Nashville SC comes off a bye week. Can the Boys in Gold leverage a little rest into a road win?
Opponent: Ottawa Fury (1-0-1, 10th place USL East, 3rd USL East ratings)
Time, Location: Saturday, April 6 1:00 p.m. CDT (2:00 p.m. local) • Ottawa, Ont.
Weather: 43 ºF, 3% chance of rain, 69% humidity, 11 MPH Westerly winds
Follow: Twitter list • USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 (English radio), 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español)
Etc.: Nashville press conference video and transcript. Recap of what we learned through the bye week. Q&A with 613 Sports.
This is a team that had an elite defense and bad offense last season (a little bit worse than Nashville defensively, but comparable on offense). However, that was with the USL-snubbed keeper Maxime Crepeau between the pipes, and he’s with Vancouver Whitecaps now. Can the Fury go with the same strategy after downgrading talent?
“Less of that mentality,” said Eddie Benhin of 613 Sports. “Popovic wants to aim towards a possession and passing philosophy with Ward as anchor, and Fall supporting this. With additional offence with Oliveira and François up front. Haworth is also moved back to the front to support that effort.”
That means a team that had a very obvious identity last year – albeit an identity based almost exclusively around the talent of one player – is a little more up in the air in 2019. Given that the Fury has only played two games to date (a 1-1 draw with Charleston Battery and a 1-0 win over Birmingham Legion), there’s probably not enough offense to evaluate how effectively they;ll be able to implement an identity change.
Certainly, the Nashville perspective includes a head coach expecting them to be able to create some moments of brilliance with the ball at their feet.
“It’s always difficult early on to try and work out what teams are doing until they get into a little bit of a rhythm and a flow,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “Their coach is well-organized, he’s got, I think, an experienced group in the main there. I remember going up there last year, and they’ve got quite a number of those bodies still around the group. It was a tough task: they played their field well, they managed the game very well, and in most cases, they’ll want you to come and try and beat them. However, they certainly have players – as we found out last year – that are capable of being effective and bright in the attacking half of the field.”
Carl Haworth has a goal and an assist on the young season, while former Saint Louis FC standout Wal Fall assisted Haworth’s goal, and Kevin Oliveira assisted Haworth’s tally. It’s so early in the season that it’s truly difficult to know what this team wants to do, and fully what they’ll look like when the lights come on at home – for the first time this season.
“They’ll always be a really tough opponent, especially when they’re playing at home,” said Nashville defender Justin Davis. “It’s a big field, I believe it’s their home opener, so they’ll be buzzing and flying around trying to make a statement. Again, it’s a team that’s gonna be right on that playoff line throughout the year, so we’re gonna have to be on our front foot there and get a result.”
Ottawa has played out of a hybrid 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-3 in each of the first two games, with Oliveira and Haworth by far the most advanced offensive players on average. Their only change in the starting lineup to date has been replacing centerback Nana Attakora with Dakota Barnathan. If a couple weeks off changes their approach, so be it, but I’d expect more of the same.
Keeper David Monsalve has faced only nine shots to date, saving eight, but given that those came from the feet of a couple pretty weak offensive teams (Charleston will find their way offensively, but they’re a defense-first side at this point in the year, while Birmingham is generally bad right now, but also might find some form as the year goes on), I wouldn’t read too much into it, given the small sample size.
The Boys in Gold
Nashville has played well generally but, like last year, needs to find that cutting edge int he final third.
“I think the break has come at a decent time to really get dug into some of the aspects of our game that have had a little bit of a breaking in period is how I look at it,” said Gary Smith. “Not quite as creative or as much of a goal threat as I would have liked. Two of three of the players in the attacking area of the field looking for a connection or rapport. Nice that Daniel [Ríos] and Cameron [Lancaster] have got themselves off the mark and running, but we certainly needed and do need to be more of a goal threat. [This break] has given us a bit more time, care, opportunity to get more work done.”
Lancaster is questionable with injury, but my impression is that his hamstring will more relegate him to a “come off the bench” role than a “don’t enter the game” role. Not having to solve the two-strikers-one-position problem may be a blessing in disguise, in a way.
Hopefully, an Ottawa team hoping to impress home fans in their first go-round at TD Place in 2019 may leave some openings for Nashville.
“Ideally, we want to be a team that has a lot of possession, and coming up with ideas to break them down,” said Davis. “I think maybe at home in their opener, they might be pushing forward a little bit more. So that could leave them exposed at the back, so we can take advantage of that.”
“They are very compact when they defend, and they have really good players as well,” added forward Tucker Hume, who began his career with Ottawa. “They are tall and fast. They work a lot defensively, and last year they proved that. I expect the same thing this year.”
Nashville’s lineup is settling into a bit of a “first choice XI” situation – albeit with some changes, and the Ríos/Lancaster logjam still to solve (my opinion? Let two guys coming off fairly significant injuries or injury history share a position, letting both stay fresh), as well as getting Alan Winn integrated into the lineup after he missed the first two games and was a bit player in the third.
I have a hard time believing that Ottawa is the offense that can unlock Nashville defensively, though that may be bias/overemphasis on last year. I may give Darnell King the right back nod over Kosuke Kimura just because I’ll take the offensive punch over the defense with limited ability of the opponent to punish the lack of the latter.
Keys to the game
- Break ’em down. Ottawa is tough to do that against. Less so than they seemed last year, because they knew they could count on Maxime Crepeau to clean up the mess. Get it done.
- The stars are the scorers. If Haworth and Fall don’t get it done against you, it’s probably a good thing for you. That’s not to say they’re the only threats, but they’re the most significant ones, for sure. Take care of them.
- Set pieces. They have made us sad.
Ottawa’s low amount of evidence on the books is troublesome, but I don’t predict they’ll be better than last year. Indeed, I think similar to last year, but sans Maxime Crepeau. That’s a downgrade because he’s a baller.
- Kharlton Belmar feed Daniel Ríos for the game’s only goal.
Nashville wins 1-0.