Nashville SC is off an athletic and emotional letdown in the past week. Can the comfort of playing a home game in Nashville – for the first time in 163 days – help lead to a bounceback?
Opponent: Inter Miami CF (1-0-5) • 3 points, 0.5 PPG (14th East) • 6 GF, 10 GA
Time, Location: Saturday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium
Weather: 87ºF, 64% chance of rain, 73% humidity
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30/ESPN+* • 94.9 Game2
Vegas odds: Miami +135, draw +230, Nashville +205
Match officials: Referee: Rosendo Mendoza.
Assistant referees: Brian Dunn, Jose da Silva.
4th: Elvis Osmanovic. VAR: Kevin Terry Jr. Assistant VAR: Walt Heatherly
Etc.: Gary Smith presser.
*YouTubeTV and AT&T, among other streaming cable providers will have access to the game inside the local viewing area. Keep an eye on that page for the full list of available providers.
Inter Miami CF
Injury report: George Acosta (out – left knee), David Norman Jr. (out – left ankle), Denso Ulysse (out – left lower leg)
Miami set a record for the most futile beginning for an MLS franchise without a win through five games. However, some of the grief they got upon completing their stay at the MLS is Back Tournament may have been over-the-top. They hung with LAFC and outperformed DC United before the break, and lost a pair of one-goal games. In Orlando, they lost a 50/50 game against OCSC by a goal, thoroughly outplayed Philadelphia Union (1.20-0.60 xG advantage) but lost, and mailed in a boring slog against New York City FC – another single-goal loss.
Since returning from Orlando, they’ve played just one game, but it was a revenge contest against the Lions: a 3-2 win where both teams greatly outperformed their xG numbers.
“I looked at some of the press that surrounded them when they left the Orlando tournament,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “I thought it was completely uncalled for: five games beaten, I don’t know, some sort of record for a brand new franchise, or the worst start for a brand-new franchise. I would imagine – and you put yourself in their shoes: they played two games at the start of the season, I have no idea what their preparations for the Orlando tournament was. We suffered our own problems there, so I can only imagine how difficult it was for them to settle in, as with all the other teams.”
Miami was also without plenty of talent in The Bubble®. First-overall SuperDraft pick Robbie Robinson sat out for personal reasons, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Brek Shea were unavailable after signing too late, and they’ve signed Blaise Matuidi since returning from Orlando. That’s a top pick (less significant in MLS than other sports, yes), a high-end MLS centerback in his time with Atlanta, a talented-but-mercurial lefty who can play a number of roles, and a member of France’s 2018 World Cup-winning squad. Inject that talent into a build, and you’re moving forward.
Of course, Miami already had a pretty impressive base of talent on paper, and the results simply haven’t come.
“I do think in 6-8 games’ time, you’re going to find a very different team,” Gary Smith said of his opponent’s slow start to the year. “Guys like [Rodolfo] Pizarro and [Lewis] Morgan and [Matías] Pellegrini, they’ll find themselves in a world where they’re understanding Carranza up front. These guys have got a lot of talent, they’ve got a lot of energy, and against Orlando for the very first time, in their very first home game, I think you saw a different edge to them.”
Going back on the road – with an unexpected midweek bye – might be a different question than a home opener, but certainly Miami has made strides toward being the team they were expected to be in preseason, with a little bit less back luck all that might separate the Herons from being pretty good.
At the back, I’m a longtime (major) fan of goalkeeper Luis Robles, who was awesome for New York Red Bulls after attempting to get his career off the ground in Germany. He’s been slightly below-average in goals allowed compared to xG, but it’s early enough that the numbers are noisy (and while it’s a good stat for goalkeepers, it remains an imperfect one – the play of the outfield teammates plays a lot into it, as well).
Miami – like Nashville – is underperforming its offensive output, and you’d probably have more faith that the high-dollar players on Miami’s roster are going to snap out of it and start pouring in the goals. Rodolfo Pizarro is a veteran of Liga MX, with titles at Monterrey and Chivas in his last two stops. Matías Pellegrini and Julian Carranza are both Argentina youth internationals. Club GM Paul McDonough, like he did in his previous stop with Atlanta United, is determined to leverage a few known stars to turn a talented-but young side into both wins and big dollars in the transfer market.
It hasn’t clicked yet, but with Carranza and Pizarro both scoring in the last outing, it may not be far off.
The defense has been just fine: Miami is just above average so far this season. Their two worst games in expected goals-against came in the first three outings, so – particularly given a defensive addition like LGP, who was a 2019 all-star with Atlanta – they could be shaping up there, and if Robles’s form gets back to his career level (not a guarantee, given he’s 36), there could be something brewing here.
Injury report: Ken Tribbett (out, calf), Jimmy Medranda (out, hip)
An extraordinarily taxing stretch of the schedule – both physically and mentally/emotionally – saw the dame break in the second half against Orlando City at the midweek. As an added bonus, Nashville SC and Orlando were the only two teams to play Wednesday, so Miami ended up getting some unexpected rest.
All that is to say that being able to get to the game in their own cars after spending this afternoon in their own homes is massively less difficult than having to fly and prepare for a game and fly back again in the same span. The emotionally taxing aspects of a social justice protest the team was unable to participate in on Wednesday (and I don’t intend to speak for them, but the strong impression that their opponent caused that inability certainly didn’t play into a positive mental state), particularly for a player like defender Jalil Aniibaba, who is on the leadership council of Black Players for Change, might take a little longer to fade. Not piling upon it with logistical nightmares is at least a little bit of eased stress.
“The guys that took the main body of work have had a little bit more time to recover, Smith said. “What we’ve found in this period is there is very little time to get out on the training field and work at aspects of our own game. the recovery of the players, making sure that any little niggles and knocks that players have got, we’re on top of; making sure everyone that we possibly can have is available, and then of course having a look at our opponent.
“You realize that the simple things become the things that help you through towards your best performances. I.e. in your own bed, you get up, you’re in your own environment, you have your food of choice, you have a routine during the day, maybe you sleep in the afternoon at the time you choose to. Our report time in at the ground doesn’t involve waiting around anywhere, it doesn’t involve being in a different place or environment.”
What happened on Wednesday evening was probably unfamiliar to Nashville SC fans: certainly every soccer aficionado has seen a poor offensive performance (and NSC fans dating back to the 2018 USL season have seen it under Gary Smith, as well), but it’s been extraordinarily rare for a Smith-coached side to collapse defensively after the dam breaks on those offensive issues. A relatively even first half turned into an Orlando City cruise after the break.
So certainly the defense has to get back to a stronger stretch of play, but it badly needs help from the offense. NSC got a spark from a two-forward lineup Wednesday, even if it didn’t pay off. Both Daniel Ríos and Abu Danladi probably earned a place in the lineup going forward.
“Abu’s overall performance, of course, looked like it had more product to it, but I I actually think the combination of the pair of them is a very good one,” Smith said. “:=Daniel certainly played his part, had his moment. The more eye-catching came from Abu for sure. But their movement, their understanding having not played together much: certainly the enthusiasm and energy they gave us up top really gave us an opportunity when you look back to it and I have quite a lot and in-depth.”
Of course, shuffling personnel to find the right combination is less likely to find short-term success with a snap of the fingers, but if Smith has finally figured out who belongs on the field together, it can only pay off going forward. More importantly, though, the players who have already been relied upon in 2020 simply have to be able to turn their talent into goals.
Attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar and particularly left winger Randall Leal are oozing with talent, and they’ve shown flashes of it over the course of the season to date. Those flashes need to be more consistent, and they need to actually result in putting the ball in the back of the net. Smith understand some of the struggles.
“I think Randall’s being asked an awful lot of a young player,” Smith said. “I’m asking him to adapt to a new team, and tactically take onboard a lot of information. And he works regularly regularly day-on-day with Steve Guppy at his own game, his own techniques, his own one-v-one situations that we know will make a difference not only for the team, but will be a huge boost for the player as well. He’s working incredibly hard for the team, and I can’t be more complimentary about his attitude for the group.”
‘The only thing going wrong with scorey-guy is that he’s not scoring’ is not encouraging on its face, but you can certainly feel the way that Smith believes a breakout is coming, in large part thanks to the work put in to find that last piece.
Mostly the same lineup (some rotation at right back), but returning to a typical formation for Nashville after Gary Smith went with a bit of a true 4-4-2 last midweek. That’s not to say the formation was a problem, but given that most of his week-to-week quotes have been about trying to establish relationships with Leal on the left, Mukhtar in the middle, and the offensive talent around them, it makes the most sense.
I have Miami in the same 4-4-1-1 setup they went with against Orlando. They give those guys some freedom to bomb forward, so it can play out a bit more like a 4-3-3 (or at least 4-2-3-1).
Keys to the game
- Make home field count. Obviously Nashville will not be supported by the full-throated din of the Backline (or any other fans), but the concept of playing on your home turf can nonetheless be a mental boost. The lack of having to travel within hours of playing a game can be a physical one.
- Set pieces. Two of Nashville’s three goals on the year(!) have come from set pieces. The predicted floodgate-opening did not take place after a set piece goal on Wednesday. But augmenting whatever the team can get through the run of play (what little there may be in the short-term) with some production on offense – and just as importantly, not giving anything up on the other end – will be crucial.
- Be bullies in midfield. Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty have been ironmen in the middle so far, and that’s because of their incredible fitness, of course, but also because they provide an intelligence and physical bite that others can’t yet. Against a Miami team that is built to run its offense through the midfield, winning that head-to-head battle is big.
- Just keep shooting, just keep shooting. I’m firmly on team, “he can miss as many as he wants, it’s for the good of the team if Randall Leal keeps trying.” The talent has shone through in the past. The first time he sees one go in while he’s wearing the Blue and Gold, I think it’ll give him the confidence to be more prolific the rest of the season.
Two multi-goal losses in a row is… not the norm for a Gary Smith-coached team. The team feel ready to get a measure of vindication after two performances they feel aren’t indicative of their overall quality.
- Miami starts the game with a shocking goal inside the first five minutes. ‘Total Football’ be damned, they go Route One and Carranza finishes on the break.
- Whereas the team lost confidence last week when giving up goals, instead Nashville finds its steel and responds quickly. Leal plays Ríos through, and he lays off a square ball for Danladi to finish.
- Shortly after the break, Nashville SC goes ahead with a set piece goal. A corner is headed clear – but not quite clear enough – and Aníbal Godoy hits it in from distance.
- Orlando gets a set piece goal in response, this one from Leondro González Pírez’s head.
The game finishes in a 2-2 draw.