Nashville SC

Nashville SC preseason preview: New York Red Bulls

On this very day two years ago, Daniel Ríos scored against New York Red Bulls (2). Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Nashville SC’s preseason continues with a second competitive friendly. May IMG Academy be as kind to the Boys in Gold as Currey Ingram Academy was over the weekend.

The essentials

Opponent: New York Red Bulls (9-5-9, 32 points, sixth place East in 2020)
Time, Location: 2 p.m. CDT Wednesday, March 24 • Bradenton, Fla.
Weather: 79ºF, 0% chance of rain, 55% humidity, 10 MPH SSW wind
Follow: @NashvilleSC

Vegas odds: It’s a friendly, you degenerate

New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls put together a solid season in 2020, especially given that they weren’t one of the beneficiaries of a “play Cincinnati four times” scheduling quirk – though they did play FCC thrice, giving up five goals, or 42% of Cincy’s output for the entire year. This is also a roster with a ton of consistency. Among players who got at least a single minute last year, only seven depart: Tim Parker, Jared Stroud, Marc Rzatkowski, Samuel Tetteh, Mads Jørgensen, Patrick Seagrist, Alex Muyl, and Josh Sims. You may recognize one of those names (Alex Muyl) as a guy who spent most of the year in Nashville because he wasn’t getting a ton of time, while Sims played even less than him.

The only significant departures there are Parker, who was third on the team in minutes at CB, and Stroud, who eclipsed 1,000 minutes playing on the wing but was a disappointing eighth on the squad in xG+xA.

There was a more significant change during the course of the season, with head coach Chris Armas given the axe in September after a 3-4-2 start (this is worse than it looks: they somehow managed to give up a pair of goals to FC Cincinnati twice in that stretch, and FCC only scored multiple goals on one other occasion). Bradley Carnell was the interim for the final 14 games – Red Bulls went 6-5-3 in those ones – and new headman Gerhard Struber officially took the reins for the playoffs, in which the Red Bulls lost to the Crew.

Since Struber is new to this team, it’s impossible to know exactly what his overall vision and the tactical specifics of that will be. Since his coaching career has been mostly in the Red Bull Global organization, you can make some assumptions that the apple won’t be falling far from the tree: look for a high press, direct play after turnovers, and a frenetic pace of play when RBNY manages to exert its will in stretches of the game.

Since this is preseason, I would imagine another thing you’ll see plenty of: talent from the lower ranks of the RBNY organization. The Red Bulls were initially scheduled to play a friendly last Saturday, but instead played an intrasquad scrimmage. Nashville… wouldn’t even be able to do this in a super-productive way. Talent from Red Bulls II and the academy will be on display, particularly in late phases of the friendly. May we be among the first to glimpse the next Caden Clark (also: the current Caden Clark, as last year’s breakout player enters his second professional season, and likely final with NYRB before heading to one of the European Red Bull sides).

The Boys in Gold

Nashville got through its entire roster Saturday afternoon – including plenty of players who are unsigned trialists (and based on Gary Smith’s comments after the game, unlikely to join the squad in Florida). With 30-minute segments under their respective belts, I would bet on (most of) the starters going 45 this afternoon as they build toward regular-season fitness. Other contributors may sub in with a first-choice lineup toward the end of that first half, but mostly enter as a unit to begin the second frame, with late substitutions to get every active player onto the pitch.

The big question mark following Saturday’s personnel decisions is who will return from injury. Strikers Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos were shelved, as was defender Nick Hinds. It’s not imperative that they get on the field immediately – we’re still three-plus weeks from the beginning of the regular season – but certainly from a standpoint of getting them prepared and a little nervousness-easing in the fanbase, it’d be nice to see the attack duo get a little bit of competitive time. Getting a picture of who might be the lone starter is an Actual Task of this preseason. For Hinds’s part, he begins the year as a backup to Dan Lovitz (and potentially also behind Taylor Washington on the depth chart) at left back, so rushing him back to the field is not worth the potential risks there.

Given the way Red Bulls play, this will be a nice test of Nashville’s ability to play out of the back. Dealing with a press is something the Boys in Gold only had to do situationally last year, so being a little more well-drilled in it will be a good opportunity for the team’s growth and ability to diversify its playing styles. Meanwhile… it could also mean some chances in-behind for the speedier Abu Danladis or Dominique Badjis of the world, so don’t be surprised if you hear about those guys generating – and hopefully finishing – chances.

Predictions

I think this will be a bit looser a game – with Nashville wanting to focus on its work against the press, rather than a “let’s be pragmatic and get over the top of this” gameplan that they’d likely take in a game with stakes. That could mean some comical errors at the back, and also some big chances as NSC beats the press.

  • Former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty gets the scoring going by threading a ball through to fellow former Red Bull Alex Muyl. He bangs one home from the corner of the six-yard box.
  • Nashville has some struggles with the press, and although that’s concentrated in the non-starter groups, the backline shows some growing pains, as well. The Red Bulls get two “when playing it out of the back goes wrong” tallies, spanning the end of the first period and beginning of the second.
  • Nashville’s second unit gets a goal, with a healthy Ríos coming off the bench to hammer one home.
  • The late stages of the game are once again sloppy, with NYRB’s depth (via USL and Academy talent) shining through to find one more score.

NYRB wins 3-2.

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