they’ve been subjecting him to):

“I would say central midfield. I think he’s very good, [he has] a very good ability to win balls. That’s [at] a high level, I think he’s seen that at Champions League level, winning the ball and playing to his teammates.”

And channeling his inner Klinsmann:

bundesliga.com: How important is it for you that these players are playing in Germany, as opposed to the MLS for example?

Berhalter: “The Bundesliga is a top league in the world so that’s taken into consideration when you consider a player’s performance. For us to be a top team in the world we need players performing in top leagues in the world, so that’s one of the issues we’re faced with. This is a high-level programme and if you can perform here that means you’re a high-level player.”

Plenty more in there on a few other key Americans (John Brooks, Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, Haji Wright) in Deutschland. On this side of the pond, putting together the January camp with almost exclusively MLS players is always an interesting task ($).

Etc.: Ian Ayre’s move across the pond sees the Liverpool Arena and Convention Center name a new chair to replace him. … Nascar will be joining soccer at the Fairgrounds after a long hiatus. … Richie Ledezma transfer to PSV shows that USL (Real Monarchs in this case) can be a path to Europe, though there’s probably something to be said for the MLS team that invested in his development losing him on a free transfer being bad for the long run. … Learn how to build a club. Surely it’s very easy.

As always, thanks for reading. Share buttons below.

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Two 2019 Nashville SC fixtures announced

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Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

We’ll have to keep waiting to know the full schedule, but the dates of two Nashville SC games have been released: The Boys in Gold will host expansion club Loudoun United (DC United’s new USL affiliate) March 9 on the league’s opening weekend, and will also serve as the home debut for Ottawa Fury April 6.

NSC opened the regular season on the road in Louisville in its inaugural USL season, falling 2-0 to the eventual USL champions. The home opener came the following weekend against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, with Nissan Stadium serving as the home venue for a 0-0 draw. NSC earned its first road and home wins, respectively, in the subsequent games with a 1-0 victory over Bethlehem Steel and 2-0 result over Charlotte Independence at First Tennessee Park.

The opening weekend of the season has moved up a week to accommodate for a second-straight 34-game season with fewer midweek fixtures required (the regular season will span 33 weeks next year). Other home teams for the weekend are:

  • Atlanta United 2 (v. Hartford Athletic)
  • Birmingham Legion (v. Bethlehem Steel)
  • Charleston Battery (v. Ottawa Fury)
  • Memphis 901 FC (v. Tampa Bay Rowdies)
  • New York Red Bulls II (v. Swope Park Rangers)
  • North Carolina FC (v. Louisville City)
  • St. Louis FC (v. Indy Eleven)

Assuming – certainly unfairly – that returning teams are better than newly established clubs, and that the table will work out reasonably similarly to how it did in 2018, Nashville SC stands a decent chance to begin 2019 atop the Eastern Conference table. Charleston Battery is the only other Eastern Conference team with a home game against a team that did not make the playoffs last year.

The Graphical: Nashville SC 2-0 Ottawa Fury

Welcome (back) to The Graphical, in which I mine the Opta data for insights as to how Nashville SC’s most recent result came about. 

Your shift is on my team sheet

This was the second game in a row where Nashville reverted back to the 3-5-2 that they’d started the year playing. While they announced a 4-4-2 lineup, check out these average positions:

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Nashville SC is in black

That’s Liam Doyle (5) in the dead center, with Justin Davis (2) and London Woodberry (28) playing left and right centerback positions, respectively. Taylor Washington (23) and Ish Jome (11) are your wingbacks, while the three central midfielders actually remain relatively closely bunched – albeit with Lebo Moloto a touch ahead as the No. 10 in jersey and in role – and the strikers are close together, as well.

Gary Smith ran out this formation for much of preseason and then the first two regular season games… but scrapped it when the offensive output was struggling. He wanted to create more width, connecting through the midfield, and space to roam up top in the 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) that became the formation du jour.

So, why does it work to actually reinvigorate the offense at this point in the year? Let’s go to a few other illustrations to figure it out.

Making the most of Lebo

We know Lebo Moloto can shoot the ball, and shoot it pretty darn well at times. However, that’s actually not the strength of his game, and playing him as the second striker sort of forces him into that role: he has to shoot, because there’s only one option that’s going to be in a more dangerous position than him on a regular basis.

Here’s a little chart of my own, rather than one directly from Opta:

Year Goals Shots Key Passes Assists
2015 6 19 ?? 7
2016 1 28 ?? 1
2017 7 51 52 4
2015 5 46 40 4

As you can see, this is on pace to be one of his best years (almost certainly THE best, which is notable given he was a key player on the USL runners-up last year), but certainly with a bit of a different style of play: he has skewed toward scoring more than ever before.

Here’s what his game against Ottawa looked like, as he moved back to a No. 8/10 role with two true strikers ahead of him:

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That’s much more in line with what he’s done in his previous three USL seasons. Given that his best season came under current Nashville SC Technical Director Mike Jacobs when Jacobs held the same position at Swope Park Rangers, it’s more likely the role he was brought in to play from the get-go: he’s a creator, rather than a pure out-and-out scorer. (That also explains part of why it’s fit better to slide him to the wing and play two strikers when still using the 4-4-2, as well).

 

What else changes?

It should come as no surprise that, with two wingbacks who are tasked with staying wide and getting up and down the field (but with more freedom on the “up” part than they have in the 4-4-2, and also more responsibility to create the width that is sacrificed without wide midfielders), Nashville SC’s gameplan involved a lot of crosses. Enter Tucker Hume, the Big Bird-esque target striker to bring those crosses in. The personnel and gameplan matched up well.

That’s a heck of a lot of crosses, and as you can see, many of them came from the left foot of Taylor Washington (two successful, 11 unsuccessful, three chances created). The image on the right is offensive-third touches for the strikers (Hume, Brandon Allen, and Ropapa Mensah). While we know those guys can create a little bit – in Hume’s case, more than most opponents expect – but in this game, they were able to spend a bit more time hanging out in the box, because they ball was being crossed in to them.

This wasn’t necessarily the best gameplan for the team, or the best personnel to trot out. For this game, it certainly ended up that way, though, and the combination of great personnel and a solid gameplan is less impactful than the fact that each of those was the right fit for the other. Ottawa ran an even backline (and we’ve previously seen that Nashville’s cross-happy gameplan has typically been used more against odd backlines), so it’ll be a tactical chess match to watch as NSC matches up with different formations and ideas from the opponents going forward.

The downsides

Playing two true strikers – and without one like Moloto, who can track back to defend or sink for the ball like Moloto – there is going to be some connectivity lost in the passing game and in defending. That’s not too big a deal because you are now granted the opportunity to play one of the midfielders higher up the pitch, as long as the wingbacks can track along the entire sideline (both offensive and defensive zones) to maintain width.

This formation does make for an awkward fit for some personnel, though: Where does Alan Winn fit in? He’ll have to carve out a role as that No. 10 (probably the backup to Moloto) or develop a bit more ruthless an edge as an out-and-out striker who isn’t quite as tasked with creating. While Ish Jome started at right wingback, it’s a bit of a shoehorn for him (he’s a left-sided player who’s been far more comfortable over there to this point in his NSC career), and while left wingback is a possibility, it means there’s a bit of a potential logjam over there with Washington and Ryan James also left-sided wingbacks and only Kosuke Kimura on the right (though obviously Jome can be on the right, and James can play on that side, as well). That’s less a “there’s not a spot for a particular guy” and more a “this makes for a weird depth chart over there.”

While this does make it easier for Matt LaGrassam to play a more natural central role, that means there’s once again a situation where we have three bodies for two central defensive midfield spots – in this game, it meant Bolu Akinyode was relegated to the bench until Nashville went with a defense-heavy lineup for the final 10 minutes. Again, less a “weird fit” and more a “makes it tough to get good players on the field” problem (which is the better problem to have, obviously).

Thanks as always for reading FCAC. Please feel free to share our social media posts with a friend who is interested in learning about the team and reading in-depth coverage of Nashville SC.

Preview: Nashville SC v. Ottawa Fury 2018

Payback time? Nashville missed a likely game-winning penalty kick, suffered three injuries and a red card, and lost 2-0 in the Great White North just a few weeks ago. Can they earn revenge over Ottawa Fury this evening?

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Will former Fury striker Tucker Hume take the field against his old club? Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The essentials

Opponent: Ottawa Fury (9-9-4 USL). 22 GF, 27 GA so far in 2018, 8th in USL East, 7th in USL East Power Ratings and 21st in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: OTT (D-W-L-W-W) NSH (D-L-W-L-L)
The Line: Nashville SC +121, Ottawa Fury +219, Draw +186
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 84ºF, 0% chance of rain, 35% humidity, 10 MPH Easterly winds
Tailgate: With The Assembly here, Music City Supporters at Germantown Depot, with the Roadies at Pastime.
Watch: In Person! Locally on MyTV30, stream with a subscription to ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, #NSHvOTT
Elsewhere: You’re currently reading literally the only outlet that covers the team, apparently.

Ottawa Fury

Here’s what I had about the Fury last time around:

As of today, this team is better than it appears. While it took until their seventh game to get an average-or-better performance (and their first win, a 1-0 road result over Penn FC), they’ve been below-average only four times in the 11 games since then: they’ve rounded into form in a major way.

When you look at their defense (23 goals allowed in 18 games), it may not seem good on its face. Drill it down further once again, though, and 14 of those goals were allowed in their first five games: in the 13 since, they’ve allowed just nine goals, four of them in a 4-2 barn-burning loss to Charlotte Independence on the road. The offense has hardly lit the world on fire regardless of location (they’ve scored three goals twice, against NYRBII and TFCII, both pretty poor defensive teams), and when accounting for quality of opposition has actually been quite a bit worse at home.

So they’re getting it done defensively, and that effort is led by keeper Maxime Crepeau, who has shockingly not been named to the Best XI of the Week list once this year (though nor has Matt Pickens – it’s a lot of not paying attention going on with that vote), despite being the “bench” keeper four times. He’s tied for third in the league with eight clean sheets – it’s also frustrating that you can’t look up save percentage rankings for keepers in USL’s stats engines, but I would imagine his .762 success rate is up there. He’s helped in a major way by a very strong back four defensively: Colin Falvey and Nana Attakora are both outstanding centerbacks (though Falvey has been banged-up lately, ceding his spot to Thomas Meuilleur-Giguère), and left back Onua Obasi has been a multiple Team of the Week selection.

As I mentioned above, news of their offensive renaissance has been greatly exaggerated: they’ve been shut out in two of their last three home matches, and they’ve only scored multiple times in five games (against Atlanta 2, Toronto II, Penn FC, New York II, and North Carolina), and one of those was in a loss. It’s fairly common to keep them from scoring twice or more, and if they don’t hit that mark, the defense is solid-not-elite enough to keep high-scoring teams off the board – alas, Nashville is certainly not such a team.

The offensive effort is led by Steevan Dos Santos’s four marks, while Adonijah Reid and Kévin Oliveira are the only other multi-goal scorers with three apiece. All three of Reid’s came in the game against New York Red Bulls II, for which he was named to the team of the week. Right winger Carl Haworth has been in-and-out of the lineup with minor injuries lately, but when on the pitch, he’s the team’s captain. He was also the goal-scorer and the near-assist man in the preseason friendly between these sides. He’s tied for the team lead with two assists, alongside Dos Santos and Tony Taylor.

Ottawa has been mixing up formations a bit, but when they have the full squad, prefer either a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 (perhaps a semantic difference, with Haworth playing pretty high on the right side either way).

Nashville was unable to solve the defense last time around – which is hardly shameful, but was certainly disappointing – and it’s probably gotten even better with the addition of former NSC defender David Edgar, who I would expect to play for his new club (and against his old one) this evening.

“Ottawa have, after a difficult start, have shown all of the qualities that I think a postseason team should have,” Nashville head coach Gary Smith said. “They’re very difficult to play against. They’ve got some experience. They’re well-organized, they’re tough to break down. They’ve got some tough individuals, and they’re a very good counterattacking side with some decent attacking options. And they’re in good form.

“They’re confident, so they’ve got all of the credentials to be in that top eight. Again, the real challenge for us is going to be with a team around us, and as we go into this final 10-12 games or so, we’re going to start to find that there are more and more of those teams that are desperate for points. A victory for us keeps us a game in hand over them and three points in front. Outside of that, the race gets tighter and tighter. We have to do everything we possibly can to win the game, to put some daylight between us, and to make the challenge for them that much more difficult in the final stretch.”

The offense didn’t get much going against NSC last time around until after several injuries (and then the red card). The composition of it is still basically the same. Will it have the same results against Nashville SC in First Tennessee Park? And presuming the injury luck doesn’t hit in an incredible way? We shall see.

The Boys in Gold

Last time around, I said that Nashville SC would try out a new formation because they would be without Bolu Akinyode – the latter turned out to be true, but the former didn’t. This time, we should see an NSC team that’s back to full health for the first time since, well, about the fourth minute of the game in Ottawa.

Nashville needs to win, it needs to make a statement. We’ll see as close to a full-strength lineup (I’m predicting no Bradley Bourgeois as he continues recovering from injury) as possible.

We should also see a new face. The meager offense of Nashville is due for an injection of energy, and Wednesday signing Kris Tyrpak can provide exactly that. He’s an impact scorer, the release was not-so-subtle that he’d be in the squad tonight… it’s mostly a matter of where exactly he’ll be lining up. Smith gave some pretty enlightening statements there:

Kris was available to try and add to the group, and what he gives us, as I said in the week, it gives us goal scoring options from the wide area,” he explained. “We’re a team, if anything has left us a little bit short, it’s been our ability to score goals or convert. Plenty of other good areas to our group, but hopefully Kris will add another dimension and can chip in with two or three goals towards this run here.

Sounds like a winger role, with other wing options coming off the bench – though I maintain that as a second striker or attacking midfielder he can make a similar impact.

Projected lineups

Here’s what I’m looking for:

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There’s flexibility between Moloto and Typak, with either capable of being the withdrawn striker or the right winger (for the lefty Tyrpak, that’d be for a finishing role rather than a crossing one). Some switching between the two is likely, especially if things aren’t going well at a given moment.

As mentioned above, I’m thinking Bourgeois gets another weekend off, but otherwise it’s a full-strength lineup.

Predictions

Last time around, I thought Ottawa would have a hard time scoring, but would bag one late. That was essentially the case… the issue was that Nashville also had a hard time scoring, then had injurypocalypse happen. I project that won’t take place again.

  • Nashville has a tough time scoring again… but slightly less so (even with a reinforced defensive unit for Ottawa).
  • Your subs: Ropapa Mensah replaces Tucker Hume (55′; I’m going to keep predicting this one until it happens), Taylor Washington replaces Ish Jome (65′), Alan Winn replaces Kris Tyrpak (73′).
  • Whichever combination of Moloto, Tyrpak, and the true wingers (starting Jome, with Washington and Winn both playing) will be pretty fluid whomever is on the field. There can be interchanging between that reserved striker and either wing, given Tyrpak and Moloto’s flexibility. The front group will probably be a bit more exciting (and difficult for the opponent and fans to figure out) than we’ve grown accustomed to lately.
  • Michael Reed is your game-winning goalscorer on a long blast after Nashville has made all three subs (but not too long after).

Nashville wins 1-0. The offensive struggles aren’t going to be solved in the first game with a new signing, even if Tyrpak is the answer to fixing it. Still, Nashville’s defense at home is nigh impenetrable (just three goals allowed, two to Indy and one against Penn after the game was decided), and I think they can find offense inside First Tennessee.

Mistakes, depleted lineup doom Nashville SC in Canada

Don’t forget to vote in the community player ratings from this game. It takes just a few minutes and is completely anonymous (and gives you a chance to vent, perhaps). Trying to get the breakdown and ratings post up this evening or tomorrow morning, so don’t delay!

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Alan Winn’s missed penalty was a tough pill to swallow. Ryan Lassan/For Club and Country

Through about 81 minutes in Ottawa Saturday evening, the proceedings were unfolding perhaps not in an ideal fashion for Nashville SC, but certainly in such way that fans would deem the result acceptable.

The Boys in Gold created the majority of the realistic scoring chances, and following an Ottawa handball in the box, had a penalty opportunity to finally earn the lead – and likely take all three points back to Nashville. From there, things didn’t go as planned. Forwards Alan Winn and Brandon Allen couldn’t agree over who would take the strike, and though Winn won the argument, he lost the war by hitting the crossbar. The ball stayed out, and the game remained level.

Ottawa would draw first blood a minute into stoppage time when Tony Taylor received a pull-back pass on the left edge of the six-yard box and blasted it past Matt Pickens.

Insult was added to injury when, after a red card to NSC’s London Woodberry for a second yellow card put Nashville a man down to close the match, Kévin Oliveira stole a ball from midfielder Matt LaGrassa and launched from the top of the box to give the Fury a comfortable victory.

There was plenty of injury in a literal sense, as well. Defender Bradley Bourgeois and midfielder Michael Reed both left the contest after taking knocks, and with Tucker Hume having replaced Taylor Washington earlier in the contest, Nashville didn’t have any subs remaining to make when Pickens suffered a back injury. Fortunately, the veteran keeper was able to continue, but it wasn’t his day (or at least final several minutes).

The loss continues a bit of a slide for Nashville, which now stands 1-3-1 in its last five games (and were on a 4-0-4 unbeaten run in league play prior to that). More level heads have prevailed after a re-watch – on the road, with starters Bolu Akinyode and Ropapa Mensah unavailable due to travel complications, Lebo Moloto an unused substitute, multiple injuries to starters, and of course the red card – but that simply means it’s a bad result, rather than a terrible one.

The team has its next opportunity to round back into form Wednesday evening, with a second visit in a month from Atlanta United 2. The Baby Five Stripes are second-bottom in the USL East, and Nashville defeated them 3-0 last time they visited First Tennessee Park. After that, a trip to Toronto for a Saturday match against Toronto FC II should definitively end the slide – or point out that it’s much more serious.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 45’+1 Half time.
  • 57′ NSH Yellow card – 20 Matt LaGrassa (foul)
  • 60′ NSH Substitution – On 12 Tucker Hume, off 23 Taylor Washington
  • 64′ NSH Yellow Card – 28 London Woodberry (foul)
  • 67′ OTT Substitution – On 30 Adonijah Reid, off 11 Daniel Haber
  • 70′ NSH Substitution – On 7 Ryan James, off 17 Michael Reed
  • 74′ OTT Substitution – On 5 Chris Mannella, off 22 Jamar Dixon
  • 79′ NSH Substitution – On 27 Kosuke Kimura, off 22 Bradley Bourgeois
  • 83′ OTT Substitution – On 24 Jimmy-Shammar Sanon, off 8 Steevan Dos Santos
  • 90’+1 OTT GOAL – 9 Tony Taylor (left foot), assist to 24 Jimmy-Shammar Sanon
  • 90’+4 NSH RED CARD – 28 London Woodberry (second yellow, foul)
  • 90’+6 OTT GOAL – Kévin Oliveira (left foot), assist to 24 Jimmy-Shammar Sanon
  • 90’+6 Full time.

Preview: Nashville SC @ Ottawa Fury 2018

Nashville makes its first foray north of the border (only this season, in fact, with next weekend’s game “at” Toronto taking place in Rochester, N.Y. instead) of the season. Ottawa Fury started limply but had rounded into form. What should we expect?

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Will former Fury striker Tucker Hume take the field against his old club? Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The essentials

Opponent: Ottawa Fury (7-8-3 USL). 17 GF, 23 GA so far in 2018, 10th in USL East, 8th in USL East Power Ratings and 24th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: OTT (W-L-W-L-W) NSH (L-D-W-L-W)
The Line: Nashville SC +162, Ottawa Fury +142, Draw +220
Time, Location: 6:00 p.m. CDT (7:00 local)  • Ottawa, Ontario
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 84ºF, 0% chance of rain, 35% humidity, 10 MPH Easterly winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, stream with a subscription to ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely. Assembly at Tailgate Demonbreun, Roadies at Pastime ot Party Fowl Murfreesboro
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, #OTTvNSH
Etc.: Light week ’round these parts.
Elsewhere: Golden Goal preview.

Ottawa Fury

As of today, this team is better than it appears. While it took until their seventh game to get an average-or-better performance (and their first win, a 1-0 road result over Penn FC), they’ve been below-average only four times in the 11 games since then: they’ve rounded into form in a major way.

“Ottawa have done a great job after a really rough start of being one of the most competitive teams in the league,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “They give up
few goals, they’ve got a home field that is not easy to play on or at. It’s a turf field, they play it well and have a particular mind set and style about them and I think they’ve really gotten into a groove in that aspect.”

When you look at their defense (23 goals allowed in 18 games), it may not seem good on its face. Drill it down further once again, though, and 14 of those goals were allowed in their first five games: in the 13 since, they’ve allowed just nine goals, four of them in a 4-2 barn-burning loss to Charlotte Independence on the road. The offense has hardly lit the world on fire regardless of location (they’ve scored three goals twice, against NYRBII and TFCII, both pretty poor defensive teams), and when accounting for quality of opposition has actually been quite a bit worse at home.

So they’re getting it done defensively, and that effort is led by keeper Maxime Crepeau, who has shockingly not been named to the Best XI of the Week list once this year (though nor has Matt Pickens – it’s a lot of not paying attention going on with that vote), despite being the “bench” keeper four times. He’s tied for third in the league with eight clean sheets – it’s also frustrating that you can’t look up save percentage rankings for keepers in USL’s stats engines, but I would imagine his .762 success rate is up there. He’s helped in a major way by a very strong back four defensively: Colin Falvey and Nana Attakora are both outstanding centerbacks (though Falvey has been banged-up lately, ceding his spot to Thomas Meuilleur-Giguère), and left back Onua Obasi has been a multiple Team of the Week selection.

As I mentioned above, news of their offensive renaissance has been greatly exaggerated: they’ve been shut out in two of their last three home matches, and they’ve only scored multiple times in five games (against Atlanta 2, Toronto II, Penn FC, New York II, and North Carolina), and one of those was in a loss. It’s fairly common to keep them from scoring twice or more, and if they don’t hit that mark, the defense is solid-not-elite enough to keep high-scoring teams off the board – alas, Nashville is certainly not such a team.

The offensive effort is led by Steevan Dos Santos’s four marks, while Adonijah Reid and Kévin Oliveira are the only other multi-goal scorers with three apiece. All three of Reid’s came in the game against New York Red Bulls II, for which he was named to the team of the week. Right winger Carl Haworth has been in-and-out of the lineup with minor injuries lately, but when on the pitch, he’s the team’s captain. He was also the goal-scorer and the near-assist man in the preseason friendly between these sides. He’s tied for the team lead with two assists, alongside Dos Santos and Tony Taylor.

Ottawa has been mixing up formations a bit, but when they have the full squad, prefer either a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 (perhaps a semantic difference, with Haworth playing pretty high on the right side either way).

The Boys in Gold

I think we’ll see a new formation out of Nashville. Against a punchless offensive team, but one whose defense is very stout, NSC should try to be a little bit more forward-thinking. Dropping to one defensive midfielder and going to a 4-1-4-1 (a.k.a. 4-5-1) or even a riskier 4-1-3-2 seem like distinct possibilities to me.

This team needs a way to step up the offensive output, and Ottawa won’t be an easy team to do it against with the same formation and tactics we’ve been seeing. A minor shakeup in personnel (against a team that shouldn’t score easily either way) should help accomplish that.

“I think we have to go in probably not the same we’ve have been going in,” defender Ryan James said. “Every game, we need to go in not saying we need to tie or hold them to a 0-0 tie, but with the mentality to win the game and score goals, so we need to start out on the right foot. I’ll say we’re going in with the same mentality we have and we need to execute a little bit better than last game coming from Charlotte.”

That sounds like a team that plans to mix things up just a bit. I’m speculating a bit on the method and means of that shakeup, naturally, but one is coming. Given that I don’t expect to see Bolu Akinyode, one CDM makes sense (especially when a more traditional midfielder like Matt LaGrassa can slide back to help cover, as well).

That said, I do think the hand-wringing about the state of the attack is a little overdone. A little bad luck here and there can really make an enormous difference in a sport where three goals is a great output: the high variance of a single moment in the game helps overrate a team’s ability to replicate the creating of those moments – and the creating is much more highly correlated with future success than even the finishing of those created chances.

“I don’t want to dip from [our] standards and the players don’t,” Gary Smith said of recent results, “Sometimes you have to refocus and look at a couple areas of the game again that have gotten away from us slightly and come back sharp and ready to get back on track this weekend.”

While Ottawa is greatly improved from the beginning of the year, this isn’t a horrible opponent to do just that against.

Projected lineups

Here’s what I’m look for:

IMG_1597E6EF36B1-1

Captain Reed is your lone defensive midfielder, while Lebo Moloto and Matt LaGrassa continue working the chemistry that they’ve been building recently. You could also see this look more like a 4-1-3-2 with Moloto pushed up top with Allen, and the fullbacks pushing a little bit higher up the pitch in possession.

Ropapa Mensah, a winger, and potentially another defender are your substitutions (possibly another striker, with Tucker Hume a possibility against his former club).

Predictions

I don’t see Ottawa scoring, but naturally projecting a big offensive day from NSC is a fool’s errand, as well.

  • Allen breaks a bit of an unlucky streak and gets the scoring going on an assist from Ish Jome early in the game.
  • Nashville pushes the wings really high trying to generate some crossing-oriented offense, opening some gaps for Haworth to run into. There are scary moments (especially with Reed playing solo as a defensive midfielder), but nothing much doing for the Fury.
  • The second half of the game is more open than you’d expect with Nashville holding a lead. Gary Smith continues to push for more – and it pays off with Mensah getting on the scoresheet off an individual effort, though there’s also a moment where Ottawa has a great chance, with Oliveira feeding Taylor, whether the shot actually goes in or not is more a matter of Pickens and luck than of NSC’s defensive acumen in front of the keeper.
  • The game slows to a slog late, with Nashville trying to continue holding that lead.

Nashville wins, 2-1. This is obviously not the type of scoreline we expect from Nashville (multiple goals! opponent scores in a loss!), but I do think a slightly more aggressive formation is likely, without all CDMs available, and the Boys in Gold simply want to show they’ve got the ability to put the ball in the net. With two easy opponents coming up, a calculated risk can still lead to a win in Canada’s capital.