Nashville SC is in a very different place – both physically and soccer-ly – from last time it faced New England. Is a better result on the way?
Opponent: New England Revolution (7-5-7)
Time, Location: Friday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium
Weather: 73ºF, 66% chance of rain, 65% humidity
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: CW58 – note: not the typical MyTV30, NashvilleSC.com (in-market), ESPN+ (out-of-market) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Non-nerd stats: 28 points, 1.47 PPG (5th West) • 1.10 GF/gm, 0.95 GA/gm
Nerd stats: +0.51 xG Power (4th MLS), +0.14 G Power (12th MLS). -0.37 “Luck.” • +0.21 Offense (5th MLS), -0.30 Defense (4th MLS). -0.78 away disadvantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +165, Draw +220, New England +175
Match officials: Refereee: Robert Sibiga. Assistant referees: Brian Poeschel, Brooke Mayo. Fourth official: Tori Penso. Video assistants: David Gantar, Jozef Batko.
Etc.: Preview and coverage from last time around. Sean Sweeney with the New England intel. Gary Smith had a brief discussion in Tuesday’s postgame (there hasn’t been a traditional pregame press conference in over two weeks).
New England Revolution
Injury report: Luis Caicedo, Cristian Penilla
It’s worth starting with who isn’t on the injury report: Carles Gil has just two appearances this season (the Revs’ first two in Orlando at the MLS is Back tournament), and has missed the past 14 outings with injury. The fact that he evidently just returned to training yesterday, has me leaning toward a no-show on the field this evening anyway – though he’s traveling and therefore expected to make the bench.
The current injuries have varying levels of impact: Luis Caicedo is on the season-ending injury list and won’t play a minute in 2020, so his absence has long been expected. Penilla, on the other hand, has missed the past two games with injury, but had played in every game prior to that, including 10 starts at various positions in the attacking midfield three.
Since last we saw this team – you may recall that game turned out to be a scoreless draw, despite the Revs’ dominance in chance creation – New England went 2-2-0. The losses were understandable – to the top two teams in the East – and the wins were over Montreal Impact and NYCFC, both on the road – and both those teams are comparable to Nashville in the standings.
“What we know is after an incredibly tough 90 minutes-plus in New England, this group coming in have got all of the qualities necessary to cause us a lot of problems,” said Gary Smith. “Well-organized, an incredibly tough group, competitive, and with some really nice, creative dimensions to their team.
New England has ramped up its offense since (and in) the game against Nashville, now coming in No. 5 in xG for when adjusting for competition. The Revs also outperformed their xG in the two road wins. Let us remind ourselves what they’re all about with a look at what I wrote in the preview last time around:
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.Oct. 3, 2020
For what it’s worth, Bou left the Montreal game just 18 minutes after coming on as a sub, and was not available (though he avoided the injury report) for the Philly game. A lingering hamstring issue will have him at-best limited this evening.
In advance of the previous game between these two sides., here’s what Smith had to say about the wingers:
“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.”Oct. 1, 2020
Those guys proved to be the key: Buchanan took seven(!) shots against Joe Willis in Gillette Stadium, and Bunbury had a pair before being subbed off. The potential – unlikely though I believe it to be – of a healthy Carles Gil would take some of the responsibility off their plates, and it’s worth noting that Nashville’s tactical approach is unlikely to be a repeat of the one that allowed them so many opportunities last time around (more on that in a moment).
Defensively, the story is the same for the Revs. Their advanced stats have improved slightly (largely because Nashville didn’t even really put in an earnest effort try to score in Foxboro), but the people are consistent. Keeper Matt Turner has surged past NYCFC’s Sean Johnson to be the best performer by the G/xG numbers, and the guys in front of him
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.Oct. 3, 2020
Bye has largely been replaced by DeJuan Jones (who played out of position at LB in the previous game against Nashville, thanks to the absence of injured Alex Büttner), with a substitute appearance and a DNP in the past couple. All three of those guys have been pretty good offensive contributors from the position – the reason Bye is the odd man out is because he’s by far the most questionable as a pure defender (at least according to American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added metrics).
Injury report: David Accam, Dom Badji, Hany Mukhtar, Ken Tribbett (out)
Here’s who isn’t on Nashville SC’s injury list but was last time these teams played: Abu Danladi, Jimmy Medranda, Alex Muyl, Daniel Ríos. OK, so one of them is no longer with the team (Medranda), and Muyl made a substitute appearance (getting the final five minutes), but when you add two forwards – including a versatile winger/striker in Danladi and a pure striker in Ríos – you have a lot more options than “put some midfielders up top to muck things up and hope to find some opportunities on the counter.” Add in a DP striker signing in Jhonder Cádiz, and even missing out on attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar is not all that damaging, with Randall Leal capable of stepping into that role.
Adding to Nashville’s roster availability is Aníbal Godoy, who was not on the pregame report but was a late scratch for the trip to Foxboro. With him back and a sudden bounty of healthy strikers, Nashville can get back to Smith’s preferred 4-2-3-1 after the cobbled-together defensive 4-3-3 last time.
With a game at home rather than a same-day in-and-out roadtrip, some of the fatigue concerns are minimized:
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.Oct. 3, 2020
That’s not a problem this time around. Given that Nashville has found a scoring stride – seven goals in the past three games, nearly 40% of the scoring output on the year in the most recent 17% of the season – there’s reason to believe that things are trending heavily in the right direction. Against a better team on all fronts, there’s still plenty to be wise about.
“We’ll be confident – no doubt about that after tonight’s victory – we chalk up another three points that takes us to the points tally we are after, and Friday night will be no different,” Smith said after Tuesday’s win against FC Dallas. “However, I think we will find it’ll be a very, very different encounter to what we have seen tonight.”
I would expect it to be very different from the previous Revolution game, as well.
Got Ríos back, baby. Otherwise, pretty standard for both teams, though I expect Bou and Gil to potentially make substitute appearances.
Keys to the game
- Create some danger. Last time around, I advocated for Nashville to bunker and play for the draw. They did that, and it worked. It was still scary as hell. NSC needs to be a little more front-foot-oriented, particularly in a home game.
- Make them shoot from bad angles and distances. This is generally a strength of the Nashville SC defense, and goes a long way toward explaining Joe Willis’s success over the course of the season. In the previous game against New England, though, he had to stand on his head to help his team escape with the draw. Don’t let that happen again.
- Set pieces. Score on ’em. Don’t get scored on from ’em.
Field Level Media preview. Somali Update(?) preview. New England training report and game preview from Trifecta Sports. This is not game-specific, but seeing as how there’s no time available for a links roundup on the horizon, great stuff from J. Sam Jones about NSC’s historic inaugural season.
This will be a very different game, with a Nashville SC team in a good run of scoring form able to play a more progressive and positive style. The question is whether that bites them on the other end.
- Daniel Ríos’s hot streak keeps up, and he scores a goal in his first game since the Stone Age [ed: fact-check this timing]
- New England can’t find golden opportunities, but does create a number of half-chances. One of them eventually goes their was as a header from Tajon Buchanan is deflected past Willis on a corner kick from Lee Nguyen.
- The Revs pull ahead near the beginning of the first half, with Nguyen firing from distance and placing a shot nicely in the corner where Willis doesn’t have a chance.
- NSC manages to respond, with substitutes Jhonder Cádiz and Abu Danladi linking up: it’s more-traditional Cádiz wheelhouse than his goal the other evening, with the big Venezuelan laying off to a runner from the wing in the 74th.
The game ends in a 2-2 draw.