Nashville SC is feeling a lot more confident than heading into the previous game against Inter Miami (in part thanks to how that game played out). How will they handle the Herons this evening?
Opponent: Inter Miami CF (1-6-1) • 4 points, 0.5 PPG (14th East) • 6 GF, 11 GA
Time, Location: Sunday, Sept. 6, 7:00 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. local) • Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Weather: 83ºF, 20% chance of rain, 78% humidity
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: FS1 (national television) • 94.9 Game2
Vegas odds: Miami -100, draw +260, Nashville +280
Match officials: Referee: Nima Saghafi. Assistant referees: Corey Parker, Nick Uranga.
Fourth official: Sergii Demianchuk. VAR: Jorge Gonzalez. Assistant VAR: Jozef Batko.
Etc.: Press conference with NSC head coach Gary Smith and fullback Alistair Johnston. Q&A with Miami Herald IMCF beat writer Michelle Kaufman. Preview and game wrap from last time out against Miami, and the wrap from Wednesday’s game against Orlando City SC.
Inter Miami CF
Injury report: George Acosta (out – left knee), David Norman Jr. (out – left ankle), Denso Ulysse (out – left lower leg)
While it didn’t ultimately impact the game in a major way, Miami’s improving talent base was a storyline going into the last game against the Herons. All three of the mentioned players took the pitch in Nissan Stadium, and the fourth will finally be available this weekend:
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.
Matuidi’s addition has been a storyline all its own. A central midfielder who was a champion in the most recent World Cup (and he wasn’t just on the squad: he played 73 minutes in the final match) is something that not a lot of MLS teams have ever been able to boast – Bastian Schweinsteiger’s 2017 season with Chicago Fire is the only one that springs immediately to mind. HOWEVER, it does sound like a starting nod is out of the question for him.
“However they’ve been planning or preparing, it was in readiness for Matuidi to come into that group,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “That being said, there is a hell of a difference one individual can make, especially the caliber of this player: World Cup winner who’s played at the highest level. Even if he’s not on the field to begin with, I think his presence around the locker room, the fact that he’s on the training field, and that he’s not a million miles away from competing will give everyone else a lift. I think we’ll feel that element of their team.”
Even if his first appearance for his new squad is in a substitute role, it should be a huge boost to IMCF. He’s very much a defensive-minded or metronome-style central midfielder, rather than one who gets involved in the attack. That may be just what is needed in this team.
“Inter Miami has been struggling in the midfield,” beat writer Michell Kaufman explained to me. “Putting too much on the shoulders of playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro, so Diego Alonso expects Matuidi will free up Pizarro to be more creative. Matuidi will also offer experience and leadership in the locker room.”
The back is full of MLS veterans (led by former New York Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles) or proven successful players in the league. It’s worth noting that, record aside, Miami has yet to give up more than two goals, and the Herons have yet to lose a game by more than a single goal.
“Luis Robles, who is the team captain, has proven to be the team leader that was expected,” Kaufman told me. “His calm demeanor, his position on the executive board of the players’ association, and his maturity have helped keep the team together and motivated despite having only one victory.
“As for the back line, Nico Figal from Argentina has been one of the team’s best players all season, and the addition of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the onetime Atlanta United star, has made the back line even stronger. Andres Reyes, a 20-year-old Colombian, is a rising young talent, and MLS veteran Ben Sweat has played smart, as well.”
It’s the offense that has been the biggest question mark so far. Nashville SC fans are painfully familiar with narratives like that. However, with the high-dollar talent that Miami has shelled out for, the level of scoring misery is… much, much more damning so far. IMCF has scored one more goal than Nashville this year – six, to Nashville’s five – while boasting a single player – Rodolfo Pizarro – whose TransferMarkt value (yes, with the caveats about how those can be inaccurate) is as much as the top nine Nashville SC players combined. Pizarro and second-most valuable player Matías Pellegrini are more than a million dollars more valuable than Nashville SC’s entire 28-man squad.
Here’s what I wrote about the struggles last time around.
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.
As I said last time, there’s a decent chance that it just clicks, and Alonso’s boys start putting tons of goals on people. For the time being, they may not be the worst MLS offense, but they’ve been the most disappointing by a country mile, with only Atlanta United in the same universe (and FC Dallas would be in said universe if not for the injury problems they’ve had to overcome).
“I think the challenge when you go away from home is: Miami certainly have a lot of talented players,” Smith said. “They’ve not started, I’m sure, how they’d have liked to have. And they’re adding quality all of the time to this group. So the feel around the place will be one of anxiousness to do well. When I watched them play against Orlando in their opening game of this new schedule, I thought they looked very, very upbeat and positive in their approach to the game, more so than when they came to our place. So that’s what we’ll be expecting.”
Injury report: Ken Tribbett (out, calf), Jimmy Medranda (out, hip)
Nashville SC probably should have won last week’s game by a greater margin – the VAR check on Alex Muyl’s goal brought new performance art to the phrase ‘clear and obvious,’ to say the least, and missed penalties are a rarity – but on the other hand, they let Miami stay close. Close enough, in fact, that scary moments at the end could have seen the team split points, and IMCF had a penalty shout of its own on a Walker Zimmerman handball in the box.
The Herons will be out for revenge…
“The players have mentioned that they thought they could have won that game at Nashville,” Kaufman said. “They took 19 shots, and had a few clear chances, but Nashville’s compact defense frustrated Miami’s midfielders and the offense didn’t look as fluid as it had against Orlando. The team surely wants to do better this time around, and the addition of Matuidi should make a difference.”
…while on the other hand, Nashville will want to prove that the result last weekend wasn’t a fluke, so much as the fluke was how close the game ended up being, anyway. With a confidence-building revenge game of their own under their belts against Orlando City, the Nashville SC players and staff will hope that their own offense is starting to jell a bit. The goal scored against Orlando saw the two most talented-but-unlucky (or -but-underperforming, depending on your view) players link up. If that breeds further confidence and chemistry, that’d be a positive for NSC.
“It really is about forwards and creative players getting into a groove,” Smith explained. “My hope for Hany and Randall is that the goal that they’ve combined to score on Wednesday night is a lead-in to what comes next.”
From a Nashville perspective, the players are focused on going out and playing to their potential. There won’t be surprises from Miami, so fine-tuning what they do will be the focus for the Boys in Gold. Importantly, while a road trip can be physically and mentally taxing (as we saw early in the return-to-play phase), Nashville doesn’t have a midweek game coming up, and on the heels of a two-game homestand, a single in-and-out day trip has a very different feel.
“They’re a team we just faced last week,” said NSC defender Alistair Johnston. “We pretty much know what to expect from them. They obviously are going to be looking to get some revenge on us, but we’re hoping to get down there and hopefully steal more points.”
Keys to the game
- Go for broke. Traditionally, you’d expect Gary Smith – with a win against this team already, and a tough road trip on deck – to simply be satisfied with playing for a draw, with a chance of stealing the win. We saw in the Dallas series that it’s not going to be the case this year: the confidence of getting a perhaps-fluky win against FCD in game one saw him go even bigger in game two. You can only imagine what a reasonably dominant game against Miami (with an unlucky – but victorious – scoreline) will do in this one.
- Don’t get intimidated if Matuidi plays. “Walks of the field for Juve and onto the field for Miami” is an inherently menacing résumè to face as an MLS team. He’s still just one guy, even if he could be the piece that the Herons need to play like they should have been all year.
- Just keep shooting, just keep shooting. I remain firmly on team, “he can miss as many as he wants, it’s for the good of the team if Randall Leal keeps trying.” That applies to a couple other players, as well. Gotta get that offense going, IMO.
Broadway preview. Labor Day weekend preview. Andrew Wiebe’s reason to watch the game: “they’ve stunk, but might not continue to stink” about both teams’ offenses. League website fluff. Nashville SC site preview into which Cutler is very happy he snuck the word “symbiotic.” Congrats Cutler, huge honor. Drake Hills story from The Tennessean about unlocking the Nashville offense. Kaufman’s Miami Herald page is (understandably) all-Matuidi of late.
I don’t think this will be a barn-burner.
- Nashville SC strikes in the first half, with Dominique Badji laying off a ball on the slow-break for Hany Mukhtar to net from just inside the top of the penalty area.
- NSC knocks consistently (particularly with set-piece opportunities), but can’t find a second.
- Matuidi comes on after halftime, but is unable to make a scoreboard difference, even if his poise on the ball allows Miami to look smoother.
Nashville SC 1, Inter Miami CF 0