Nashville SC has several connections to Minnesota United. Shall that pay off, or be a detriment to the result? Stay tuned.
Opponent: Minnesota United (6-4-5)
Time, Location: Tuesday, Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium
Weather: 70ºF, 1% chance of rain, 45% 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: 22 points, 1.47 PPG (4th West) • 1.18 GF/gm, 1.40 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.04 xG Power (13th MLS), +0.38 G Power (5th MLS). +0.42 “Luck.” • +0.20 Offense (5th MLS), +0.24 Defense (22nd MLS). -0.38 away disadvantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +133, Draw +245, Minnesota +210
Match officials: Referee: Joseph Dickerson. Assistant referees: Corey Parker, Adam Garner. Fourth official: Kevin Broadley. Video assistants: Hilario Grajeda, Jeff Muschik.
Injury report: OUT: F Luis Amarilla, CB Ike Opara, GK Tyler Miller. QUESTIONABLE: M Osvaldo Alonso, GK Greg Ranjitsingh
Discipline report: One-game suspension: LB Chase Gasper
International duty: M Jan Gregus
As bad as Nashville SC’s injury situation is, Minnesota’s isn’t a whole lot better: they’re without 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara (extremely talented but eternally injured), and have lost goalie Tyler Miller for the year, and his backup Greg Ranjitsingh for several weeks. Defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso is questionable (he hasn’t played since subbing off with injury at the beginning of September), and striker Luis Amarilla has been out almost as long.
Add in some non-injury absences – left back Chase Gasper is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while DP midfielder Jan Gregus is on international duty with Slovakia for Euro qualifiers – and this team is decimated.
Even with everyone available, this has been a pretty poor defense. Opponents are creating more than their average output in expected goals, though even without Miller the Loons are preventing that from converting at a solid rate. In fact, second-year keeper Dayne St. Clair has been far-and-away the best keeper on the roster (with limited sample sizes for all three, to be fair), allowing only 75% of the expected goals he faces. He’ll be backed up by former Nashville SC player Adrian Zendejas, for what it’s worth.
The backline in front of St. Clair is not super-great, though. Gasper has graded out as one of the lowest Goals Added fullbacks in MLS according to American Soccer Analysis (though the eye test has largely been friendlier), but even if you put full credence into that… think how mediocre the player he’s keeping off the field must be. The only times he’s been off the field, Minnesota has rolled with a 5-3-2 – and that went so poorly, he came on at halftime and they went back to the 4-2-3-1. I would guess Raheem Edwards, who was the left wing in that 5-3-2, gets the first crack tonight.
Michael Boxall has been the closest thing to a stalwart in the middle for Minnesota, with José Aja and Bakaye Dibassy sharing the rest of the reps (all three played together in the failed 5-3-2 experiment). RB Romain Métanire has the most third-minutes of any outfield player, with Boxall and Gasper (who he should pass tonight) the only ones who’ve played more.
Minnesota will also be short on defensive midfielders, with Alonso and Gregus both unavailable. You’re lookin’ at the Hassani Dotson–Jacori Hayes show, as they’re the only two available who have played regularly in that role.
Offensively, they’re hurt by the absence of Gregus, but more so by Amarilla, who is one of the designated finishers. Winger Robin Lød is having a fine year, but will probably have to do as much himself as he has all season. Kevin Molino and Emmanuel Reynoso in some combination will be attacking midfield/wing talent, and though Molino’s overachieved his expected goals and assists significantly, it’s worth noting that a high-caliber offense exists both from the finishing department and when you strip down to just look at expected. Reynoso is the team’s top creator by some distance, while Métanire will also bang in some crosses and combine with teammates to create scoring opportunities. Kei Kamara is the top striker available, and he’s been the main guy in each of the three games since joining from Colorado Rapids. He has a pretty impressive xG mark of 0.66 expected goals per 96 minutes, but that’s on very limited sample size, of course.
All told, this is a team with a bad defense and a good offense… and from a Nashville perspective, that’s probably what you’d prefer versus the alternative.
Injury report: David Accam, Dom Badji, Aníbal Godoy, Jimmy Medranda, Alex Muyl, Daniel Ríos, Ken Tribbett (out)
Abu Danladi is the lone departure from the injury report, which… probably means he has a chance to earn the start against his former club? He’s the only true forward available, so some combination of Danladi, Hany Mukhtar, and Randall Leal will be responsible for the offensive production, while Derrick Jones probably reprises his role as a point forward.
With Aníbal Godoy – who did not travel to New England Saturday evening – added to the report, you’re likely looking at Dax McCarty joined by Tah Brian Anunga in the defensive midfield, with Matt LaGrassa available to spell whichever of them needs it first (depending on the game situation).
The backline should be fairly consistent to what we’ve seen all year. I would expect Alistair Johnston – whose speed and creativity on the overlap is going to create more problems for a backup Minnesota defender on the left side – to earn another start. The other three positions and goalkeeper Joe Willis have all been rock-solid starters when available.
How Nashville SC could/will deal with a back five, should Minnesota United opt for that to cover the lack of Gasper and their top top defensive midifelders will be a major question. Jones playing up top as a target guy as crosses are banged in time and again seems unfortunately likely.
Keys to the game
- Work the right flank! It’s no coincidence that I have Hany Mukhtar on the right and Abu Danladi up top, rather than rotating those guys to put them in slightly more natural positions. Mukhtar should be better at combining with Alistair Johnston on the right, and that combination play can make life tough on a backup left back. With Danladi’s speed holding the CBs off, there could be space to play over there. Attacking a good offense by making it help out its bad defense (rather than absorbing pressure) seems wise.
- Don’t let missing personnel decide the game. Except inasmuch as Minnesota is missing more than Nashville from the starting lineup – yes, largely because NSC is missing the starter and then every reasonable contributor at the same position – Nashville can’t go in and say “we don’t have Aníbal Godoy, so let’s protect Tah Brian Anunga.” Fortunately, Gary Smith hasn’t done that in Anunga’s previous appearances – Saturday evening notwithstanding, though the circumstances there were obviously extreme – so continuing to roll the guys out there and play next-man-up will provide confidence.
- Get on the front foot. I don’t necessarily mean “score early” (though it would be very nice to also see that), but Nashville should play an expansive, forward-minded game, particularly in front of fans for the first time at home since February. They might give up a goal or two by not protecting the back five enough, but Minnesota’s defense is bad when it’s at full strength, and it is aggressively not that. Winning a 4-3 game – or heck, drawing 3-3 – seems better in these circumstances than drawing 0-0. Also the more high-scoring the game is, the more it (oddly) favors Nashville, IMO. I trust NSC to get stops more than I trust the Minnesota defense to stop even a meager Nashville attack.
- Set pieces. Gonna keep saying it, especially given Nashville’s trouble scoring from the run of play.
I’ve made my keys include an expansive, open game that ironically favors Nashville SC. Instead, I bet we get a more typical game, tbh.
- Lod starts the scoring, taking a layoff pass from Kamara and curling one into the corner shortly before halftime.
- Nashville’s combination play against Minnesota’s diminished left side on defense pays off. Johnston plays halftime sub Alan Winn through early in the second half, and he wins a one-v-one battle before sliding the ball across the face of goal to Randall Leal, who hammers home on the back post.
Nashville SC 1-1 Minnesota United FC