Nashville SC hasn’t beaten Charleston Battery in two tries (they’ve tied both previous meetings). Can the Boys in Gold turn the tide in the first meeting of 2019?
Opponent: Charleston Battery (2-1-2), 10th place USL East • 10th place USL Championship power ratings
Time, Location: Saturday, April 20 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 p.m. Local) • MUSC Stadium, Charleston, S.C.
Weather: 64ºF, 0% chance of rain, 48% humidity, 16 MPH SW winds
Follow: Twitter list • USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 (local) or ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 (English radio), 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español)
Watch parties: With The Roadies at Neighbors Germantown or Party Fowl Murfreesboro, The Assembly at Smokin’ Thighs.
Etc.: Nashville press conference video. Last game’s wrap. Q&A with Drew Ontarget.
The Battery have started reasonably well – 2-1-2 through five games has them 10th in the East – but the fact that the two wins are over the two worst teams in the East (Charlotte Independence and Hartford Athletic) and the loss to a side that’s considered middling (Bethlehem Steel), there’s still something to be desired when it comes to a step up in the level of competition. They’re traditionally better at home, and a 2-0-1 record to date there is a positive sign.
Defensively, they’ve been very consistent at the back when they’ve had a fully healthy unit, and they’re expected to be at full-strength this weekend.
“I coin them the Wall of Doom,” said Soccer n Sweet Tea‘s Drew Bartow. “Jay Bolt, Taylor Mueller, Leland Archer (USL Team of the Week selection in Week 5) and O’Brian Woodbine. This season, that quartet has recorded 60 clearances, 7 blocks, 19 INTs. All four are some of the top passers on the team with passing completion percentages in the high 70s to mid 80s.”
Bolt has played in a couple other spots (centerback and defensive midfield) by necessity, but with both CBs available, he should be at the natural left back spot. I do have some questions about the backline and the defensive midfield (about which more in a moment), because it does seem like all five opponents – including the absolutely moribund Hartford, which scored one of its three goals through seven games on Charleston – seem to have plenty of residency in the dangerous areas at the top of the box (Zone 14).
After basing primarily out of a 3-4-3 scheme last year, Charleston has been almost exclusively a 4-2-3-1 (or variations thereon) this season. The defensive midfield has seen a ton of rotation, more than any other position. Brian Tah Anunga and Vincenzo Candela started the first pair of games next to each other, but Jarad Van Schaik and Angelo Kelly-Rosales have also seen time there in starting formations, with others rotating through during the substitution patterns.
Van Schaik and Kelly-Rosales are the best passers of the bunch, but Tah Anunga provides a bit of scoring punch (he had the Battery’s lone goal in last week’s 3-1 loss to Bethlehem) and Candela is the second-best aggressive-defensive option of the bunch, with 10 tackle attempts on the year (second on the squad to Tah Anunga).
Going forward, this team may have some problems. Ataullah Guerra is out of the country in work-permit limbo, and the other striker, Ian Svantesson, went down early against Bethlehem with an ankle injury, and isn’t expected to see the field tomorrow. That’s both primary striker options down. What will Mike Anhaeuser do?
“[Guerra’s situation] stems from his Trinidad & Tobago call up for the friendly in Iran,” Bartow said. “Visa issues and the process within Homeland Security has been a mess, combined with the government shutdown and then Carnival in the Caribbean did not help.
“More than likely Ian will be sitting out Saturday for the lower leg injury. Expect to see rookie Arthur Bosua, another big body, up front with the supporting cast of Lewis, Piggott, Kotaro Higashi with van Schaik and Vince Candela in the midfield feeding the attack.”
Attacking midfielder Zeiko Lewis leads the team with 11 key passes, and has two goals on the year (second to Svantesson), so he’s the guy who’s likely to stir the drink with a rookie taking over the striker position. Wingers Romario Piggott and Kotaro Higashi have yet to significantly involve themselves in the offense, though Van Schaik has also seen time at winger (based on what Charleston has done so far this year, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him over Higashi), as has Nicholas Rittmeyer at times.
“They are really physical and have some nice midfield players,” said Nashville SC defender Liam Doyle. “We are going to have to be alert to that and be on our game. Any away game in this country is tough so we need to go there with the right attitude and hopefully get the win.”
So: actually putting the ball into the back of the net. Guerra was an all-USL second-teamer last year, and not having him available is a bit of a problem. Even with him last year, Charleston’s offense only ended up dead-center in the middle of the USL (16th of 33 teams) offensively. Svantesson is a big target (6-5, 210), though he hasn’t scored on a header since 2017.
Bosua is a bit of a like-for-like guy with Svantesson, a couple inches shorter at 6-3 but similarly hefty at 205. He has yet to score in USL, but notched 12 goals as a senior for Columbia University in 2017. He played in the PDL with the Long Island Rough Riders last Summer (and nowhere that I can tell over the Winter), so he’s thrust into an important position very early in his career.
Given that he’s more a target forward, it’s worth noting that right back O’Brian Woodbine leads the team in crosses attempted (19), while he’s tied with Rittmeyer in successful crosses with three.
The Boys in Gold
the injury report remains the same: Vinnie Vermeer our with an ankle injury (though I must note he’s moving around and working with the ball individually at Nashville SC training, so it may not be too long before his status is upgraded), while Cameron Lancaster is questionable with a hamstring injury. It’s worthwhile to let Lancaster rest until he’s fully fit (though he’s training, as well, so he may not be far off himself). There’s no need to rush him, given the success of Daniel Ríos and Tucker Hume playing up top together in the 4-4-2.
“They are different players,” Gary Smith said of his striker pair. “They offer different qualities to the team when they are working with each other. I think for any forward if you are in a pair in the modern game, you’re pretty fortunate. I wouldn’t expect anything other than them to say, ‘We are enjoying it.’ For all sorts of different reasons when you are defending, you have someone working with you working higher up on that front line. And when you are attacking you have someone taking some pressure off of you. For Daniel, somebody like Tucker – you really can’t measure what sort of attraction physically he is, and given the intelligence and the ability of someone like Daniel, or Cameron who could be up there, you are looking at individuals who can take advantage of that.”
In fact, I expect we’ll see the same starting lineup Saturday that we saw against Memphis 901 FC, give or take a change at the keeper position as Smith balances keeping both guys fresh. Matt Pickens may be a better fit given the fact that Charleston may attack aerially thanks to the talent they have available, but at the same time, Sparrow’s reactions in the box can be important, too.
I do like what Darnell King brought at the right back position, and with a less-mobile left back for Charleston, his presence freeing up Kharlton Belmar for one-v-ones could be profitable.
Keys to the game
- Set piece, set pieces, set pieces. Both goals that Nashville SC has conceded to date in 2019 have been on set pieces (or the scramble after a set piece). With a fairly tall front and back line for the Battery, making sure to avoid conceding in that situation is going to be of the utmost importance.
- Get speed in space. Now that Lebo Moloto is getting closer to 90-minute fitness, NSC will have an athleticism advantage on the offensive end of the pitch against most every opponent. Allowing Kharlton Belmar to be defenders one-v-one, and giving Moloto the opportunities to get into crossing or shooting positions (or to play his teammates into those positions with the pass) will help Nashville find scoring opportunities.
- Score first. This gives an advantage, IMO. (In all seriousness, it would give NSC the ability to be a little more defensive in shape, but still have the chance to continue putting up goals given the talent of Ríos up top – he has the technique and shooting to get it done solo if necessary).
I don’t think this is going to be a high-scoring game: Nashville is a little more conservative on the road (at least against decent competition), while Charleston is without the majority of its scoring punch.
- Ríos gets Nashville on the board shortly before halftime.
Nashville wins 1-0.