Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2020: at Montreal Impact

Nashville SC will take on Montreal Impact at their longtime home of (checks notes) Red Bull Arena? this evening. Can the Boys in Gold take down Thierry Henry’s side?

The essentials

Opponent: Montreal Impact (7-11-2)
Time, Location: Tuesday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m. CDT (7 local) • Harrison, N.J.
Weather: 57ºF, 10% chance of rain, 60% 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: 23 points, 1.15 PPG (9th West) • 1.50 GF/gm, 1.95 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.41 xG Power (23rd MLS), +0.00 G Power (15th MLS). +0.41 “Luck.” • +0.00 Offense (16th MLS), +0.41 Defense (25th MLS). -0.30 home disadvantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +175, Draw +240, Montreal +190
Match officials: Referee: Ismail Elfath. Assistant referees: Corey Parker, Kyle Atkins. Fourth official: Thomas Snyder. Video assistants: Chris Penso, Thomas Supple.

Montreal Impact

Injury report: Mathieu Choinière, Lassi Lappalainen (disabled list)

Montreal has a reasonably successful offense, but it plays opposite one of the worst defenses in MLS to date. It’s struggled to such an extent that defender Louis Binks was asked about it at Montreal’s media availability (must be nice to have those. Remember those?) yesterday.

“We’re not getting enough clean sheets and we’re giving our goalie too much to do,” he said. “You see the mistakes that we’ve made as a back four, but there’s mistakes that come before that, maybe. I could have prevented the cross, somebody could have prevented the goal… It is frustrating, but I think we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing in training and hopefully as time goes on, we’ll develop more togetherness as a back four and these mistakes won’t keep happening – because they can’t keep happening.”

Montreal is second-bottom in the league in expected goals allowed (despite the Eastern Conference being less goal-happy than the West), and while Binks is right that the keepers are facing more than their fair share of rubber (third-most shots faced in MLS), the quality of those shots has been the bigger issue: 0.12 xG per shot against, which is fifth-most in MLS but the teams who are giving up better looks make up for it by giving up far, far, fewer than the Impact (aside from San Jose, which also has a bad defense).

Clément Diop has actually been a solid keeper behind… whatever that is, allowing only 90% of expected goals. Thanks to the number and quality of shots faced, that’s still not going to look good in the traditional numbers. Diop is not on the injury report after missing the past three games having returned to France Oct. 14. Henry implied – but did not state – that he may be available this evening, despite limited training upon return. Backup James Pantemis has been slightly below-average in his three-game stint thus far.

“Whatever that is” was a commentary on the quality of Montreal’s backline, but also on the shape: head coach Thierry Henry has largely gone with variations on a 3-4-3 or 5-3-2 formation this year, but Binks very specifically referred to “our back four” above, and while it’s possible that’s shorthand for “defensive personnel” rather than an actual description of shape, Montreal has gone with a four-man backline at times… but Binks is typically the centerback dropped to get to that unit (even though he’s one of the top performers in it).

Right back Zachary Brault-Guillard is one of Canada’s top prospects, although American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added is not a fan (and the eyeball test likes Nashville’s Alistair Johnston more for the CanMNT, as well). Rudy Camacho is the ironman among CBs when healthy, with some combination of Rod Fanni and Joel Waterman rotating through the non-Binks spots. Camacho grades out horribly to G+, committing plenty of damaging fouls and also failing to interrupt opposing offenses very much. Not a solid combo, I’d say.

The offense has been mediocre-at-best this year (coming in just below average in MLS), but I’m a fan of a lot of the talent here, so it’s possible that it could break out at any time.

Striker Romell Quioto is a one-v-one maestro who is new to the team after a postseason trade last year, sending him from the Houston Dynamo. Quioto is far-and-away the linchpin to this offense: the team’s leader in xG and xA, and though his shooting and passing aren’t happening at the highest levels in his career, he manages to get into good positions both on and off the ball. Control Quioto, and the Impact will have a hard time creating from the run of play.

Maxi Urruti is in his second year with the team, and is more productive on a per-minute basis than he was last year, though he isn’t getting a ton of playing time. They added Minnesota United’s Mason Toye (who wasn’t getting playing time in St. Paul), and he’s had just 131 minutes on the pitch thus far. A US Youth International, there’s potential there – his emergence in 2019 was what let MNUFC feel comfortable losing Abu Danladi in the Expansion Draft.

Montreal also has Bojan Krkić, who is one of very few players who have unironically been referred to as “the next Messi” (he subbed into a Champions League match replacing Messi, while also breaking Messi’s Barcelona record for youngest player to see the pitch in that competition)… but his career has quite obviously not played out that way. He’s played as both a second striker and a creative midfielder this year, more in the latter since Montreal lost Saphir Taïder in a sale to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ain. The loss of Taïder actually hasn’t seen the offense get much worse – it seems to be more consistent in about 1.6-2.0 xG per game, rather than swinging from wild highs and lows with him in the lineup.

In the midfield, you have pure holder Victor Wanyama, with right-sided Samuel Piette and left-sided Amar Sejdic playing box-to-box roles (Sejdic tends to get a little more forward and drift centrally more, while Piette hugs the right sideline even when there’s nominally a wingback on his side).

“What we know we’re going to face is a very good footballing side,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “I think Thierry [Henry]’s influence on that team is starting to show. They themselves have their own difficulties in the current schedule, and staying away from home I’m sure is not easy for that group.”

Given what I’ve said above, that may seem a little coach-speakish or hyperbolic, but I think there’s a grain of truth to it. Montreal has good talent, and at times solid patterns of play. Putting it together has often been the issue.

Nashville SC

Injury report: David Accam, Dom Badji, Hany Mukhtar, Ken Tribbett (out)

Nashville’s injury report remains consistent, and thus the question becomes whether the three-man backline has won over Gary Smith, or whether it’s more of a situational choice against specific opponents. Given that Montreal is a team that tends to play on the back foot (even at home), the counter-heavy style probably won’t be the choice, and I’d expect as close to a first-choice lineup as possible.

Montreal has left New York (or Northern New Jersey) just once since September 23, and even that trip was a simple bus ride to Philadelphia. Even though Nashville has an extra day of rest, the great equalizer of travel will probably be a bit of a drag. Of course, NSC has only been home for the better part of two weeks, anyway, so there should be a bit of rest there.

“We get a day or so longer, which everyone feels a hell of a lot better about,” Smith said. “Turnaround’s not quite as tight.”

That will not see Hany Mukhtar return to the lineup, unfortunately, as he deals with a hamstring issue. Nashville has survived without him, particularly with Randall Leal stepping in as the creator. While Gary Smith was very specifically not including tonight’s game as a chance to see him return to the lineup, the fact that he’s close could always re-insert him as an X-factor.

“He’s still in a position where he’s rehabbing,” Smith said. “I don’t think he’s that far away. I’d like to think that, at some point next week, we can have him in the group, and maybe speaking slightly positively on this, but I’d like to think that he’s not too far away from the group for the Chicago game come Saturday.”

So, whether it’s the typical 4-2-3-1 or some combination of the 3-4-3/3-5-2 we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’ll likely be Leal as the string-puller… and depending on the gamestate, potentially a frustrating frequency of crosses standing in for chance-creation. If NAshville can pay those off (as we’ve seen regularly on set pieces, and occasionally from the run of play), so be it.

The importance of the game doesn’t need to be spoken, in all likelihood, but just in case: it’s a massive one for the standings.

“It’s important for us because three points for us also means zero points for them, and vice versa,” said Walker Zimmerman. “It’s a chance for big movement in the standings, and ultimately for us to get where we want to go, we need to make sure that we’re the team with three points.”

I’ll whip up some calculations later, but with a win this evening, it’d border on impossible for Nashville to miss the playoffs (the magic number would be down to three points, either gained by Nashville or lost by some combination of Atlanta/Miami). That’s right: a win tonight could see NSC clinch tomorrow evening while watching on the couch.

Projected lineups

I made the last-second swap for Ríos over Danladi more because it’s what I want than because it’s what I think will happen. That gives you Danladi and Cádiz providing late-game heat off the bench. Also you’ll note I have the non-counter-oriented tactical approach here.

Keys to the game

  • Be patient. Montreal has shown against a wide range of opponents that they are eventually going to give up a golden look (and in most games, more than one golden look). While Nashville SC has tended to be a “fire away” type of team – and that’s an idea that has made sense at times – working the ball patiently should be productive.
  • Don’t be timid. With the above understood, there’s still a strong likelihood that a backup keeper (and a fairly mediocre one) is in the game. If there’s a chance to catch him off-guard, don’t pass it up simply in the name of looking for that perfect look.
  • Don’t let Quioto beat you. A very exciting player, and one of the most important for this team. If he isn’t generating looks for his teammates or himself, they have a much tougher slog.
  • Set pieces. Score on ’em. Don’t get scored on from ’em.

Elsewhere

Powell River Peak with a full rundown of Henry and Binks’s press conference. Diopdate. Associated Press preview. Some preview material in the Montreal Gazette. Field Level Media preview. The league’s website with what to watch for.

Predictions

I think Montreal is not very good – particularly against a team like Nashville.

  • Dave Romney gets the contest started in the first 20 minutes, heading home a corner kick by Dan Lovitz.
  • Nashville adds to its lead in the 68th minute, with Jhonder Cádiz feeding fellow substitute Abu Danladi (at wing) on a throughball that he pokes home on a counter with Montreal pushing up.
  • Montreal gets one back in stoppage time, with Toye hitting a wobbly strike from distance that is deflected in.

Nashville wins, 2-1.

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