Nashville SC game preview 2019: New York Red Bulls II (redux)

Nashville SC has started two games against New York Red Bulls II this year. This is a replay (from the beginning!) of the second.

The essentials

NYRBII_200_x_200_gold_star_crop_iconOpponent: New York Red Bulls II (14-5-5), 47 pts, 1st place East. 64.57 ProjPts 3rd in USL East power ratings and 6th in combined table Pure Power.
Time, Location: Wednesday, Aug. 21 7:00 p.m. CDT First Tennessee Park (tickets still available)
Weather: 90ºF, 15% chance of rain, 47% humidity, 7 MPH SSW winds
Follow: USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 locally or ESPN+ • 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español).
The line: Nashville -114, draw +252, Red Bulls II +246
Projection: The computer says Nashville SC 2.01, New York Red Bulls II 1.19
Etc.: Coverage from the previous game against the Baby Bulls. Presser video and transcript with Gary Smith, Lebo Moloto, and Bolu Akinyode. Reschedule announcement.

The Red Bulls

This is typically one of the tougher MLS reserve sides to figure out roster-wise, because they’re as fluid between the first team and NYRBII as the respective leagues’ rules allow them to be. However, we do know that they can only make three changes to the 18 they rolled with when this game was originally started.

That means a maximum of three players who weren’t in this group can see the gameday 18.

Marcus Epps is on loan with Memphis 901 FC, so he won’t be available. Mathias Jørgensen hasn’t made the last three gameday squads and his status is unknown, Kyle Zajec has been out for several weeks with injury, Rece Buckmaster has moved up to the senior team on a permanent deal, Chris Tiao left the academy for his season at Rutgers, and while I haven’t seen any news about it, Amarildo de Souza hasn’t featured in the NYRBII gameday 18 for several weeks, so I assume he’s unavailable.

There are pieces there to cobble together a starting lineup, and obviously the three additions will help flesh out the complexion of the team, but it seems likely they arrive with a short bench this evening.

From the available players, here’s a likely starting lineup:

IMG_09C3F3AC0723-1-2.png

Unfortunately, the two additions I project to the gameday squad put two of the better players back on the pitch: Barlow has spent a fair amount of time with the senior team this year with two MLS goals. Though he’s played in barely more than half of NYRBII’s games, he’s the team’s leading scorer with 11, and putting him back on the pitch drops Stroud to the attacking midfield position where he’s (slightly) more comfortable. Though Barlow gets a lot of press for being big (6-2, 185), he has just one headed goal this year. He’s more your poacher who gets chances from the structure of NYRBII’s high press.

Said high press is the obvious big challenge when taking on this team.

“I think we might have to go maybe a bit direct, playing in behind them a bit to start,” said NSC midfielder Bolu Akinyode. “Until the game settles down a little bit and there’s a little less energy taken out of the game, we can kind of settle in and try and control the game hopefully.”

“I think we have the right tools to do the work,” position-mate Lebo Moloto said. “We’ve got our coaching staff helping us in terms of preparing us, the things we need to to going into tomorrow’s game, because every game is different.”

The flipside of that is that it does leave them exposed at the back.

“The energy of the group is the foundation of the way that they play, and they ask an awful lot of the players going forward,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “It can leave them vulnerable. We saw in the game that got called off, they started like a train, went in front, looked like it could be a very very tough night, but on the counter-attack they can be a bit vulnerable. when you commit as many players as they do to attacking situations, teams like ourselves can take advantage of that.”

Scarlett, Lema, and Koffi (who didn’t make the trip last time, but I expect to be one of the team’s additions to the 18, given that he’s been very important to the squad lately) lead the team in interceptions. Lema inches ahead of Scarlett in the tackles won statistic, while Koffi takes the mantle in duels won – which is also the only of these statistical categories without the same three on top in some order, with Lema dropping to No. 5 on the team.

Lema is the only one who turns that into immediate offense, second on the team in assists behind Stroud. He’s more your box-to-box guy from those central midfield positions. The wingers get involved in the offense primarily through their work in the press and assisting the guys up front: these aren’t really attack-to-score positions on the grand scale for NYRBII.

The Boys in Gold

Injury report is unchanged from last week:

PLAYER INJURY
OUT
Derrick Jones Ankle
Michael Reed – out for season Ankle
QUESTIONABLE

Nashville SC has to deal with a similar restriction when it comes to constructing a gameday 18, with its changes a little more obvious:

From that group, Michael Reed is out for the year with injury, Liam Doyle is now with Memphis 901 FC, and Vinnie Vermeer will close out the year on loan with Las Vegas Lights FC. Centerbacks Forrest Lasso and Jimmy Ockford have played every minute since joining the team on loan from their respective MLS sides, while Ken Tribbett (who missed the previous game with injury) has started the past two games at CDM after Reed’s injury.

Those are almost certainly your three changes.

With that said, he’s my projected lineup, given that some of the personnel who started that game have been shuffled out of the First Choice XI in the time since (and some were also in there as a matter of rotation):

IMG_0B7AA0DAAF73-1 2.jpeg

A couple explanations here: The front four basically goes without saying, but the central defensive midfielders are the duo that started in Charlotte over the weekend. Not having Bolu Akinyode in there was the choice I struggled with the most: he’s familiar with the Red Bull system from his time as a player in it, he’s reasonably ball-secure against hard pressing, and LaGrassa is obviously working his way back to 90-minute fitness still (also he was available yesterday which is usually a telltale sign). However, I think having the positive-passing creativity of LaGrassa to generate offense against the press is important early. I could see Akinyode in there for either player (LaGrassa more likely than Tribbet, though).

At right back, I think Smith goes with the veteran he feels like he can trust. Kimura’s skillset – more ball-secure but less positive in the attacking third – is more what Nashville SC needs against a team whose system lends itself to counter-attacks (and thus diminishes NSC’s need to get its fullbacks into the attack, which Darnell King would be better for.

Keeper seems like a tough choice: Matt Pickens has started six straight games. However, fixture congestion led to the veteran’s late-season fatigue in 2018, and mixing in Sparrow for the middle game of a three-game set makes sense. Plus, he started in New Jersey the last time these teams played and performed well, and got the nod back in June, too.

Of course, Gary Smith also played it pretty coy about the need to rotate in the middle game.

“This game’s not a problem, not at all,” he said. “I think most players having had a week in between last week, and an away game with a bit of travel but not crazy, everyone’s looking forward to this one at home, a big occasion. It’ll be after this. You go towards the weekend, there’ll be an assessment of where bodies are at, soreness, hopefully no injuries to worry about on top of what we’ve got, and then really what the right group is to get a job done against a very stout and difficult Charleston side.”

The stakes for this one are pretty huge. With a win and a Tampa draw/loss to North Carolina an hour earlier, NSC would move top of the table. It’s obviously not the team’s top focus, but they have an eye on it.

“Every game is important at this point in time. If we win tomorrow, we just, as a team I think, we would like to win all the 10 games,” Moloto said. “If we do that, who knows, we might even win the league. So I think we’re just going to take one game at a time and see what happens.

“I think we all know. I think we all know what’s at stake.”

“It’s in our hands at this point,” added Akinyode. “I think with 10 games, if we grab maximum points or as many points as we can, we’re putting ourselves in a good spot to hopefully win some silverware. We can’t dwell on games: they’re coming quick and fast. Take care of one job and on to the next, that’s kind of our mentality right now.”

Look for Nashville to counter-attack the Red Bulls, and probably play a less possession-oriented style than you might otherwise expect at home.

Elsewhere

NSC official site preview, three things to knowSpeedway preview.

Keys to the game

  • Weather the early storm. The players and Smith made no secret yesterday that keeping NYRBII off the board early is paramount. They didn’t do it last time, but responded with two goals before the contest was scuttled.
  • Don’t be afraid to boot it long. This applies not just to countering offensively, but also getting the ball out of the defensive third. Red Bulls thrive on forcing bad decisions in the back… getting the ball the heck out of there is one of the safer choices.
  • Take advantage of opportunities. They may be fewer but more high-quality with a countering gameplan in the cards. Finish the shots you should, and you’re gonna score on NYRBII. You might need to outscore them overall.

Predictions

This should be a fun one – and a good advertisement to the non-soccer-loving community, which wants to see goals and exciting moments.

  • Barlow starts scoring early by intercepting a pass from Nashville’s backline and getting a solo run at Sparrow, which he finishes.
  • Ríos answers on an assist from one of the central defensive midfielders (we’ll say Tribbett) playing long to bypass New York’s pressing midfield.
  • Second-half sub Cameron Lancaster scores for the first time since one that didn’t count in the rained-out contest.
  • Löbe scores a free kick (just the team’s second of the year!) to provide the final margin, as the game is approaching stoppage time.

The contest ends in an exciting 2-2 draw.

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