Nashville SC

Preview: Nashville SC @ Louisville City FC 2018 – US Open Cup

Nashville SC has split its two games with Louisville City to date… but the home team took each one. Can the Boys in Gold break the streak and win in Derby City?

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Less of this in the third matchup. Thanks.

The essentials

Opponent: Louisville City FC
Performance: 7-2-3 USL East, 17 GF, 10 GA, 2nd the conference. 1st in USL East Power Projection, 9th in USL power ratings. Fifth round US Open Cup, 9-2 GD in three games. 3-0-2 last five games all competitions.
The Line: Louisville City +112, Draw +229, Nashville SC +234
Time, Location: 7:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 Central)  • Lynn Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
Event: US Open Cup Fifth Round.
Weather: 81ºF, 34% chance of rain, 76% humidity, 9 MPH WSW winds
Watch: In person! Or stream on USSoccer.com. Roadies are hosting a watch party at Pastime.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @LouCityFC, #USOC2018
Elsewhere: MLSSoccer.com with a (mini) preview. Orlando City previews the round. Nashville SC feature from the USL, and some really good insight into the strategy on both touchlines. This awesome feature from US Soccer:

Louisville City FC

This is a really good team, but as was the case the last time Nashville played them (they only dressed six subs!), they’re really banged up. Further complicating matters when it comes to the US Open Cup, the international slot rules have made for an even more limited LCFC roster:

“For example, second-string goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski has started each tournament match because leaving first-stringer Greg Ranjitsingh (a Trinidad and Tobago international) off the roster opens up a slot,” said Danielle Lerner of the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The injuries have certainly also taken a toll, so I would expect Wednesday’s lineup to look different, particularly up top, than both past Open Cup games and USL games.”

Luke Spencer and Cameron Lancaster – the former of whom you may recognize as the first goal-scorer in a Nashville SC game, way back in March – are out with injury. Louisville has been light on centerbacks for much of the season after the opening several games. So what will we see in terms of a lineup?

“I have a hunch James O’Connor will try to recreate the same lineup he used in the New England game,” Lerner opined. “Louisville City could feasibly field a nearly identical lineup just by replacing Lancaster with Ilic.”

That would be pretty close to Louisville’s strongest available lineup, minus Ranjitsingh and the two primary strikers (though it’s worth noting that Ilja Ilic has comfortably outscored the much-injured Spencer 4-1 so far this year, albeit in nearly twice as many minutes. That’s right, Spencer’s only goal came in the opener against Nashville). They used it to knock of an MLS side, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, even if the injury situation would typically have us casting the side-eye.

The other thing fans remember from that Louisville City loss? A pretty crappy pitch in Louisville. We won’t see that become a factor here, because the game’s at a different venue anyway: LCFC has hosted US Open Cup games at University of Louisville’s Lynn Stadium, a 5,300-seater about ten minutes south of Slugger.

“Some might say they have an advantage at Slugger Field over visiting teams who aren’t familiar with the turf/grass mixture, but I’m not sure there’s truth to that,” Lerner said.

Nashville fans would disagree!

“Attendance for the weeknight Open Cup games at Lynn has been so-so but increasing every match,” she continued. “The smaller venue also makes it feel fuller and the atmosphere for the New England game felt very rowdy.”

A couple dozen Nashville SC fans (at least from the supporters’ groups; there may be some unaffiliated fans making the trip as well) will try to counteract that noise, but a midweek game in a different timezone is going to make that pretty rough for those who don’t have the luxury of requesting work off early. This will definitely be a home pitch for Louisville, nothing approaching neutral.

The Boys in Gold

Louisville hasn’t had its full roster available in a while, and it’s less so for Open Cup games.

(By the way, if you were wondering if Nashville is harmed by the international roster slots: a lot less so. Among guys who are regular contributors:

  • Kosuke Kimura is Japanese, but holds a Green Card and is not considered an international.
  • Ish Jome and Bolu Akinyode were both born in west Africa, but grew up in Minnesota and New Jersey, respectively, and are likely U.S. citizens (like Kimura, not subject to the roster restriction).
  • Liam Doyle and Robin Shroot are British. Lebo Moloto is South African and Ropapa Mensah is Ghanaian. Ryan James is Canadian. That’s only five guys who are likely subject to the restriction and also likely to play. Doyle, James, and Moloto, who all went to college in the US, have green cards.

Thus ends #rulebooktedium for the day)

Nashville beat a similarly-strong Louisville team at home just a few weeks back, but it’d be unfair to say that either team is as good on the road as it is at home: that’s part of why the host has taken both between the sides so far.

Nashville’s roster situation, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction from Louisville’s: with London Woodberry and Alan Winn coming off the injured (or just banged-up) lists, this is about as healthy as NSC has been – enough so to loan out a handful of players who were struggling to find gametime. Finally getting a rest after six games in 16 days (they had a full week off before Saturday’s win over North Carolina FC, and they have nearly a week off after this game, thanks to a blank weekend and Tuesday hosting of Indy Eleven early the following week) means fatigue shouldn’t be a consideration.

There’s a motivation for Nashville SC to prove itself – even more so than that’s a motivating factor for literally every sports team ever – and I think that we see whatever Gary Smith believes is his best XI. Brandon Allen and Ropapa Mensah should split time, but if Alan Winn (for example) can go 90, he should. We should get some clarity as to pecking order between Taylor Washington and Ish Jome, a better picture of where Ryan James fits into the 18, and how this team wants to play when it wants to play its best.

It should be really fun.

Projected lineups

Here we go:

IMG_DF253C42779C-1.jpeg

That’s basically the same lineup Nashville saw last time aside from injured Lancaster and internationals Souahy (France) and Ranjitsingh (T&T). Of course, one of the replacements (the Serbian Ilic) is an international as well, but sitting Ranjitsingh to have somebody to play striker is probably the only choice here.

For Nashville, it’s what I think is the Best XI – and there were some really tough choices of guys to leave off. Ropapa Mensah is obviously growing into a late-game supersub role, and he’ll have that in this one, too. Other subs will include a midfielder (either Washington on the left or Lagrassa/James on the right) and Woodberry into the game if NSC has a lead to protect at some point late in the game.

Predictions

I have a really tough time with this one, because so much is up in the air about Louisville’s roster fitness (and quite frankly, it might make sense to… not throw this game, but certainly not focus on it at the expense of USL play). I know NSC’s motivation is going to be high: as an expansion team, there’s a lot to prove, and this is the way to do it on the national stage. Also, the team is playing well enough to spend energy on USOC and not sacrifice too much in USL play.

  • Louisville City opens the scoring on a set piece, and does so relatively early in the game. That creates a feeling of “here we go again” for Nashville fans. The Boys in Gold have never come back to get a result after conceding first (they’ve had, uh, just two opportunities, the initial 2-0 loss to LCFC and then again by a 2-1 count to Indy a month later).
  • However, Nashville manages to wrest control of run-of-play after that point, and has some chances to close out the first half, with wing play from Ish Jome and Alan Winn major factors in that.
  • It’s Winn who creates the game-tying goal, crossing one in to Michael Reed at the top of the box (more of a pull-back pass than a true cross), and while Reed’s shot is saved, Allen is there to poach it home, as is his job. This comes about ten minutes into the second half.
  • Both teams play defensively in the second half. Nashville, because it seems like they tend to do that (and especially on the road), Louisville because they don’t have the depth to run for the whole game and still have the energy to both attack and defend.
  • “The whole game…” means more than 90 minutes in this one. We go to extra time.

Nashville SC wins 2-1. Whether that “2” comes in a penalty shootout or in added time from the foot of Ropapa Mensah is the question mark to me. Louisville just doesn’t have enough dudes to spend all their energy in the Open Cup, while it means everything to Nashville at this point in the year, and that’s the difference. Yes, it’s worth $25k to either team, but the monetary prize isn’t either one’s motivating factor. Nashville wants to be this year’s Cincinnati in terms of national pub (and not in terms of “finish 6th on the table but pretend like it’s as good as first because something something attendance).

See you in Atlanta.

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