For Club and Country: When last these teams played, Indy looked like one of the East’s best, while Nashville was hoping for a comfortable spot in that next tier. They’ve flipped roles since. What’s led to a bit of a dropoff from the Eleven, and is there faith they’ll bounce back?
Kevin Johnston: Injuries and a lack of attacking identity have been the main culprits for the dropoff in form. The club hasn’t scored a ton of goals from the run of play; they’ve mostly come from set pieces and penalties. The midfield and forwards seem to be gelling at a tortoise’s pace.
As for the injuries, Tyler Pasher and Carlyle Mitchell were both sorely missed while dealing with knocks. Mitchell has since returned and given Indy’s defense a massive lift the past few games, but Pasher remains out and his timetable to return is unclear. The Eleven offense hasn’t looked the same without him.
Indy should eventually mesh and sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs, but hardly looks like a legit title contender.
FCAC: Have there been any major changes in personnel or formation since the game in Lucas Oil?
KJ: Besides normal rotation to cope with injuries, there haven’t been too many drastic changes. Some to note are Brad Ring returning to his natural CDM spot after filling in at right back based on need, Kevin Venegas getting fully healthy and drawing a few starts at right back, and Seth Moses possibly taking over Nathan Lewis’ starting gig at right midfielder. Lewis had a brutal multiple-match stretch and played himself out of the job.
Jack McInerney has also somewhat inexplicably struggled. He seems to be playing with a reckless chip on his shoulder after departing the top flight, often exhibiting a lack of body control by flying wildly into challenges and earning silly cautions in the process. He’s still in the forward rotation, but no longer seems locked in as an every-week starter.
FCAC: Indy has been a better team on the road than at home. Is that just a quirk of the schedule, or is there something to it that should have Nashville worried?
KJ: It’s likely just a schedule quirk mixed with a hint of Lucas Oil Stadium having a difficult surface to play on. I’d expect that trend to start reversing soon though. Indy’s home schedule has been significantly tougher than its road one thus far, and I don’t think there’s any deeper meaning behind it, e.g. I don’t think this Eleven side has a special knack for rising to the occasion away from home or anything like that.
FCAC: With nearly half a season in the books, how has the transition to USL met expectations? It seems like Louisville and Cincy have earned the majority of Indy rivalry ire, but is there a bit of a rivalry feeling with Nashville that could play a role?
KJ: It seemed as though maybe Nashville and Indy could grow into natural rivals, but the disappointing travelling Nashville SC contingent when the teams met in Indy — combined with Nashville soon departing the USL for greener pastures — leads me to believe that’s it’s a stretch to call Nashville-Indy a rivalry. I’d love for it to be a burgeoning rivalry, but that simply doesn’t appear to be the reality of the situation.
FCAC: Finally, what’s your lineup prediction for Tuesday night. Any other specific predictions (including a final score)?
KJ: Coming off a brace in Indy’s 3-1 win over Toronto FC II, forward Justin Braun probably earned himself another start up top. I’m actually going to project the exact same lineup from that match, something resembling a 4-1-4-1 from left to right: Fon Williams; Ayoze, Ouimette, Mitchell, Venegas; Matern; Saad, Guerra, Watson, Moses; Braun. My official prediction is a 1-0 Nashville SC win.
I also filled in the Soc Takes guys on what’s new with NSC. You can read that portion here:
Kevin Johnston: What factors have led to Nashville SC’s rapid ascent up the table?
Tim Sullivan: I think largely, this is closer to the same team from the beginning of the year than folks realized. Starting the season with a road game against Louisville, then hosting a Pittsburgh team that is better on the road than probably anyone expected, taking a road loss at Indy… none of those feel as bad as they might have seemed like they should back in April. However, there have been a couple major improvements: Gary Smith has changed both tactics (going from a 3-5-2 in the first few games to a 4-4-2 ever since) and personnel (signing winger Alan Winn and completely altering the rotation at striker) to open up the offense a bit more, while not sacrificing anything defensively. That’s allowed the long undefeated streak in USL play, and is expected to be sort of the “who we are” rather than “hot streak” for NSC.
KJ: First Tennessee Park has been an absolute fortress this season with Nashville having only allowed one goal at home all season. Why is it so difficult for visitors to find the back of the net?
TS: For the most part, Nashville has been good both home and road on the defensive end of the pitch. It’s the scoring (1.6 per game at home with the only scoreless contest at Nissan Stadium rather than First Tennessee, 0.88 on the road) that is the bigger change, and a lot of that is just comfort with the surface, coming out a little more aggressively to set the tone, and then there’s always the fan support. Gary Smith is a little bit more ambitious in sending guys forward at home because he knows getting an early goal will allow the fans to take over and intimidate the opponent out of the game.
KJ: What are some of the hallmarks of a Gary Smith-coached squad?
TS: Defense, defense, defense. Smith’s teams are always sound defensively, and that’s been the case both home and road so far in 2018. That’s persisted through the tactical change (which was oriented more toward opening up the offense), and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. The offense has indeed improved since the move to a 4-4-2, with false-nine Lebo Moloto and a rotating cast of wingers keys to setting up the scoring, with a couple different strikers ready to finish.
KJ: Which Nashville player(s) has/have been the most pleasant surprises this season?
TS: Bradley Bourgeois is the first one that comes to mind. The 5-11 centerback was pushed into action after MLS vet London Woodberry suffered an injury in the first game… and hasn’t relinquished a starting spot. He’s a danger on set pieces despite his size, and has been very sound at the back. Another would be Brandon Allen, but the surprise comes from the fact he’s on the team, rather than the fact that he’s scoring at a pretty good rate. He was in the opposing lineup for Nashville’s game at Bethlehem Steel, and as soon as his transfer was complete, he started scoring almost immediately. That’s the offensive punch the Boys in Gold needed.
KJ: How do you expect Nashville to line up Tuesday night and what’s your score prediction?
TS: Plenty of the spots are rock-solid with the starters not questioned, with a couple that there’s still something of a positional battle (front-back, L-R):
Allen could sit in favor of Ropapa Mensah (both will play, Mensah likely the final 35 minutes or so), the right winger and right back have seen a few different contributors, with Alan Winn certain to play the former (whether he starts or comes on as a sub) and Kosuke Kimura/Ryan James possibilities at the latter.
I see a two-goal Nashville win, either a 2-0 scoreline (Allen and Moloto the goal scorers) or a 3-1 (add Washington to Nashville, and the hated Soony Saad for the Eleven).
Once again, many thanks to Kevin and Soc Takes.