Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2021: @ New England Revolution

Nashville gladly provided one of New England’s three losses on the year, but the situation will be different away from home. Can the Boys in Gold repeat the feat?

The essentials

Opponent: New England Revolution (11-3-3)
Time, Location: Wednesday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m. CDT (7 local) • Nissan Stadium
Weather: 69ºF, 70% chance of rain, 77% humidity, 5 MPH Easterly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30 (local TV), ESPN+ (national stream), NashvilleSC.com (local stream) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)

Non-nerd stats (2020): 36 points, 2.12 PPG (1st East) • 1.94 GF/gm, 1.24 GA/gm
Nerd stats (2020): +0.42 xG Power (7th MLS), +0.56 G Power (3rd MLS). +0.14 “Luck” (11th MLS) • +0.42 Offense (3rd MLS), -0.01 Defense (13th MLS). -0.80 home disadvantage(!)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +379, draw +268, New England -133

Match officials: Referee: Silviu Petrescu. Assistants: Jeffrey Greeson, Claudiu Badea. Fourth official: Lukasz Szpala. Video assistants: Jose Carlos Rivero, Thomas Supple

Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Checking in with Tanner Rebelo of Trifecta Sports before the previous game. The Playlist. Coverage from the previous game.

New England Revolution

Injury/availability report: OUT: D Jon Bell (lower body), M Luis Caicedo (lower body)

An injury to a Revolution…ary? who’s not on the above list could be the most impactful news not only for this game, but potentially the rest of the Major League Soccer season:

Gil is currently the runaway MVP of the league at this point, so if Nashville avoids him tonight, that’s huge. He’s also been (somewhat vaguely) linked with moves to Europe during the Summer window, so if any of that comes to fruition, it’s pretty significant that he’s out of commission for a dwindling number of games remaining with the Revs!

Gil was also limited with injury earlier in the season, though he was able to work to fitness before the trip to Nashville.

“Carles Gil is one of the best players in the league,” Nashville captain Dax McCarty said at that time. “He’s their focal point, everything good that they do usually goes through him. If he has time and space on the ball, you’re in trouble. He’s going to pick out the right pass, and make dangerous chances for them. Their strikers are clinical.”

As for those strikers, here’s what I said about them last time around.

With Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou up top to finish chances – when Bou’s healthy, at least, after missing last weekend’s game – there’s a lot to like about the upside of the offense when Gil is added to the mix. Of course, there’s also a lot of room to go up. Bou led the team in expected assists while playing slightly miscast as an attacking midfielder at times. Allowing him to take that responsibility off his plate probably allows everyone to find more success.

May 7

Bou has turned just 3.94 expected goals into 10 scores so far this season, while his 3.98 xA has resulted in a pair of assists. Buksa has been the opposite: 10.06 xG has become eight goals, while he’s overachieving his expected assists slightly (albeit with a grand total of one assist).

Should Gil be unavailable, though, life gets a lot tougher for those two. Not only does he draw attention away from them as the No. 10 for this club, he has 10 assists on 9.01 xA to lead the attack. ASA‘s Goals Added has him as the most-important passer in the league by an incredible margin (+2.25, whereas the second-best is NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez at +1.47). He’s also an elite dribbler and adequate defender. He doesn’t involve himself in the offense much, but it’s hard to argue with the results of one of the league’s best attacks.

So, if he’s out, who steps in? Tajon Buchanan’s return from international duty gives New England another attacking option on the wing, but no individual can singlehandedly replace was Gil provides.

That could be a problem because New England’s defense has been mediocre-to-poor this season. The Revs have given up 21 goals – tied for most among teams in playoff positions – and that’s despite the presence of one of the league’s top keepers in Matt Turner. That makes Turner’s presence on the field all the more important: while he’s not having a career year (88% of expected goals allowed, fifth among top-choice keepers), backup Brad Knighton has been bad (133% of xG allowed) while Turner’s been on international duty with the Americans.

I would imagine if Alistair Johnston can start a road match three days after elimination from the Gold Cup, Turner should be set to get the nod between the pipes three days after the USMNT won the tournament over Mexico. But if he requires more rest, the opportunity is there for Nashville SC.

Here’s something I was wrong about in the last preview!

Moving back in the formation, you have the makings of an elite defense. Indeed, the Revs had the second-best xG-against defense in the league last year. Only Seattle’s (which was much better) was higher-regarded. As you see with Nashville, it starts with elite play in central midfield to protect an already-strong backline.

“Matt Polster has been the most consistent player on this Revolution team thus far,” Rebelo said. “His play in the defensive midfield has allowed for the right-backs to comfortably make deep runs. Polster has also helped nullify opposing team’s abilities to counter-attack. New England does have a very strong defense like Nashville. From the goalkeeper on up this is a team that works hard on defense. Whether that is Andrew Farrell making a goal saving clearance or Carles Gil working back to his own 18-yard box on defense.”

When you augment that with one of the best goalkeepers in recent MLS history in Matt Turner (he allowed just 73% of expected goals last year), you’re going to have a real good time. His impact on the game – as measured by the difference between defensive xG power and G power – was not that large, but it’s largely because the margins on which he can improve an already-elite defensive output are pretty slim.

May 7

Turner has indeed been very good, but the Revs’ defense has been bad, at least among the cohort of top-flight teams. The goals-against numbers I cited above are notable. More so is the xG-against from my power ratings (where the xG numbers are normalized for strength of competition played), which strips out the ability Turner has to save his team’s bacon. New England is making strides there, coming in No. 13 in the league. But that’s not championship defense, either.

Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that they’re OK giving up a little bit more xG because they know Turner’s there to bail them out. But the numbers don’t look that different with Knighton between the pipes (you might expect a team riding Turner to tighten up the D when he’s out), so it appears to just be who the Revs are. Centerback Henry Kessler (who replaced Walker Zimmerman with the US) is another “hope he’s ready to go!” sort of guy after the Gold Cup, as well.

Of course, a Nashville team on its second of three games in just eight days may not be hyper-interested in playing a high-flying game, even though that seems to be what this New England team is into…

The Boys in Gold

Injury/availability report: OUT: D Walker Zimmerman (hamstring)

Nashville didn’t exactly get run ragged Sunday evening, but certainly the nature of the middle game of a roadtrip is such that you’d strongly prefer to keep that energy available for the kick stretch (particularly when the team you face in the kick stretch – Inter Miami – is among the worst in MLS).

Some of the issues NSC had personnel-wise heading to Toronto aren’t likely to persist, either: whether that’s trouble getting across the border due to vaccination status (sources indicate this wasn’t the issue for anyone) or paperwork (this was!) or not completing isolation quiiiite quickly enough… that shouldn’t be a problem heading to New England. NSC headed to the Boston area immediately after Sunday’s game, and the plan was for those who didn’t travel – but should be available tonight – to join up with them there.

That means only Walker Zimmerman is certain to be unavailable, since he was the only guy on the injury report. We shall see if those who were in health and safety protocols (namely Dan Lovitz, since Jack Maher played Sunday evening) are fully back, and if guys who had paperwork difficulties at the border – you can safely assume who this is, given the specifics of Robert Castellanos being the one to step in – are fully eligible, and it was a Canada Thing, nothing more or less than that.

All told, this is as healthy as Nashville has been all year – though the one guy you are missing, Zimmerman, is not the one you want to be without, given his importance on set pieces and the fact that New England gets the third-most offensive production in the league from dead-ball situations (behind Sporting KC and this Nashville team).

3-5-2 to defend on the road and give that high-flying attack the chance to stay in its groove? Or the 4-2-3-1 to adapt to the personnel (and allow for more pressing, which was a key area NSC found success against the Revs last time).

Projected lineups

I’ve got New England in a 4-4-2 without Gil (they rock with variations on it when he’s available, anyway), and Nashville in a 4-2-3-1… but with a personnel grouping that’s amenable to a quick shift to a 3-5-2 (Johnston to RCB, Muyl to RWB), or the hybrid 3-4-3 with Dax McCarty dropping deep to distibute.

Keys to the game

  • Don’t sit back and take it. Particularly at home, this New England team wants to get on the front foot and take it to the opposition. However, that’s also meant that opponents perform reasonably well in attack at New England. Nashville shouldn’t go in simply trying to weather the storm, since the Revs show defensive vulnerability at home if you try to expose it.
  • Dominate set pieces. As ever it was, as ever shall it be.
  • Conversion. The problem in Toronto was not production, but rather turning that production into actual goals that count on the scoreboard. It hasn’t been a season-long issue for most of the Boys in Gold, so snapping out of it and converting equal to or better than xG would be solid.
  • Don’t get rattled by the circumstances. New England isn’t drawing huge crowds (18k for weekend matches), but Nashville still isn’t used to a hostile away crowd. More importantly, win or lose Gary Smith is probably going to have some complaint about the size (small) and composition (fieldturf) of the pitch. Persevering through less-than-ideal playing conditions is part of playing on the road in this league.

Prediction

While it would behoove Nashville to be more attack-minded, it brings me no pleasure to report that I think the reality of a road game against a top side means a little less positive a gameplan. Of course, it’s still possible to nick a goal on the counter or with the press. But it feels like a game where Smith’s objective is to not concede, and whatever happens beyond that is a bonus.

I think the primary objective is met! But the “whatever happens beyond that” factor… amounts to not much.

0-0 draw.

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