At long last, it is here. The regular season doesn’t start with a breather, as NSC travels to defending champion Louisville City FC to open its USL account.
Opponent: Louisville City FC (62 points from 32 matches (18-8-6) USL East, USL Champions)
The Line: I will invent lines since there isn’t betting on USL as far as I can find (if you know a book that offers it, let me know): Louisville City -240, Nashville SC +500, draw +140. O/U 2.5.
Time, Location: 3:00 p.m. EST (2 p.m. Nashville) • Louisville Slugger Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 53° F, 64% chance of rain, 2 MPH Northeasterly winds.
Watch: Get yer tickets (use code “NashvilleSC” to be in the visitors section). Watch locally on MyTV30 or stream below. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch in an exciting atmosphere in Music City.
Pregame tailgate: With the Roadies, Assembly, and LCFC supporters group The Coopers in the parking lots west of the stadium.
Follow: @ClubCountryUSA, @NashvilleSC, @LouCityFC
Etc.: Lots of preview content this week: Q&A with Not So Ultra Capo, pregame pressers from NSC and one from Louisville, takeaways from yesterday’s training session. Gary Smith’s 5-3-2 is relevant to Louisville’s formation, as well.
Elsewhere: Music City Soccer Preview (will link when available), Golden Goal preview and picks. 615 Formation mini-preview. Preview from the league.
Louisville City FC
This is last year’s championship side, and the personnel losses from that squad are minimal: backup keeper Micah Bledsoe is now the No. 3 for Nashville SC, but defender Tarek Mosad was their leader in appearances last season, fellow defender Sean Reynolds moved over to rival St. Louis FC after several performances himself, and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye actually moved up a level in joining MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC after 43 appearances and five goals over the past two years.
That’s one relatively inconsequential loss, and sort of an escalating impact as you move along. That Kaye has played in both LAFC games so far this season indicates that he’s truly an MLS-caliber talent now, not just a developmental guy for Bob Bradley.
LAFC didn’t add too much star power to replace those losses, though they made some solid signings. NCAA (Bowling Green state University) defender Alex Souahy is probably a bit more of a developmental guy, whereas midfielder Pat McMahon played for a solid FC Cincinnati side last year – though he only made 28 appearances in 2016 and 2017 combined and FCC let him leave on a free – and defender Shaun Francis is coming off five years in MLS (he made six appearances for the Montreal Impact after a mid-season transfer from San Jose Earthquakes).
The core of this team rests in the returning players: Striker Luke Spencer was the leading scorer and second-leading assist-man last year, while wingback Oscar Jiminez and second striker Richard Ballard both added some service and a bit of a scoring punch of their own. Cameron Lancaster isn’t even in the starting lineup despite coming in second in goals last season, speaking to the great depth of the team.
Let’s not overlook that this was one of MLS’s best defenses last year, and while the personnel losses were a little more notable on that end of the pitch, there’s still plenty of talent. Centerback Paco Craig was a best-XI player last year in USL, I already mentioned the offensive punch of Jimenez (while glossing over his ability to track back), and keeper Gregory Ranjitsingh tied for second in the league in clean sheets (11) while not coming close in terms of saves made: he’s good goalie, but a lot of his success is augmented by a great defense in front of him.
With a similar formation to what NSC does (perhaps with a little more diversity in tactics simply because they’re more experienced in their system), there’ll be quite the chess match in play here.
The Boys in Gold
Obviously, regular readers of the site are very familiar with what Nashville SC will try to do on both ends of the pitch. We know the top attacking and defensive personnel.
The questions will be whether there are major changes on a matchup basis. With a fully healthy team (one NSC doesn’t have, particularly at centerback), they might try a couple different options. For example, Bradley Bourgeois in the center over Liam Doyle, given that the latter has been a little careless with the ball in the short passing game, probably not a good fit against a pressing team like LCFC. There may not be those sorts of options though.
The offensive personnel has been a work in progress all preseason as well, and how it shakes out will be something to watch. Robin Shroot and Michael Cox are unquestionably choices 1 and 2 (though Shroot hasn’t always been 100% healthy this preseason, he appears to be getting there at the right time), with Tucker Hume the next striker off the bench (himself more a matchup guy with the hold-up play he provides that his teammates really can’t), Ropapa Mensah somebody who just goes out and gets goals, and Alan Winn a bit more versatile and speedy. They can’t all make the 18, simply because NSC needs a bit of diversity positionally on the bench.
The defensive midfield pairing of Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa is the most solidly established on the team, in terms of who the first-choice options are, but the backup situation there will be a bit of a question, too.
There’s still plenty of intrigue around the lineup, even if the first-choice (or “Senior XI” as the club calls it) is relatively obvious.
As you can see, the shape of Louisville City’s formation is a little different (they go with one defensive midfielder and stack their target striker and secondary forward), but the general concepts are similar. Here’s what we expect to see:
I’d absolutely love to see this game go well for NSC, but a road start against the defending champs is obviously a tough ask for a new club.
- The non-starting gameday squad includes Tucker Hume (F), Alan Winn (F/M), Bolu Akinyode (M), Michael DeGraffenreidt (M/D) Taylor Washington (D), Bradley Bourgeois (D), and CJ Cochran (GK).
- Nashville SC actually gets on the board first, with Robin Shroot assisting Lebo Moloto (even though I’m not extremely comfortable projecting Shroot at full health). A strike from just inside the 18-yard box is the first official goal in NSC history.
- The Boys in Gold have a tough time playing out of the back on the ground, thanks to a relentless press from Louisville City. Even a shift to a more long-ball oriented approach sees a turnover at the back lead to one of LCFC’s goals.
- Spencer and DelPiccolo notch goals for the Boys in Purple, with the game-winner coming in the 70th minute.
- Hume, Washington, and Bourgeois all make it onto the field for NSC, in approximately decreasing amounts of playing time (so Hume is subbed on first). Hume provides some good hold-up play, but NSC isn’t clinical enough in the final third to score when he’s on the pitch.
Louisville City wins 2-1. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades (or your phrase of choice with the same meaning), etc., but this ends up feeling like a pretty good result for NSC. While they’re a little less organized getting the ball out of the back, when they do, they’re comfortable building – just can’t notch more scores.
The defensive postures look very solid, and while they don’t get result, a one-goal loss to the defending champs on the road is hardly something to be embarrassed of. That’s a confidence-builder for the return leg May 13 (the rubber match is in Louisville).