Nashville SC

Preview: Nashville SC v. Charleston Battery 2018

Nashville got a road draw against Tampa Charleston what feels like ages ago. Can they improve the result when they welcome the Rowdies Battery to First Tennessee Park? (See, it works the same way it did in the midweek).

IMG_6AC3575CFF95-1
More strikers running into space, pls

The essentials

Opponent: Charleston Battery (12-4-13 USL). 40 GF, 29 GA so far in 2018, 4th in USL East, 4th in USL East Power Ratings and 9th in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: CHS (D-W-D-D-L) NSH (L-D-L-W-L)
The Line: Nashville SC +100, draw +229, Charleston Battery +219
Time, Location: Saturday, Sept. 22 7:30 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Tailgate: With The Assembly at the green space just East of the stadium, with The Heaters at Von Elrod’s, with The Roadies at Pastime.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 70ºF, 78% chance of rain, 86% humidity, 7 MPH NNE winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, stream on ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch in a game atmosphere.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @Chas_Battery, #NSHvCHS
Elsewhere: Soccer n Sweet Tea previewGolden Goal fearless forecast.

Charleston Battery

The Battery started the year a little slowly: they were 5-2-3 (despite playing one of the easier East schedules) when Nashville SC traveled to the Holy City. Since then? 7-2-10 may not be the most impressive mark in the world, but just two losses in nearly 20 games is something, for sure.

There is a pretty significant glimmer of hope for an opponent taking on the Battery this week, though: USL Golden Boot candidate Ataulla Guerra has been out the past two games (the Battery beat Tampa Bay and tied Charlotte in them) and will complete his three-game suspension for violent conduct in tonight’s contest. That’s 14 goals and four assists – both team-leading marks, and accounting for nearly half the team’s scoring this year – that are on the bench. For an offense that’s below-average (though not to the degree Nashville’s is), that’s a tough blow.

“No two ways about it, top goal scorer missing in any team is always a body blow,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith. “I watched their game against Charlotte and they’ve still got guys coming into the group who can certainly have a positive effect on the game. However, they have not got the confidence of a guy like Guerra has with 14 or 15 goals this year.”

The Battery have compensated by starting Ian Sventesson up top in their 3-4-3, with Gordon Wild and Victor Mansaray replacing him in the second half of each of the two recent games, respectively. Sventesson has only two goals this year (and even missed a penalty against Charlotte), but has four assists on the year. Wingers Kotaro Higashi and Patrick Okonkwo have flanked him in each of the past two contests, and both are two-footed wingers who like to cut back.

In the midfield, Jarad Van Schaik leads the team in created chances from non-Guerra players, but he hasn’t been in the squad for the past four games. I can’t find a reason why, so take that for what it’s worth, I guess. Brian Tah Anunga has played in the central midfield basically all year, joined recently by Angelo Kelly-Rosales. Nick Rittmeyer and Jay Bolt have been the wide midfielders – deployed somewhat like wingbacks in this system.

“They play with a back three, slightly different 4-3 in front of them, but I think a lot of their game is very similar to Tampa, they will be tough to break down,” said Smith. “They’ll be competitive, and they have individuals on the counter attack who are very bright, and I’m sure they will be difficult to cope with on certain instances.”

Defensively, Neveal Hackshaw, Taylor Mueller, and Skylar Thomas have been a pretty stout group all year, with Mueller playing in the middle and serving as a pretty good sweeper.

The keeper has rotated a bit, with Odisnel Cooper taking some minutes away from Joe Kuzminsky. However, Kuzminsky is the unquestioned starter in a competitive match, if you ask me: 76.1% to 64.7% saves, and getting about 2/3 of available minutes underscores that he’s the go-to guy when the rubber hits the road.

The Boys in Gold

I alluded to this in Tuesday’s preview (and the club took note and included it in today’s game notes), but I wanted to look a bit more into the “Nashville is worse on long rest” hypothesis I posited. Time for a chart:

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Game scores from the “Pure Power” rankings method.

The trend isn’t super-strong, but it’s there, and especially given you’d expect the slope of the trendline to go in the opposite direction (more rest means better play), it’s pretty interesting. If you knock out that dot in the bottom-left – the loss to Toronto on a crazy logisitcal nightmare for travel – the correlation is even stronger. I guess you can see a bit of a reason for it – the team is in a better rhythm, and is able to just get out and play to a certain extent.

That means it’s a good thing that the only game with even a full week’s rest before the end of the regular season is a trip to Richmond (far and away the worst team in USL), yeah? The team has a chance to stay in rhythm that they didn’t have earlier in the year. Hopefully that rhythm can help them turn chances into goals, which remains an issue.

“We watched film earlier, we said we had a good amount of chances and enough to win the game, unlucky not to put them away,” said winger Ish Jome. “Hopefully, next game we can build on that, create more chances, and put them away.”

Smith was actually pretty candid with the gameplan – something we don’t often see from a bit of a buttoned-up public speak like the gaffer. It should come as no surprise, though, with a similar formation – basing out of a 3-4-3, though Tampa was more a 3-1-4-2 Tuesday and has been at times this year, whereas Charleston is pretty rigid in its formation – that the gameplan is the same. Take advantage of space on the wings, bang in crosses, and try to find space inside the box.

“I honestly think our game plan will be the same as in the Tampa game,” Smith admitted. “We want to attack up the flanks, we want to do our utmost to supply our frontline. Not sure yet who our go-to is, but we want to supply our frontline with good service and opportunities to score. As long as we are creating we will always have a chance, when we stop creating I will start being concerned.”

I think we’ve come to a point in the season where creating without finishing is simply an identity of this team, and for that there’s some concern, regardless of how much creation is being done. Of course, it could also mean the team finds its form and suddenly breaks out on the scoreboard, too.

Projected lineups

Should be fairly straightforward. Explanation below:

IMG_8FFC4366CBA3-1.jpeg

I think a 3-5-2 is the move here, though it could actually play out a bit more like a 4-4-2 with Kimura able to get more forward, and Jomes taking the space on the left side. I mostly called it this formation because putting LaGrassa out on the wing would have looked different than I expect to see, even though he’ll nominally line up over there in a 4-4-2: he’ll actually be tucked well inside.

Predictions

Can Nashville atone for a missed opportunity Tuesday by getting points off a top-four team?

  • Charleston opens the scoring with Tah Anunga feeding Okonkwo cross-goal for a finish. That comes probably around the 25th minute.
  • Tah Anunga later gets a yellow card, which will cause him to miss the NCFC game on yellow accumulation (which is actually bad for Nashville, which needs North Carolina’s hot form to cool off).
  • Lebo Moloto gives Nashville its best scoring chance just after the half. He finds space at the top of the box and shoots. While his shot ends up wide left, winger Ish Jome is there to send it home and level the score. Moloto is given an assist that’s at least as charitable as the goal he was given against NCFC (which should have been scored an own-goal).
  • Subs: Mensah for Allen (shortly after halftime), Tyrpak for Jome in the 65th, with Moloto moving to the right wing and LaGrassa to the second striker. Woodberry for Bourgeois at halftime. There’s a pretty good chance we just don’t see Bourgeois at all.
  • Matt Pickens’s recent struggles are behind him, and he is able to stonewall a couple solid Charleston chances late.

The game ends in a 1-1 draw. Not the ideal result for Nashville, but acceptable against a top four team. The squad will need to come together in the final five to ensure a playoff spot, though.

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