We saw the first starting lineup in Nashville SC’s history Saturday afternoon, and it came with a few surprises. There was also heavy rotation (including a wholesale line change at the half), so what should we expect going forward? More importantly, what will the first-team eleven look like?
The base assumption here is that the primary formation we’ll see out of NSC this year is the 5-3-2 we saw in the first half, rather than the 4-4-2/4-3-3 that debuted in the second.
While CJ Cochran can certainly provide some good minutes between the pipes, Matt Pickens seems a very solid bet as the first-choice keeper. So too with Justin Davis and Kosuke Kimura in the defensive line ahead of him. Bradley Bourgeois is fairly close to this honor, as well.
the three midfield spots seem the safest of them all to remain relatively consistent, with Michael Reed and Matt Lagrassa (though LaGrassa had some moments to improve upon against Atlanta United) in the defense-oriented roles, and Lebo Moloto perhaps the closest thing to a lock at the central attacking position.
With seven spots seeming safe, that leaves four roles in the starting lineup up for grabs, and only one of them seems like a guy who is looking over his shoulder, but not feeling the heat too much yet. That’s the final member of the center back trio, London Woodberry. Like several of the other guys in the previous category, he has a bit of MLS experience, and unlike most of them, he’s relatively young at 26 years old. There are still some good years ahead of him, and he was already good enough to earn a starting role for the first appearance of the team.
In a battle
Three players started Saturday, but may not be fully entrenched (or close to it) in their roles. The shakiest of them all is left back Ryan James. In practices open to the media, he’d been the top backup at both left back and right back, but he earned the starting nod Saturday, over Taylor Washington, who had been neck-and-neck with him as the left back. The left-footer Washington has a different skillset than James, so there are some matchup considerations to make, but either way, there’s still a healthy competition for minutes there.
The other two players who seem to be in real battles are those who started up top: Robin Shroot and Michael Cox. While one of them is likely to remain in the starting lineup, it’s too early to say which for sure – the offensive output in the first half certainly wasn’t as impressive as it could be. Attacking talent in the form of target-man Tucker Hume, left winger Alan Winn, and striker Ropapa Mensah all combined for the first goal in NSC’s history as a professional club.
Indeed, it seems likely that Mensah may have already been in the starting lineup if not for arriving a week late to training due to travel snafus (and Winn’s signing wasn’t even announced until the day prior to the game, so he’s behind, as well). While Shroot and Cox both bring serious ability, there’s just far more attacking firepower than we might have expected prior to Saturday’s game.
Challenging from behind
I already mentioned Cochran, and there’s a decent chance the 26-year old can learn from his elder statesman enough to make this a little more of a goalkeeper rotation than a starter-backup scenario at times this season. Cochran certainly has the opportunity to be in the long-term future of the club.
The wholesale changes on the defensive lineup didn’t just give Washington a chance to continue competing fo a starting role against James: it also showed that there are other players ready to get minutes. Centerbacks Liam Doyle and Jordan Dunstan, and right back Michael DeGraffenreidt had some sketchy moments, but Doyle was one who had been rotating with the first team in the training sessions open to media, and all three showed signs of life (and obvious things to improve, not least of which “play on a drier pitch”) against Atlanta United. That was also the case for defensive midfielder Josh Hughes and Bolu Akinyode. Hughes’s back-pass through a puddle led to the first Atlanta United goal, yes, but he provides more in terms of pace and workrate than a lot of the other options in the position group.
Several backup midfielders got a bit of time in the offensive end as well: Martim Galvão, Ramone Howell, and Ian McGrath got their first taste of the field with NSC, and there’s no guaranteeing than one or all of them cant break through into heavy rotation. Of course in the case of Galvão, the former U-23 standout is a fan favorite and could be an impact sub late in games when the competition level isn’t quite “the most expensive team north of the Rio Grande.”
While the majority of the healthy players got time against Atlanta United, we’re still waiting on NSC debuts from a couple rostered players. Don’t assume just because they weren’t on the pitch a couple days ago that they’re nailed to the bench all season (or even all preseason):
- Goalkeeper Micah Bledsoe (signing announced the day before the game)
- Midfielder Charlie Dennis
Here’s hoping they manage to show their stuff in the preseason in hopes of getting time down the line.