It is time to get revenge, yeah? Nashville SC was disappointed with the 1–1 draw in a home game against Charlotte, and will try to rectify said disappointment.
Opponent: Charlotte Independence. 5-9-10, 23 pts, 12th place East. 35.52 ProjPts (12th) in USL East power ratings and 28th in combined table Pure Power.
Time, Location: Saturday, Aug. 17 7:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 Nashville) • Sportsplex at Matthews
Weather: 84ºF, 7% chance of rain, 54% humidity, 6 MPH ESE winds
Follow: USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 locally or ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 (English radio) • 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español).
The line: Charlotte +267, draw +254, Nashville -120. Computers project Charlotte 0.89, Nashville 2.05
Etc.: Coverage from the previous game against the Independence.
It is important to note that Charlotte is bad. They’re even more so without ephemeral Nashville signing Andrew Gutman, who now plays for FC Cincinnati. He wasn’t the most significant piece of their overall approach – a good source of offense from the back line, but a liability defensively at times – but without him, they’re even thinner and less talented along the back.
Charlotte has a few really good players: second forward Enzo Martinez happens to be one of the most productive USL players in a a single season with 16 in 2017 – and spent much of the past year in MLS with the Colorado Rapids – while Dominic Oduro leads the team with seven goals so far in 2019, with methuselan Jorge Herrera (who seems older than 38, which is still really old) right behind him with six. Martinez leads the team with six assists, but has just two goals.
“I’m expecting some individual good talent on the other side,” said Nashville defender Darnell King. “I know they’ve got some players that I played against in the past that are very good technically with the ball. I think if we just work on what we’ve been doing, work as a unit and as a team, keep possession and just work together defensively, I think we will come out with a big win. Hopefully defensively we keep the shutout like we’ve been doing.”
They can’t score, and they’re fairly weak defensively. Keeper Brandon Miller is one of the most successful in the league (73.4% saves), but faces so many shots that he’s still allowed 21 goals despite playing less than 2/3 of available minutes to date.
“The fact is that they do have four or five players that can create something out of nothing, really,” NSC head coach Gary Smith said. “They have the experience of Enzo, Dominic Oduro, Herrera. You’ve got guys there that are more than capable of creating an opening or actually making a difference and scoring.
“They’ve got a very talented group, no doubt about it. They’ve found their way back into some form after a very, very tough start. I think it’s full credit to them that they are in the position they are actually in right now with the way they started the season.
Jim McGuinness was juuuust starting to catch onto something with a 3-4-1-2 (putting Gutman in a wingback position, where his defensive liability is limited), but then he was fired, Charlotte has gone back to USL-standard 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 tactics, and after a run of 14 points in six games immediately after his dismissal, they’ve gone 0-2-2 in the four since.
“I thought they played a tough game against us at our place,” midfielder Matt LaGrassa said. “They ended up getting an early goal and we had to come back from behind. They have a lot of talented players, a lot of players who have experience, so we don’t expect it to be an easy game. Being at this stage in the season, I do think it’s a game that is winnable and that we’re going to need to win.”
Charlotte is a pretty cross-happy team (albeit less so since Gutman departed), which is often a sign of limited offensive ideas otherwise. The brothers Martinez lead the team in key passes, with Enzo’s primarily through the middle of the pitch, but younger bro Alex understandably doing more of his work on crosses (such is the nature of being a winger on a limited offensive team).
The Boys in Gold
|Michael Reed – out for season||Ankle|
Nashville SC has found an extremely good run of form on the backline, with five straight clean sheets since the arrival of Jimmy Ockford (four of them with fellow MLS loanee Forrest Lasso also in the lineup). Gary Smith has strongly implied that with that run of form, so ends the keeper rotation, so look for more Matt Pickens. That doesn’t mean Connor Sparrow is done seeing the field this year, but certainly he’s the No. 2 at this point.
The question about the central midfield is not whether Matt LaGrassa plays, but which member he replaces in the starting lineup. He came on for Bolu Akinyode (not Ken Tribbett) to close out last weekend’s game against Bethlehem, and I’d expect that same replacement to be the choice tonight. That also leaves Akinyode – whose playing style is somewhere between Tribbett and LaGrassa as a ball-winning, solid-passing player – as a possible substitute for either of them.
“We are trying to fill the void of Michael’s absence and when you look at the style of play, I think Matt’s is similar to Michael’s,” Smith said this week. “They are both very dynamic individuals, box to box, lateral workers as well. They have a lot of energy in their game. I am very pleased I can lean on him again. I’m very, very pleased to have him back in the group.
“It always makes it difficult when you have guys out of the group. If I look at some of the
injuries we have had, it has really hit us in that midfield area. You look at our captain recently, Matt, Derrick Jones, who we have signed for next year as well. They are high caliber players. To be without those players for any time is always difficult. The fact that Matt is finding his way back into the group as Michael sadly leaves us is a positive. It helps in rotation and balance in that midfield area. But the reality is, whenever you have good players missing, it’s a tough void to fill.”
The front four has been very settled, and while Smith would have preferred to let Alan Winn rest the entirety of last weekend’s game (instead of bringing him on at the half), a week of rest is probably enough to have fresh legs for both he and Kharlton Belmar. We’ve also seen that Ropapa Mensah is at his best coming off the bench (where he can run at tired legs of opponents), and similar to the Akinyode possibilities, he’s a potential substitute in multiple roles – whether as a winger or an out-and-out forward – which makes for a more flexible bench.
This (give-or-take Darnell King at right back, IMO Sparrow in goal, and maybe even Cameron Lancaster on the field in some capacity) is probably NSC’s best-available lineup right now, and one with which chemistry is building.
In hindsight, given that King was one of the available players this week, I should have had him in the projected lineup, but the graphic’s made, man.
Keys to the game
- Be physical in central midfield. Certainly LaGrassa’s availability provides for a bit more offensive punch in the middle of the pitch, but making sure both Martinezes and the central midfielders for Charlotte are wary of a battle in the middle of the pitch will go a long way toward effecting the desired result.
- Get on the board early. Charlotte took an early lead in the first game, and when Nashville scored to even things up, they said, “screw it, we’re happy with a point” – a pretty common theme among bottom-table teams and Indy Eleven. Don’t let them get deep into the game with the mentality that they can escape with a point, because a bunker has been difficult for NSC to break down this year.
- Take care of set pieces. Largely for Nashville, this has meant “don’t give up set-piece opportunities in dangerous positions,” and “score from a corner.” So do both of those things, if you would.
- Golden boot race. Keep scoring, Daniel (and keep assisting, Lebo).
Charlotte is bad, and their success is largely dependent upon whether they’re happy to leave with a single point. Nashville should have the ability to make that their best-case scenario.
- Daniel Ríos scores early in the game, but exits at halftime to save his legs, and to get Cameron Lancaster back involved in the squad after a long layoff.
- A Justin Davis corner kick late in the contest is headed home by Bolu Akinyode to provide the final margin.
Nashville SC wins, 2-0.