Bye week reset: Just six games left for the Boys in Gold

Nashville SC doesn’t play this weekend (but has a Tuesday midweek game next week, so the wait is a little shorter than the typical Wednesday would require), so let’s take stock of where things stand in the season.

Form over the year

Every USL team is going to experience some swings in its form, and Nashville is no exception. They’ve likely been one of the most consistent clubs. though (aside from Phoenix Rising, which is consistently awesome). Here’s a look at the team’s form – measured by the Pure Power score for each game – over the course of 2019.

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.29.34 AM.png

There have been some major blips (below-average games, in order:

  • NSC 0-1 Saint Louis FC
  • Charleston Battery 3-1 NSC
  • NSC 0-1 Tampa Bay Rowdies
  • NSC 1-1 Charlotte Independence
  • North Carolina FC 0-1 NSC
  • Louisville City FC 2-1 NSC
  • NSC 0-0 Bethlehem Steel
  • NSC 1-2 New York Red Bulls II
  • Saint Louis FC 0-1 NSC)

But with only nine below-average performances – and the highs including very great heights (peaking with a 3-0 win at Ottawa Fury early, and a 2-0 win against Indy Eleven in late July) – only Indy (seven), along with New York and Tampa (eight apiece) have fewer negative blips on the résumé among Eastern Conference teams.

Not coincidentally, that includes three of the four teams projected to finish ahead of Nashville (the fourth, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, are tied with Nashville in number of negative performances). Given that the two worst outings happened before May, and most of the below-average games since have been barely so, Nashville’s in a pretty good spot.

It’s worth noting that they’ve been more likely to have a below-average game at home: five negative performances in 12 games, compared to four negative performances in 16 games on the road. There’s a chance to flip that narrative to an extent with five of the final six in Nashville.

Let’s break the form down by defensive and offensive performances:

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.44.33 AM
Low numbers are good for this one. Essentially it’s “how far above average was the opponent’s output when they played you,” and obviously you want that number to be negative.

The defense has been pretty good all year, with a couple notable blips: a 3-1 loss in Charleston back on April 20, and the 3-3 draw against Ottawa Fury June 22. It’s worth noting that some of the numbers are low-enough volume that giving up a single goal (say, to Swope Park Rangers in a 5-1 game) is technically a below-average performance, even though that goal was largely meaningless.

It’s worth drawing an imaginary vertical line (since I didn’t draw an actual one) at the point of that last below-average defensive performance (July 6 against Louisville), and note that some of NSC’s best defensive performances have come since then, and – importantly – no below-average defensive performances. Jimmy Ockford and Forrest Lasso joined the team over the next two games, and the team’s been at its best defensively since their additions – even when Lasso was ejected against Red Bulls.

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.42.46 AM
High numbers are good here.

The offense has been a little more susceptible to wild swings – such is the nature of evaluating by goals only, rather than expected goals (which I can’t do because there are no league-wide expected goal numbers available. Am I an insane person preparing a version of Pure Power with MLS data just because it would work better with xG? Yes, yes I am) – but has largely been above-average by a fair amount.

Interestingly, it hasn’t been that poor in the absence of Daniel Ríos over the past three games. Not great, for sure, but it doesn’t look a ton different from the rest of the year. It is worth noting that the other game he didn’t start – in Indy May 25 – was a below-average performance too, though he did come on as a 77th-minute sub.

The hot take of the day is that this is a better team with Ríos, Lasso, and Ockford all on the pitch.

The final stretch

The numbers project the following scores for the remaining NSC games (note: they will change as additional results come in, and the projected scores in the game previews won’t likely match those shown here):

  • Nashville SC 2.29, Birmingham Legion 1.04
  • Nashville SC 1.80, Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1.29
  • Loudoun United 1.32, Nashville SC 2.12
  • Nashville SC 1.48, Louisville City FC 0.76
  • Nashville SC 1.40, North Carolina FC 0.76
  • Nashville SC 2.98, Atlanta United 2 0.68

That looks like two games as a heavy favorite, three as a comfortable favorite, and just one (hosting Pittsburgh) that is anything approaching a toss-up. With all games against Tampa, New York, and Indy already in the books – and a home-heavy close to the season – Nashville should be able to pick up a fair number of points, and potentially move up the table into the top two, if all breaks their way.

This week’s rooting guide

For the time being, our principles are pretty simple: you want to see the teams at the top of the table drop points, in order to give Nashville the best chance of moving up. Barring a disaster to close the year, NSC is only really looking at the current projected top four, Indy, Tampa, New York, and Pittsburgh. North Carolina FC and Louisville City FC appear to be far enough back that they’d need help from Nashville to compete for a spot int he top five.

Wednesday:

  • Ottawa over Indy (6p CDT). Give Nashville a shot at passing Indy. Ottawa unlikely to catch NSC from behind.
  • Swope/Charleston is unlikely to impact Nashville, with both teams far back. Nashville has already clinched a finish ahead of Swope, and Charleston is projected to finish 12 points back. Tentatively pull for Swope, I guess, since we’re hoping Charleston gets a big win over the weekend and we want to cancel that out.

Friday:

  • Charlotte over New York (6p CDT). Give Nashville a shot at passing New York. Nashville has already clinched a spot ahead of Charlotte.

Saturday:

  • Swope over North Carolina (4p CDT). Just to be safe. Nashville has clinched a spot ahead of Swope, NCFC is projected to finish with about five fewer points than Nashville.
  • Hartford Athletic over Louisville City (6p CDT). Louisville City if projected to finish just five and a half points behind Nashville. Even just a draw here would probably be sufficient.
  • Bethlehem over Indy (6p CDT). We’re big Indy non-fans to close the year around these parts. Nashville is one point away from clinching a finish ahead of Bethlehem (or any dropped Bethlehem points, which we’d rather happen in a different game than this one).
  • Charleston over Pittsburgh (6p CDT). Pittsburgh is barely over a single projected point ahead of Nashville. Dropping points against Charleston would be nice (though a draw is also fine here).
  • Atlanta over Tampa Bay (6:30p CDT). I almost can’t, in good conscience, tell you to rot for Atlanta in a game they they’ll lose like 4-1 or something, but it would be massively helpful to knock Tampa Bay down, while NSC has already clinched a finish ahead of Atlanta.

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