Inter Miami got a surprising winner against Nashville SC last these sides met in Fort Lauderdale. But that win may very well have sparked a bit of a renaissance in the Herons’ form, which means a very different challenge for the Boys in Gold this time around.
Opponent: Inter Miami CF (9-10-5)
Time, Location: Wednesday, Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 local) • Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Weather: 80ºF, 45% chance of rain, 83% humidity, negligible 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)
Form (most recent first): L-W-W-W-D
Non-nerd stats: 32 points, 1.33 PPG (9th East) • 1.00 GF/gm, 1.46 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.31 xG Power (19th MLS), -0.44 G Power (23rd MLS). -0.13 “Luck” (21st MLS) • -0.36 Offense (25th MLS), -0.06 Defense (12th MLS). -0.51 home disadvantage
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +143, draw +218, Inter Miami CF +209
Match officials: Referee: Jon Freemon. Assistants: Kevin Klinger, Cory Richardson. Fourth: Marcos de Oliveira. Video assistants: Daniel Radford, Jozef Batko
Inter Miami CF
OUT: D Ventura Alvarado (knee), D Ian Fray (ACL), D Joevin Jones (knee), D Ryan Shawcross (back), M Victor Ulloa (inj.)
SUSP.: D Nicolás Figal (red), D Leandro González Pirez (yellow accumulation)
We’ll begin with talk of absences, because there are a lot of them! Miami’s top two centerbacks (Nicolás Figal and Leandro Gonzalez Pírez) are out due to suspension, along with the No. 4 guy on the minutes depth chart there (Ryan Shawcross, with an unspecified back injury that’s bugged him for much of the year) – leaving only Christian Makoun healthy and available among regularly-used CBs. LB Joevin Jones was a starter to begin the year, though he’s been out with a knee injury since the fourth of July, so IMCF is at least used to his absence. Victor Ulloa plays both midfield and right back, so you could say this team is short one backline (but you’d be playing fast-and-loose with Ulloa’s primary position, which is as a No. 8).
Of course, we’ve seen Nashville SC play some head-scratchingly poor games against short-handed opposition (the first and third games against Toronto FC come immediately to mind), so that’s not a guarantee that an offensive explosion is on the way. Nor is it a guarantee that a team with a 4-0 loss as its most recent showing on the pitch is easy fodder (see: losing to Toronto Saturday, after that team was on the short end of a poor result against this very Miami side in the midweek).
But given that this squad presents one of the worst attacks in MLS and a fairly solid defense on a game-to-game basis, you’re heartened to see that the Nashville attack may have a slightly easier time than you’d otherwise expect to create chances. Goalkeeper Nick Marsman has overcome his rough start to settle into a league-average performer (allowing 104% of expected goals against), so NSC will have to take advantage of the opportunities created.
Gregore and Blaise Matuidi are the first-choice central midfielders. The former is below-average in just about everything except interrupting, according to ASA‘s Goals Added, so having him run around and be a midfield destroyer to help cover for the weakness on the backline probably makes some sense. Matuidi is bad at just about everything – he’s the 28th-worst player in MLS per G+, which would be impressive if not for the fact that two teammates grade out worse – so, uh, well best of luck to him, I guess.
The identities of the two guys having worse seasons than him help point out what’s gone wrong for Miami overall: Lewis Morgan was a borderline-elite winger last year and is the 14th-worst player in the league this season, whilel Rodolfo Pizarro was IMCF’s big-name ticket-selling, excitement-producing signing out of Mexico, and is the seventh-worst player in the league this year. It comes as no surprise what is holding Miami back: the offense is very bad! Because they can’t create from the guys who are supposed to do that!
Morgan is still second on the team with 6.86 xG+xA, doing most of it through the passing game, rather than shooting. Ahead of him is Gonzalo Higuaín, who has nine goals on 7.46 xG and four assists on 2.41 xA on the season. Speaking of big-money signings, he has not been great either!
The key for Nashville is to not get beaten on fluky stuff or set pieces (5.98 of Miami’s league-worst 23.96 xG has come from dead-ball situations), and probably to put the game away when a striker is one-on-one with an open net, rather than allowing Miami to come down to the other end and find a winner of its own. Not speaking from experience or anything.
The Boys in Gold
Clean bill of health!
The Boys in Gold are healthy, they’re likely to be v. annoyed about losing to an outmanned Toronto team, and [something to fulfill comedy rule of threes goes here].
What’s tricky is we’ve seen – as recently as Saturday – the team go with a different gameplan when it senses weakness in the opposition roster (through injury against TFC, through both injury and suspension if it applies to tonight), and at times that comes back to bite the team. Do I want to a fairly tame bunker-counter gameplan from NSC? Probably not. But it might be the best bet to ensure a result, and also to nick a winner against a team that doesn’t have its backline talent available.
In the previous matchup in Miami, both teams were content to play a boring first half, and then when NSC went into the lead immediately after the break, it forced a little more ambition out of Miami. That ultimately broke Nashville down in ways that are atypical, and I think sticking to a firm “foundational” (as Gary Smith would say) gameplan probably sees NSC keep a clean sheet.
Keeping eight behind the ball and letting the front three try to cook is the way to go. I mentioned in the weekend’s preview that I thought a start for Randall Leal – to get two creative players on the pitch, and have more striker subs to run at tired legs – made the most sense, and that’s once again what seems right for this evening, even if it didn’t come to fruition last time.
Keys to the game
- Don’t give up a cheap one. This Miami team basically doesn’t score any other way. So if you play the solid defense that’s expected of a Nashville team under Gary Smith, there won’t be too many opportunities for Miami to steal goals.
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it bee.
- Don’t be afraid to fire away. Marsman is a nice goalkeeper, but there should be openings presented by this Miami backline. The opportunity cost of going bombs-away is low (because the opportunities should be relatively frequent). Let ’em rip.
- Big three clickin’. Get Randall Leal back in there with Mukhtar and Sapong, find profit.
I think a somewhat-regressive game from Nashville SC is likely. Unless the big three (whether Leal, Ríos, or someone else is the third member joining Mukhtar and Sapong) can create magic without a ton of numbers forward will be the difference. We could see a scoreless draw, we could see NSC generate a ton of chances through individual play (and interplay between them). Miami’s moments will likely have to come from little bits of magic, and whether IMCF converts on any of the limited chances they get is the story on that end of the pitch.
Nashville wins 1-0.