Nashville has played some bad teams already this year (including this one!). Will they be able to get three points and come dangerously close to locking down their playoff future? Well, uh, they should.
Opponent: Richmond Kickers (6-22-4 USL). 28 GF, 74 GA so far in 2018, 15th in USL East, 15th in USL East Power Ratings and 33rd (dead last) in combined-table Pure Power.
Recent form: RIC (L-L-L-L-L) NSH (D-L-D-L-W)
The Line: None yet (will update later)
Time, Location: Saturday, Oct. 6 6:00 p.m. CDT (7 local) • City Stadium, Richmond, Va.
Event: USL Regular season
Weather: 77ºF, 6% chance of rain, 73% humidity, 3 MPH ESE winds
Watch: Locally on MyTV30, or stream on ESPN+. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville if you want to watch in a game atmosphere. The Assembly will be watching at Tailgate Music Row, The BoRoadies at Party Fowl Murfreesboro.
Listen: Locally on 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe FM en Español.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, #RICvNSH
Elsewhere: Kickers preview. USL weekly preview.
Richmond has the worst offense in the USL. Richmond also has the worst defense in the USL. Most modern soccer coaches believe that’s not the clearest path to having a successful season. They’re on five straight losses right now, and winless in their last eight (having drawn just one). Richmond wasn’t so bad through the first two months of the season – 3-4-1 through their first eight games – but if you’re good at math, you know that means they’ve been 3-18-3 ever since.
That’s bad. It’s not bad enough that they’re likely to drop behind Toronto in the final table yet, because TFCII has had consistently poor results over the course of the season, but when you take into account goal differential (as the Pure Power ratings do), or ignore their form in, like, April (unlikely to be currently relevant), Richmond is the worst team in USL, and it’s not even remotely close.
So that’s good, right?
“We are now playing against two teams [Toronto is next, on Tuesday] who can’t make the postseason,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “This weekend you have a group of players in Richmond that will have a lot of freedom in their play. While they can’t make the playoffs, they could be playing for a contract or playing for their fans with it being their last home game. I would expect them to want to go out with a bang and put everything out there.”
The Kickers will be without Heviel Cordoves, who was red-carded in Saturday’s game against North Carolina FC. That’s their joint-leading scorer at seven, putting plenty of pressure on fellow scoring leader Brian Shriver to do something, anything to get the ball into the back of the net. Shriver is also the team’s leader in assists with eight (only three of which has gone to Cordoves, because the pair mostly split time up top in a single-striker system until recently, when Shriver has been playing on the left wing). Cordoves also wasn’t in the squad last time Nashville saw this team, so no major change there from our perspective. Jamaican international Dane Kelly has been on season-long loan from DC United, so he could factor in, though he’s made only four appearances for the Kickers all year. This might be a time he’s needed.
Having watched them early in the year and also more recently, I don’t get the impression that the offense is “worst in the league”-level bad, though obviously the numbers don’t lie, but they did go scoreless for five in a row (and seven out of eight) in late July through mid-August, which really drags things down… and again, is more relevant to their current makeup than what they did to start the year. What they do look like is a bunker-and-counter team (of course, except against Nashville, which is definitely tilted toward the counter-attack itself).
“When they came here they played well the majority of the game with the ball,” said NSC defender Liam Doyle. “We will need to limit them with the ball. Then we will get chances and we’ll need to take those chances. It’s almost playoff time. Even if we can get one win it might be enough so let’s get it on Saturday and then take it from there.”
That bunker is horrible, of course. They’ve given up at least three goals on 14 different occasions this year, including six to Louisville and four to Nashville in back-to-back games in late August. LA Galaxy II has been involved in two games with seven goals scored by a single team (Portland 2 scored that many on them, while the Galaxy put that many on Las Vegas Lights)… but otherwise Richmond has set the high-water mark there. If your defense is going to be bad regardless of what you do, might as well go with the Atlanta United 2 or Galaxy method of just playing fun offense and playing a whole mess of like 5-3 games. Richmond has not taken that tack.
They give up a ton of space along the flank deep in their defensive area (you know, that thing a four-man backline is designed not to give up), which may play into Nashville’s gameplan, too: the Boys in Gold have been cross-happy all year, and particularly lately with the re-emergence of Tucker Hume at striker.
Trevor Spangenberg DC United loanee Travis Worra have split time almost equally at keeper (Brian Barnes also has three games – all coming in the most recent four – but he was terrible so I doubt we see him if the others are available), with both “boasting” a save percentage in the low 60s. Maybe they aren’t good, maybe (more likely) the defense in front of them is awful, but either way, they’ve been unable to get the job done. Spangenberg has gotten all non-Barnes time lately – Worra might be back with DC United, though he’s playing for nobody.
The Boys in Gold
While Lebo Moloto is only “questionable” on the injury report, he didn’t make the 18 last weekend, and shouldn’t be needed to beat this Kickers side. I would expect more rest for CB Bradley Bourgeois (the only other play on the injury list, also questionable) against this side, too.
Nashville has been about as consistent through the past couple weeks lineup-wise as we’d seen previously all season. That’s partially due to injuries, but certainly finding some consistency should help with offensive output. This team needs it, if not for the Richmond game, for finding the stride on the way into the postseason stretch.
“It is very, very important that we score that first goal,” said Smith. “We have been at our best when we score first and if we can get that first goal again, we should give ourselves a very good chance to get all three points.”
NSC has been experimenting with more offense-first formations, and while it hasn’t paid of in buckets of goals, creating the chances should eventually pay off with the talent they have. Against a Richmond team that’s going to have a hard time matching them chance-for-chance – and also has the worst defense in the USL – you can take some risks in order to try to score some goals.
The stakes for this game are huge. Win it, and Nashville SC gets really close to locking down its playoff spot.
A bit of explanation below:
Richmond has gone with a 4-2-3-1 the vast majority of the year, but did trot out a 4-1-4-1 last week. Their official site also talks up central midfielder Prince Agyemang as a potential contributor, so there’s a possibility you could replace Umar with him and move him up to the 3-line making it a four-man midfield. I made the graphic before they published their preview though, so whatever.
Nashville has gone with a few different formations lately as Gary Smith tinkers to try to find a bit more offense. That’s even included a bit of a true 4-3-3 since Lebo Moloto went out, and I’m tentatively predicting we’ll see that against a Richmond team that’s fairly toothless in the attack and won’t be able to punish a Nashville team that puts a bit more offensive a lineup out there.
Richmond is a bad team in both directions, whereas Nashville is diminishing defensively in recent weeks, but still elite (as they struggle to find offense, like they have much of the year). A Western Conference version of Richmond would actually be really fun, throwing numbers forward and either winning or losing 5-2 every week. As it stands, they’re more likely to lose 3-1 every time because they try to bunker and counter.
- For the second game in a row, Nashville gets a first-time goal-scorer (it was captain Michael Reed against the Red Bulls). I’ll go with Kris Tyrpak in a substitute appearance, shortly after halftime. His lone goal on the season was scored when he was still with San Antonio FC.
- Tucker Hume gets an assist on a Ropapa Mensah goal, and Mensah pays it forward to Matt LaGrassa. Mensah’s opens the scoring, while LaGrassa’s comes shortly before halftime.
- The recent trend of giving up one iffy goal per game (or conceding a penalty, yet still saving it) continues, and Richmond is able to strike on the counter once. Agyemang feeds Shriver for the tally. The score makes it 2-1 before Typak’s clincher.
- Your NSC substitutes: Tyrpak for Winn at halftime, Bolu Akinyode replaces LaGrassa in the 60th minute (with the score still 2-1), London Woodberry for Ish Jome after the Boys in Gold go back up 3-1.
The numbers that the Pure Power spreadsheet pumped out predict Nashville 1.25-0.71 Richmond, which is… not the margin you’d expect against the worst team in the USL. Nashville wins, 3-1. There are concerns about Nashville’s road performances (which are dragging the numbers down, along with a general lack of offense), but Richmond is a whole different question in that regard.