Nashville SC season preview 2019: The wrap and predictions

Hey there, I’ve written 7,483 words previewing Nashville SC’s season, and another 5,133 taking a teambyteam look at their opponents this year (and 774 more looking at where last year’s standout USL players will suit up in 2019).

Would you like to read the whole thing to get to know the Boys in Gold and the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference inside and out? Here we go:

The four phases – setting the stage for the rest of the team’s preview (I added a fifth, separating set pieces into their own category).

Transition to defense:

Overall, this is an area where it’s unclear if Nashville SC will be improved, and that’s primarily because we have limited information on how a high-press will work consistently against USL competition, and particularly USL competition that has the offensive bite to get on the break. How it plays out could be the difference between another very good defense and one that’s good on an historic level.

That opens with a #tease of the high press, which should encourage you to read the rest of it, in personal e-pinion.

Settled defense:

Each position seems to have either maintained its level from last year – with some improvement through maturity for the young guys, and perhaps a decline through maturity for the fellas getting up there in age – or made major improvements.

Ooh, sounds like it will be good!

Transition to offense:

Thanks to personnel additions, simple individual growth, and likely a bit of a change in tactical focus, this is one area in which Nashville SC’s game can take major steps forward in 2019.

Nashville SC may not become an all-terrorizing buzzsaw of a transition offense this season, but with better pieces and a little more ambition, this looks to be a phase of the game that will see major improvement nonetheless.

I’m liking it…

Settled offense:

All told, barring a catastrophe there should be major steps forward for this offense. Will it be among the elite in the league? That, I actually doubt: there’s a certain point at which diminishing returns offensively aren’t worth what you may lose in the process on defense. However, being solidly above-average (rather than last year’s below it) alongside an elite defense should create plenty of excitement.

Hey, that’s not as exciting as the offseason signings make it sound. 😦 (Fear not, it should still be good).

And now, some predictions

I’m not going to bother burying the lede here: I think Nashville SC is going to be atop the Eastern Conference table, and will be considered the favorite to take home the whole deal when it comes to playoff time. The above-linked-and-excerpted (I’d encourage you to click through on all of them, because there’s much more meaty info in there) pieces should make clear the reasons why, but to boil it down to a couple specific factors:

  • The defense should be able to maintain its elite level from last year, with improved personnel counteracted slightly by tactics that encourage more offense.
  • The offense should be better by leaps and bounds, both because of those tactics and a major influx of scoring (and assisting) talent.
  • The team should be more cohesive from the jump, improved on set pieces, and more ambitious in both transition phases.

I think the conference basically boils down into a few specific tiers for Nashville SC, based on those clubs’ offseason moves (and knowing we have a true home-and-away round-robin makes this so much simpler):

USL East 2019
Tier I: 1-4 points for NSC Indy Eleven, Louisville City FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Tier II: 2-4 points for NSC Charleston Battery, New York Red Bulls, St. Louis FC, Swope Park Rangers
Tier III: 3-4 points for NSC Bethlehem Steel, Charlotte Independence, Ottawa Fury FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Tier IV: 4-6 points for NSC Atlanta United 2, Birmingham Legion, North Carolina FC
Tier V: 6 points for NSC Hartford Athletic, Loudoun United, Memphis 901 FC

There’s obviously going to be some randomness as the season actually plays out, but generally they’re in that order. Remember, Nashville SC probably would have been a maximum of two against FC Cincinnati last year, but took three points from three game. I’d have probably projected six against Toronto FC II, but they got only one. Not only are these guesses based on what I know about the teams, there’s also individual form on a given day that creates wild results (and is part of what makes following this game so much fun).

Best-case worst-case, based on the overall projections are: 54 points on the low end (1.59 ppg), and 80 points on the high end (2.35 ppg). That’d be a new record if everything went according to plan – FCC had 77 points in 34 games last year – and still a likely first-round bye in the new expanded playoff in the worst case scenario. If the bottom falls out due (massive injury, etc.), the floor gets quite a bit lower, if NSC can take some road points off the upper-tier teams and takes care of business against the lower tier guys, the ceiling… probably remains the same, if we’re being honest.

How about some individual predictions:

  • Lebo Moloto takes fewer than half the shots he did last year (57), but adds 50% to his key passes (which would bring him up to about 75) with more offensively-minded teammates – who are also more willing to take the shot that turns a nice look into a key pass.
  • Cameron Lancaster is your team leader in both shots (90) and goals (20). Daniel Ríos isn’t far behind with 75 and 17.
  • Connor Sparrow gets more than 30% of available minutes in goal, a huge increase from last year’s backup goalkeeper situation.
  • NSC scores eight goals on set pieces, four coming from the head of Ken Tribbett.
  • Nashville SC makes a third MLS signing who will close out the year with the USL side. That signing comes during the Summer window.

Nashville SC wins the East on 70 points, and goes on to beat Sacramento Republic in the USL Cup. The team advances to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup (one round further than last year).

Obviously “cup or bust” expectations are unfair, so anything including a top three finish and a trip to the USL Eastern Conference Final in the playoffs (single-elimination soccer is hard) is a fair expectation for the team.

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