A top-3 Revolution in Major League Soccer, behind “American” and “Prince and the.”
Opponent: New England Revolution (5-3-6)
Time, Location: Saturday, Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 p.m. local) • Foxboro, Mass.
Weather: 55ºF, 1% chance of rain, 65% humidity
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30, NashvilleSC.com (in-market), ESPN+ (out-of-market) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Non-nerd stats: 21 points, 1.50 PPG (5th West) • 1.07 GF/gm, 0.86 GA/gm
Nerd stats: +0.17 xG Power (9th MLS), +0.01 G Power (13th MLS). -0.16 “Luck.” • +0.01 Offense (14th MLS), -0.16 Defense (8th MLS). +0.46 homefield advantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +335, Draw +260, New England -110
Match officials: Referee: David Gantar. Assistant referees: Kathryn Nesbitt, Kyle Atkins. Fourth official: Thomas Snyder. Video Assistants: Drew Fischer, Claudiu Badea
Etc.: Gary Smith and Joe Willis pregame. Q&A with Sean Sweeney.
New England Revolution
Injury report: Alex Büttner, Luis Caicedo, Carles Gil, Matt Polster
Let us begin with the injury report, since it’s both more and less impactful than it may otherwise seem. Luis Caicedo and Carles Gil are very talented players with track records of success in this league. Caicedo also never saw the field before season-ending surgery, while Gil managed 164 minutes before needing Achilles surgery that will take him out for the rest of the regular season. They’d be big losses, but the Revs are pretty used to having neither, anyway.
The fullback Alex Büttner is a bigger loss on offense than it might seem: despite the position, he’s third on the team in expected assists (and second in actual assists). That also says something about the Revs’ style of play that you probably didn’t need that piece of evidence to guess. Polster has been a depth option in central midfield – but New England hasn’t rolled with a consistent lineup in those spots, so taking one bullet out of the chamber may hurt.
Now, let us look at the characteristics of the team: a fairly “meh” offense combined with a solid defense.
“Now, this team is creating, creating, creating, but still has difficulty in scoring goals even though they’ve really controlled the tempo in their last three matches,” said Bay State Soccer Sentinel‘s Sean Sweeney. “Last weekend, one shot on-target in the first 85 minutes, they win 2-nil with a pair of goals in the last four minutes of the normal 90. Their shot selection needs to be pinpoint accurate in order for them to really scald a team, and we’re waiting for that. I’ve said for the last five years that there is so much scoring talent in this club, but they really haven’t proven me right.”
Gustavo Bou likes to take headed shots despite standing just 5-10, while fellow striker Adam Buksa is 6-3 and interested in doing the same: this is a fairly typical Bruce Arena team. Both of those guys can also take service and finish with their feet, but they’re fairly service-dependent, however the ball gets to them. The Revs have some decent players in the attacking midfield line, with recent addition Lee Nguyen adding a certain playmaking ability that has helped New England earn a third of its goals on the season in the past two games.
“They have some real talent with Bou up top, and I think the addition of Lee Nguyen,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “He’s had a terrific time in New England before, and some clubs, some places, players excel. It didn’t go maybe how he wanted it to in LA and maybe down to Miami, But this is a place that he knows and understands. And a manager that has seen an awful lot of him across the years. I think that combination is starting to offer some rewards and some success for the New England group.
“Then you look out wide, and the young boy [Tajon] Buchanan looks an incredibly talented player. I haven’t seen bundles lot of him but what I have is he’s bright, he’s talented, he’s got pace, and certainly a very bright future. Then on the other side is almost the complete opposite: a very experienced guy in Teal Bunbury who’s having, I think, having a really good time at the moment. That probably comes from the type of group that he’s playing in, and the confidence that they’re playing with.”
The other hallmark of a Bruce Arena team is going to be a strong defense, and the Revs have one of those. It’s spearheaded by US Soccer media darling Matt Turner. The 26-year old goalkeeper is indeed a very good player!
“Yeah, he’s been a great goalkeeper,” said his Nashville SC counterpart, Joe Willis. “I think his biggest asset is probably his shot-stopping ability. He’s very athletic. He’s a solid goalkeeper, he makes the saves that he’s supposed to make, and then every once in a while, he makes the save that he’s not supposed to make. He’s been tough to beat, and we’ll definitely have to be aware of him.”
He’s been far and away the best keeper against expected goals since he entered the league in 2016, and this season is right on the heels of NYCFC’s Sean Johnson for best in the biz (Turner actually hasn’t been the single-best keeper in any year, but his year-to-year consistency at an elite level is unmatched).
New England is doing a pretty good job protecting him, with the fifth-lowest xG allowed per game. Right back Brandon Bye and rookie left centerback Henry Kessler have been the closest things this team has to ironmen (non-Turner edition), and Kessler is a very good interruptor – typically this means ending opponents’ possessions – for his position cohort. Bye is more a guy who gets up the field a bit to bang in some crosses, as is the Bruce Arena way.
Injury report: David Accam, Dom Badji, Abu Danladi, Jimmy Medranda, Alex Muyl, Daniel Ríos, Ken Tribbett (out)
After some mid-week confidence that Abu Danladi would be able to go, and that Daniel Ríos would be a possibility, neither of those guys is back for Nashville, and neither David Accam nor Dom Badji (who weren’t expected back) is miraculously healed, unfortunately. Add winger Alex Muyl to the injury list, keep long-term wounded Jimmy Medranda and Ken Tribbett on it, and there’s plenty of thin roster machinations to work through here. Nashville SC will be without an unspecified player due to a positive coronavirus test, though it’s unclear whether that player is one of the above or someone not listed on the injury report.
It hits hardest up front, of course, where Badji, Danladi, and Ríos represent the only true strikers on the team (for a liberal definition of the word “true” in a case or two there), while Accam, Danladi, Medranda, and Muyl are attacking midfielders of some variety. Even without those guys, Willis is confident in his teammates to get the job done.
“I think we have good attacking players on our side, and although the goals may not be flowing right now, I still think the ability is there,” the keeper said. “I have all the confidence in the world in the attacking players that we have that we’ll be able to pick one or two up while we’re there.”
The back seven will be hopefully unchanged (aside from some potential tinkering due to necessary gameplan adjustments on account of personnel missing ahead of them). A little load management would also make sense. I would expect a fairly defensive philosophy – out of necessity – from Gary Smith in this one. Thanks to the injury ward, “scrape out a point and maybe nick a goal” seems like the most reasonable plan here.
It may not be fun, but particularly on a turf field – Smith very much loses his zen about having to play on plastic – being a little less adventurous is unfortunately smart. Discretion being the better of valor and all that.
“Away from home, on that plastic pitch, I think all of our guys will expect a very, very tough challenge,” he said. “They’ve proven with their league position at the moment – and I think it doesn’t lie – that they’re one of the in-form sides. It certainly won’t be easy up there, but I think we’ve shown over the past – and I don’t think anyone should be writing us off – that we’re more than capable of going to these places. Even in the very early stages of our franchise, we’re capable of going to these places and getting results. And I certainly believe we’re capable of that.”
The concept that he always plays for the draw is often unfairly held against Smith. In this one, perception becoming reality would be a fine scenario. Given that Nashville is an above-average team on the road and slightly below-average at home, going for a slightly above-average road result (a scoreless draw) is hardly the greatest sin.
Keys to the game
- Bunker, baby! I won’t ask for it often, but against a New England team that’s going to try to bang balls in to a center forward… just don’t let it happen, and they’re going to have a hard time beating you. That’s not to say it’ll be impossible for the Revs, but taking away the fastball and forcing them to rely on the curveball is preferred.
- Be physical through the central midfield. If you’re not as scared about crosses getting into the center forward, preventing the central midfield from threading those balls in – with physical play from McCarty and Godoy, combined with good defensive angles to shut down the lanes – will be important.
- Try to nick one on the counter, but don’t force it. I doubt New England will flood bodies forward to try to find a goal, so the opportunities to counter might not be there. But those will likely be the primary method (save one, in a moment here) through which Nashville finds a goal. Again, it’s not fun to play for a draw, but if that’s what the game is open for, so be it on the road.
- Set pieces. Here’s where Nashville has both dealt out and received pain in 2020. More of the former than the latter, and you’re in business.
I don’t know that the Revs can beat Nashville’s defense if all goes according to plan. I don’t know that this version of NSC can beat New England’s – and will/should play for the stalemate. No goals.
The game ends in a scoreless draw.