Photo from US Open Cup of yore. Tim Sullivan/Club & Country
With MLS and US Soccer coming together to announce the league’s qualification mechanism for earning a berth into the US Open Cup, it is time to take a look at Nashville SC’s shot. In order to qualify for the competition, the Boys in Gold simply have to be one of the best eight teams in the league through the first three matchdates.
Let’s take a look at NSC’s slate in comparison to the other teams in the league. We will first take a look at points per game (based on home/away splits) for every team’s opening trio:
|Nashville||v. Cincinnati||0.27||v. Montreal||1.30||v. Miami||0.64||0.74|
|Toronto||@ Montreal||1.00||v. Vancouver||0.60||0.80||Only Two Games|
|Houston||v. San Jose||0.67||@ Portland||1.55||v. LAFC||0.50||0.90|
|Orlando||v. Atlanta||0.80||@ Kansas City||1.78||v. Cincinnati||0.27||0.95|
|San Jose||@ Houston||1.30||v. Dallas||0.67||v. DC||1.11||1.03|
|Columbus||v. Philadelphia||1.18||@ Montreal||1.00||1.09||Only Two Games|
|New England||@ Chicago||1.67||v. DC||1.11||v. Atlanta||0.80||1.19|
|New York||v. Kansas City||1.89||@ LA||1.30||v. Chicago||0.45||1.21|
|Atlanta||@ Orlando||2.10||v Chicago||0.45||@ New England||1.10||1.22|
|Montréal||v. Toronto||1.70||@ Nashville||1.70||v. Columbus||0.50||1.30|
|LAFC||v. Austin||v. Seattle||1.33||@ Houston||1.30||1.32||Plays Austin|
|D.C.||v. New York City||1.36||@ New England||1.10||@ San Jose||1.55||1.34|
|New York City||@ DC||0.82||v. Cincinnati||0.27||@ Philadelphia||3.00||1.36|
|Kansas City||@ NYRB||1.60||v. Orlando||1.30||@ RSL||1.20||1.37|
|Seattle||v. Minnesota||1.22||@ LAFC||2.09||v. LA||0.89||1.40|
|Minnesota||@ Seattle||2.30||v. RSL||0.67||v. Austin||1.48||Plays Austin|
|Chicago||v. New England||1.60||@ Atlanta||1.40||@ NYRB||1.60||1.53|
|Philadelphia||@ Columbus||2.70||v. Miami||0.64||v. New York City||1.36||1.57|
|Portland||@ Vancouver||1.80||v. Houston||0.60||@ Dallas||2.40||1.60|
|Dallas||v. Colorado||1.78||@ San Jose||1.55||v. Portland||1.67||1.66|
|LA||@ Miami||1.89||v. NYRB||1.30||@ Seattle||2.30||1.83|
|Miami||v. LA||0.89||@ Philadelphia||3.00||@ Nashville||1.70||1.86|
|Vancouver||v. Portland||1.67||@ Toronto||2.20||v. Colorado||1.78||1.88|
|Salt Lake||@ Minnesota||2.00||v. Kansas City||1.89||1.94||Only Two Games|
|Austin||@ LAFC||2.09||@ Colorado||1.83||@ Minnesota||2.00||1.97|
|Cincinnati||@ Nashville||1.70||@ New York City||2.33||@ Orlando||2.10||2.04|
|Colorado||@ Dallas||2.40||v. Austin||@ Vancouver||1.80||2.10||Plays Austin|
As you can see, Nashville has the easiest schedule of the bunch. Certainly you’d expect Cincinnati to be improved this year (there’s no way to go but up when you’re setting records for futility, particularly away from home), but Montreal and Miami are both blowing things up a bit this offseason and even if they turn into solid squads, getting them early – before new coaches can stamp their identity onto each – is a nice benefit. It’s important to note that NSC is the only team in the league to open with three straight at home. Some of the advantages to that are baked into the numbers, but of course the home/road effects may be amplified over a very short sample size.
Austin and Cincinnati are the only two teams that have a trio of away contests to start the year, making life extremely tough for them when it comes to qualification.
It is worth noting that FCC likely has the toughest three-game stretch to begin the year (based on last year’s numbers). While Colorado’s average looks worse right now, that’s because we don’t know what to expect out of Austin. If Matthew McConaughey FC is a league-average team – 1.04 points per away game – the Radpids’ difficult slides to middle-of-the-pack difficulty overall.
Also worth noting: thanks to an odd number of teams in the league, three teams have a bye in this stretch – hence the “points per game” stipulation by the league, rather than a strict “total points over the first three games.” Real Salt Lake, Columbus Crew, and Toronto FC each have one of the first three weekends off – in that order – so there’s going to be much greater variance if a game doesn’t go as expected. (Why the league didn’t just say “over the first three games” rather than “PPG through May 2,” is a valid question. So too is why an RSL team that is not involved in Concacaf Champions League got a bye, rather than making life a little easier for Philly, Portland, or Atlanta in that competition).
With uneven home-road splits throughout the league for these three games, it’s probably unfair to bother getting into the power ratings: “Nashville has three at home! Cincinnati has three on the road!” probably has far more impact on who advances to the USOC than strength within those home/road splits. However, from a Nashville perspective, Cincy and Montreal were below-average road teams and Miami was comfortably above in xG terms (one of IMCF’s biggest issues all year was being incapable of living up to its xG numbers on either side of the ball, home or road).
|Team||xG for||xG Against||net xG|
|Inter Miami CF||1.42||1.49||-0.07|
Miami’s finishing issues last year aside (the Herons were well below-average when it compares to the league in terms of actual goals scored, despite being much better than average in xG generation/prevention), Nashville appears to have come up with a fairly straightforward schedule. Considering that two of the three teams are reshaping their rosters with new coaches, while FCC is reshaping its roster while digging out from one of the worst two-year runs in league history, the work along the margins looks solid, as well.
The task for NSC is to go out and take care of business.