Nashville SC has exorcised a couple demons from earlier in the season over the past week-plus. Will that apply against a team that they previously beat in a closer-than-expected battle?
Opponent: Atlanta United 2 (9-16-8) • 14th place USL East • 15th place USL East power ratings and 32nd place combined-table Pure Power (5th East)
Time, Location: Saturday Oct. 19, 7:00 p.m. CDT • First Tennessee Park (tickets still available)
Weather: 66ºF, 1% chance of rain, 69% humidity, 4 MPH SSE winds
Follow: USL Gametracker • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: ESPN+ • 94.9 Game2 (English radio) • 96.7 El Jefe (Radio en Español).
Tailgate: Von Elrod’s, or with The Assembly in the Ozzie Lot or the Roadies at Neighbors
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -333, draw +380, ATL UTD 2 +610
Computers are for Nerdz: Projected score Nashville 2.33, Atlanta 0.65
Etc.: Coverage of last time around. Presser video with Gary Smith and players.
Atlanta United 2
Given that they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention for a few weeks, you might expect Atlanta United 2 to just capitulate… but that hasn’t been their M.O. lately: they’re unbeaten in seven, including two wins and two draws against playoff teams (and one of each against potential playoff teams, too).
That effort has resulted in a little too much force on some tackles. That will see George Campbell and Wesley Decas suspended against NSC thanks to yellow card accumulation. They’re Nos. 7 and 4 in minutes played for ATL UTD 2 this season, so they’re significant losses (though neither appeared for the parent club, unlike some of the most talented in the system).
So, uh, I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out who Atlanta would play in place of two of their three centerbacks in a 3-4-3, and they literally haven’t had a single other CB in the squad for a few weeks. Laurence Wyke (who is a positionally versatile CM and whose starting spot Campbell took originally as he was at that RCB spot) will be one. The other… maybe Tyler Ruthven, whose last playing time was before Stephen Glass shifted to the 3-4-3 to match the senior team?
This has been almost as bad an offense as a defense over the course of the year, but at least there are more bullets in the chamber. That’s particularly true if, say USYNT regulars Andrew Carleton and George Bello are available (Bello has been with ATL UTD 2 and should start at LWB. Carleton has been back-and-forth recently, but his off-field reputation probably means no playoff minutes for the senior squad).
The Boys in Gold
The injury report includes only captain Michael Reed, whose ankle injury is season-ending, and Ken Tribbett, who remains questionable with a leg injury.
Nashville’s recent run of great form has come with a mostly consistent squad. I do think there’s a chance you see Tucker Hume as a substitute (given Atlanta will be playing at least one CB who is under 5-10 or who hasn’t been in a game day squad much less seen the field in months) for the physical advantage.
Largely, though, this game is about Nashville taking care of business. For seemingly the first time ever, they’re the team that benefits from some significant yellow card suspensions – they tend to get the game before or game after those with a frequency – and so, even though Atlanta has been playing better, NSC can take advantage.
With a win, there’s a chance to win the Eastern Conference, and all eyes – among fans, maybe a few vehicles x will turn to Birmingham Sunday. For what it’s worth, you want both Saint Louis and Charleston to draw today – that means Birmingham can earn ninth place (their top possible option) with only a draw against Pittsburgh. Given the style of play for both teams, a Legion side playing for a draw will be hard for Pittsburgh (which thrives on the counter, not dominating the ball) to break down.
Keys to the game
- Exploit the little-used players. Atlanta will be using some guys (particularly in the back line) who are inexperienced, particularly in the recent days. NSC has talent on the wings and at striker. They should be able to lean on ATL UTD 2.
- Get Ríos some chances. He has just one goal since his brace way back in the Charlotte game. Injury has played a role there, but so has a little bit of diminished form (with the ball at his feet, at least: he’s still been outstanding off-ball). Getting him on the scoresheet won’t likely see him back into the Golden Boot race, where he’s fallen significantly behind Solomon Asante, (four goals to tie him), but getting him feeling good into the playoffs raises the ceiling on NSC.
- Don’t look ahead. Far be it from me to be overly critical here – I’m king of look-ahead-opotamia – but a Nashville team ready to come out and handle business (rather than one thinking about the stakes of Birmingham’s game should they win) should be able to do just that.
- Accept that they have talent. ATL UTD 2 is bad, but there’s a reason they’re seven games unbeaten: there are some players here. If they make a play, shrug it off and move along, rather than getting frustrated a bottom-table team was able to do it. The consistently won’t be there for 90 minutes on Atlanta’s end of the pitch. NSC has to make sure that the same isn’t true going the other way.
There are a lot of angles to take here. I’m obviously of the opinion that any gains Atlanta has made in form recently will be counteracted by their diminished personnel.
- Ríos brace
- Tucker Hume late or a centerback not-as-late adds another.
- Atlanta gets one nice moment from a promising young player somewhere in there.
Nashville wins 3-1