A win in a tough environment. Can Nashville SC follow it up with a win against a top opponent?
Opponent: CF Montreal (8-7-7)
Time, Location: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7:00 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. local) • Montreal, Que.
Weather: 70ºF, 70% chance of rain, 73% humidity, 8 MPH Southerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30 (local broadcast), ESPN+ (national stream), NashvilleSC.com (local stream) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Recent form (most recent first – via): W-D-D-W-L
Non-nerd stats: 31 points, 1.41 PPG (6th East) • 1.36 GF/gm, 1.23 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.02 xG Power (12th MLS), +0.01 G Power (13th MLS). +0.03 “Luck” (16th MLS) • -0.02 Offense (16th MLS), +0.01 Defense (14th MLS). +0.29 home advantage (16th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +214, draw +242, Montreal +125
Match officials: Referee: Silviu Petrescu. Assistants: Matthew Nelson, Gianni Facchini. Fourth: David Barrie; Video Assistants: Carol Anne Chenard, Robert Schaap
OUT: F Mason Toye (shoulder), D Robert Thorkelsson (adductor), D Kiki Struna (calf)
SUSPENDED: D Rudy Camacho (yellow accumulation)
This isn’t an extensive injury report, but it’s an impactful one: American forward Mason Toye is the team’s leader in expected goals by a slim margin, but thanks to overachieving his xG so far is the goals leader by a much bigger one. Considering that one of the other attacking stars, Romell Quioto, is coming back from international duty in Central America (to be fair, a number of Nashville’s guys are in the same boat), this may be a Djordje Mihailovic-led attack without much help – at least not much energetic help – from his usual supporting cast.
Here’s what I wrote about that trio way back in the preview for the second game of the year.
New head coach Wilfried Nancy prefers a 3-5-2 setup with CAM Djordje Mihailovic sitting behind strike duo Mason Toye and Romell Quioto. It’s worth noting that one of those guys (Quioto, who joined in advance of the 2020 season) was on this team last year – the other two joined on trades from Chicago Fire and Minnesota United, respectively. Each scored, and it’s worth noting that each has been a reasonably consisted xG overachiever, so there may be some replicability to the offensive output from a week ago, even with meager expected goals.April 23
Norwegian-American Bjørn Johnsen is a like-for-like replacement for Toye, while it seems likely that Nancy will continue using more of a 3-4-3 with Argentine Joaquín Torres and Mihailovic playing winger/creative midfielder types alongside him. Torres is awful at getting into dangerous positions to receive, but is a very good passer to create for teammates, per ASA‘s goals added.
“They’re gifted with a lot of different qualities, and I think one thing that we’ve really got to be cognizant of is just the transition play,” NSC defender Jack Maher said of the Montreal attack. “These guys are very athletic, very quick, and can strike in a hurry. So we’re definitely going to be prepared and be on the front foot for as much of the game as we can.”
Let’s take a look at the less-attacking portions of the field.
“I think they’ve proven that they’re a tough nut to crack,” said NSC head coach Gary Smith. “They’ve got a good physical presence throughout the group, they’re very capable from dead balls, and we need to be on the money to get a result, to earn some points there, otherwise we’re going to fall foul of a difficult away result.”
Mathieu Choiniére and Zachary Brault-Guillard are locked in as the left and right wingbacks, respectively, when available. Brault-Guillard is a pretty service-oriented wingback, coming third on the team in expected assists. He also wasn’t on Canada’s World Cup Qualifying roster (thanks to the emergence of Nashville’s own Alistair Johnston north of the border), so should be rested.
In the middle, Samuel Piette was on Canada’s roster, but got only 11 minutes during the qualifying window, so should be pretty rested (as with Johnston, having finished the window playing in Canada makes the travel logistics a lot easier for these guys that trying to fly back from Central America, etc., as well).
The defense… may be an issue. Kiki Struna – whom you may recall from scoring the set-piece goal in Montreal’s most recent trip to Nashville – and Rudy Camacho are every-minute guys when they’re available, but they are not this evening, due to injury and suspension. Joel Waterman and Kamal Miller have plenty of playing time this season, but, uh, that’s only two guys, making a three-man backline somewhat difficult (ask NYCFC if it’s easy to paper over such absences). This was also an issue for Montreal’s second trip to Nashville
The back three has been fairly consistent this season: Kamal Miller, Rudy Camacho, and Kiki Struna left-to-right. However, Miller has been struggling with a hip injury at times – even missing Canada’s World Cup Qualifiers – which had placed Waterman into the starting lineup. With Waterman unavailable (worth noting that the French prose on the report lists him as day-to-day, so he may not be out-out), there’s no telling what the backup plan is if Miller’s hip acts up at all.June 26
Miller held it together to go 90 in that one, so it didn’t become an issue. Zorhan Bassong (displaced as LWB by Choiniére) is likely the left-sided CB replacement there. Goals added thinks very poorly of him, with below-average marks in every breakout component, most notably interrupting (not something you want a CB to be bad at!).
In net, it’s been a healthy rotation. Nashville has already seen Clement Diop and James Pantemis this season, and Sebastian Breza has taken over as the first-choice guy in recent weeks (the Impact released Diop to return to France, while Pantemis was injured, then in Covid protocols, then away with Canada – for whom he didn’t see any time). Breza has been one of the worst regularly-used keepers in the league, with SKC and Orlando emergency options John Pulskamp and Brandon Austin the only guys with at least 400 minutes and a worse mark than his 147% of expected goals allowed. If Pantemis can go, he should.
Montreal should be fairly rested, though: while Pantemis, Miller, and Piette were on international duty, only Miller got significant playing time. They also played two of those games (including Wednesday’s) in Canada, so the travel stresses are a little less significant. Meanwhile, CFMTL itself had a bye last week and hosted Toronto the weekend before that, so it’s been a fairly easy stretch in terms of putting miles on the legs.
The Boys in Gold
SUSPENDED: F Jhonder Cádiz (hard-earned supplementary discipline), M Dax McCarty (ill-gotten red card).
Nashville’s travel schedule for international players is a little more strenuous: Aníbal Godoy and Randall Leal coming from their home countries in Central America, Walker Zimmerman coming from Honduras (same as Quioto), and Alistair Johnston remaining in Canada (as with his countrymen who play for Montreal). Fortunately, they’re all available and made the trip, and Zimmerman, at the least, was extremely rested during the international break.
“And of course Walker [Zimmerman] didn’t play any minutes. Which I’m sure will be disappointing for him, but maybe not so much for me,” Smith said.
Godoy’s presence will be particularly important given the absence of Dax McCarty. Although he played all 270 for Panama, Nashville will likely need him to start alongside Tah Brian Anunga. I would imagine – as he did following the Gold Cup – Johnston steps right back into a starting role. He’s young and has the legs for it.
Otherwise, same as it ever was: let Mukhtar and CJ Sapong cook, whether that’s with Daniel Ríos or Aké Loba alongside the American in the front two, or Mukhtar up there while Leal has the legs to be the creative force behind and alongside the duo. The trick will be remaining productive in a road game with that grouping.
“Gary talks about it all the time – finding ways to get points, whether it’s one, whether it’s three, whenever we go to these away games is very valuable and very difficult to do,” said Maher. “A lot of the guys in the locker room say how valuable and how difficult going to a hostile environment like Atlanta really is. For us to get three points and a win, I think, is massive, and will go a long way for us at the end of the season.”
The stakes are fairly high: with Orlando’s blowout loss to Atlanta last night, Nashville can take a firm grip on second position in the conference with a win (or a loose grip on that spot with a draw). A loss, for obvious and universal reasons, would not be ideal.
Keys to the game
- Test the keeper. This is less crucial if it’s Pantemis, but neither of these guys is particularly good.
- Strike first. Nashville has been unable to draw first blood against Montreal both previous games against Montreal. While the Boys in Gold were able to claw back draws in each… being in a position where you don’t have to claw back for a draw is, to me, “a good idea.”
- Keep humming. Sort of in line with the above… Nashville’s attack is rolling. Don’t break it if it’s working, so let’s see more of what we’ve seen in recent weeks. Bringing Randall Leal off the bench (for obvious reasons, not an option against NYCFC) is a heck of a weapon if necessary.
- Steady on the backline. I think we’ll see a healthy dose of Quioto if only because Johnsen and Torres are not performing well, and Mihailovic can only do so much himself. But the Boys in Gold have to prevent a “not performing well” type of guy from getting one against the run of play.
- Set pieces. Giving one up to Struna in the previous matchup between these teams was a killer. It might be nice to not only not give one up, but also to have Walker Zimmerman score one in his return. That’s the ticket.
I certainly expected to pick a draw in this one. But given the state of Montreal’s absences defensively and a goalkeeping unit that is… uh… there are better in the league… I have to think a Nashville SC attack that is in-form continues said form.
Nashville wins, 2-1.