Orlando City had a strong trip to… uh… Orlando… for MLS is Back, but experienced a letdown over the weekend. What should Nashville SC fans expect?
Opponent: Orlando City (2-2-2 – MLS is Back finalist) • 8 points, 1.3 PPG (8th East) • 2019: 14th place xG Power ratings, 17th G Power Ratings • No. 18 offense, No. 6 defense
Time, Location: Wednesday, Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 local) • Exploria Stadium (limited fans)
Weather: 87ºF, 4% chance of rain, 73% humidity
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30/ESPN+* • 94.9 Game2
Vegas odds: Orlando -125, draw +270, Nashville +300
Match officials: Referee: Marcos de Oliveira. AR: Logan Brown, Adam Garner. 4th: Tori Penso. VAR: Chris Penso. Assistant VAR: Kyle Longville
Etc.: Wrap from the Atlanta game. Gary Smith and Walker Zimmerman press conference. Q&A with Orlando Soccer Journal. On the radio with the Pharma boys and Nashville Soccer Show.
*YouTubeTV and AT&T cable streamers will have access to the game inside the local viewing area. Other streaming providers are still in negotiations.
Orlando City SC
Injury report: Dom Dwyer (out – knee)
Orlando City was the feel-good story of the MLS is Back Tournament. The Lions were playing half an hour from their home stadium, and the expectations for them were low. They promptly won Group A despite the presence of pre-tournament favorites Philadelphia Union (whom they tied) and New York City FC (beating both NYCFC and Inter Miami CF), and advanced through the knockout bracket to the final, where a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timber was hardly something to be upset about.
So how did they do it? I’m a big believer in head coach Óscar Pareja. He has had mixed results at previous stops – 1.26 PPG in two years with Colorado, 1.66 in five years with Dallas – but the thing that he does, he does very well.
“It starts with the philosophy,” Orlando Soccer Journal‘s Gavin Ewbank told me. “Pareja used the word ‘protagonists’ a lot when describing how he wants his side to attack games… I’m sure you’ve heard commentary through their games, but this is largely the same group of players that did not find a lot of success last season under James O’Connor, who very much did not will his team to be this forceful and protagonistic.”
It’s an attitude thing. The tactics are… they’re fine. They’re certainly not a problem for OCSC, but Pareja isn’t leading his team to wins on the chalkboard, per se. He’s doing it with motivation and attitude. And fitness. Just ask former FC Dallas player Walker Zimmerman, who overlapped with Pareja for four years.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of emotion,” Zimmerman said. “He’s going to work them very hard, so I expect a fit team, a team that has played a lot of games because of making it pretty far in the tournament. A group that’s going to be, like I said, hard-working – they’re going to take after their coach in that regard.”
The players doing it for him on the pitch have a few notable names. Winger Chris Mueller has been a hipster favorite in MLS for the past couple years after joining OCSC as a first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin. He’s putting up a half-goal worth of xG per game, and converting at a strong enough rate that he’s nearing a score in each outing. Rookie striker Daryl Dike – a player I absolutely love out of UVa – made his debut against Inter Miami CF and scored a goal in the 3-2 loss.
The straw the stirs the drink offensively, though, is Portuguese Designated Player Nani. The former Manchester United standout is not in America just to collect a paycheck, and he’s orchestrating a lot of what the Lions do from the left wing. His 0.54 xG+xA per game is behind only Mueller (whose production is basically only shooting) and striker Dom Dwyer, whose numbers are a bit skewed because he’s played very few minutes and will miss most of the year with knee surgery.
For some of the less-known names, I go back to Ewbank.
“Ruan and Joao Moutinho, the two fullbacks, are a key part of this squad,” he said. “Mauricio Pereyra, a DP who joined the team last summer, broke out as a key player for Orlando in the tournament. He’s at the heart of the attack in midfield, can make any key pass, and fight off defenders to avoid losing the ball and hold possession. Sebastian Mendez is another energetic midfield, one of those really good, underrated South American midfielders we’re starting to find more of in the league; he likes to get forward and help Orlando in the attack, but he’s also a tough player to attack against as a strong tackler and ball-winner.”
I’d also be remiss not to mention keeper Pedro Gallese – subject of recent transfer rumors – “The Octopus” making some impressive saves in Orlando despite allowing a greater number of goals than his xG number (1.25 times as many goals allowed as you’d expect). The Peruvian is known as a penalty-kick specialist – which obviously won’t come into play tonight, at least not in terms of settling a draw.
Injury report: Ken Tribbett (out, calf), Jimmy Medranda (out, hip)
I think it would be fair to say – and I did on multiple radio shows this week – that Saturday’s game against Atlanta United was the first legitimately bad outing for this team. Certainly they won the xG battle despite the result. But it didn’t feel like they had a chance as soon as Pity Martínez’s first goal went in… and they didn’t do much to dissuade viewers from that position over the course of the final 50-ish minutes.
“There’s lots and lots of good things to keep reinforcing,” head coach Gary Smith said this week. “We do need games. The guys up front are normally the last individuals to find that sparkle and that feel in the final third. But when they do – and I’ve seen it before – when they do, it gives confidence to everyone, themselves included. It breathes an air of positivity around the group once you get moving up front. I’ve no doubt they will. The sooner it happens, of course, the better it’ll be for everyone.”
That’s a coach who’s frustrated about creating chances, but more frustrated about his team actually taking the opportunities in front of them – much less converting those. When combined with a defense that has a couple uncharacteristic slip-ups, you have a recipe for an embarrassing result on the road.
“On a personal level, I know I’m not happy with the goals on my end,” Zimmerman said. “Pretty unacceptable errors at this point in my career. I’m really excited that we have a midweek game just to be able to flush that out, get back on the field, focus on getting three points. Again, it’s a group that defensively, we’ve been very sound. Continuing the foundation that we’ve had for the first five games.”
While both teams are on short turnarounds, Nashville SC’s situation is a little different: Orlando City had a game Aug. 11 and then returned to the pitch Aug. 22, whereas the Boys in Gold played the 12th, 16th, and 22nd, so there’s a little bit more fixture congestion. On three days’ rest after that busy schedule, more rotation feels pretty likely.
“We know that we’re going to have to rotate, and guys will get their chance,” said winger Alistair Johnston. “Everyone’s kind of excited about that opportunity, and you can tell. Everyone from No. 1 on the roster to No. 30, everybody’s getting cryo, doing ice baths, all this kind of stuff to do the proper re-gen to be ready to play.”
“To be honest, I’ll be guided an awful lot by the players out on the field,” Smith said. “If they feel as though they need a bit more time to get their bodies in shape, then brilliant. If they don’t, I think we do have a fairly decent program at the moment. And in between all that, we need to do some video work, and prep work, and some practical work out on the field for our next opponent.”
Obviously, the back seven is the area in which you’d expect to see the least shuffling (right back excepted), whereas a little bit more fluidity in the lineup among the front four seems to be the order of the day.
The “build chemistry” initiative wins out over the “rotate squad” mandate for Nashville (resulting in a Dom Badji start up top) while I keep Dike in the lineup for Orlando, but make some switches to get them back to what worked at MLS is Back rather than what was a little more iffy over the weekend.
Keys to the game
- Capitalize on the chances. Against Atlanta – particularly early in the game – Nashville had opportunities, but either didn’t get a shot off, or it was a poor effort. That ultimately led to growing confidence for the Five Stripes, and once they scored, the momentum was never going to shift back to NSC. Don’t… don’t do that.
- Contain Nani. While the Portuguese veteran has a history of fading with heavy usage last season (particularly in hot weather), I can’t see a way he’s left off the field if Orlando wants to get back on the right side of the ledger after losing to Miami. Giving him hell with a defensive specialist seems a good way to get him fatigued out of the game.
- Take advantage of set pieces. 50% of the goals in franchise history have come from set piece opportunities. Might be a good way to break the seal and start re-building some confidence in the team’s ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
Friend of the blog Justin Sousa breaks down the Orlando-Miami game that is obviously very relevant for our purposes the rest of this week. Orlando City’s official site takes a look at the Boys in Gold and previews the game. AP Preview. Listen to your boy on Pharmaceutical Soccer and the Nashville Soccer Show. Broadway preview.
Despite Nashville’s major letdown in Atlanta, I think this team is poised for a bounceback (whereas Orlando isn’t necessarily built for quick turnarounds).
- Nashville gets an early set-piece goal from the head of Walker Zimmerman.
- Orlando responds shortly before halftime with a layoff from Dike to Mueller (college soccer babaaaaay!), who blasts it home past Joe Willis.
- The rest of the game sees a number of opportunities, but Nashville can’t truly test Gallese, while Willis stands tall against the tests Orlando puts on him.
Orlando 1, Nashville 1