The second round of the US Open Cup often sees local battles of Davids and Goliaths: Second-division (USL) clubs enter the competition, and their lower-division brethren who make it through are often looking to prove themselves against teams from a higher level of play (that is to say, they want to prove maybe it’s not the higher level of play it’s believed to be). With geographically-paired teams, there are bound to be some local derbies with a bit of bad blood, whether those feelings are overt or under the surface.
That’s especially true in the battle of Inter Nashville FC v. Nashville SC, with many of Inter’s players having played for the previous incarnation of NSC (Nashville Football Club), the club taking over NFC’s spot in the NPSL when NSC began making moves toward an MLS bid… and plenty of those Inter players having tried out for the USL squad this preseason, but none of them making the cut.
Vanderbilt Soccer Stadium should have a very interesting vibe this evening, if nothing else.
Teams: Inter Nashville FC (1-0-0 NPSL Southeast Division, 6-1 first-round Open Cup victory over PDL side Charlotte Eagles) v. Nashville SC (3-2-3 USL Eastern Conference).
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT • Vanderbilt Soccer and Lacrosse Complex
Event: US Open Cup Second Round
Weather: 79ºF, 24% chance of rain, 3 MPH E winds
Watch: Tickets available • Stream on the US Soccer website
Events: Tailgate with The Assembly at Hurry Back, The Roadies at the parking lots surrounding the stadium.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @internashfc, @ClubCountryUSA, US Soccer page, #ElNashico
Etc.: My interview with Inter coach Richie Askey. NSC’s Gary Smith talked a bit about the Open Cup at last week’s media availability.
Elsewhere: Nashville SC official site preview. Re-watch Inter’s first-round win to get hyped up at work today. Chuka Aruh was TheCup.us’s player of round one. Golden Goal match preview. Aruh’s story is a good one.
There’s a bit of an unknown here: it’s not based in the fact that we don’t know about NSC following eight regular-season games and a half-dozen preseason friendlies, but rather that we don’t know what we’re going to see out of the team that is assembled to take on a fourth-division side – and if the “can’t lose” nature of the derby changes the calculus a bit to put a stronger group out there than Gary Smith might otherwise do.
He was fairly open last week that he doesn’t intend to put out the Best XI Nashville has available.
“I’ve got a bit of a shadow group that I’ve put down,” he explained. “Like all teams, we’re training throughout the week and there are certain guys that I saw that are getting through games and might need a little more rest. There are certain areas of the field that I may not have as much depth and players may need to be turned out again…
“My sole focus on Wednesday is to win the game. If we win that game 10-nil, it’s going to make no difference to me than winning it 1-nil. It’ll just make my life easier on the touchline. As long as we’re in the hat for the next round, I don’t mind how we win it: we just win it.”
The second paragraph there certainly implies that he doesn’t intend to put out a group that would compete in USL games, and the first sentence indicates that we’re probably going to see something close to Nos. 12-22 on the lineup sheet as a base roster.
Nashville SC doesn’t have another regular-season game for another ten days, and if they win this one, a mid-week US Open Cup match beckons Wednesday beforehand. There’s plenty of time to rest the team’s best players (and with USL rival Indy Eleven the likely opponent next week in the event of a win tonight, a stronger lineup will need to be ready).
Smith’s “just win” statement indicates that he’s likely to do the minimum that he sees as necessary to ensure a win, not the minimum to play a competitive game and probably win.
Inter Nashville FC
On the other end of the touchline, the game carries quite a bit more meaning for Inter, which has the chance to upset the local big boy (and the team that it tries to position itself as the grassroots answer to, despite the intertwining between the clubs, the fact that Inter hasn’t existed as long as NSC, etc.). That’s ultimately a bigger deal for a team that should do well in the NPSL even if their focus on this evening makes a bit of a tougher time on Saturday’s bounceback game against Georgia Revolution.
Striker Chuka Aruh and winger Ivan Sakou are the offensive headliners, while keeper Hayden Coffman and defenders Richard Reichenberger and Liam Collins (along with defensive midfielder Felix Obilo) are going to be the impactful players on the other end of the pitch.
The question is going to become whether Inter Nashville has the horses to run with the higher level of talent Nashville SC presumably has. If it was a full-strength NSC team, the answer would almost certainly be “no.” However, the top few players on Inter’s team – Aruh is probably a pro caliber player if he continues growing into the striker position after coming up as a defender, for example, while Coffman and several others were on the NFC teams back in the day – are capable of going toe-to-toe with a USL side, particularly one that isn’t first-choice.
The style of play for Inter Nashville has been “our guys will beat your guys,” which is a great strategy for competing in the NPSL. Is it an upset-oriented mindset, though? Not really. From the first name on the lineup sheet to the 18th, they can’t just rely on out-talenting NSC. They’ll likely need a career day from a player or two to really be a major threat here. That’s certainly a possibility, especially with the awkward feelings and shoulder-chips for the Inter side. We’ll see if it comes to fruition, though.
I have no reason to believe that Inter went with much difference than its best XI against Charlotte Eagles, since the opening-round US Open Cup game was theoretically a matchup of equals (despite Inter showing that to not be the case). Look for a similar group, though I have a couple changes here.
Meanwhile, Nashville SC… I think they’ll put out what is mostly that 12-22 side that I mentioned earlier, with a couple starters mixed in, plus more on the bench to use if needed.
I’m assuming Woodberry gets some time if he’s close enough to full health, but centerback is (weirdly, given the depth situation early in the year) one of the deeper positions to take on an NPSL team, with Jordan Dunstan, Ian McGrath, and others potentially available.
I don’t expect some of the more banged-up (or heavily-used and potentially due for some rest) players for NSC to make the squad. That likely means no Alan Winn, probably no Lebo Moloto, et al.
Nashville SC is going to have some heavy-hitters on the bench (and of course they may sprinkle a couple more into the lineup to start, as well). If things start to go sideways with the “shadow group,” a key player or two will mix in. Barring the emotional lift and motivation for Inter, a second-unit Nashville SC side should be able to win nonetheless.
- Nashville SC plays pretty conservatively early in the game to feel out how its less-powerful lineup matches up with Inter Nashville FC. If it’s “pretty well,” things will open up and they’ll try to put the game to bed early.
- On the other hand, if they feel they can’t boss the game, they’ll stay in that shell for awhile, making sure to not let Aruh and Sakou make a dent on the scoreboard, while attacking primarily through the counter.
- Most likely, I think the answer is somewhere in between: NSC is clearly the better side, but it’s close enough that they can’t be a risk-taking team without being susceptible to the counter-attack. The teams play relatively even ball in a bit of a spirited match.
- Nashville SC gets on the board early, but goes into the half with just a 1-0 lead. The teams trade goals out of the break (though Inter is never able to get back to a level scoreline), NSC brings on a couple of the more regular contributors, and puts the game to bed.
Nashville SC 4-1 Inter Nashville FC is the final score. It may very well end up with a closer margin than that, but given the importance that Gary Smith is clearly willing to put on this game, I think he adjusts the tactics enough to let his superior talent get the job done in the end.