The Wrap(s): Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0-1 Nashville SC, Nashville SC 3-1 Penn FC

After each USL game – or sometimes after two in a row! – I provide a handy recap of all the content related to that outing so you can find everything you need to get knowledgable about what went down. As always, if I missed anything, hit the comments, or the inbox via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail

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Waning stages of the win over Penn FC. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

So as to ensure I’m not burying the lede here, for his efforts in both games, Brandon Allen was named the USL’s player of the week. He’s NSC’s first-ever recipient of the award (second nominee after Lebo Moloto’s brace against Louisville City just a couple weeks ago).

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Local Content

 

Game story:

Playing Pittsburgh’s game (the Riverhounds dominated possession, and only two of Nashville’s 10 shots were on-target) and still coming away with a win is indicative of Smith’s ability to adapt in the second matchup against the same team – the Boys in Gold also beat Louisville City FC 2-0 at First Tennessee Park after a 2-0 road loss to begin the year.

“Really good win: really, really tough place to play,” Smith said.

Much more there.

Don’t forget you can always vote in the community ratings. The results thereof are included in the Breakdown and Ratings, in which I named Matt Pickens MOTM:

Matt Pickens 14.36 (98 minutes) – Community rating: 8.33

Pickens definitely was not perfect. He had some sketchy moments dealing with back-passes from teammates, and came out awkwardly to deal with a cross or two. At least one Pittsburgh effort would have beaten him if it’d been on-target. However, the rare shots the Riverhounds didn’t miss the frame with were handled by the veteran keeper, including after one of those goofs by a teammate. He was strong in dealing with corner kicks, his distribution was solid (especially on a night when “put it over the top of the defense” was an important tactic), and at the end of the day, the Hounds had zero goals, despite an NSC defense that wasn’t always great in front of Pickens.

He was good, folks. You can see the rest of the players’ ratings by clicking through above.

Elsewhere – Blogdom

Golden Goal match story and player ratings.

Elsewhere – Newsy things

USL site recap. DK Pittsburgh Sports on the match.

Penn FC

Local Content

Halftime reset:

It’s worth noting that, like they did in Harrisburg, Nashville’s players dominated the run of play. They had nearly 60% of possession, and while they were outshot 6-4, it certainly felt like a reluctance to pull the trigger on shots (like we saw in the previous game) played a bigger role in that disparity than Penn FC’s play.

…and the game story:

Nashville’s opening goal showed how slim the margins can be between utter disappointment and a cruise to victory. Once Allen’s ball found the net, it seemed the pressure left the pitch, with NSC more able to play freely. Moloto’s goal only made it a two-score advantage, but from that point forward, it felt like a rout.

The postgame presser video. Don’t forget about those community player ratings, and the results – as always – were included in the breakdown and ratings. Unsurprisingly (given he’s potentially the USL player of the week), Brandon Allen was your MOTM:

Brandon Allen 20.51 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 8.75

As I alluded to yesterday, Allen had about the closest thing as a striker can to a perfect outing. There were a couple missed opportunities (a Matt LaGrassa early cross hit him right in the numbers, but he couldn’t control the chest for an open shot at the top of the 18, for example), but it’s hard to fault him for not doing everything perfectly. He worries opposing backlines, making more room for Moloto and the midfield, and even if that were his only contribution, he’d be a valuable addition. Instead, he’s also dunking speculative crosses and dishing out assists on golazos. Oh, and being a factor in the high press in a big way – which is especially encouraging because that’s something he had the reputation for not doing at Bethlehem at the beginning of this year.

Community comment: “Best performance from anyone this year!”

See the rest of the players’ reviews at the link. “As I alluded to yesterday?,” you ask? That was The Graphical. Best of all, though (at least in my opinion), is the Film Room piece on Lebo Moloto’s banger to open the second half. A true team goal with a moment of individual brilliance to tie it all together:

Check it out (and follow the Gram while you’re there).

Elsewhere – Blogdom

Music City Soccer game story, and a little column on Gary Smith’s apparent beef with Penn FC coach Raoul Voss. Golden Goal game story and ratingsBrotherly Game with the view from the other touchline.

Elsewhere – Newsy things

USL official site game story. The league also touches on the game as it relates to the bigger picture (at the bottom), and some in the notebookPenn Live doesn’t have a good feel for game flow, given that there was never really a comeback chance. USA Today Network Tennessee on the game.

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From the Film Room: Lebo Golazo, round two

You may recall the original Lebo Golazo from the friendly match against Orlando City.

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Nashville SC had its way with Penn FC Saturday evening, whether playing a direct style of ball or working it through the middle in the possession game. After a simple “cross, finish” goal to open the scoring in the first half, things were quite a bit more tiki-taka for the second.

Let’s break down how it happened.

The situation

NSC leads 1-0 shortly after halftime. Penn has made one halftime sub: taking out defensive midfielder Miguel Jaime and replacing him with Damn Metzger. In a game that featured a few different formation concepts from the City Islanders, they’re now in a fairly rigid 4-1-4-1 with centerback Ken Tribbett cast in the defensive midfielder role.

Nashville SC is in possession after a through-ball from Penn FC finds only the hands of keeper Matt Pickens. Where we pick up, midfielder Matt LaGrassa has the ball, and passes it wide to left fullback Justin Davis.

Video

(I recommend watching once, reading the prose, then re-watching as many times as needed to put the words with the pictures).

What happens

The video has a bit of illustration here (still working to improve presentation with a mediocre chalkboard program, bear with me), but I’ll break it down verbally and embed the video again below.

The first key portion of the play comes from a solid moment of individual brilliance from Davis: he touches the ball around Aaron Dennis, Penn’s right midfielder, and beats him to the other side. This puts Davis and NSC left midfielder Ish Jome in a 2-on-2 with Dennis and right back Marco Franco, but Dennis is trailing both of them. When Jome pushes forward, CDM Ken Tribbett has to step up to prevent him from dribbling into space.  That turns a major numbers advantage for Penn FC – six defenders for four NSC offensive players, one of whom is a fullback – into a bit more even a matchup. Even when Davis trips over Dennis’s leg, he’s occupying both Franco and Dennis, leaving Jome in easy position to find an opening around Tribbett to push the ball forward to Lebo Moloto.

Here’s where Tribbett’s playing out of position makes things tougher for Penn. He’s used to playing centerback, where if he gets passed around like that, the space is much more constricted. At his usual position, that pass from Jome is probably for naught, because either the keeper can come off hiss line to cut it out, or there’s not enough space inside the box for the eventual give-and-go. As a midfielder, he needs to work harder to either prevent Jome from comfortably completing that pass, or bother Moloto once the pass arrives so he can’t execute the give-and-go. Tribbett lacks either the mentality or the mobility for the assignment at this position.

Moloto receiving the ball in tons of space means that centerback Thiago Calvano has to step up, instead of playing a bit more conservative a technique (like he’d probably prefer). When Moloto passes the ball to Allen and immediately makes a run past Calvano, you can see why the CB would rather be a bit less aggressive: he’s caught moving in the wrong direction and Moloto easily runs past him for the return service.

I’d like to quickly pause and point out something else from the video here. I put checkmarks on both Richard Menjivar for Penn and Taylor Washington for Nashville, even though they were initially not involved in the play. Menjivar would work back defensively, but arrive too late to be of much service to Tribbett in helping contain Jome. Washington’s run, on the other hand, makes this play happen much more than he’ll get credit for (and I think I didn’t credit him in the player ratings, so… sorry, Taylor).

Washington makes a run down the sideline even though he knows he’s not getting the ball. This is something that’s so hard to teach to less experienced players (or, as the manager of an adult co-ed rec team, people who are older than Washington and have been playing their whole lives, not that I’m salty or anything). He knows that his movement is to create space for other players, rather than himself. With a free run down the sideline and nobody marking him even from a trail position, Washington draws some of the attention of left back Pedro Galvão, who would otherwise be man-marking Brandon Allen. With Washington coming down wide, Galvão can’t come up aggressively on Allen to either disrupt his receiving of Moloto’s initial pass, nor prevent Allen from taking a couple touches on the ball – he needs to be in position to sink onto Washington’s run if it becomes relevant. Without the ability to be more tightly marking Allen, NSC’s new signing has all the time in the world to take a couple touches to spring Moloto.

Of course, right centerback Kyle Venter is still in a spot where Moloto is his only mark (Jome is picked up by Franco when he continues his run after the initial pass to Moloto). However, he has to come from a wide position, and can’t arrive thanks to Moloto’s first-touch strike.

Of course, the striker itself deserves all sorts of credit: as much as this was an X-and-O bludgeoning by Nashville’s forwards and wide players, the simple technical brilliance of Moloto being able to take that shot first-time, place it perfectly and powerfully in the corner of the net, and do it all while seeming to not even think, just act… that makes the play. It’s a Jimmies-and-Joes win at the end of the day.

Video redux

The aftermath

NSC would bunker-counter a bit with the lead, and thanks to a couple uncharacteristic goalkeeper gaffes, would let Penn pull one back in the 76th. However, it wouldn’t take long for Alan Winn to seal the game with a rebound goal five minutes later.

The Boys in Gold would enjoy a comfortable 3-1 victory.

As always, thanks for visiting For Club and Country. Please follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and now Instagram to make sure you never miss an upset on Nashville SC or US Soccer.

Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 3-1 Penn FC

Nashville SC had its biggest offensive game yet – at least in USL competition – and held off Penn FC with relative ease. Whose performances were crucial?

Quick note: my ratings are score-based after a film review, and on a scale that… there’s technically no range but anything over 15 is generally good and under 9 or so is bad for a full game worth of performance. Community ratings are on a traditional 1-10 scale.

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Photo courtesy Nashville SC

Formation and tactics

Penn was shifting between an odd backline (3-5-1-1) and an even one (4-4-1-1) depending on the game situation – when they had the ball high up the pitch, they’d shift to have a sweeper in the middle, while one fullback would hang back and the other would make his way into the midfield. Nashville SC countered this by not adjusting anything, and sticking in its 4-4-2 the whole game.

There were some interesting things to watch within that 4-4-2, though. They started the game with a left winger and right winger who are both left-footed (Ish Jome and Taylor Washington, respectively), then the first sub took Jome off the field, and CDM Matt LaGrassa shifted out to the right side, Washington over to his natural left, and the sub, Bolu Akinyode, replaced LaGrassa as a central defensive midfielder. Later in the game, when Alan Winn came on, he played on the left side with LaGrassa remaining on the right, and we had the opposite of the situation at the beginning of the game: righties on both wings. (The third substitution was a like-for-like swap of Ropapa Mensah for Brandon Allen – but NSC did drop Lebo Moloto a little deeper into a 4-4-1-1 once the game was mostly decided after Alan Winn’s goal).

Once NSC built its two-goal lead, it went from a lot of pressure from the forwards and wingers (sometimes token pressure, sometimes actually trying to win the ball) into two blocks of four and the forwards sitting back absorbing pressure in their own defensive third. As I suspected when writing yesterday’s Graphical post, the Boys in Gold were out-possessed in the second half because it was their goal to let Penn waste its time kicking around the back with nowhere to penetrate: meaningful possession was limited, while total possession was built up nonetheless.

Penn did start threatening about midway through the second half, and I wonder if Gary Smith would go back to the token pressure (or at least push his forwards up to midfield in defensive postures) if he had it to do all over again: of course, Penn’s goal still came mostly against the run of play, but the opportunity to build up pressure from a short run of possession in the offensive third is something that Nashville was willing to concede for perhaps a little too long – and even then, it took a couple mistakes for them to finally find the back of the net.

I also talked about Penn’s building frustration in the second half in yesterday’s Graphical, and that bore itself out on the film review. Heinemann is more a whiner than a dirty player, but there were some pretty aggressive challenges (from him and others) that seemed more about making a statement that you could physically compete, even though Penn didn’t really stand as much a challenge on the scoreboard. (About which: lol Raoul Voss).

Gary Smith community rating: 8.88

Community comments:

  • “Three points!”
  • “I wish Smith would have gone a bit more for the throat with the two-goal lead, since he clearly was mad at Penn’s coach.”

Forward

Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Match:

Brandon Allen 20.51 (81 minutes) – Community rating: 8.75

As I alluded to yesterday, Allen had about the closest thing as a striker can to a perfect outing. There were a couple missed opportunities (a Matt LaGrassa early cross hit him right in the numbers, but he couldn’t control the chest for an open shot at the top of the 18, for example), but it’s hard to fault him for not doing everything perfectly. He worries opposing backlines, making more room for Moloto and the midfield, and even if that were his only contribution, he’d be a valuable addition. Instead, he’s also dunking speculative crosses and dishing out assists on golazos. Oh, and being a factor in the high press in a big way – which is especially encouraging because that’s something he had the reputation for not doing at Bethlehem at the beginning of this year.

Community comment: “Best performance from anyone this year!”

Lebo Moloto 17.58 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 9.00

Moloto was pretty quiet in the first half, and was more up-and-down than we’ve seen on any sort of regular basis (he really seems like he needs a bit of rest). However, he also showed his potential when he found the game a bit. He made some pretty impressive forward runs, was active in the press until NSC stopped pushing up the field, and of course, scored the aforementioned golazo. He did a little bit of his early-season “over-dribble or try to squeeze a pass through a tiny window” routine early, but when he has the confidence to get the ball to open players or shoot when he has opportunities, he’s a major asset.

Ropapa Mensah 4.62 (14 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

This is a really good score in my system, given how few minutes Mensah played. He’s looking more match-fit (though knowing he only has 11 minutes of regulation to play, and there’s no need to conserve energy, may play into that), and had a bunch of long runs to force Peiser to play balls that he would rather not have. Then of course, he almost chipped the keeper for a goal after a strong turn in the box (the play that resulted in Winn’s goal), and should have added an assist at the death (the play that, uh, didn’t).

Defenders

Justin Davis 19.31 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25

Davis was very nearly man of the match. He was eclipsed by Allen both on the scoreboard and by the eyeball test, but he was the engine for a lot of NSC’s best chances. His touch around a defender, then dish to Michael Reed on Moloto’s wündergoal was impressive, he was dangerous up the sideline (playing him as a centerback is doable, but takes away one of his best assets; fortunately he hasn’t has to play there much lately), and he didn’t have to make too many backtracking runs and sliding tackles – though the one he did make was impressive. He was clearly gassed at the very end of the game, but his communication skills are really helping younger guys improve, too.

Bradley Bourgeois 17.21 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.63

The book on Bourgeois is pretty much the same each week: a monster in the air much more than any player his size has right to be, and just inches away from a set-piece goal in every game (two in this one). He was physical with Tommy Heinemann, was able to box him out so balls could harmlessly go out for goal kicks, and generally got in his head. He also wasn’t responsible for any free runners in the box (of which there were a frustrating bunch).

Kosuke Kimura 14.80 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

A nice day for Kimura: the more he plays well, the more I’m convinced he just wasn’t 100% at the beginning of the year. He made a couple nice sideline runs in the first half that weren’t reward by service from Washington, shows a ton of energy getting forward (and tracking back), and has the best knack of anyone on the team of getting a foot up to block crosses.

Liam Doyle 12.71 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

Doyle is a walking headed clearance, and that’s what he did in this one. He did have a couple marks escape him entering the box, which resulted in chances for Penn FC. He also made a couple dangerous lateral passes when Bourgeois and Davis were under pressure, though fortunately those didn’t result in turnovers. He banged some long passes with great accuracy, and also had a couple more that were more speculative than anything. A solid day other than the lost marks.

 

Midfielders

 

Matt LaGrassa 16.67 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.38

LaGrassa played in multiple positions – starting in central defensive midfield and shifting out to the right wing for the rest of the game – and was good in both of them. He’s a more well-rounded player than either of the other CDMs to me, with the confidence of Reed and a touch closer to Akinyode’s (Akinyode might have the best touch on the team). He did make a couple big mental – completely missing a wide open player to pass out-of-bounds – and physical – whiffing a pass, giving Penn a dangerous rush near the top of the box – mistakes, but the adventurous qualities going forward are a good makeup. He tends to drift centrally even when playing on right wing, for what it’s worth.

Taylor Washington 11.33 (76 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75

On a re-watch, I thought there was less of an issue with Washington being unwilling to cross with his right foot than I’d thought live. He didn’t cut in to shoot at all, though, and with Jome really liking to do that, flipping the wingers might have been a better way to start the game. Washington was really active in the press, and is using his defense to get involved offensively even when teammates aren’t hitting his long runs. With a full 95 minutes, he might have ended the top-rated midfielder.

Michael Reed 10.44 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25

The central defensive midfielders weren’t that involved in this one (hilariously, Voss’s team tried to bypass the midfield to generate its offense much of the game… good pregame smack talk, bro), so Reed’s meager score was mostly a result of low volume. Letting LaGrassa be the more ball-dominant CDM when they were at the position group together played a role in that, too. There were a couple instances tracking back defensively where he needed to show a bit more urgency, but that’s hardly the greatest sin.

Ismaila Jome 7.00 (61 minutes) – Community rating: 8.50

Most of Jome’s negatives were a matter of not being on the same page as his teammates – the natural consequence of being a mid-season addition. He left a couple passes thinking that they weren’t intended for him, made a run other than what was expected, or passed to a player who was zigging when Jome expected the zag. That’s about it for the negatives, though. He really likes to get shots off, which might make you think he’s a better fit on the other side (as I said in Washington’s section), but when you see the inch-perfect placement of the cross on the assist to Allen, you get why he’s over here.

Alan Winn 2.14 (19 minutes) – Community rating: 8.00

Winn’s goal was simply cleaning up the garbage – as I’ve said previously, that’s not a bad thing: you want guys on the goalmouth to make the plays that are available there – on his goal, though he might have been considered offside if the ball had come to him on the initial blocked shot, rather than it ricocheting off a second Penn player (offside rule notes: he’s benefitting from being in an offside position on Mensah’s shot if the blocking of the shot gets him the ball; it’s not benefitting directly from Mensah’s “service” if it’s played back in – even inadvertently – by a Penn player). He’s also learned a lot defensively, and you could see him listening and adjusting to instruction from Davis: that’s a guy who’s improving a lot, and quickly. His only big negative was the final kick of the game being a whiff. Use the left foot, son!

Bolu Akinyode 1.73 (34 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

I thought Akinyode was fairly poor right when he came onto the field: he was muscled off the ball by a smaller midfielder, he had a patented leisurely jog back that gave Penn FC numbers in the NSC box, and zipped a pass over the middle from his own defensive end to a well-defended player who had no chance to receive it. Akinyode quickly settled down, but with barely more than a third of the game played (and Nashville willing to sit back and bunker/counter in his time), there wasn’t time to build up positive scoring.

 

 

 

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 10.59 (95 minutes) – Community rating: 8.13

Pickens was not tested early, coming off his line to cut out a semi-dangerous cross and making a casual save (on a spinning volley) his only first-half action. It was… a bit different after the break, when Nashville got the early insurance goal and was willing to let Penn FC possess a ton in hopes that the strong D would hold. It mostly did… but Pickens had howlers back-to-back that led to the goal. First, he almost had an own-goal on an easy save that snuck between his arms (fortunately, he made the kick save on himself), then on the eventual ensuing corner, he misjudged the initial service, lost his balance and fell down adjusting when he realized where it was headed, and made a bizarre falling attempt on the ball while it was easily headed past him. In between, of course, he had one of the saves of the year: he had the rare -2, +2, -2 plays (anything other than -1, 0, or +1 is rare in my system) on back-to-back-to-back events.

Thanks for participating in the community ratings. Check back after each USL game for your opportunity to participate!

Nashville SC hits new scoring high in home romp over Penn FC

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NASHVILLE – It’d be fair to say that Nashville SC’s two newest signings have paid off already for the Boys in Gold. Ish Jome assisted Brandon Allen on the doorstep to open the scoring in the 36th minute against Penn FC:

Shortly after the halftime break, Allen continued his run of form, assisting fellow striker Lebo Moloto for a bar-down strike at the top of the 18-yard box:

It was a far cry from Nashville’s previous meeting with Penn FC, in which the Boys in Gold created numerous opportunities, but squandered them with inaccurate passing, shots off-target, and giveaways inside the opposing penalty area. Of course, the game featured plenty of that early – and from both sides – with Matt LaGrassa’s early cross to Allen left wanting when the striker couldn’t control the chested trap, and Jome had a shot blocked from the top of the box in the first half, as well. Penn had their fair share of chances, with Richard Menjivar putting a shot on net (though after a twisting side-volley, without the necessary power to trouble Pickens), and Tommy Heinemann coming up inches short on an opportunity to slide one in from the top of the six-yard box.

Nashville’s opening goal showed how slim the margins can be between utter disappointment and a cruise to victory. Once Allen’s ball found the net, it seemed the pressure left the pitch, with NSC more able to play freely. Moloto’s goal only made it a two-score advantage, but from that point forward, it felt like a rout.

The Boys in Gold could have added to the lead in the 69th minute, when Matt LaGrassa’s low-angle shot from short range was punched away by Penn keeper Romu Peiser, but a number of players in the box couldn’t get a foot to it to bang one into the open net.

Penn FC would pull one back in the 76th minute, with a cross past the face of goal headed back where it came from… but Matt Pickens’s save of the week candidate was for naught when the ensuing corner kick resulted in a Ken Tribbett header into the back of the net.

Late subs would seal the deal for Nashville SC, though. Winger Alan Winn – who has been limited with a minor injury – had just hit the field moments before the Penn FC goal, and striker Ropapa Mensah – who left Wednesday’s mid-week tilt against Pittsburgh Riverhounds due to illness – shortly after it. They wouldn’t take long to combine to grow the lead back to two.

Captain Michael Reed and right winger Matt LaGrassa completed a nice combination play to get Mensah the ball at the right edge of the six-yard box. His attempt to chip a charging keeper was blocked away, but a clearance off the line from a Penn FC defender went directly to Winn, who scored the easiest goal he’ll ever find in a Gold uniform:

Winn’s goal was the third of the match, the most scored in league play by Nashville SC this season (they matched it in their US Open Cup win against Mississippi Brilla FC, and also against Orlando City SC and Chattanooga FC in preseason). A team that couldn’t score to start the year may have just found its stride at the right time.

Nashville is next in action Wednesday at 7:30 when the Boys in Gold host MLS side Colorado Rapids at Vanderbilt University. The game is the fourth-round matchup in the US Open Cup, and NSC may have an opportunity against the worst team in Major League Soccer.

Starting lineups

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Match events

  • 36′ NSH GOAL – 32 Brandon Allen (left foot) from 11 Ish Jome
  • 45’+3 – Half-time
  • 46′ PEN Substitution – On 8 Dan Metzger, off 15 Miguel Jaime
  • 48′ NSH GOAL – 10 Lebo Moloto (right foot) from 32 Brandon Allen
  • 54′ PEN Yellow card – 26 Frederick Opoku (foul)
  • 60′ NSH Substitution – On 30 Bolu Akinyode, off 11 Ismaila Jome
  • 61′ PEN Substitution – On 21 Calvin Rezende, off 9 Aaron Dennis
  • 72′ PEN Substitution – On 7 Jerry Ortiz, off 26 Frederick Opoku
  • 74′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 23 Taylor Washington
  • 76′ PEN GOAL – 4 Ken Tribbett (headed)  from 7 Jerry Ortiz
  • 79′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 32 Brandon Allen
  • 81′ NSH GOAL – 19 Alan Winn (right foot), unassisted
  • 88′ PEN Yellow card – 14 Richard Menjivar (dissent)
  • 90’+3 – Full-time

Halftime reset: Nashville SC 1-0 Penn FC

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Best seat in the house if you don’t mind, uh, a horrifically obstructed view. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

NASHVILLE – We won’t have the same result – from the same gameflow – that we saw last time Nashville SC took on Penn FC. While it did look early like the Boys in Gold were once again doomed to create plenty of chances, but fail to finish them, Brandon Allen changed that in the 36th minute.

Fellow new signing Ismaila Jome served in a cross from the left touchline (on the dead run, and closely marked), and found Allen waiting at the top of the six-yard box. The man who just gets goals, well, got one. Allen’s left-footed half-volley went between the legs of Penn keeper Romu Peiser, and NSC had its opening statement.

It’s worth noting that, like they did in Harrisburg, Nashville’s players dominated the run of play. They had nearly 60% of possession, and while they were outshot 6-4, it certainly felt like a reluctance to pull the trigger on shots (like we saw in the previous game) played a bigger role in that disparity than Penn FC’s play.

Despite that, the City Islanders had a couple golden opportunities – a free kick served into the box saw Nashville fail to clear on multiple occasions, and a twisting side-volley from Richard Menjivar necessitated a diving – but comfortable – save from keeper Matt Pickens in the 26th. Tommy Heinemann’s sliding attempt minutes later couldn’t find the low cross before Pickens got to it, and the veteran Nashville SC keeper maintained his clean sheet.

If Nashville can turn possession – and possession in the box – into shots on goal in the second frame, it could be a happy evening in Music City.

Preview: Nashville SC v. Penn FC 2018

A scoreless draw in Harrisburg may have been the nadir of Nashville SC’s season to date. Can they get revenge against Penn FC and come away with all three points in First Tennessee Park?

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Less of this a second time around. Thanks.

The essentials

Opponent: Penn FC (2-3-5, 6 GF, 7 GA so far in 2018, 13th in USL East, 12th in USL East Power Ratings)
The Line: Nashville -159, Penn FC +333, Draw +276 (side note: this is the first time since odds have been regularly available that NSC is a favorite).
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 85ºF, 15% chance of rain, 60% humidity, 4 MPH NNW winds
Tailgate: With The Assembly at Von Elrod’s, Eastern Front and Music City Supporters at Germantown Depot, The Roadies at Pastime.
Watch: Locally on MyTV30 or stream on ESPN Plus. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely (or for more details on the above tailgate locations).
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @PennFCOfficial, #NSHvPEN
Etc.: Q&A with Chris Bratton of The Brotherly Game. USL Power Ratings. Breakdown from Pittsburgh Riverhounds win.
Elsewhere: USL feature on new signing Brandon Allen. Mini-preview from the NSC siteGolden Goal previewSpeedway Soccer with several games to cover. From the other side of the fence, The Brotherly Game‘s preview.

Penn FC

This is a team that was 0-1-3 when Nashville headed to town, and the scoreless draw was understandably a disappointment at that time. Penn has improved – but not a ton – since then. They’re 2-2-1 since, with the wins a single-goal affair over a moribund Toronto FC team and, uh, a 3-0 blasting of a Tampa Boy Rowdies team that perception seems to hold is good, though it’s objectively quite bad. When the losses came to North Carolina FC and Ottawa Fury – teams that are likely to finish comfortably out of the playoff hunt – it’s a mixed bag, for sure.

do think we have enough information at this point to say Penn FC has a legitimately good defense. Seven goals allowed through ten games is eclipsed only by the defenses of Nashville SC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds in terms of stinginess. The offense, on the other hand, has not improved.

“They’re still struggling with a lot of the same issues, primarily goal scoring,” said Brotherly Game‘s Chris Bratton. “They did get the wins over Tampa Bay and Toronto FC II to start off May, which helped them to build some momentum. But then they had a long break from league play, so I worry they might have cooled back off.”

Dispute-with-Cincinnati-FC-over-contract-violations victor Tommy Heinemann remains the team’s most dangerous scorer. With three goals (half the team’s total), the USL/NASL veteran is the major threat here. The help is somewhere between inconsistent and non-existent, though. That issue was exacerbated when central mifielder Mauro Eustáquio went down with an ACL tear in the win over Tampa Bay.

As I mentioned above though, the defense is bordering on actually quite good. No, Penn hasn’t played Louisville, Cincinnati, or Red Bulls II – the strength of competition is far from impressive – but you can only prevent the goals in games you’ve actually played. They’re doing a good job preventing the ball from getting into the back of their own net. The defense shouldn’t be condemned just because of the trouble on the other end of the pitch. The various 3-5-2, 5-4-1, and 5-3-1-1 shapes we’ve seen from them (they went with the latter against NSC) are stout.

“I think Penn FC had played with a strong defensive shape in their earlier games, so that helped their defenders get settled in, but it made scoring tougher,” Bratton said. “I think the key players on defense have been the goalkeepers Romu Peiser and Sean Lewis. Having a veteran presence like Peiser to run the defense from the back has been huge… Lewis has stepped up when he’s gotten his opportunities. He’s only allowed one goal in three games.”

Nashville had its opportunities to beat Penn FC’s keepers last time these teams played: A bit of good fortune certainly plays into their low goals-against. If Nashville can create similar opportunities this time, I bet their improved form sees them finish.

The Boys in Gold

So, uh, will they create similar opportunities? There’s something to be said for the improvement in Nashville’s form since that Penn contest: 2-0-2 with 1.25 goals per game – indeed, Penn FC was the last team to keep Nashville out of the back of the net – three of those games coming on the road.

“With the resilience that we’ve shown, I think we of course expect to go into the game and win the game and pick up three points,” said midfielder Robin Shroot. “Hopefully we can win 3-, 4-nil and give fans something to be happy about going home. Of course, we’d take a win however it comes.”

Shroot is an interesting test case when it comes to NSC’s improvement on offense. He’s very open that he had opportunities he should finish in the previous Penn game, and he’s smart enough when it comes to soccer and statistics that a player of his caliber might have bad luck in a given game, but that creating chances and not finishing them speaks positively, not negatively of the potential to score going forward.

“No one means to miss,” he said. “I’ve played in many games where you don’t get a chance, and then in the last minute you score. To be honest, I don’t think the chances I had against Penn before were that great, it just so happened that they were three chances in a game that didn’t otherwise have many.”

Ropapa Mensah may not be quite 100% after coming off against Pittsburgh mid-week feeling under the weather, but Nashville has more forward depth now with the arrival of Brandon Allen, who could be due for a big year the more comfortable he gets with this side. Lebo Moloto get less rest than planned against Pittsburgh (due to Mensah’s departure from the contest just 34 minutes in), but should be at least a little rested.

The defense has had a fairly solid rotation on the edges, while the central midfield and central defense have mostly been ironmen.

The question becomes what type of lineup Gary Smith wants to trot out. This is the fourth of six games in 16 days – not a ton of rest to be had – and while it’s probably the weakest USL opponent of the bunch (Mississippi Brilla FC kicked off the stretch), he seemed to have a bit of an issue with Penn FC’s coach, Raoul Voss, publicly ripping the Boys in Gold (comments I haven’t been able to find, for what it’s worth).

“I’m not sure we did an awful lot wrong down in Penn. For what it’s worth, we created by far the better chances. Contrary to what their coach has said, if he’s sensible enough to look at the stats on our team, he’ll find that we keep the ball for longer periods than they’ve every done, we make more passes generally in the game, and if you look at the way we’ve played in certain venues, we’ve been able to adapt.

“At home, we have a very creative, possession-oriented style. If he thinks we’re going to crash it at home, then he’ll be greatly mistaken. We’ve got a group of fans that want to see good possession, creative play, and nice individual moments, and I think we’ve shown that. I’m not sure he’s done his homework properly on that one.”

Those are the words of a guy who wants to win, and win convincingly. Even if a bit of rest before Colorado Rapids is advisable, that doesn’t mean we’ll see the bare minimum personnel that Smith thinks he can trot out there and still get a win.

Projected lineups

With an assist from Mr. Bratton on the Penn side of things:

IMG_091CC78E4070-1.jpeg

 

A lineup for NSC that’s mostly starter-caliber and rotation players. A 4-2-3-1 for Penn FC.

Predictions

This is going to end with the same prediction I made last time, but I’m far more confident it actually comes to fruition:

  • Brandon Allen bags a brace. Ropapa Mensah gets some playing time, but Gary Smith tries to hold of on his minutes as much as possible to rest him for the Colorado Rapids Wednesday.
  • Robin Shroot and Justin Davis (corner kick) are responsible for the assists, even if Davis’s ends up being more of a hockey assist – like Moloto’s was Wednesday, even though he gets no assist credit.
  • Penn puts only one (1) shot on-target, and Matt Pickens saves it. The City Islanders still launch a bunch of shots, but plenty of them come from outside the box and aren’t particularly close to frame.
  • Alan Winn gets a few minutes of playing time to keep his foot injury loose (without playing enough to aggravate any injury).
  • My main weirdness in the lineup projected above is Woodberry playing in place of Bradley Bourgeois (whom I consistently have among the best players in each game). That’s more a matter of getting him rest – he’s played almost every USL minutes since Woodberry’s initial injury – and getting Woodberry game-fit than any indictment of Bourgeois.
  • Penn concedes early, and actually goes to a more defensive lineup, trying to bunker-and-counter while the game is still close, rather than chase the game. This is hilarious, given the (apparent) comments from Voss.

Nashville SC wins 2-0. This is a better team than is was in mid-April, and Penn FC may not be worse, per se, but they definitely lost one of their key players, so… maybe they are? NSC tries to put in the second one to put the game away early, and that allows the Boys in Gold to not expend too much energy in advance of the US Open Cup blockbuster.

Penn FC Preview: Q&A with The Brotherly Game

What’s new in Harrisburg? I sure don’t know. That’s why I went to the source: Chris Bratton covers Penn FC for The Brotherly Game, and he fills us in on everything that’s happened with the City Islanders team in the past month-plus.

robin shroot nashvile sc soccer football
Will Robin Shroot have the chance to make up for a couple missed opportunities last time around? Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

For Club and Country: It’s been a little over a month since the last time these teams played. Has there been any major change in Penn FC’s form or the perception around the club in the area?

Chris Bratton: I wouldn’t say there’s been any major changes since we last met. They’re still struggling with a lot of the same issues, primarily goal scoring. They did get the wins over Tampa Bay and Toronto FC II to start off May, which helped them to build some momentum. But then they had a long break from league play, so I worry they might have cooled back off.

FCAC: Have any new players emerged (or have some who were important at the beginning of the year fading back into the woodwork)?

CB: Well Mauro Eustaquio was shaping up to be a solid performer in the midfield this year. But unfortunately he tore his ACL during the Tampa Bay game, so he’s done for the season. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s a single player who I’d point out as really separating himself from the pack so far this season. Raoul Voss has made squad rotation a focus and there’s a lot of different players who’ve played well, but not in a game changing way. Tommy Heinemann is definitely the biggest weapon for us, but if defenses can just focus all their energy on him, they can shut him down.

FCAC: At this point, it seems like Penn has an elite defense and struggling offense – pretty similar to Nashville SC, but worse results in the table – what has gone into the quality on defense, and what do they need to do to improve on the other end of the pitch?

CB: I think Penn FC had played with a strong defensive shape in their earlier games, so that helped their defenders get settled in, but it made scoring tougher. I think the key players on defense have been the goalkeepers Romu Peiser and Sean Lewis. Having a veteran presence like Peiser to run the defense from the back has been huge. And Voss still has the confidence to rotate Lewis in for a few starts so that he’s not stuck on the sidelines all season. Lewis has stepped up when he’s gotten his opportunities. He’s only allowed one goal in three games.

I don’t think there’s one single thing they need to do to improve their offensive output. The opportunities are there, but there’s a lot of cases where the final pass is a little off and the play breaks down. I think the most telling statistic is how few shots they’ve taken this year. It seems like they’re reluctant to let it fly at times, even though they’ve gotten a few nice goals from some long shots. So maybe they just need to loosen up and take some more chances.

But I’m not a coach. For all I know, that’s the exact thing Voss is telling them not to do.

FCAC: Obviously the previous matchup was in Harrisburg, and this one’s in Nashville. How has Penn’s home/road form split been?

FCAC: Well they only have two wins this year and one was at home and one on the road. I think they’re generally a bit better at home, but their real weakness was when they played on the road on short rest. That’s what happened with that 3-0 loss in North Carolina. Luckily for them, that won’t be the case here. They managed two scoreless draws while away at Pittsburgh this year, and I think Pittsburgh shapes up pretty similarly to Nashville. Something like that could come up again Saturday night, because they tend to play more defensively on the road.

FCAC: What’s your predicted lineup for tomorrow evening? Any other specific predictions (including a final score)?

CB: I think I can do a predicted lineup, but I guarantee that it’ll have several things wrong [ed: Same.]
4-2-3-1
GK Romu Peiser
Pedro Galvao-Harri Hawkins-Kyle Venter-Marco Franco
Miguel Jaime-Dan Metzger
Freddie Opoku-Richard Menjivar-Jerry Ortiz
Tommy Heinemann

And as for a final score, I predict a draw just because Penn FC seems to be a draw heavy team this year. But instead of a 0-0, I’m going with a 1-1.

Many thanks to Chris for taking the time. Read his preview on The Brotherly Game, and follow him on Twitter @C_Brat.