Slightly different situation from previous games between these teams.
After a one-year hiatus in the rivalry, Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati will get things going again in a preseason friendly. What should we expect to see?
Opponent: FC Cincinnati (6-22-6 last season) • 24 points, 12th place MLS East, missed playoffs. No. 23 MLS offense, No. 22 MLS defense (xG Power Ratings).
Time, Location: Sunday Feb. 16, 5:00 p.m. CST (6:00 local) • IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Weather: 73ºF, 12% chance of rain, 88% humidity, 5 MPH SW winds
Watch • Listen: No streams 😦
Etc.: The full Nashville SC 2020 preseason schedule. Recaps of the IF Elfsborg game, the Chicago Fire game, the win over Louisville City, and the nailbiter against Montreal Impact.
Cincinnati’s 2019 has mostly been described as one of the worst MLS seasons ever – and potentially the worst. My power ratings don’t agree that they were even the worst team last year, though, with their second-worst offense and third-worst defense combining to allow them to barely edge out Vancouver Whitecaps (FCC was, however, pretty awful at converting the few chances it did generate, and preventing opponents from doing the same, so in strict “goals for/against” terms, rather than xG, they were the worst). We’re really splitting hairs here though: they were historically awful either way.
So: it’s probably a good thing that they’ve turned over a significant portion of the roster. Their top two players in xG+xA per 96 minutes are gone (albeit one of whom was only with the team for a couple months: former US International Kenny Saief). They do return their top two players in minutes, right back Mathieu DePlagne and centerback Kendall Waston. Still, you’re seeing a lot more black in the upper and right-er portions in this chart than allows for a ton of continuity:
There’s a more-acute lack of continuity for today’s game, as well. Head coach Ron Jans, who led the team to a 1-6-4 record to close out last season (that’s 0.64 PPG; initial head coach Alan Koch led the team to 0.73 PPG, while interim Yoann Damet notched 0.75 PPG), has been suspended after a slight touch of racial insensitivity (data on Koch/Damet use of the N-word were unavailable at press time). Expect that suspension to last at least through today, and possibly longer pending the outcome of FCC, MLS, and MLS Player’s Association investigations.
Cincinnati’s offseason saw them do some pretty good business – funny what can happen when you hire experienced people to make the decisions – picking up Japanese winger/forward Yuya Kubo and Dutch striker Jürgen Locadia as designated players.
FCC has been super-secretive during preseason about how they’re lining up – and who even scored the goal in their 1-0 win over Philadelphia Union last week – so it’s tough to know exactly what to expect when they hit the field. It’s tough to know whether we’ll even find out after the fact. They were a little more open early in preseason, so my guess could be a little dated, but here we go:
Last any information was made publicly available, Locadia was still waiting on his work visa, so ephemeral Nashville SC player (a/k/a “Expansion Draft trade asset”) Brandon Vazquez continues to start up top with Kubo.
I would imagine we’ll see some heavy rotation either way, though Jans’s suspension can certainly throw a wrench into the works in terms of how this game would be used to build toward the regular season. Given these teams play relatively early in the regular season, a little hiding the full plan is possible, too.
Gary Smith mentioned after Wednesday’s game that he was hopeful for the returns of both Hany Mukhtar and Abu Danladi, who sat out that one with illness and injury, respectively. I’ll assume they’re 9inserted directly into the starting lineup, even if they’re pulled reasonably early. Giving them competitive minutes, but not too many minutes is the thought process there.
I would guess, given the history between these two franchises at the USL level, that the first half is going to be extremely competitive, and then it’s likely things taper off into the typical substitution time later in the game.
Here’s a lineup guess:
As I said above, subbing Danladi (likely for David Accam) and Mukhtar (likely for Derrick Jones) early is a strong possibility. There’s also a chance that Dominique Badji enters for Ríos relatively early, too.
I think we’ll see new signing Walker Zimmerman today; I do not think he’ll be ready for the starting lineup after joining the team in training for the first time yesterday.
While you want to get as many of those guys as much playing time as possible for the regular season, there’s also a need to avoid fatigue in what has sounded like a strenuous training camp, and also a need to not leave them in so long they get injured.
Keys to the game
- Get better in preparation for the regular season.
- Also probably win to give us a 10-minute reprieve from certain particularly-annoying corners of the internet.
Cincy has had ups and downs during the preseason, with 1-0 wins against El Paso Locomotive (USL) and Philadelphia Union, a 4-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, and a 3-0 win over Phoenix Rising (USL). Against reasonable competition, they’re still looking for an impressive result (though Jans mentioned after the Philadelphia game that it was the best the team had looked in preseason, the scoreboard didn’t turn out to be all-that impressive).
- Cincinnati gets on the board first, with Vazquez heading home a cross from one of his wingers.
- The hold-up goal from Randall Leal (off the assist from Ríos) that I predicted Wednesday did not come to fruition, so let’s call for it again.
- One of these two teams finds a second-half winner late into the game. I’ll go with a repeat of Taylor Washington feeding Dom Badji, though this time he gets it done with his foot, rather than his head.
Nashville SC wins, 2-1. Predicting preseason games – where we don’t even know how badly one team or the other is trying to win, rather than work to prepare for the season – is hard.
Photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country