Preview: Nashville SC v. Indy Eleven 2018

After #CupDreamz came to an end almost a week ago, it’s time for Nashville SC to double down and refocus on league play. Can they get revenge on the last team to beat them in a USL contest?

 

The essentials

Opponent: Indy Eleven (6-4-3, 17 GF, 15 GA so far in 2018, seventh in USL East, fourth in USL East Power Ratings and 11th in combined-table Pure Power)
The Line: Nashville SC -123, Draw +246, Indy +307
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 81ºF, 24% chance of rain, 74% humidity, 6 MPH Southerly winds
Watch: In person! This is also the first of USL’s nationally broadcast games on ESPNews (you can stream on ESPN3 with a cable package). See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch remotely.
Tailgate: With the Assembly and Eastern Front SG at Von Elrod’s, with The Roadies at Pastime. Music City Supporters at Germantown Depot.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @IndyEleven, #NSHvIND
Etc.: Q&A with Soc Takes. Read up on what went down last time these teams squared off. Gary Smith and Matt LaGrassa press conference.
Elsewhere: WKRN with a feature on the team. Bradley Bourgeois was on the USL team of the week last week. ProSoccerUSA on the Open Cup loss, since I won’t have a chance (or desire) to write a wrap. Golden Goal with a fearless forecast and a… feature, I guess? Not really a preview in any sense. USL on the team’s success in its debut season.

Last time we met

Soony Saad got in behind the defense once, and scored a screamer on a set piece (he does this a lot) to give Indy Eleven a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute. Ropapa Mensah would pull one back for Nashville SC shortly before the halftime break, but the damage was done. NSC couldn’t find the equalizer, and left Lucas Oil Stadium with its second loss of the year.

Read full coverage here.

Indy Eleven

 

The teams’ directions have diverged since that game in Indianapolis. The Eleven have gone 3-3-3 (1.33 points per game) including just 2-2-1 at home, in contrast to NSC’s 4-0-4 (2.00) – which may not seem like a big difference but given that it would be the margin between first place and ninth place on the table over the course of the season, that’s significant.

What’s gone wrong with Indy?

“Injuries and a lack of attacking identity have been the main culprits for the dropoff in form,” Soc Takes‘s Kevin Johnston said. “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.”

Despite that dropoff from Indy, Nashville SC remembers last game, and isn’t bound to think this Eleven side is going to be a pushover. There was a lot to learn from that game, and the Boys in Gold are doing what they can to internalize those lessons.

“My mindset and my feelings about Indy haven’t changed a tremendous amount,” said head coach Gary Smith. “I think I might have said at that point that we played them over two months ago that there’s a good likelihood that they’re going to be a playoff team. I’ve not changed my tack on that. I think we’re seeing all the qualities that represent a playoff team. Spirited side, individuals that are capable of changing a gamer in an instant, and consistency.”

“I think we’ve spent a lot of time studying the film and their tendencies individually and as a group,” Nashville midfielder Matt LaGrassa said. “I think they’re a side that we rate highly and they’re going to be difficult. With our record, we’re expecting a lot, especially at home.”

Indy’s home form is slightly worse than its performance on the road (though Johnston believes that to be mostly an anomaly based on the scheduling), but we’ll see how that stands up in the toughest road venue in the USL.

Left back Ayoze, of course Saad (who played as a secondary striker in the previous game, but is now lining up more as a left winger), and possibly Jack McInerney – whose mercurial temper has led to benchings, cards, fights, and more, removing him from being an every-game selection – are those you want to keep an eye on offensively.

Nashville missed centerback Karl Ouimette (who was himself on a red card) last time around, and when he’s on the pitch, he’s a solid defensive player. Keeper Owain Fon Williams has plenty of clean sheets (six), but a .667 save percentage can be interpreted in two ways: his defense either protects a mediocre keeper by not forcing him to face a ton of rubber, or they’re just OK (giving up some dangerous looks) but he’s saving their bacon regularly. As always, the truth is going to be somewhere in between. I have the overall defensive performance as seventh-best in the USL al things considered.

Long view… this is a team that Nashville should be able to beat at home.

The Boys in Gold

That’s in large part because home has been so kind to the Boys in Gold. They’ve given up one goal all season, and have won every game at First Tennessee Park (their lone draw came against Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Nissan Stadium).

“I think the fans have been a really big piece,” LaGrassa said of the home excellence. “The way they’ve gotten behind the team and the energy that they bring – you’ve seen some late goals from us, and I think it really drives the group, especially in the later stages.”

The biggest change for Nashville at this point – something I hadn’t had to write about in ten game previews – is that this is their first time coming off a loss since… they lost in Lucas Oil Field more than two months ago. They haven’t given up multiple goals a single time (in league play – Louisville put a pair on them Wednesday in the Cup loss) since then. We saw them get revenge against the only other team to beat them in the playback, and it might stand to reason that we’d see it here, as well.

The Nashville improvement comes mostly from more time together. The first loss to Louisville was the season-opener, they had a bit of trouble finding chemistry from that point, the loss in Indy was only the fifth game of the year. They’re undefeated since, undefeated at home all year (they’d only played two home games by that point, only one in First Tennessee), and look to be one of the USL’s best sides.

“Time together, time on the training field, confidence in actually getting results in difficult circumstances,” said Smith. “All of those experiences that we just didn’t have at the start of the season. The team is slowly but surely finding their way through, and tiptoeing through a tough period of time. In tough, I mean getting to know one another, seeing through rough waters away from home against good teams, against different teams in different environments, and they’re all experiences. I think those experiences are serving us well now, and just as much so the relationships that have built in the side.”

There may be something to a relief of pressure from the end of the 11-game unbeaten streak, however. Naturally, there won’t be a “yeah, we’re happy to have lost a game” statement, but being able to re-focus on one competition – and get some rest during the midweek – might serve Nashville well.

“I think the quick turnarounds from a Wednesday to a Saturday game can be really challenging,” LaGrassa said. “Obviously we’d love to still be in the Cup, but with that out of the way, it does give us a little more time and energy to focus toward the league. I think that helps us.”

“I think I’ve got a strong enough group that if we have extra games – and I know for sure that the players would have loved to have another MLS game – so that’s not the case at all,” Smith disagreed. “We gave it everything, and on the night we just fell slightly short. The fact that we now have a league campaign to focus on, we’re in a good position to move on from, and we’ve got some good games at home that we can really try and take advantage of.”

There’s no denying that the team is paying some attention to the standings, though.

“I think we do,” LaGrassa said. “We know how [the streak] affected our standing, and you try not to get too caught up in what can happen in the next couple games, and jut take each one day-by-day, but we’ve obviously put ourselves in a good spot now with this home streak coming up.”

Time to keep it up, indeed.

Projected lineups

Not too much controversial from either side here:

IMG_BFB6C1B4EE39-1.jpeg

You can debate wingers (Alan Winn, Matt LaGrassa, Robin Shroot, Ryan James) – and at least one sub will be made at that position, as has become tradition. Kosuke Kimura or James could easily be the RB starter, too. Ropapa Mensah is your other obvious sub here, and there’s a third one available as needed.

Predictions

I’m not sold on Indy, and I am sold on Nashville’s home form. However, the Eleven’s defense is… something NSC doesn’t have to deal with regularly (though they have seen the only two Eastern defenses better than the Eleven – Louisville and Pittsburgh – twice each).

  • Brandon Allen opens the scoring by dunking home a cross from Ish Jome. Moloto’s hold-up or false-nine style play is able to spring Jome down the wing, and he pulls it back across the face for Allen to finish dead center.
  • Bradley Bourgeois set piece goal. Y’all know I’m going to keep predicting this until it happens. He was able to get the nod-on for the assist against NCFC last week, but it’s time for one of his headed shots to find twine rather than inching wide.
  • Indy Eleven gets one back shortly after halftime, with Soony Saad shooting (from the run of play!) from a semi-audacious distance/angle outside the box. Either he’s able to beat the outstretched hands of Pickens, or the shot is blocked away by the veteran keeper and cleaned up in front of net when one of Nashville’s centerbacks is caught ball-watching and loses his marker.
  • Ropapa Mensah comes on in the 58th minute (a pretty early sub, but a good amount of wearing down the opponent with Allen’s pesky play, without taking too much time for Mensah to make an impact. Not that he needs more than “the literal last kick of the game” or “his literal first touch of the game” to score). He keeps up his goal-scoring ways, beating an Indy team over the top as the Eleven try to push forward for the equalizer.
  • The first red card in a Nashville SC game this year is shown. It is not shown to a Nashville player.

Nashville wins 3-1. I think this is a two-goal win, and I’ve gone back-and-forth about whether that’s a 3-1 or a 2-0 win for Nashville. Despite what it means about spoiling the sanctity of Fort Tennessee, I think Indy is dangerous enough to get a goal… just not dangerous enough to challenge for the victory down to the end.

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