Yes, it’s Nashville’s second regular-season game at Louisville City FC this year, but it’s the fourth matchup between the teams overall – they’ve already played Nashville’s home leg in the three-game regular-season series, and NSC also traveled to Derby City for a US Open Cup game.
If trends hold, that Nashville is on the road is pretty damning for their chances to win.
Opponent: Louisville City FC (11-4-6 USL). 40 GF, 26 GA so far in 2018, 4th in USL East, 2nd in USL East Power Ratings and 5th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: LCFC (W-D-W-W-L) NSC (W-D-L-W-L)
The Line: Louisville City -196, draw +300, Nashville SC +398
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m. local (6:30 p.m. CDT) • Slugger Stadium Louisville, Ky.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 80ºF, 14% chance of rain, 68% humidity, 7 MPH Northerly winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, stream with a subscription to ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch in a game atmosphere. With The Roadies at Pastime or Party Fowl Murfreesboro, The Assembly at Tailgate Music Row. It’s also not too long a haul if you want to head up there in person.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @loucityfc, #LOUvNSH
Elsewhere: Nashville SC preview. Louisville City with what to know. Louisville Coopers March to Matchday. Barrel Proof Podcast.
Louisville City FC
This has been a weird season for Louisville City. They didn’t make a ton of offseason signings, and have struggled with depth (particularly defensively) thanks to plenty of bad luck with injuries. Then, uh, they lost their coach, James O’Connor, to Orlando City, and named three of their best players co-head coaches. This week’s game will be the first under former US U-17 coach John Hackworth.
They had a really poor run of form that actually began well before O’Connor’s departure: from May 19 through present, they’ve had only one above-average performance at home (and for a team that’s one of USL’s best, you’d expect nearly all of their games to be comfortably above-average). From June 9 to July 14, they won only one game, on the road at Tampa Bay.
So, where are they now? For starters, we don’t know what the heck Hackworth is going to want to do schematically.
“The Louisville group have been playing a particular way for a good period of time and had a lot of success from it,” said Nashville coach Gary Smith. “I have no way of telling what John will do with the group. I believe he’s only been there a couple of days. It will be an interesting time for John, having been in the position myself coming in to a new group that are doing well.
“Do you change things, do you leave things the way they are? You have good players in and out of the group, do you need fresh legs or carrying on with the same team? None of those questions I can answer.”
A few things we can count on? Greg Ranjitsingh in goal, Kyle Smith in the backline, and Paolo DelPiccolo (one of the tri-coaches) in the midfield. That trio has played every game, and DelPiccolo’s 25 minutes on the bench represent the only all season that any of those guys hasn’t been on the field. Midfielders Oscar Jimenez and Speedy Williams, and defenders Paco Craig and Sean Totsch are the next-closest things to guarantees in the lineup.
Despite the defense having a few stalwarts, it’s been one area hit hard by injury. That’s why LCFC has brought in reinforcements, in the form of defensive midfielder/right back James Sands, who joins on loan from NYCFC. That’s not only an MLS player (albeit one who gets no MLS minutes for NYCFC), but one with whom the new coach is familiar, having coached him with the U-17 national team.
Up top, Nashville faced Louisville City last time without forwards Luke Spencer and Cameron Lancaster due to injury, but both are back to fitness – and Lancaster has placed himself in the discussion for the USL’s Golden Boot award. His connection with winger Ilija Ilic has been a key.
“Those guys who are scoring a lot of goals, you kind of put a lot of focus on them, but I think collectively, defensively, I think if we are sharp and compact and we stay tight, I think we should be able to do a good job on him,” defender Bradley Bourgeois said. “We just can’t really give him any space.”
Louisville has the pieces in place to finish strong and end in the top couple positions in the Eastern Conference.
The Boys in Gold
There’s some shakeup for Nashville, as well. The Boys in Gold have come out in a 3-5-2 formation in the past two games… and of course, that’s the look that went over like a lead balloon in Louisville the first time. Will NSC risk it on the narrow, multi-surface pitch of Slugger Stadium again?
“In terms of the dimensions of the field, it’s one of the tighter pitches, [but] we have a tight field here that we train on,” Smith said. “It’s been ideal for the preparation for this game. More so our personnel, the way and shape we’re going to play, and going into such a competitive game, the mindset. We went in the early part of the season, and Louisville were the better team and they deserved to beat us.”
He teases that the shape is going to be important without mentioning what it is. I go back-and-forth on this – the 3-5-2 was so poor on that narrow pitch last time, but Nashville has snapped out of its funk by going back to that formation recently. What’s more important, marrying tactics to the game situation, or rolling with what has the players feeling good? There’s no way to know.
Speaking of feeling good, Bourgeois played a relief role in last Friday’s win over the Ottawa Fury, and is working his way back to health. I would expect that he sees the pitch tomorrow, even if once again it’s coming off the bench.
“I think it’s just a combination of things really,” Bourgeois said of how he’s been able to return so quickly. “Myself, Sydney, the trainer, and ultimately it’s the coaching staff’s decision to put that trust and that faith in me to allow me to step back on the field.”
With him in the backline, I feel a bit more comfortable if NSC reverts to the four – it’s where he found his success, and is a good fit for his skillset. I really can’t decide what Smith is going to do in this one… nor really what I think is best. A narrow pitch makes for shorter crossing distances (and thus plays into the 3-5-2 as a tactical choice), but it also restricts space laterally, and with five midfielders Nashville might get to crowded in that area of the pitch. The 4-4-2 gives better spacing in the midfield, but allows a strong Louisville defense to have the opportunity to shut down attacks coming up the middle.
I’m going with the 4-4-2 for Nashville, just because of how poorly the 3-5-2 worked the first time around, and because the four-man backline has led to two decent performances against Louisville. A 2-0 loss on the road with the 3-5-2 versus a 2-0 home win and 2-1 road loss (on a different pitch, to be fair) out of the four-man backline.
I don’t think Hackworth will mess around too much with what’s been successful for Louisville: they play with three centerback-types, but are pretty multiple (including the ability top put two strikers up top, depending on personnel, as well).
For Nashville, I picked a lineup that could also be a 3-5-2 with the same personnel, just a different shape (Taylor Washington would drop to left back, Lebo Moloto to the No. 10 position, Kris Tyrpak joins Brandon Allen up top), though if that’s the formation I’d expect Tucker Hume or Ropapa Mensah in the starting lineup instead of Allen.
I think Nashville will get a result on the road in Louisville, which may sound a little surprising given how the previous two contests there have played out.
- Louisville City opens the scoring, and like in the US Open Cup game, opens a 2-0 lead. This time, though, the goals come from more obvious sources: Cameron Lancaster and Ilija Ilic each bag one before the break.
- However, Nashville is able to claw back this time. Bradley Bourgeois gets the long-awaited headed goal from a corner kick, and Ropapa Mensah steals the road point after the 80th minute on a nice piece of cutback-and-shoot skillwork. Tyrpak and Moloto get the respective assists.
- We see a Nashville opponent end up with a red card for just the second time this year, when Oscar Jimenez commits a hard foul shortly after Bourgeois’s early second-half goal.
- Nashville’s subs are Bolu Akinyode replacing Matt LaGrassa (half), London Woodberry replacing Bradley Bourgeois (70th minute), and Ropapa Mensah replacing Kris Tyrpak (72nd minute).
The game ends in a 2-2 draw. Nashville will feel (justifiably) like it stole a point, despite being the stronger team in time of possession over the course of the game. For an NSC side that was floundering not so long ago, its third result in three games feels pretty good (especially when the two draws come on the road against the best two teams in the East).