He’ll be on the opposite touchline today
It is time for more soccer. This is against another MLS team. That team is the Montreal Impact.
Opponent: Montreal Impact (12-17-5 last season) • 41 points, 9th place MLS East, missed playoffs. No. 13 MLS offense, No. 9 MLS defense (xG Power Ratings).
Time, Location: Wednesday Feb. 12, 6:00 p.m. CST (7:00 local) • Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Weather: 73ºF, 4% chance of rain, 82% humidity, 8 MPH Southerly winds
Watch • Listen: No streams 😦
Etc.: The full Nashville SC 2020 preseason schedule. Recaps of the IF Elfsborg game, the Chicago Fire game, and the win over Louisville City.
It’s a rebuilding year in The City of a Hundred Steeples. Head coach Remy Garde was dismissed midseason, then interim coach Wilmer Cabrera – who presumably took the job thinking he’d be hired full-time – was not retained at the end of the year. Enter a name you’re likely familiar with: former Arsenal and New York Red Bulls star Thierry Henry (whose coaching career unofficially began with NYRB).
There’s plenty of player turnover, as well. While they return most of their goal-scoring from a year ago, there’s no easy replacement for Ignacio Piatti. He was their primary creator (and the only consolation is that he was limited in 2019 anyway):
Montreal added winger Romell Quioto from Houston, and while he was similarly limited in 2019 due to injury, the hope has to be that there’s plenty of creation from the wings, and that a dude who was at one point literally considered to be the “Next Messi” in an unironic fashion (after breaking Lionel’s record for youngest first-team debut for Barça) Bojan Krkic can dunk some of them home. He scored just three goals against 2.1 xG last year. He’ll likely play slightly out of position as a False-9 in a 4-3-3 under Henry.
All three keepers return, with starter Evan Bush being below-average on very high volume of shots faced (the GA/xGA numbers generally tend to level of right around 1.0 the higher the volume of shots faced – as you’d expect – and Bush is one of the few outliers). So with a bunch of balls aimed in his direction, you might say there’s room for improvement in the defense.
Obviously part of Montreal’s improvement will come down to being more of a possession-oriented side, since there hasn’t been a big notable signing in the backline. Rudy Camacho and Jukka Raitala played the plurality of CB minutes, and you can safely assume they’ll at least be given the opportunity to begin the year there. The lone departure is a guy you’ll recognize: Daniel Lovitz, who is Nashville SC’s projected starting left back after playing the second-most minutes on Montreal’s squad last year.
The coaching factor should come into play here: Henry is inexperienced as a manager, and was unceremoniously axed by AS Monaco midway through his only year leading a club. Perhaps that was a learning experience that has him prepared to take on the second challenge. There’s a good chance he’s still got plenty to learn in the gig.
Nashville has settled into a fairly solid rhythm in preseason, with the first-choice XI seemingly set, and any changes to it in Florida coming only because of workload management, minor injuries, and trying out a couple different combinations on the pitch. Obviously when Walker Zimmerman arrives – which he will not tonight – he’ll slide into one of the CB spots, but everything else seems to have at least a vague vision of starters and rotation players emerging, if not more precise than that.
The lone exception is striker, where Daniel Ríos, Abu Danladi, and Dom Badji have gotten first run in the three games. All three will get time this season, but somebody has to emerge as a starter (and Danladi and/or Badji – while Smith has indicated they’re primarily strikers – can provide help on the wing, as well). I think Ríos will get first crack after some solid play so far in preseason, and the idea that a guy who’s proven to get buckets of goals at a lower level might have more upside than guys with three-plus years of MLS experience, who are a little bit more known quantities.
A little bit of mixy-matchy in there, but largely what appears to be a mostly first-choice group. The lone question mark (in addition to Ríos) would be David Accam, who’s working back from injury and might not get an entire 45.
Keys to the game
- Get better in preparation for the regular season.
This is actually a pretty intriguing matchup to me. Montreal was pretty poor last year, but they were decent in fits and starts. They also have a new coach and a change in philosophy headed in.
- Ríos hooks up with Randall Leal in hold-up play, feeding the young Costa Rican for his team-leading third preseason goal.
- Nashville forces a turnover out of the high press, and Hany Mukhtar is there to clean it up and finish a second.
- Krkic scores one late in the first half.
- Both teams make large-scale substitutions in the second half, and neither second unit is sharp enough to create many dangerous scoring opportunities.
Nashville SC wins, 2-1. There’s a pretty strong chance that Smith rachets up the press intensity another notch with Montreal not on the regular-season schedule, and that can go either very well or very poorly. Either way, I’d expect a slightly higher-scoring game if there’s more reliance on it.
Thierry Henry photo courtesy Montreal Impact.