Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2019: Memphis 901

That dude owns the team.

Nashville SC has a chance to fire the first salvo in what should be a fun (if brief) in-state rivalry. Can the Boys in Gold take down Memphis 901 FC?

The essentials

Memphis_901_FC_200_x_200_crop_iconOpponent: Memphis 901 FC (1-3-2), 12th place USL East • Ninth place USL Championship power ratings
Time, Location: Saturday, April 13 7:00 p.m. CDT  • First Tennessee Park
Weather: 67ºF, 24% chance of rain, 58% humidity, 10 MPH ENE winds
Follow: Twitter list • USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 (local) or ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 (English radio), 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español)
Etc.: Nashville press conference video. Last game’s wrap.

Memphis 901 FC

This is a pretty different team from the Fury (or at least what we believed the Fury to be before Nashville dominated them last Saturday): they create a bunch of chances but are awful finishers, and are mediocre defensively. They’ve done that against a reasonably difficult slate so far – including Tampa, Red Bull II, and NCFC, but also Loudoun United, Bethlehem, and Atlanta 2 – so when they get to the dregs of the schedule, they may look even better.

They’ve based out of a fairly typical 4-2-3-1 with the situation up front reasonably fluid: the wingers are free to switch sides, and they’ve rotated players through those positions, the center forward, and even the No. 10 spot at times. However, outside of a couple recent changes, they’ve been mostly set in their lineup:

IMG_09C3F3AC0723-1.jpg

Those two changes are inserting Morgan Hackworth at one of the CDM spots (supplanting Dan Metzger), and Jacob Hauser-Ramsey at one of the centerback spots (replacing Todd Pratzner). In both instances, that’s replacing a USL vet with a rookie out of college. Hackworth is the son of Louisville City FC coach John Hackworth,m and signed out of Akron, while Hauser-Ramsey was an MLS Draft pick of the Colorado Rapids out of UConn, and when he didn’t make the cut after preseason, the goalie was like “hey go play for this team that I own” (probably).

While Nashville went with a “bomb the wings and cross from advantageous positions” strategy against Ottawa Fury, the results to date for Memphis don’t indicate that’s the right way to go. Indeed, opposition key passes have largely come from the edges of the ever-dangerous Zone 14 (somebody remind me to add that term – from the top of the penalty area to the bottom of the center circle in the center of the field – to the Soccer 101 post). They aren’t strong in the defensive midfield, and while the personnel change may help, the Atlanta United 2 game was actually their worst in that regard, so maybe not.

On the other end, Memphis is a shot-happy team whose clinical finishing ability is… suspect. They’re converting at a 9.8% clip – significantly worse than last year’s bad-feelings-inducing Nashville front line – and centerback Marc Burch is the only Memphian with multiple goals thus far. It should not surprise that Najem leads the team in key passe,s but the help around him is poor.

Goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell has also been bad with a 58.8% save rate, but that’s a team effort in reality, as well.

The Boys in Gold

With a different type of team available to exploit, I wonder if we’ll see different tactics from Gary Smith than we saw against Ottawa. Getting into Zone 14 is both possible and exploitable against this Memphis team, and you’d like to see a No. 10 in that spot. With Cameron Lancaster once again questionable, Daniel Ríos as the lone striker with Lebo Moloto behind him makes sense.

As NSC’s winger depth gets healthy and match-fit, they have the numbers at that position to not need Moloto on the wing just to have a reasonable body out there. Give me Kharlton Belmar and Alan Winn (with Winn, if he’s still not match-fit after having to sit out with his preseason concussion, potentially spelled by Ropapa Mensah later in the contest). The CDMs will probably be what’s been working: Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa – with each of them able to function as a box-to-box guy in addition to the stay-at-home defending.

The defense should be interesting: there’s obviously an ongoing competition at left back, with Taylor Washington starting the first two games and Justin Davis the next pair (while Washington came on as a left midfield sub against Ottawa). 2018 All-USL right back Darnell King hasn’t seen any action yet this year, but the club website is writing features on him, and many years in beat writing has taught me that’s often an indication of a guy about to break through. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him (though NSC hopefully doesn’t need him as a more offensive option against this Memphis side – which is why I’m projecting the more defensively sound Washington on the left side, too).

I think Matt Pickens will be back in goal. Nashville needs both keepers getting game reps, at least this early in the season, so both can be ready to step in for any game. Three weeks off for Pickens is a lot. In May – which will boast three double-game-weeks in a row, and maybe a fourth if Nashville advances in the Open Cup – you want to have both keepers fresh in terms of rest, but sharp because they’ve been in the action.

Keys to the game

  • Own the zone (14). Memphis is vulnerable in the worst part of the pitch to have that problem. Their young rookies may settle in and get better, but for now, that’s a spot that should be exploitable.
  • Be sound defensively – and don’t lose on set pieces. 40% of this team’s goals have come from the left foot of a defender (Marc Burch), so that gives you an indication of just how meager their offense is. Nashville has the goalkeeping to handle the routine, and the defenders need to just make sure that “the routine” is all the keeper has to deal with.
  • Keep your cool. Memphis is invested in this rivalry, as is Nashville. Don’t let emotion bubble over (even if baited) and put the team in a tough position. Fouls in the defensive third, yellow cards anywhere on the pitch… these are things to avoid.
  • Run like a Ríos. The man, he scores. Let us view him continuing to do so.

Elsewhere

Speedway preview. NSC site preview. USL site feature on the rivalry.

Predictions

Memphis is not a good team right now, though after some investigating I do think they’ll improve over the course of the year and be decent. Good timing to get them early.

  • Ríos gets a second-consecutive brace, and gets the player of the week honor that he maybe should have gotten last week. One of them comes on set-piece service from Michael Reed.
  • Reed also feeds Mensah from the run of play late in the game, putting a capper on it.
  • That’s a good thing, because Nashville’s set-piece defensive struggles pop up again. The re-cycle after a cleared corner kick sees Memphis get a somewhat fluky in between.

Nashville wins, 3-1.

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