Nashville took one on the chin against Orlando City SC a week ago. Is it revenge time with the lessons learned?
Opponent: Orlando City (4-2-2 – MLS is Back finalist) • 14 points, 1.75 PPG (4th East) • 2019: 14th place xG Power ratings, 17th G Power Ratings • No. 18 offense, No. 6 defense
Time, Location: Wednesday, Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium (no fans)
Weather: 78ºF, 54% chance of rain, 88% humidity
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30/ESPN+* • 94.9 Game2
Vegas odds: Nashville +160, draw +250, Orlando + 150
Match officials: Referee: Jair Marrufo. Assistants: Kathryn Nesbitt, Benjamin Hall-Volpenhein. Fourth official: Natalie Simon. VAR: Chris Penso. Assistant VAR: Jose da Silva
Etc.: Wrap from the Miami game. Gary Smith, Brian Anunga, and Aníbal Godoy press conference.
*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), João Moutinho (questionable – groin)
I’m going to lean heavily on my earlier preview, given it’s been a week since these teams last faced off. It is worth noting that – all caveats understood – Orlando had a comfortable victory over NSC on home turf. Can Nashville change the narrative in Music City?
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.Aug. 26, 2020
Obviously, Dike had a bit of a coming-out party against Nashville (you’ll recall that I’m a massive Dike fan). With two goals and a mummy celebration after getting a head wound wrapped in gauze, my opinion of him only increased after that one, to be honest.
“He was very influential in the game last week,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “He’s a young player that looks like he’s full of desire and passion. He’s a very, very strong boy with a good ability to bring others into the game. But for all forwards, hitting the back of the net gives them a huge, huge, lift. For him, in his first appearances in the league, he’ll feel a million dollars, there’s no doubt about that.”
I would like to point out something that Orlando Soccer Journal’s Gavin Ewbank said to me prior to the last game. All the information is relevant, but the second player listed is the one I want to focus on.
“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.”Sept. 25
Moutinho came off the pitch with injury during Saturday’s win over Atlanta United. While he’s only listed as questionable on the injury report, a version of the left back that’s under 100% would be preferred: he was extremely effective against Nashville (including an assist and another key pass) and preventing the same would be nice.
Elsewhere defensively, I remain skeptical that goalkeeper Pedro Gallese is all that: his advanced numbers (small sample sizes, of course) got a little bit worse over the past week.
Injury report: Ken Tribbett (out, calf), Jimmy Medranda (out, hip)
Nashville isn’t in a significantly different position table-wise than entering last week’s game, but certainly the feelings around the team have experienced a bit of a roller coaster. The low of getting smacked by Orlando (with the off-field emotional fatigue as well) probably wasn’t completely erased by the high of a win over Miami that could have been even bigger than it actually was.
Finding a formation that can limit Moutinho (assuming he’s healthy enough to play), and gives both offensive and defensive solidity will be a priority. I wasn’t a big fan of the 4-4-2 lineup that took the field Wednesday, and while there were certainly moments that it looked solid in creating offensive opportunities, the inability to control the game with only four midfielders (as opposed to the typical five) wore down Nashville SC and then the dam broke.
“Not only their midfielders, they have a lot of good players in front,” said NSC midfielder Aníbal Godoy of that battle. “They have confidence now because they win the last two games of the season. It’s tough. For us, every game’s tough. But we need control it, we need to try to control the game. We need to stop the more key players for this team.”
“I feel like to play Orlando,” added midfielder Tah Brian Anunga, who did not play against Orlando but observed his team’s struggles. “We need to make it a little bit tougher for them: restrict those guys to have time on the ball to be picking up those passes and finding Nani and the front players.”
Nani was able to get some rest over the weekend (he’s been known as a guy whose fitness is not super-great since joining MLS – and while playing a ton of back-to-back games hasn’t tested him just yet, it may), which is a downer for Nashville, which would greatly prefer to not see him, or at least not a fully energized version, in the lineup.
I’m going back with five midfielders for Nashville, allowing them to control the center of the pitch a bit more (and it also tends to be more offensively cohesive, as well). Orlando’s got more mystery than you might expect for a team that has played pretty consistent lineups – thanks to injury and fatigue. I went with a bog-standard approach, but wouldn’t be stunned if we see something very different.
Keys to the game
- Manage Orlando’s attcking left side. Nani and João Moutinho were issues for Nashville last week. Playing Hany Mukhtar as the wide midfielder in a 4-4-2 was a recipe for him to struggle – he’s just not defensive enough to play in that role against that duo when the midfield can’t make it difficult for the Lions’ midfield to get them the ball.
- Do not bounce off of Daryl Dike. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a physics class, but this might be a pretty difficult one. He was able to muscle Walker Zimmerman – Nashville’s strongest player, in all likelihood – around the pitch last week.
- Take advantage of the chances. Gary Smith has mentioned a couple times in the days since that Nashville SC probably could have put the first Orlando game away in the first 20 minutes or so, but didn’t have the clinical edge. That may be slightly overstating the way the field was tilted in that one, but either way, if NSC is able to take advantage of its chances in this one, they’ll go a long way toward winning. And being a different team than we’ve seen so far this year, to be fair.
I think some of the letdowns of a week ago were a matter of circumstance, while others were learning opportunities for a still-young (in cohesion if not age) Nashville team. That said, Orlando is not just a flash in the pan: Óscar Pareja has turned the Lions into a legit Eastern Conference contender.
- Orlando gets on the board first, with Nani curling a free kick into the top corner.
- Nashville responds shortly before halftime with – you guessed it – a set-piece goal. Walker Zimmerman gets on the end of a corner kick, and while his contact is sending the ball just wide, Daniel Ríos is there on the back post to usher it home.
- Alas, Orlando gets more production from its rookie phenom. Dike once again blasts one home from short range, with a little bit of the “if at first you don’t succeed, try again” nature of his first pro goal against Miami.
- Nashville gets a few late chances and may find an equalizer, but…
Orlando 2, Nashville 1