Nashville SC and FC Dallas have a lot of making up to do. The Boys in Gold got the better of their hosts on Wednesday. Can they repeat the feat
Opponent: FC Dallas (1-1-1) • 4 points, 1.33 PPG (8th West)
Time, Location: Sunday, Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Frisco, Texas
Weather: 89ºF, 35% chance of rain, 58% humidity, 8 MPH Easterly winds
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30/ESPN+* • 94.9 Game2
Vegas odds: Dallas -129, draw +300, Nashville +800
Match officials: Referee: Rosendo Mendoza. Assistant Referees: Nick Uranga, Diego Blas. 4th Official: Rubiel Vazquez. VAR: Nima Saghafi
Etc.: Wednesday preview. FCD Q&A. Post-match stories from Wednesday. Press conference with Gary Smith and Daniel Ríos.
*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. I have received information that the club is working with MyTV30 to resolve the issue, but I would not expect that solution to be in place for tonight.
Injury report: Brandon Servania (out – adductor strain).
Despite Wednesday’s result, I still believe this to be a pretty good MLS side. Certainly there were issues with generating goals Wednesday evening, but FCD did put up 15 shots, five of them on-goal. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater after a performance that was disappointing but not actually bad would be, to me, “unwise!”
Of course, the, uh, bathwater that we’re discussing in this suddenly-strained metaphor did some with a formation change (an expected change, but a change nonetheless) from how Dallas began the year: going with a 3-5-2 rather than a 4-3-3 – the setup Luchi Gonzalez had used in his team’s first two games of the year, a win and a draw – could be considered a failed experiment. With Zdenek Ondrášek still not 90-minute fit, the target striker that may be needed to make the two-striker system work may not be there. (Ironically, he came on Wednesday for the final 16 minutes, which is the point at which FCD went back in a 4-3-3).
Anyway, some of the other talent to keep an eye on hasn’t changed, aside from the fact that Brandon Servania is officially unavailable tonight after not appearing on the bench Wednesday:
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.
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.
I took a look at the 3-5-2 formation to a small extent:
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.
…and I think the failures of it came to fruition. Thanks to the short turnaround and the inability to re-watch the game in the local market (even if I had an antenna, I’m not also buying a third-party DVR solution. The club really needs to get this figured out!), I haven’t broken down the stats just yet for the Graphical, but Dallas had a tough time advancing into the final third to generate legit shot opportunities: too many of their key passes came from deep or were at the end of crosses.
Sacrificing that third centerback in order to get smoother connections through the midfield and into the attacking personnel would seem to make some sense, particularly if Ondrášek can’t play the majority of the game to play a hold-up role. Pepi is the only other player with a similar physical profile, but perhaps doesn’t have the experience to be ready for a start in that role, either.
It’s easy to look at the “olé” act out of the FCD backline that preceded David Accam’s goal and assume the defensive performance from Dallas was poor, but Nashville’s only other shot inside the box was a headed cross. Dallas played pretty well, and had one major lapse on a counter-attack but largely contained Nashville. Goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer was also pretty good. Here’s what Dan Crooke said to me about Maurer (as compared to terminated starter Jesse Gonzalez) in advance of the last game:
There isn’t much of a drop off in performance. 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).
I think that was largely borne out Wednesday: the defense was well-organized, and the lone moment that Nashville struck on was on the counter and a deflected shot. I wouldn’t say it reflects poorly on him.
Injury report: Jimmy Medranda (questionable, hip), Eric Miller (questionable, adductor)
Nashville SC went with some slight tweaks Wednesday evening, playing a bit more of a 4-4-1-1 than the typical 4-2-3-1, but not really approaching a 4-4-2.
My opinions on a 4-4-2 as “big dumb football” are probably pretty well-known… but it might make sense for this game? After stealing a win Wednesday night, coming out and essentially playing to much the game up a bit and hope for a draw – or even a second chance to steal a win on the counter – could be a reasonable move. Playing for a draw isn’t sexy, of course, but against a more-talented team that’s going to be angry after the midweek result, at least coming out to weather some pressure, lump in some crosses, and hope for magic might make a bit of sense.
Personnel-wise, I would expect something pretty similar to what we saw Wednesday evening. Could Alistair Johnston get his first MLS start after replacing Brayan Beckeles in the lineup (particularly because Eric Miller is not fully healthy)? Is there a more defensively-oriented true midfielder to play on the right so Hany Mukhtar can return to his area of comfort in the middle? Would Gary Smith even want to do that when Derrick Jones’s ability to be a destroyer as a No. 10 or second striker went well in the first game?
I would expect Daniel Ríos to get his second straight start, and although his link-up play was iffy the other night, getting over the hump of that first start almost certainly smooths a bit of it over. He’s the best hold-up and combination striker on the roster, so particularly if the 4-4-1-1 is the move… putting him up top probably also has to be.
“Your mind is different when you come as a sub in the second half rather than if you start a game,” he said. “Of course you need to be focused in the first minutes. Stick to a plan that the coach and all the players know. For me, I am very happy that I had that opportunity. At the end, it was awesome to get those three points on the road.”
The right midfield spot could be a question mark if not Mukhtar, though: other than Alan Winn (who did not travel Wednesday) – himself pretty offensively-minded – there isn’t a right-sided midfielder who’s more than mostly a pure winger (this also makes the Alex Muyl signing make a lot more sense in the intermediate term). Alistair Johnston… can’t start in that position if you need him as a sub for Beckeles in Miller’s absence. Unless you have Jones as a destroyer 10, you can’t sacrifice defense in that area.
SO, that’s all to say I guess I’ve talked myself into believing it’ll largely be the same gameplan from the other evening, even after I expected differently.
Keys to the game
- Be big in the big moments. This was – pretty much inarguably – the factor that won the game for Nashville Wednesday. Some key blocks from defenders, a strong performance from Joe Willis, and a brilliant run from David Accam provided the difference in the game. A repeat performance would be nice.
- Stay sound on D. It felt like a bit of baptism-by-fire Wednesday, and even though Dallas only put five shots on the target, it felt like the Nashville goal was being bombarded at times. A little readjustment and defensive solidity would be welcome. The nine shots outside the penalty area Wednesday, you can live with. Cutting down looks inside the box will be important.
- Be ready to hit on the counter. Playing a slightly more defensively-minded game will mean the offensive opportunities could be few and far between. Accam made the most of his Wednesday – big in the big moments, as noted above – and Nashville will have to be ready to spring forward when Dallas adds numbers to the attack to try to generate looks. Adding speed toward the end of the game (as Accam and Dominique Badji provided Wednesday) seems like the smart overarching tactical move.
I think this will perhaps but just as exciting as Wednesday’s game. But also lower scoring.
- Nashville SC plays low defensively, absorbing pressure whereas Dallas throws just about everything into the attack.
- Late in the second half, it’s possible that either Dallas breaks through or Nashville hits on the counter. However, I’m expecting a low-scoring game with a lot of longer shots.
Dallas 0, Nashville 0