Nashville SC game preview 2019: Charleston Battery

Nashville SC has lost one and drawn one against Charleston Battery this year (with the second a penalty-shootout loss). Can the club get its first-ever win against the Battery.

The essentials

CHSOpponent: Charleston Battery (7-6-9), 30 points, ninth place East. 47.92 ProjPts, 9th in USL East power ratings and 22nd in combined table Pure Power.
Time, Location: Saturday, Aug. 24 7:00 p.m. CDT First Tennessee Park (tickets still available)
Weather: 80ºF, 15% chance of rain, 60% humidity, 9 MPH Northeasterly winds
Follow: USL Gametracker
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 locally or ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 (English radio), 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español).
The line: Nashville -256, draw +324, Charleston +566
Projection: The computer says Nashville SC 1.95, Charleston Battery 0.92
Etc.: Coverage from the previous game against the Battery. And from the initial regular-season match.

The Battery

Charleston has two reasonably distinct on-field identities that they reconcile by sort of using certain concepts across each of them. Against bad teams, they are exclusively a four-man backline type of team – usually a 4-4-1-1 – whereas against the better sides on the schedule (including both earlier games against Nashville), they’ve moved to a 3-4-3 concept.

Despite the formational change, some of the specifics are still interchangeable: the three-man backline typically lets one of the three centerbacks get a little farther forward offensively, and when they use a four-man backline, one of the CBs stays quite a bit deeper than the other, so there’s sort of a sweeper available no matter which formation they use. The primary difference comes on the wings, where they replace traditional fullbacks and wingers with wingbacks to provide the width while the wingers tuck in a bit more to interchange offensively.

It should come as no surprise, then, that they’re under 10.0 crosses per game: both tactical approaches are designed to be as stout at the back as needed while allowing much of the offense to be generated centrally (they also have only three headed goals all year, including two from primarily defensive players – likely from corners – despite running out a 6-4 or 6-5 center forward most of the time). Winger/second forward Zeiko Lewis leads the team in key passes by a reasonably wide margin despite also leading the team in goals, with Kotaro Higashi (who can play as a second forward or attacking midfielder) and defensive midfielder Vincenzo Candela behind him in the distribution charts – with much of their service going to him.

Of note: longtime striker Ataullah Guerra missed the first two games against Nashville with a visa issue after playing in Iran for the Trinidad and Tobago national team, but he’s recently returned to the lineup. In just four games, he’s tied for sixth on the team with two goals. He changes their situation offensively.

At the back, Joe Kuzminsky remains a mediocre-performing (though it’s more about the players in front of him giving up really good shots when they do give up a shot) keeper, saving just 61.4% of shots faced. With defensive midfielder Brian Tah Anunga on four yellow cards (meaning his next one gets him a game suspension), there’s a chance that either he plays with that in the back of his mind, with a little less physical nature, or that he sits the bench completely. Charleston’s next two games are against Charlotte Independence (potentially in competition for one of the final few playoff spots) and Memphis 901 FC, so risking the suspension for the easier opponent might be the choice.

Batterylineup2.png

The addition of Guerra is a potential game-changer for this team. The defense is still mediocre-to-poor, but if the offense suddenly becomes not that, they can go on a solid little run into the playoffs. Defensively, neither of their shapes has been particularly successful: they’re mediocre-at-best in either of them. Packing the box looks more likely against a high-scoring Nashville, though.

Certainly this side has had Nashville’s number for the better part of two years now.

The Boys in Gold

Injury report is mostly unchanged from last week with one key addition:

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

How will Nashville handle two ripples from Wednesday?

First, the simple emotional letdown of losing a game that felt like they deserved more out of. Nashville went up 2-1 into halftime when the contest was initially started, then lost 2-1 in the replay. On top of that, they’ll justifiably feel hard-done by an unacceptable refereeing decision that helped lead to the loss.

“he biggest challenge come the weekend is gonna be recovery, get the mindset on track, being focused again, being ready for a very challenging Charleston side,” said Gary Smith. “They’re a good team, they’re very different to this group we just played. But make no mistake, they’ll come here and they’ve got their own fight on their hands and it will be one of the toughest games of the season, I suspect.”

Second, they won’t have centerback Forrest Lasso, who has not only been one of the team’s every-minute players since joining, but also has been the captain since Nashville SC lost Michael Reed for the year.

Overall, this team still remains elite. It has been pretty close to it all year, and aside from a minor hiccup on offense against Bethlehem and dealing with the situation that was dealt them against New York, it’s been even better in the past two months. Keeping up that level of play while dealing with a different type of pressure is important.

IMG_F98298E8AAE6-1.jpeg

The personnel is due for a shakeup (Gary Smith had been transparent about that even before the Red Bull game, and the Lasso situation exacerbates it), and I think it’ll be pretty significant. A target forward seems a good fit against what is likely a three-man backline, with a speedy attacking midfielder to test the ability of Charleston to handle those secondary runs.

Elsewhere

Speedway preview.

Keys to the game

  • Pepper the net. I know it’s partially out of his control, but Kuzminsky’s numbers are terrible for a starting keeper on a team in the playoff positions. Nashville put a ton of shots up in the Open Cup game, but couldn’t finish enough of them. Keep up the pressure, and that status will change in a hurry.
  • Try to exploit Tah Anunga on the dribble. Either he’s scared of being physical because it’ll cause him to miss a six-pointer the following weekend (which means you can dribble him to create openings), or he’s his normal tough self, you find that out in a hurry and the gameplan can be altered.
  • Spread the backline. Nashville has been lacking runs from the central midfield since Reed went out (Matt LaGrassa’s playing time and the occasional foray by Ken Tribbett notwithstanding). Using the wingers to widen the field to either win one-v-ones or to open those runs will be big.
  • Get on top early. Nashville took shot after ineffective shot in the Open Cup game, many of them on-target and many of them from dangerous positions. If one had gone in early, the confidence to put up big goal numbers might have been built. None did, so the confidence didn’t arrive.
  • Adapt to changing personnel. Nashville’s probably going to run out a lineup that’s more different from Wednesday’s than any other back-to-back games this year. The replacement guys have to step up.

Predictions

Nashville is out for a measure of revenge. Against the Battery, against the injustice served in the midweek, against pure bloody fate, etc.

  • Tucker Hume lays off to Kharlton Belmar to open the scoring early in the second half.
  • 60th-minute sub Cameron Lancaster adds a goal in the 60th.

Nashville SC wins, 2-0.

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