A second home defeat of the year is in the books. Can the Boys in Gold rebounds against a struggling Sporting Kansas City affiliate?
Opponent: Swope Park Rangers (1-2-4). 17th place USL East • 17th place USL East power ratings.
Time, Location: Saturday, May 11 7:00 p.m. CDT • First Tennessee Park
Weather: 70ºF, 43% chance of rain, 74% humidity, 4 MPH Westerly winds
Follow: USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: ESPN+ or locally on MyTV30 • 94.9 Game2 (English radio) • 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español).
Tailgate: With the Assembly at the Ozzie lot, with Eastern Front and the Heaters at Von Elrod’s, with the Roadies at Neighbors Germantown
Etc.: Gary Smith and Lebo Moloto chattin’ with me.
I’ll be honest: not gonna have enough time to do as deep a dive on the opponent as I usually do. However, it’s worth noting that Swope Park has traditionally been a very strong Western Conference team, and their struggles in 2019 are relatively new to the club. They probably have more to do with injury situations at the big club than they do a sudden lack of talent.
“They’ve had a lot of players move in and out of that group,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “As with a lot of the “2 Teams,” you tend to see a lot of turnover of the players. I think we’re running into a group that are affected maybe by the first team a little bit. They’ve got a lot of injuries at the top end, and I think that’s dragged certain players out of that group. Honestly, I haven’t a clue what players will play in the game.
“Again what we know is, they’re a very similar setup, and they’re looking at the developmental told for the Sporting group. they’ll be some very efficient technicians, there’ll be a lot of energy, there’ll be a fearless approach, which there always is with these younger groups. But it’s for to take advantage of that, because what they do lack is a bit of experience.”
Nashville SC has deep connections with the Swope/SKC organization: Technical Director Mike Jacobs was the assistant in that position prior to joining Nashville SC, while defender Liam Doyle, midfielder Lebo Moloto, and winger Kharlton Belmar are among the Boys in Gold who previously played for the Rangers.
“I think a little bit has changed, but obviously they still have the same philosophy, which is try to keep the ball, try to possess the ball, serve the ball,” said Moloto. “So I think personally with that, when you keep the ball too much, there’s also chances of us being able to exploit those mistakes from them, or overplaying from them and getting a few chances. Because they’re actually a little bit vulnerable.”
So: a team that wants to possess and press – but has plenty of young talent and is particularly decimated by needing to send talent up to the senior team – should be exploitable.
The leading scorers are tied with a pair of goals each: left winger Jerome Ngom Mbekeli and attacking midfielder (and Murfreesboro native) Felipe Hernandez. They’re both 20 years old. Striker Wilson Harris has just one goal, but again that probably speaks more to the squad rotation than any lack of ability.
The Rangers base out of the same 4-3-3 of the senior SKC team, which is convenient for inserting guys into the MLS lineup. It’s put some guys in very tough positions to succeed thanks to their youth.
They’ve played several goalies already, with Eric Dick getting the most time so far, but Adrian Zendejas (from San Diego, but a Mexico youth international) probably the best talent. Both are on MLS contracts, so whichever isn’t backing up Tim Melia on a given weekend the best option for SPR. If they aren’t available, the other options are just fine.
With that said, my lineup here inevitably has to be a total guess:
The Boys in Gold
Nashville SC’s injury report includes one player: centerback Ken Tribbett. He was a full participant in the portion of training that was open to the media yesterday, and I expect to see him.
I’m going to keep riding a formation change, because the 3-5-2 is extremely limited in the ways it can attack a defense (perhaps a little more effectively so when NSC gets Derrick Jones integrates into the lineup), and there are a few specific things about SPR that play to a formation change.
“This game really has to be about how we attack it, how we respond, an improvement in certain areas of the field,” Smith said. “And by that, I mean certainly in the attacking areas of the field. We need an upgrade on opportunities, and a forceful nature about our approach to the game. That’s got nothing to do with Swope; that’s all about us.”
More scoring punch from a 4-2-3-1 – plus the advantage it gives you with a more intense high press against a youthful team – seems logical.
The issues with NSC have been more about execution than purely formation-related. I still like how the even backline takes advantage of individual talents on the squad (for example, a natural place for offense-minded wingers).
“I think we have a good group of guys,” said Moloto. “We have a good team. We have good players, so I think – we lost on Wednesday, but the league is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Just because we lose this game doesn’t mean you might not end up finishing out the league on top of the lot. I think it’s just a matter of getting the momentum back in and keep going.”
Smith seems to imply that he’s ready to mix it up a bit to find that scoring:
“There are moments where you need to have a change of pace,” Smith said. “There’s got to be an infusion of intensity attacking and defensively. When you think about it, we’ve been done on a dead ball again. Other than that, we may well have looked at it and gone, ‘OK, we’ve had a couple of decent sights of goal – not many – so we’d have been concerned about the lack of opportunity, but against a Tampa side that look like they’re going to be a very difficult side to play against – Neill’s got them extremely well-organized, and they’ve got a nice format about them, they play well to their strengths – so I wasn’t ever expecting many efforts at goal or clear sights of goal. We’re looking back at a very similar scenario to the Saint Louis game. So we certainly have to be – we have to take that on board and be more mindful of how the game unfolds.”
Swope has been pretty poor all year, and doesn’t seem equipped to take advantage of a slightly less defensively-stout Nashville lineup.
Keys to the game
- Take advantage of their youth. Press, press, press. Especially if they don’t have MLS talent down (and they probably should not), they’re susceptible to turnovers, and getting the ball in dangerous areas seems like a good idea for NSC.
- Be precise in the connections. Nashville was ooone pass (or just a few inches) away from having a number of chances against Tampa Bay. Few of them were close enough to truly challenge. They shouldn’t need to be quite as precise against a Swope team that’s not determined to he compact, but tuning it up should be helpful.
- Take risks. The team should be able to push forward because Swope – for all their talent that could create individual moments of brilliance – may not be able to capitalize.
- Score more goals than the opponent. Always important, IMO.
For all their historical success, SPR is a bad team this year, and until SKC stops needing to pull up talent, it’s going to continue being rough.
- Daniel Ríos (2), Alan Winn, and Cameron Lancaster (substitute) score for Nashville.
- SPR scores just after halftime to pull within 3-1 before the Lancaster hammer ends it, and the defensive substitutions begin.
The game ends in a 4-1 Nashville victory.