Nashville SC and FC Dallas have a lot of making up to do. It begins with a contest in Frisco this evening.
Opponent: FC Dallas (13-12-9) • 48 points, 7th place MLS West in 2019 • 9th place xG Power ratings, 8th G Power Ratings • No. 17 offense, No. 4 defense
Time, Location: Wednesday Aug. 12, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Frisco, Texas
Weather: 99ºF, 1% chance of rain, 36% humidity, 8 MPH SE winds
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30/ESPN+* • 94.9 Game2
Vegas odds: Dallas -162, draw +300, Nashville +500
Match officials: Referee: Armando Villarreal. Assistant Referees: Adam Garner, Kevin Lock. 4th Official: Nima Saghafi. VAR: Daniel Radford
Etc.: Press conference with Walker Zimmerman and Gary Smith • Q&A with 3rd Degree. Preview pod with Pharmaceutical Soccer.
*There’s a pretty significant problem in the local market wherein people who use streaming services as a cable provider are blacked out on MyTV30 and ESPN+. At press time, there is no answer to that issue from the club other than “go buy an antenna,” which seems… inadequate. If there’s an update – unfortunately, I have no indication that the club and league have interest in resolving this – I will share.
Injury report: clean.
“A good team!” – Tim Sullivan.
Dallas began the year with a 2-0 win over a Philadelphia Union team that I’ve made no secret I believe to be one of the best in the league, then drew Montreal Impact 2-2. Like Nashville SC, they were withdrawn from the MLS is Back Tournament (with a much more harrowing tale to be told about their situation), so a two-game resume is all we have thus far in 2020.
The team was just OK in 2019, finishing mid-table in the West. However, there’s reason to believe the 2020 squad will be better. First, though, we start with the negative. Starting goalkeeper Jessee Gonzalez was recently terminated after a domestic abuse arrest in early June. Backup Jimmy Maurer is considered approximately equal to Gonzalez on the balance, though his style is different.
“There isn’t much of a dropoff in performance,” 3rd Degree‘s Dan Crooke said. “Jesse was a much better shot stopper and had brought his distribution up to Maurer’s level. Maurer’s advantage is really being better in communication and decision making (I guess off the field too).”
Certainly you can expect Nashville to test a backup keeper early, if possible. It does not sound like there’s a high likelihood of that finding success (though to be clear, I’m still advocating for it).
As for the outfield players, it should come as no surprise that promoting Luchi from an academy position to first-team coach has seen a bit of a youth movement. A number of young players are major contributors or have at least seen the field this year.
US international Reggie Cannon (22) and youth international Paxton Pomykal (20, and does have his first senior-team appearance as well) were key performers last year, and Pomykal was joined by fellow midfielder Brandon Servania (21, but has not played this year rehabbing a knee injury) on the MLS 22 Under 22 list at the end of last season. Pomykal has had an injury of his own, recovering from postseason surgery that’s seen him get only backup minutes in the first two games.
“He mentioned some soreness after training,” Crooke said of Pomykal’s current status.. “But he’s not playing through pain anymore after a second surgery on a sports hernia over the winter.”
That’s barely the tip of the iceberg with a youth movement: forwards Jesus Ferreira (19) and Ricardo Pepi (17, USL League One second-XI last year only because he spent much of the year with FC Dallas rather than affiliate North Texas SC), and midfielder Tanner Tessman (18) have 319 minutes between them already this season. Pepi has a goal in his substitute appearances, while both Ferreira and Tessman have started each game and contributed an assist.
That’s not to say this team is without grizzled veterans. 31-year old Czech striker Zdeněk Ondrášek and 32-year old Argentine DP Franco Jara are the finishers.
“[Ondrášek] went from close to being cut to eight goals and three assists in his last seven home games,” Crooke said. “Franco Jara, a new signing from Pachuca, is the one to watch as he should make his debut in one of the games. He signed the largest contract in team history with a lot of expected of him once he’s settled in. Originally Jara was set to miss half the season as Pachuca wanted $5m to release him from his contract a few months early, but Dallas found a silver lining in this awful situation we’re all in.”
A shift to a 3-5-2 formation – after Dallas was almost exclusively four-at-the-back last year, and has been so this year, as well – is an interesting twist to expect. A little more activity closer to goal (but potentially more difficulty in getting the ball into the final third) could be the payoff for Dallas. With a midfield three that has struggled to find consistency, we shall see if the Toros’ move pays off if Gonzalez does indeed make the change.
There are a lot of Nashville connections here, too. Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty both began their careers with FCD. Dom Badji spent the better part of the past three years there.
“I’m excited to compete against old teammates, but I think more importantly when you play against a former team, your desire to win just goes up and up,” Zimmerman said. “There’s always a chip on your shoulder. I think that’s no different in this case. I’m excited that we get to return to action against my former club.”
We shall see if the emotional factor plays a major role.
Injury report: Dom Badji (questionable, quad), Jimmy Medranda (questionable, hip)
For the most part, I would expect consistency from Nashville SC, as well. The changes that we expected in the pre-corona world (where all my, “I’ve been in a coma and am looking forward to the trip to Toronto, bummer we couldn’t get it done against Portland last weekend!”-heads at?) probably still apply.
Those would be primarily center around striker and right wing, and possibly right back.
This space has advocated for Daniel Ríos to get the start up top, and with Dom Badji less than 100%, it seems a smart time to make that choice. Especially since Ríos is more of a combining player at the position, and Nashville doesn’t seem likely to break in behind a Dallas team that doesn’t press a whole lot anyway, trying something new to score that precious first run-of-play goal looks wise.
At right wing, there’s been less of a “this player doesn’t seem like the right piece” narrative, and more of a steady rotation anyway. David Accam seems a good bet to continue in his previous starting role, particularly since left-footed Jimmy Medranda is one of the changeup options there, and he’s under 100%, as well.
The last spot is right back, where Eric Miller was a solid-yet-uninspiring performer for the most part in two games – but that is enough to be the weak link in what was an outstanding back seven through the first two contests. Of course, the player expected to challenge for that role was Brayan Beckeles. The 34-year old wasn’t 90-minute fit to start the year, and his self-identification as one of NSC’s players who tested positive for the novel coronavirus raises questions about respiratory recovery that can’t be answered by anyone other than Beckeles and team physicians (i.e. two groups not likely to speak on the matter).
That last point actually applies to a number of others, and we won’t know if there are changes to the “regular” (if you can have such a thing after two games) lineup because of a coach’s decision, or because a player who’s out of the lineup is experiencing symptoms after being one of Nashville’s nine who tested positive for the virus.
“If I look at the window of time that we’ve had to get ourselves ready, to mentally and physical prepare for two difficult games in Dallas at this time of year, I’m certainly pleased with the way the guys are looking,” Gary Smith said. “I would imagine that even given their decent physical position, the challenge of playing away and getting ourselves into a very different routine of flying in and out on a day, and really and truly finding our legs after what is it, five months without any competitive action? – there’s always going to be some wrinkles to try and iron out.”
There are logistical… quirks… that go into, as Smith points out. Does a guy have muscle stiffness after a plane ride and only a few hours to get loose before the game?
Keys to the game
- Protect the penalty area. Dallas is not a high-press team, nor are the Toros particularly interested in booting the ball upfield to create chances. Nashville SC has to be patient with and without the ball in its defensive half. Dallas will move the ball in the offensive third – not to say they’re tiki-taka, but working the ball into dangerous spots is the name of their game – and Nashville will want to prevent openings from developing.
- Smart offense. Nashville has the right ideas offensively through two games, the execution just hasn’t been there. A couple inches away on a David Accam sliding shot against Atlanta, and NSC would probably have a reputation as snake-bitten in goals-versus-expected terms, rather than a squad that can’t create. A slight changeup on the offensive personnel to freshen things is warranted. Continuing along the same path otherwise makes sense.
- Control Michael Barrios. The Colombian winger somehow escaped mention above, but he’s been a major threat (particularly in the past couple years) with his dribbling and passing from the wing. The 3-5-2, if it comes off, should see him as a supporting striker instead of along the right side. I would not advise losing track of him.
- Do not give up a world-class goal. Also maybe score one yourselves. While the bad-luck nature of Nashville SC’s first two games needs some context (and can even be debated), there’s no question that each of the three goals scored against the team so far… was an impressive one. Meanwhile, a toe-poke for the team’s lone goal to date was obviously fine, but this team has the talent to be on the other end of some of these worldies. It’d be a convenient time to get one.
Broadway Sports Media preview. Dallas-oriented columns on the COVID situation that expelled them from MLS is Back. 3rd Degree preview. Big D Soccer predictions. Pharma pod. Preview from the Tennessean.
Does Nashville SC get its first MLS result?
- Pomykal feeds Ondrášek midway through the first half to put him in alone on goal. The big Czech makes no mistake, and beats Joe Willis.
- Ferreira takes a lay-off from Barrios and slots home shortly after halftime.
- The worldie we’ve all been waiting for arrives shortly thereafter: Randall Leal receives near the top corner of the penalty area. Rather than survey his passing options, he launches a curler into the far corner.
- Pepi puts the game away late, with the substitute providing the final margin.
Dallas 3, Nashville 1