Round Two is here (and this is one of the teams Nashville SC will get a Round Three against, as well, making a second trip to DerbyTown Aug. 18). NSC couldn’t get a result on the road, but will they see better results in First Tennessee Park?
Opponent: Louisville City FC (5-1-1, No. 2 Eastern Conference, 10 GF, 4 GA so far in 2018, No. 2 in USL East Power Rankings)
The Line: Louisville City -109, Draw +240, Nashville SC +241
Time, Location: 5:00 p.m. CDT • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 90ºF, 1% chance of rain, 7 MPH WSW winds
Watch: Tickets still available. Stream on ESPN Plus. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely.
Events: Tailgate with The Assembly at Von Elrod’s, Eastern Front at Germantown Depot, The Roadies at Pastime. Nashville SC will be giving away flowers for Mother’s Day and wearing Project 615 shirts to support victims of the Waffle House gun violence.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @loucityfc, #NSHvLOU
Etc.: Press conference video and transcript. Q&A with Scouse’s House.
Elsewhere: USL preview. Nashville SC official site preview. LCFC official site preview.
Last time we met
The pitch was in awful condition, and Nashville… played down to that, while Louisville didn’t. The game was relatively level for a half, but Louisville scored twice early in the second half, and salted away the final half-hour with limited difficulty.
Nashville played in what was then its standard 5-3-2, A formation that lasted one more game before being replaced by the current 4-4-2.
Louisville City FC
There’s been a little bit of a shift in what Louisville does at times. They’ve alternated between a couple difference formations, depending on the matchup (it was a 3-4-3-ish substance against Nashville last time, they also run a 4-1-4-1). More importantly, Nashville chose to attack them in a manner they’re used to in the first game:
I think the opponents’ approach to us this year is more cagey, because of our style which is to control the midfield with a high line of pressure, keep it tight and then when the opportunity arises, strike quickly. We have found many teams sitting deeper this year and trying to hit us on the counter attack.
That’s what we saw out of NSC then, it probably won’t be the second time around. More on that in the next section.
There is a lot to like about this Louisville team regardless: goalie Greg Ranjitsingh is one of the best in the league, Cameron Lancaster has been pouring in goals, and they have a solid lineup front-to-back. Their style of play is distinct and successful.
“We’ve seen them, they’re an offensive power: they score goals, they finish plays, they’re very aggressive through the wings and they like to get crosses in,” Nashville defender Bradley Bourgeois said. “I just think defensively, we’ve been together as a group now, and I think it only makes us stronger; I think we’re prepared for it this time.”
I would think there’s something to be said for that style of play being well-suited to their tiny field with terrible grass, though. Banging in a bunch of crosses is easier when the field is like 30 yards wide. The wing players can get very involved in the attack if the opponents’ fullbacks can be handled from inside-out by defensive midfielders – there’s little risk of exposure on that tiny pitch.
“I know going into that, that on their home field, they’re as tough if not tougher than anyone,” NSC head coach Gary Smith said. “They play that field extremely well. The shape, the style of their team suits that narrow and difficult surface.”
It’s worth noting, then, that The Boys in Purple also seem to approach it differently on the road:
On the road this season we have scored two goals and conceded two, while at home we have scored eight and given up two, so to your point, there is concern. We will have to adjust our tactics and really just get a few breaks.
There’s going to be a bit of unfamiliarity that Nashville can exploit. That’s not to say that Louisville is totally clueless on the road, or that it makes for a guaranteed win by any stretch of the imagination, but flip the home field advantage, and Louisville is a team it might impact more than many others.
The Boys in Gold
In case you hadn’t noticed, Nashville is… quite a bit different from the beginning of the year. The first-game jitters were palpable, and while The Boys in Gold hung with the defending champs for a while, they looked a little on the shellshocked side once that first goal was scored in Louisville Slugger Field.
“It was the first game of the season,” said Bourgeois. “There was a bunch of questions that we needed to answer for ourselves, but we also didn’t really know what they were going to do. If you play that first game against anyone, you’re not really sure, and now that we’ve had a look at them, this is kind of a vengeance game for us. Hopefully we can have some revenge, and go out and take three points.”
NSC scrapped its 5-3-2 after just a couple games, and has looked far more offensively potent (if not successfully finishing enough of those chances) without sacrificing much at the back. There have been a couple major personnel shifts, too: Taylor Washington played just seven minutes in Louisville (he’s been a full-time starter since the formation change), London Woodberry went the distance (he’s been out with injury ever since), Matt LaGrassa went the distance (he’s been an impact sub since the formation change), and while Ropapa Mensah did get 19 minutes, he was part of a forward rotation that consisted of Michael Cox, Robin Shroot, and Tucker Hume in that game.
There’s no way to know if Nashville will automatically be better with the experiences they’ve had this season, and the tactical shifts those experiences have led to. It’s safe to say they won’t be the same either way.
“The one thing I will say is, we’re a different group than they played first game of the season,” said Smith. “Not just in the way that we play, possibly one or two personnel changes, but also, I think confidence-wise, we’re growing all the time. This will be a very very good test for both of us now, I would think.”
This should be a real test, but the team seems more equipped for it this time around.
I’m going with basically the same thing we saw last time around for Louisville, with a couple key changes: Cameron Lancaster has taken over as the primary striker, and Devon Williams has been a first-choice regular after they combined for zero minutes in the opener:
For Nashville, the is essentially what I see as the first-choice side. Ryan James makes the lineup (if available) over Kosuke Kimura – who struggled mightily in the first game against LCFC – while Michael Cox gets the start with Lebo Moloto to both get Cox into a rhythm and to allow Mensah to play the role of instant-impact sub against some tired Louisville legs.
I think Nashville’s better than it was at the beginning of the year, and I think Louisville is a totally different challenge on a full-size pitch.
- Louisville opens the scoring early in the game, making for a more free-flowing contest. No reason to guess it’s anyone other than Lancaster who gets the job done.
- Nashville pulls one back just before half. I think it’s someone who hasn’t scored yet this year (Michael Reed, Taylor Washington, or the snake-bitten finishing of Lebo Moloto).
- The second half plays out similarly to last week’s: lots of end-to-end action, with NSC putting a ton of pressure on the opponent. Louisville City gets a greater share of legitimate chances than NYRBII did, though.
- Nashville’s subs are Matt LaGrassa for Bolu Akinyode, Mensah for Cox, and a mystery third sub in case of underperformance or a booking (we’ve seen that Gary Smith likes to get booked players – particularly defenders – off the field when he can).
The game ends in a 1-1 draw. Dangerous moments but no conversion combine once again to bite Nashville in terms of taking all three points. However, the feeling in this one is more like the Red Bull draw – disappointing because of how it happens, but a solid result in the big picture – than other low-scoring outings.