Bye week reset: Boys in Gold at the 1/3 mark

Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Nashville SC is just past a third of the way through the 2019 season. There have been ups and downs (of the expected and unexpected variety), and with this past weekend off from USL play, it’s time to take stock of where the season is.

The standings and power ratings

Nashville SC currently stands third in the USL East with 22 points in 13 games (1.69 points per game). However, they’re also tied across with six teams the conference for most games played. Six other teams have played 12 games, three have played 11 games, two have played just ten games, and Loudoun United has just nine games in the books(!).

On a pure points-per-game basis, Nashville is just sixth in the league. They’ve also played the sixth-toughest schedule to date, which is only slightly above average (indicating that they should bump their PPG up just a bit when everyone levels off, but they’d need a change in form to really make major strides). Put the two together, and they’re currently – you guessed it – sixth in the Eastern Conference power ratings.

On a game-to-game basis, they’ve actually performed a bit better, coming third in the East in Pure Power (see the table at the same link above). That means they’re winning handily when they do win, and not losing by big margins when things go wrong:

  • In games decided by multiple goals, NSC is 5-1 (Charleston Battery is the lone loss, by a 3-1 score)
  • In games decided by a single goal, NSC is 1-2 (losses to Tampa Bay and Saint Louis, a win over Birmingham Legion)
  • They’ve drawn four times, which are by definition games with no margin of victory

So: is Nashville looking to break out and distribute their goals in such a way that they turn some of these close losses into draws and some of the draws into wins? Or will the Pure Power numbers regress to the W-L-D version of the power ratings? The answer to that question (or the third option: things remain relatively consistent) will determine how successful the regular season is.

Recalibrating expectations

In one of the final season preview pieces I published, I broke the Eastern Conference down into expected tiers, based on how many points I’d have expected Nashville to earn against them. Here’s what I came up with then:

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

This… is not how the conference looks right now. Here’s how I’d update the tiers, and I’d also drop Nashville down from the top one into the second one, so the point distributions are going to be slightly different:

USL East 2019
Tier I: 0-3 points for NSC Saint Louis FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Tier II: 2-3 points for NSC Indy Eleven, New York Red Bulls II, North Carolina FC
Tier III: 3-6 points for NSC Charleston Battery, Louisville City FC, Ottawa Fury FC
Tier IV: 4-6 points for NSC Atlanta United 2, Bethlehem Steel, Birmingham Legion, Loudoun United, Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Tier V: 6 points for NSC Charlotte Independence, Hartford Athletic, Memphis 901 FC, Swope Park Rangers

Nashville has already underachieved in a result against a couple of those teams (Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence), but has put itself ahead of pace against Indy Eleven and New York Red Bulls II. Again, I have them solidly in the second tier, and based on the form we’ve seen, anywhere from third to sixth in the final table wouldn’t be a surprise.

Tired legs

Some of Nashville’s worst performances came in the past month, and that’s understandable given the sheer number of games they played. The reasons were varied, but in at least a few of them – particularly the draw against Indy Eleven and the US Open Cup draw (and eventual loss on penalties) against Charleston Battery, tired legs seemed to be a factor.

Nashville rotated its squad against Indy, with striker Ropapa Mensah earning his first league start of the year (and showing promise, but also some areas for improvement) along with fellow XI debutant Derrick Jones, and Tucker Hume getting just his fourth start in USL play. The team also shifted tactics, with a 3-5-2 formation that they’ve only use in fits and starts – and not typically when they’re trying to go out and send a message in a big win. The tactics indicated a manager trying to get some of his key players a rest.

Wednesday against Charleston Battery, a first-choice side began the game, but chance after chance fell by the wayside, and one potential explanation is the eighth game in 28 days simply meant the legs were too tired to do what they’d otherwise be able to accomplish (and while he wasn’t the culprit Wednesday, standout striker Daniel Ríos has had a tougher go since mid-May than he had before the fixture congestion arrived).

There’s no guarantee that getting some rest – Nashville will have nine rest days between matchdays by the time they kick off against Bethlehem Steel Sunday – will be a silver bullet to cure all of their ills. But given that they’ve played the maximum number of games in the USL’s Eastern conference to date, it can’t hurt to have a chance to sit back and heal the body while reflecting mentally.

Stock up, stock down

We had preseason expectations for players. Without going into too much detail, how have the lived up to them?

Up

  • D Ken Tribbett. He was a known quantity as a good player, but he’s been even more a rock defensively than expected (while also contributing a bit of offense, per the expectations).
  • M Derrick Jones. I did not expect him to be on Nashville’s team at this point. Expectations vastly exceeded, IMO.
  • M Matt LaGrassa. It’d probably be inaccurate to label him the most-improved player, because his contributions were underrated last year, too. Still, he’s played everywhere in the central midfield, and done it well (with an upgrade in his offensive punch and emasculation of opposing players).
  • F Alan Winn. Looks sharper and more dangerous in the final third (his previous weakness) than he was last year. Had he not suffered a concussion in the final preseason friendly, he could be on pace for a massive year.

Steady

  • All three keepers. The two who have played have lived up to expectations. While Danny Vitiello hasn’t seen the field, that’s through no fault of his own so much as a stacked depth chart.
  • D Justin Davis
  • D Liam Doyle
  • D Kosuke Kimura. I think his holding onto the first-choice right back spot says a little more about King’s lack of grabbing it than anything different than expectations from Kimura.
  • D Taylor Washington
  • M Bolu Akinyode
  • F Kharlton Belmar. High expectations are being exceeded in some regards, but that final ball or shot needs to be as consistent as it was last year with Swope/SKC.
  • F Tucker Hume. A role-player who is successfully playing his role.
  • F Daniel Ríos. Extremely high expectations are being met.

Down

  • D Bradley Bourgeois. An unfortunately small sample size, and even though he hasn’t been bad by any stretch, a key mistake here or there looms over such a sample size.
  • D Darnell King. I was expecting him to take over the first-choice right back role by now. It can still happen (and I think he’s still on the way there), but compared to preseason expectations, the achievement isn’t there yet.
  • M Ramone Howell. There was no expectation that he’d be a game-changer or even regular contributor, but I would have bet on more than one (1) minute so far.
  • M Lebo Moloto. Still seems to be working his way back from being injured in the offseason and unable to get in the ball work he’d have otherwise had the opportunity to partake in. The game-speed and technique haven’t come together at the same time just yet.
  • M Michael Reed. Through little fault of his own: the team’s needs at the DM position have changed, as have the available players to fill them (namely Jones).
  • M Vinnie Vermeer. Injury-related.
  • F Cameron Lancaster. Mostly injury-related, but even when on the field, he’s had a hard time finding that goal-scoring magic (which is probably also because he’s missing time with injury).
  • F Ropapa Mensah. Had he come into camp in shape, this would probably be a different story, but as is, the physical side has to get caught up, and then the playmaking has to be fine-tuned… and once he gets there it’s great, but you’d prefer it not be a half-season-long process.

Fortunately, the majority of the stock-down guys seem to be poised to turn around any sort of negative results in short order.

The rest of the season

Nashville has yet to play four teams at all: Hartford Athletic (the worst team in the East, though much better at home than they are away), Bethlehem Steel (bad, particularly so at home), North Carolina FC (a second-tier team, like Nashville, with the first game against them a road contest), and Louisville City FC (starting to return to its championship form, but still finding it – again, Nashville will be on the road for round one there).

If Nashville can get 7-9 points out of those games, they’d be through each team in the league once (we’ll temporarily ignore that they’ll have their second contests against Ottawa Fury and New York Red Bulls II prior to the trip to Raleigh), the majority of them away from home, and with a lofty position in the league.

The second half of the year would be home-game heavy, and with a chance to make a run toward that No. 2 position in the league – only Tampa Bay looks out of reach right now.

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