Nashville SC’s final home game of the 2020 regular season is upon us. The fourth game against FC Dallas will be pivotal to determining whether Nissan Stadium will host a game in the playoffs, as well.
Opponent: FC Dallas (8-6-7)
Time, Location: Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium (limited attendance)
Weather: 56ºF, 2% chance of rain, 56% humidity, negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch • Listen: MyTV30 or NashvilleSC.com (in-market), ESPN+ (out-of-market) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Non-nerd stats: 31 points, 1.55 PPG (6th West) • 1.35 GF/gm, 1.05 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.06 xG Power (15th MLS), +0.24 G Power (8th MLS). +0.31 “Luck.” • +0.04 Offense (14th MLS), +0.11 Defense (16th MLS). -0.38 away disadvantage.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +128, Draw +230, Dallas +230
Match officials: Referee: Marcos de Oliveira. Assistants: Andrew Bigelow, Brooke Mayo. Fourth official: Robert Sibiga. Video assistants: Drew Fischer, Kathryn Nesbitt
Etc.: Gary Smith press conference. Previews from the first and second games in Dallas, and coverage from the pair of them. Preview and game story from the last Dallas match.
Injury report: M Bryan Acosta. M Paxton Pomykal
While FC Dallas changed a ton from the games in Texas to the first one in Nashville, we’re looking at pretty much the same FCD team that visited Nissan a couple weeks back. There is something important to note: for most of the season (and particularly in the most recent stretch), Dallas has been much better against the field (1.50 PPG) than against Nashville (0.33 PPG). Yes, there are sample size issues that play a massive role there. My point is more that you shouldn’t think NSC’s three-goal bludgeoning in late October is the expectation, rather than saying the Boys in Gold have this team’s number.
“When we ran into them – I think it was only but about 10 days, 14 days ago – they had a couple of injuries, they were struggling with some omissions, and they’ve since had a couple of really good victories,” said NSC head coach Gary Smith. “I’m sure they’re confident, they’ll certainly want to get a little bit more out of the game than they did in their last appearance at Titans.”
From the most recent preview piece:
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-sided Hollingshead to the right in Reynolds’s absence).Oct. 21
Jara and Barrios remain the most important pieces of the team’s offense. You may recall Reto Ziegler sinking below the surface of the Earth at the conclusion of the previous game in Nissan, but I assure you that he was able to be extricated and has played sparingly in recent games. Hollingshead has risen to third on the team in xG+xA (this is not a fact you want to hear about a fullback if you’re Luchi Gonzalez), while winger Fafa Picault is climbing those charts, too.
“They’ve got a very bright and creative front line who have shown in the last couple of games that they’re in a good place again,” Smith said. “They went through a little bit of a barren spell, results that weren’t quite going their way, but I think they’re starting to show their true colors again, and we’ll be clear, and we’ll be aware of all of the different dimensions they have.”
The majority of Dallas’s overachievement to the numbers continues to revolve around preventing opponents from scoring as much as the xG says they would, and that continues to hinge on goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (though Nashville dented his standing there).
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.Oct. 21
They’re 2-0-1 in their three games since Nashville took it to ’em at Nissan Stadium, including nice wins over Miami and Houston. With a minimal injury report of note (Acosta has missed each of the past three games, while Pomykal has been on ice for quite some time), a step forward from FCD is something Nashville will need to respond to.
Injury report: W David Accam, F Dominique Badji, M/F Abu Danladi, D Ken Tribbett
I don’t think there’s a ton of mystery here. Nashville is going to do what Nashville has done for the past several weeks when healthy. That means a start for Daniel Ríos, in all likelihood. It means a late appearance for Jhonder Cádiz. Each scored last time out against Dallas.
“Daniel’s in a great run of form, I think it’s four in five, which is lovely place to be,” Smith said. “Jhonder’s not quite there yet in terms of fitness – I’ve already mentioned that – but he’s certainly getting closer. I think for me, No. 1, is keeping somebody who’s earned that spot, and is scoring goals in that group. You know, there’s nothing better than having a confident striker who’s having an effect.”
I would anticipate Hany Mukhtar – a healthy scratch in the past couple games as he works back from a hamstring injury – to be available off the bench, replacing the “speedy attacker late” substitution that’s gone to Abu Danladi in recent weeks. The other three injuries are unfortunately longer-term deals (with the silver lining being that they don’t impact the tactical choices much).
“The one thing that we can probably be assured of at this moment in time – and with not many games to go now – is that games have come thick and fast, I’ve got to make sure that players are at their best and I’m not pushing them too far into that world of breaking down,” Smith said. “And beyond that, it’s going to be making sure that if you do have a little bit of a problem, that you’re back quickly and you’re challenging again.”
Nashville’s 4-2-3-1 is not a mystery, and it’s been largely successful against Dallas. This will be about execution, motivation, and all they entail. Perhaps the most interesting question will be whether Handwalla Bwana – available after coming from Seattle Sounders – will make his debut.
Another factor of note: especially now that there’s a break over the international window between regular season and the playoffs, I think it is better for Nashville to finish 7th or 8th (first-round home game) than 6th (first-round bye, trip to Columbus or Orlando in round two). For that reason, the jockeying in the table for every available point is not as heightened as it might otherwise be. Staying healthy and getting certain guys some playing time may be a more important late-game decision than pushing for a winner.
Keys to the game
- Have confidence. I feel like this Nashville SC team is really coming around on its own ability. That’s a good – and justified – thing. Parlaying that into not being scared of what is a much better Dallas team on paper than NSC has seen yet… certainly carries the risk of being overconfident, but I’d rather than than the alternative.
- Ease Mukhtar in. He’s missed the past few games with minor injury – though he was healthy for selection in most of them – and getting him back to playing sharpness come playoffs will be important. Similarly, getting a quick run for Bwana (who scarcely played for Seattle this season) would be nice, as well.
- Locked in defense. Nashville should be seeing Michael Barrios, who was not in the Dallas lineup last time around. He just so happens to be one of the best offensive players in the league – and is certainly most-productive in providing service on this Dallas team – so shutting him down is an aspirational goal. Minimizing the instances in which he can impact the outcome is a wise choice.
- Set pieces. Wot it says on the tin.
NSC has owned this Dallas team. Can the Boys in Gold do it again?
- The teams go into the half scoreless, but hafltime sub Jhonder Cádiz finds net shortly after. Another long-range effort beats Maurer in a replica of his goal last time against Dallas.
- The Toros respond with Barrios serving one up to Jara before the 60th minute.
- The managers have a bit of an unspoken gentleman’s agreement in the late stages, with neither pushing that hard for a win as they sub on some guys who they need to get a run.
Nashville SC 1, FC Dallas 1