Preview: Nashville SC v. Bethlehem Steel 2018

Bethlehem Steel will go down in Nashville SC history as the first team to give a professional victory. Will the Boys in Gold remain undefeated against the Baby Union? (This is a much less fun diminutive than the other MLS2 teams).

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“Now lean back. Lean back” – Regular-width Mike

The essentials

Opponent: Bethlehem Steel (11-10-6 USL). 46 GF, 32 GA so far in 2018, 5th in USL East, 9th in USL East Power Ratings and 9th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: BST (W-W-L-W-W) NSC (D-W-D-L-W)
The Line: Nashville SC +117, draw +224, Bethlehem Steel +206
Time, Location: 7:30 p.m.  • First Tennessee Park
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 88ºF, 0% chance of rain, 58% humidity, 7 MPH Southerly 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.
Tailgate: With the Assembly in the green space just East of the stadium, the Roadies at Pastime.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @BSteelFC, #NSHvBST
Elsewhere: USL preview, Fox 17 previewGolden Goal fearless forecast, which includes plenty about how this game is played at Lehigh? Might wanna check the notes there.

Bethlehem Steel

Last time Nashville played this team, the Steel were down to 10 men for nearly the entire contest, but only conceded the lone goal that resulted from the red-carded offense. We thought that was a terrible result from Nashville at the time (and given that NSC failed to score from the run of play with 84-plus minutes of a man advantage, it may well have been), but Bethlehem’s form since then makes it quite a bit less worrisome.

That game dropped Bethlehem to 1-2-0, with the lone win against the Richmond Kickers, but since that time, they’ve gone 10-8-6, and have placed themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff positions (comfortably so, at fifth place, though the third through tenth spots are separated by only 12 points). Like basically every team, though, they’re below .500 away from home, and some First Tennessee Magic® could make things tougher for them tonight.

This will certainly be a tough, tough challenge, but our guys enjoy being at First Tennessee Park and in front of our fans,” said NSC head coach Gary Smith. “In our current run of form – with two really good road results around a home win – we are ready to get back out there.”

Santi Moar has been the star for the Steel this season, and though he has only six goals, I feel like every time I’ve watched them his impact has been greater than that. He’s third on the team in minutes played, and tied for most (read: all but one) with centerback Matthew Mahoney. Where Moar separates himself is assisting his teammates, where he has twice as many as the next-highest player, despite his status as also the best finisher on the squad.

Anthony Fontana is another key player for the Steel as their playmaker at the 10 spot in a USL-standard 4-2-3-1, though he’s not played in the past few games. As is always the case with these MLS 2 teams, there is a lack of consistency in who’s with the team (rather than the top-division side), much less who’s actually going to be in the squad and/or play.

“We are going to run into a young group who have matured throughout the course of the season,” said Smith. “Never sure who is going to travel with the second teams but I expect some very creative individuals and it will be an extremely tough game. They know this is an important game with four games in hand against us. They’ll need a win tonight.”

Matt Real, the left back, is a youth national team player, though he’s also missed games here and there playing with the Union. Nonetheless, he’s been a fixture lately for the Steel, so I’d count on him being available.

The Boys in Gold

Last we saw the Steel, Nashville came out in a new-look 4-4-2. It was unclear if that was a pure tactical shift or just a special case after the Steel went a man down six minutes into the game.

Now, we’ve clearly seen that it was the direction Nashville SC was going to go. We’ve also since seen them go back to the odd backline (though it’s more a true 3-5-2 than the 5-3-2 we saw earlier in the year). What NSC tries to do against the Steel is still a bit of a mystery… but I would project the back three is more likely than a back four.

There have also been changes in personnel for both teams, though more so for Nashville. One of the Steel’s starting strikers the last time these sides met up? Brandon Allen. He’ll be wearing Gold tonight, though.

“I like it a lot better here,” Allen said of Nashville. “I like the fans here, there are a lot more fans at the games and it’s a bit more exciting to play here for me.”

Similarly, Michael Cox started up top and scored the lone Nashville goal last time around, but he’s no longer with NSC. Instead, former San Antonio FC striker Kris Tyrpak joined as a forward/mid, and I’m betting he (finally) sees the pitch tonight for his new club.

With Bradley Bourgeois back to health and in the starting lineup, Michael Reed having played full minutes since a minor injury in the Ottawa game, the same for Matt Pickens… we’ll see a full-strength Nashville side. I would imagine they’ll stick with the recently-successful 3-5-2, but they have the flexibility to come out in one look and present it as another depending on game situation, too.

Projected lineups

I’m going with the 3-5-2 for Nashville, because they seem to have settled back into that in the past three or four games. The 4-4-2 was also relatively ineffective (albeit due in part to personnel) the first time around in this matchup.

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Nothing controversial, I don’t think, but I have to put words under the image or it looks weird so here we are. I think Tyrpak plays. There’s something substantive for you.

Predictions

Bethlehem is better than they looked at the time of the first game, but notably, Nashville is also much better (if you’re not a member of the “durrrrr what happened last gamr is the only thing that ever happened” crowd, which you should not be). With that said, here we go:

  • Tyrpak gets his first NSC point, assisting on a Brandon Allen opener.
  • The only other goal in this one is provided by a sub, and fan favorite Ropapa Mensah gets on the scoreboard for the first time since the now-famous June winner over North Carolina FC. Lebo Moloto (unsurprisingly) provides the assist.
  • You Nashville SC subs: Kosuke Kimura for Taylor Washington, London Woodberry for Ish Jome (Justin Davis to left wingback), and Mensah replaces Tyrpak at the half as Nashville tries to give both of them as much time as possible while acknowledging that neither has really done the work during the week to be a 90-minute player on the weekend.
  • The Steel finish with seven shots, but four of them come from outside the box, and only one is on goal.

Nashville wins 2-0. It’s a satisfying if not dominating win, but considering the improvement from the Steel over the course of the season, a multi-goal win is more than enough to satisfy NSC fans.

The meaning

Here’s a new section.

Nashville can only climb to sixth place in the standings (at best) with a win this evening. Thanks to the Steel’s mid-week win over Ottawa Fury (literally the worst of the three possible outcomes for NSC in the table out of that game, so if you tweeted “got some help” about it, you are wrong), their upside is capped.

However, Nashville will also have at least one game in hand on all but one team (Louisville) in front of them, so there’s upside there. No, wins from games in hand are not guaranteed, but if the concept of having the opportunity to get more points versus already losing out on those points is confusing to you… I don’t know what to say.

With the games in hand that they have, their fifth-best PPG in the East against what has been the hardest schedule should equalize and hopefully mean challenging for a home playoff game. Giving away points against Ottawa and Toronto probably ends the dreams of finishing third or higher, but this team still has big goals to accomplish.

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