Nashville managed to pull away from Loudoun United in the second half of the season-opening game, but both teams are in very different places now. Can NSC take control even earlier, or will they stumble in metro D.C.?
Opponent: Loudoun United FC (7-15-6), 27 points, 15th place East. 31-32 ProjPts, 15rd in USL East power ratings and 29th in combined-table Pure Power.
Time, Location: Saturday, Sept. 28 • 7:30 p.m. EDT (6:30 in Nashville) • Segra Field, Leesburg, Va.
Weather: 78ºF, 19% chance of rain, 76% humidity, 4 MPH Southerly winds
Follow: USL Gametracker • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 locally or ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 in English, 96.7 El Jefe en Español. Club watch party at The Mainstay.
The line: Nashville -185, draw +292, Loudoun +380
Computer Projection: Nashville 2.17, Loudoun 1.32
Etc.: Coverage from the previous game against Birmingham.
Loudoun United FC
This started the year as one of the worst clubs in the league – beginning with a 2-0 loss in First Tennessee Park within days of scraping enough players together to put a team on the field – but Baby DC United has come around over the course of the year. Like some other first-year clubs (Birmingham and Memphis), if they’d played all year with the form they’re in now, they’d be competing for a playoff spot. Instead, they’re saving a little face and preparing players for DC United over the next couple years.
We’re looking at a Loudoun group that have improved to no end, a big win [Wednesday] night,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “They’ve got goals in them now, I think their new home has maybe given them a bit of a lift. Those young players have really settled into an Eastern Conference and probably with some league games under their belt, feel a lot better about themselves. We’re expecting a very difficult encounter.”
“They’ve improved a lot.,” added striker Daniel Ríos. “They are not the same team as they were in the beginning. In the beginning, they looked like out of composure and not good organization, but they improved a lot. There aren’t different players; they are the same. But they have their style, they know how to play and they have scored a lot of goals in the last few games.”
As with all MLS reserve teams, there’s a little flexibility in terms of who will actually be available for selection – though Loudoun seems to be a little more consistent than most of them. They have had some DC United players on loan in recent weeks, some of whom (keeper Earl Edwards Jr.) I do not expect to be with Loudoun this weekend, and others (winger Gordon Wild, who signed from Atlanta United 2) I do.
The players up front are pretty interchangeable: everybody in that front four can play basically any of those positions, and sometimes (particularly whomever plays at the No. 10) it’s more about preparing guys for DC within a couple years than about what gives the team the best chance for success on the day.
Murphy and Wild have nine and eight goals, respectively. Wild is basically al left (seven lefty goals), while Murphy is mostly right-footed and has some heading ability too, even though he’s not a huge guy at 6-0, 181 pounds.
The assist numbers are even more meager (albeit more evenly-distributed, too), with nobody having more than three, but a four-way tie at the mark between Wild, Murphy, holding midfielder Antonio Bustamante, and right back Connor Presley. The crazy thing? Murphy’s done it on just 10 key passes, while the other three range from 29 (Presley) to 37 (Bustamante) key passes. If Murphy can bother to lay off a pass, the resulting shot is going to be dangerous.
Given his position, it should come as no surprise that Presley’s passing comes mostly from crosses, of which he’s attempted 113(!), as many as the next 3.5 teammates combined. He loves to get up the flank and whip the ball in. Although he’s completing fewer than 20% of those crosses, clearly Loudoun has obviously converted the ones that do find a teammate into shots (they account for 22 completed crosses – horrible – and obviously even if every one was a key pass, that leaves seven more key passes from him unaccounted for). Despite a very different position and despite not playing full-time with Loudoun, Wild has a bunch of crosses, too – mostly from the left side, given he seems to be entirely one-footed.
Loudoun has been dogmatic about the 4-2-3-1 as they match the senior team’s tactics, but you can definitely tell that on the left side, the winger is responsible for the offense, while on the right, Presley’s overlap is how they progress the ball into dangerous areas. From the middle of the pitch, they rely on throughballs from Bustamante or dribbling from the No. 10 spot – with mixed results for the latter, especially.
The defense is bad, with 26-year old Harri Hawkins and 23-year old Collin Verfurth (i.e.: non-veteran, but not exactly springs chickens in terms of age) manning the middle when the team is at full strength. Verfurth is the more active defender, while Hawkins seems to mostly clean up the mess. Largely, though, their primary edict seems to be: “let opponents get a ton of shots. we need these keepers to be tested!”
Tested, those keepers have been; passed that test… actually they have been pretty good there? 67.9% for Calle Brown is not the most impressive, but behind an unquestionably trash defense, it isn’t half-bad. For some context, NSC keeper have faced 97 shots and saved 74.2% of them. Loudoun keepers have seen nearly twice as much rubber (in two fewer games!) with 171 shots against.
The Boys in Gold
Get yer injury report:
|Michael Reed – out for season||Ankle|
That’s basically as close to a full-strength lineup as can be expected at this point in the year, with Kimura having been usurped by Darnell King and Belmar’s injury unfortunate, but probably a consequence of being forced into as many minutes last week as he was. Against Loudoun, you try to rest him.
I do think we see something of a rotated squad with a weak opponent across the pitch, and games against two stronger sides next week. Is Derrick Jones (finally) ready to see the field? Is he ready to get a starting nod? Nashville clearly wanted to have the opportunity to slot him in late against Birmingham or Pittsburgh (allowing him to get some match fitness back), but couldn’t do so on account of the game situations. Is it possible that he goes from not having played since May into the starting lineup? We shall see.
Otherwise, Cameron Lancaster’s complete exclusion from the injury report is welcome after he put in a decent shift against Pittsburgh, and NSC should be getting ready to peak at the right time. The stakes are high.
“Stay focused: give every single game a much as you can,” Smith said. “I think all teams will look at it now and say if we fail to win this conference, every single team will look back on dropped points. No doubt about it. We’ll be exactly the same if we don’t win it. There’s five teams as we look at it within an inch of one another in terms of what they can achieve.”
A faster left back (or, I’ll be honest, the 5-3-2 makes sense for this game, but I won’t project it because I’m a stubborn baby) to punish Presley for getting upfield – or prevent him from trying in the first place – makes sense, and Nashville will try to get on top early and see if they can’t get some of these kinks worked out.
This personnel grouping also allows for easy shifting into a 5-3-2 (Tribbett to CB, LaGrassa drops into the CDM spot he’s currently in, Moloto plays as the No. 10 with Ropapa and Lancaster up top), if that’s what is deemed to be the more effective choice in a given situation.
Keys to the game
- Work for solid shots. I know I’m typically advising for the team to be a little more adventurous in its shooting, but against solid keepers and a bad backline, it makes more sense to generate high-value shots (because you’ll be able to, and because the keepers have done OK stopping the low-value ones).
- Get an early lead. A loss can (pending other results around the East) knock Loudoun out of playoff contention. If they go down early, it may see them fold up shop a bit.
- Stay healthy. Don’t get hurt against this team. Test some depth if anyone feels the closest thing resembling a tweak.
Loudoun is bad. Nashville is good, but has not been playing its best (offensively, at least) in recent weeks.
- Lancaster gets a first-half brace, one assisted by Moloto and one by Mensah.
- A Nashville centerback (I’m including Tribbett in that category, even if he ends up playing midfield) gets a set-piece goal.
- Loudoun pulls one back around the 70th minute, with Yow banging one home in the scrum after a corner kick.
- Tucker Hume hits a late one to provide the final score.
Nashville SC wins 4-1.