Nashville SC earned a cruise to victory last time against NYCFC. But a full-strength squad and a different environment provide new challenges. Can the Boys in Gold earn a second win against the Pigeons?
Opponent: New York City FC (11-10-6)
Time, Location: Sunday, Oct. 3, 11:30 a.m. CDT • Harrison, N.J.
Weather: 77ºF, 1% chance of rain, 67% humidity, negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: CW 58/NashvilleSC.com/stream (local) ESPN+ (national) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Recent form (most recent first – via): L-L-D-W-D
Non-nerd stats: 39 points, 1.44 PPG (6th/4th East) • 1.63 GF/gm, 1.19 GA/gm
Nerd stats: +0.91 xG Power (1st MLS), +0.50 G Power (4th MLS). -0.41 “Luck” (24th MLS) • +0.45 Offense (2nd MLS), -0.45 Defense (3rd MLS). +0.54 home advantage (2nd MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +285, draw +254, NYCFC -103
Match officials: Referee: Marcos de Oliveira. Assistants: Jeff Hosking, Jeffrey Swartzel. Fourth official: JC Griggs. Video assistants: Geoff Gamble, Ian McKay
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This is a fully-healthy version of NYCFC after Nashville SC got very much not that last time around (and both teams adapted to shorthanded life early in the game). However, the Pigeons have also fallen off hard in recent weeks. The advanced numbers still have them coasting on the strength of their early-season dominance but 1-4-2 in the past seven with steps back offensively and defensively… takes this from a historically strong side to one that’s gonna be good-not-great to the stats.
Given that the outcomes long trailed the stats anyway, it’s easy to see how this team is beatable. Here’s what I wrote last time:
The second-best offense (behind New England) and second-best defense (behind LAFC) in xG terms have been obscured by a little bit of bad luck, but there’s no question that this squad is bound for big things. There’s probably not enough runway to catch New England for the top spot in the East – even with three games in-hand – but it would not surprise to see NYCFC finish second.
Injuries and disciplinary absences – including to start striker Taty Castellanos – have played a role in the dropoff. Of course, Castellanos has underachieved his xG (13 goals on 16.36 xG) and not overachieving much in the assist department (five against 3.57 xA), so he’s partially responsible for some of the results not being where you’d expect. He’s still an elite striker in this league.
“We’ve faced a lot of good strikers in the league, so Castellanos is an all-around player,” Goalkeeper Joe Willis said before the last time around. “He can finish really well, he’s got some speed, he’s good with his feet. He brings a lot to the table for sure. But like I said, we’ve faced a lot of good strikers in this league, so as far as preparation goes, no, it’s pretty much just business as usual.”
Complementing him is a guy who started a fight, tried to choke out Dax McCarty (along with Castellanos – they complement each other in non-playing ways as well) and only got 44 minutes because of the resulting red card.
The fullbacks remain crucial pieces of the attack, though the true wingers have been a bit more productive – whether the side in results is related or purely coincidental is unknown.
Keaton Parks and Alfredo Morales are solid holding midfielders, and the USMNT’s James Sands plays the plurality of his minutes there, though sometimes in that hybrid CM/CB role (when he’s not playing as a pure defender). Alex Callens grades out to ASA’s Goals Added as one of the top CBs in the league, while Maxime Chanot is the team’s minutes leader though the numbers are lukewarm on him.
Goalkeeper Season Johnson is not having a good year (115% of xG allowed), though he’s got a long track record to indicate that he’s able to win his team a game on any given day. His backup, Luis Barraza, has similar quality numbers on a much lower sample size, for what it’s worth.
The Boys in Gold
As far as tactical approach goes, I think the “ain’t broke, don’t fix” principle comes into play. The 3-4-3/3-5-2 hybrid that we’ve seen in recent weeks, with CJ Sapong and Daniel Ríos up top and Hany Mukhtar underneath creating is the move. Meanwhile, Nashville can plug a now-healthy, no-longer-suspended Dax McCarty into the hole left by Godoy’s absence.
With a fully-healthy Nashville SC, there’s not a lot to say here: you should get the best-possible implementation of that talent. Given we’re headed into an international break – with NSC’s typical four headed up to World Cup Qualifiers – there’s little risk in giving long runs to some of the regular starters who might otherwise get a break.
Keys to the game
- Make Castellanos earn it. You aren’t going to shut down a guy like Taty Castellanos; your best hope is to make life difficult and annoying for him. Disrupting his connection with Moralez will be a key. He’s also shown a bit of a hot head in recent weeks, so frustrating him is wise.
- Get an early lead. NYC wants to play an open game either way, but when they get behind on the scoreboard, the back line can get really exposed.
- Set pieces. As usual, though it’s also worth noting that there’s not a ton of height in New York City’s backup defensive corps. Could be an opportunity for one of Nashville’s to rise up and head one home.
NYC wants revenge, and while Nashville typically does well against the better opposition – and in repeat fixtures against the same team – this is a tough overall ask.
NYCFC wins, 2-1.