Nashville SC and FC Dallas have a lot of making up to do. This is round three.
Opponent: FC Dallas (6-4-6)
Time, Location: Tuesday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium (limited attendance)
Weather: 71ºF, 4% chance of rain, 69% humidity (nice), negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: FS1 (National TV) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Non-nerd stats: 24 points, 1.5 PPG (4th West) • 1.4 GF/gm, 1.1 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.21 xG Power (19th MLS), +0.31 G Power (6th MLS). +0.53 “Luck.” • -0.01 Offense (16th MLS), +0.20 Defense (20th MLS). -0.11 away disadvantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +125, Draw +235, Dallas +235
Match officials: Referee: Silviu Petrescu. Assistants: Kathryn Nesbitt, Walter Heatherly. Fourth official: David Gantar. Video assistants: Drew Fischer, Brooke Mayo
Etc.: Previews from the first and second games in Dallas, and coverage from the pair of them.
Injury report: D Matt Hedges, M Santiago Mosquera, M Paxton Pomykal
Here are the players I highlighted when Nashville traveled to Dallas:
US international Reggie Cannon (22) and youth international Paxton Pomykal (20, and does have his first senior-team appearance as well) were key performers last year, and Pomykal was joined by fellow midfielder Brandon Servania (21, but has not played this year rehabbing a knee injury) on the MLS 22 Under 22 list at the end of last seasonAug. 12, 2020
Pomykal has been lost for the season to surgery. Cannon was sold abroad to Portuguese first-division side Boavista. Servania was working back from an injury at that time and didn’t play in either game against Nashville, but has started the majority of the games since (though he was an unused sub in four of the last five). Striker Zdenek Ondrašek was transferred to a club in his native Czechia, while several players have returned from loans to USL League One affiliate North Texas SC.
This is a very different team from the one Nashville saw in mid-August, is what I’m saying.
Winger Michael Barrios and striker Franco “Frank O’Hara” Jara lead the team in xG+xA by a wide margin, with a rotating cast of characters on the other wing led in minutes by Fafa Picault, even though the former US International has missed the past three game with injury (he is not on tonight’s injury report).
The defense has been pretty consistent, with Reto Ziegler, Matt Hedges, and the mononymic Bressan starting at centerback regularly. That’s been in both a 3-5-2 and a more-typical 4-3-3 depending on situation. With Hedges out injured, I would imagine we’re more likely to see the 4-man backline. Ryan Hollingshead and Bryan Reynolds have been first-choice outside backs, with John Nelson also getting some time on the left (which bumps the left-footed Hollingshead to the right in Reynolds’s absence).
What the shift in personnel hasn’t seen much of – despite preseason expectations – is the youth movement.
That’s barely the tip of the iceberg with a youth movement: forwards Jesus Ferreira (19) and Ricardo Pepi (17, USL League One second-XI last year only because he spent much of the year with FC Dallas rather than affiliate North Texas SC), and midfielder Tanner Tessman (18) have 319 minutes between them already this season. Pepi has a goal in his substitute appearances, while both Ferreira and Tessman have started each game and contributed an assist.Aug. 12, 2020
Ferreira has under 600 minutes played this year, Pepi has under 300, and only Tessman, with just under 900 minutes played and starts in the past 10 games, has kept up the pace of getting a bunch of time for a youngster.
It should come as no surprise, given that Dallas is vastly outperforming its xG (see the power ratings above) that Jimmy Maurer is playing at a high level. He’s allowed just 76% of the expected goals on-target over the course of the year. The difference between Dallas’s power ratings when calculated via xG (mediocre) and goals (very good) is almost entirely from the defense side of the ball. Maurer’s performances drive that.
Dallas is a worse team on the road than at home, with much of that decreased performance coming from – you guessed it – the defensive side of the ball. They’ve only played six games, so there’s plenty of noise, but they’re allowing many many more opportunities away from Frisco, and Maurer can only save the bacon so much.
Injury report: W David Accam, F Dominique Badji, AM Hany Mukhtar, D Ken Tribbett
The changes on the injury report are notable here. Nashville SE has a healthy striker (hello, Daniel Ríos!), neither central midfield starter is on the list, but Hany Mukhtar is unavailable just after his reign as MLS player of the week concluded. What shall Gary Smith do?
Given that there’s a talented (but not 90-minute fit) forward available as a sub, I think throwing Ríos into the starting lineup makes sense. He’s been close for a few weeks, so presumably the longer layoff between games gives him enough fitness to go for a big proportion of the game. Jhonder Cádiz is available off the bench thereafter (or Abu Danladi, for that burst of speed, though the ability to use him as a winger is probably preferred).
In Mukhtar’s absence, I think Gary Smith works to get Randall Leal involved centrally. He’s been pretty open that this is a good use of the Costa Rican’s talents (I happen to agree), and he’s the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement for Mukhtar at the position. That he’s typically a winger also gives some flexibility with how the team lines up and rotates through the various positions in attacking midfield and even up top.
All this assumes something else: with Walker Zimmerman rested for the final minutes of the Sporting Kansas City game and all of the Houston game, he’s back to full strength and ready to step back into his spot in a four-man backline. If Gary Smith likes what he saw from the 3-4-3 enough to stick with it, the roles and responsibilities may very well be thrown into the blender.
Again though, with a healthy lineup, that seems less likely.
Keys to the game
- Wear them down. As you can see, I have a fairly defensive lineup out there, with Derrick Jones and Alex Muyl on the wings. Frustrating the Dallas wide players to the degree that they have to push more forward than usual (remember, this is a great defense team, and just an OK offensive one) should help Nashville create chances. Hitting on the counter may not be sexy, but it can be effective.
- Big players play big. After a season that had its moments but had been largely disappointing, Hany Mukhtar broke out last week with two goals and a hockey assist in the big win over Houston. Before this game, the narrative on Leal remains in that “talented-but-frustrating” category Mukhtar had been living in. A similar breakout would obviously be incredible. Even just a partial breakout would be nice.
- Be ready to use late-game speed. If the game isn’t decided by the 65th minute or so, Nashville can change the narrative with an influx of speed: Abu Danladi and Jhonder Cádiz are certainly faster than any players they’d be replacing. If Dallas isn’t leading (and therefore bunkering), there should be chances. If Nashville is leading or the game is tied, some chances to find goals should open up.
- Set pieces. Wot it says on the tin.
This is a game that can go radically in a couple different directions. I’ll split the difference.
- In Zimmerman’s return, he converts a header on a corner kick from Lovitz, giving Nashville the lead.
- Jhonder Cádiz enters in the second half, and opens his scoring account with NSC, running in-behind on a throughball from Dax McCarty, to double the lead.
- Houston doesn’t take long to respond, cutting the lead to a single goal with a volley from Barrios.
- NSC manages to ride out the final 15 minutes or so, and earns the win.
Nashville SC 2, FC Dallas 1