Now it gets real. A couple amateur sides were a nice way to ease into the US Open Cup, but suddenly Nashville SC finds itself staring down the barrel of a top-flight side.
Opponent: Colorado Rapids (2-8-2, 14 GF, 22 GA, 12th in MLS West, First Open Cup game)
The Line: Nashville +197, Colorado Rapids +125, Draw +229
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT • Dudley Field at Vanderbilt Football Stadium
Event: US Open Cup round 4
Weather: 84ºF, 2% chance of rain, 44% humidity, 4 MPH NNW winds
Tailgate: Outside the stadium with various SGs.
Watch: Tickets still available. Stream on USSoccer.com.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @ColoradoRapids,
Etc.: Q&A with Abbie Lang of Burgundy Wave. Breakdown of some Rapids tape.
Elsewhere: US Soccer preview of the round writ large. MLS preview of the arrival of its teams. Nashville Post on the game. Rapids feature from ProSoccerUSA. Feature from Burgundy Wave. Golden Goal preview. Around MLS preview.
So: the Rapids are terrible. They’re on-pace for far and away their worst season in club history (at .67 points per game, they’re headed for only the fourth sub-1-PPG performance in club history, with the previous worst still way higher at .88, and way back in 2001 (the other two were almost in “round-to-1 range last year and in 2014).
They mailed in any chance to compete in Concacaf Champions League (not playing their best lineup) for… this. Will they do the same with US Open Cup, hoping to salvage a bit of MLS season? Or may they look at the Cup as a chance to still find a little bit of glory in a season that isn’t going to end with silverware in other competitions. Not that he’s tiping his hand in that direction, Rapids coach Anthony Hudson says the team is playing to win:
“Our approach is: We want to win the game,” Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson told Pro Soccer USA. “So, we’re going to put out the strongest team we have with the players we have available.”
That is made a bit more difficult by the fact that they have quite the injury situation,
Unfortunately, the Rapids still won’t have the entire squad healthy and available for the match-up. Axel Sjoberg is under concussion protocol, Danny Wilson has a slight groin injury, and Johan Blomberg is just coming back so they’re monitoring his minutes,
…and Tim Howard is not contractually obligated to play a second game in a week.
So, even if they wanted to trot out the best lineup they have available, that’s a far cry from the best lineup they could put out on another day. Is that license to mail it in? Does Hudson believe that his team’s talent – even when depleted – is capable of knocking off Nashville SC without using his absolute best talent available? I don’t know the answer.
I watched Colorado’s most recent game in-depth, and have caught various others throughout the course of the year. In the Concacaf Champions League, they looked well-coached and well-organized, but not very talented. I’m still not super-impressed with a lot of their players (for the sake of clarity, I mean at the MLS level – not that they’re suddenly worse than a USL team, though they certainly are at some spots), but the organization seems to have fallen off in a major way.
If I’m Hudson, I mail this one in, try to steal some points from teams missing players at the World Cup, and get some momentum to close out the year.
I do really like their best striker (if he’s not resting tonight) Dominique Badji, and they have some other nice pieces, but this is the worst team in MLS by no accident, and they can’t even put out all their best players tonight.
The Boys in Gold
What is Nashville’s best side, then? I think there’s a good chance that it’s not only better than the Rapids (the bottom of MLS and top of USL are comparable, probably slightly tilted in favor of USL, it’s just a matter of where you consider NSC in the grand scheme), but quite a bit better than an unhealthy version of same.
Do we see two true strikers (as we did to start the Pittsburgh game), or the creator-finisher combo that includes Lebo Moloto? Who are the starting wide midfielders? Is there a minor shakeup at right CB and right back with changing health situations?
Certainly, there’s a bit of bad blood between Gary Smith and the Rapids, and it seems like Rapids fans still harbor a bit of unrequited love for their former manager, and perhaps a bit of resentment toward their front office about his ouster:
“The Rapids have been in a slump for a few seasons (with the exception of 2016),” Abbie Mood Lang told me. “Some people say things have been in a slump since Gary Smith was ousted at the end of 2011.”
I think we’ll absolutely see the best Nashville side.
Shockingly, I forgot to bring the iPad to the doctor’s office with me (pro tip: don’t tear your ACL playing soccer), but will update with projected lineups if I have a chance before gametime.
UPDATE: Just a meniscus! Here’s the graphic!:
I say Alan Winn, Ish Jome, and Ropapa Mensah are the subs. Could easily see a different right back (either Woodberry out there with Bourgeois at centerback, or Ryan James playing RB with either of those RCBs) if Kimura’s getting enough action to be fatigued: that’s a position with good depth.
I’m going to keep it short and sweet: Nashville SC takes a 2-1 win over Colorado. Alan Winn, Brandon Allen, and Niki Jackson (Colorado) are your goal-scorers.