Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2021: @ Orlando City SC

Nashville SC can lock down a home playoff berth and approach an iron grip on the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s a big one in Central Florida.

The essentials

Opponent: Orlando City SC (12-9-11)
Time, Location: Sunday, Oct. 31, 3 p.m. CDT (4 local) • Orlando, Fla.
Weather: 74ºF, 1% chance of rain, 51% humidity, 9 mph WNW wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: Unimás/TUDN (nacional), Twitter (streaming en ingles) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)

Recent form (most recent first – via): L-D-D-W-W
Non-nerd stats: 47 points, 1.47 PPG (14th East) • 1.47 GF/gm, 1.47 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.04 xG Power (13th MLS), -0.01 G Power (16th MLS). +0.02 “Luck” (14th MLS) • -0.08 Offense (16th MLS), -0.04 Defense (12th MLS). +0.1 home advantage (13th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +237, draw +218, Orlando City +125

Match officials: Referee: Allen Chapman. Assistants: Matthew Nelson, Ian McKay. Fourth official: Lukasz Szpala. Video assistants: Rosendo Mendoza, Jose da Silva

Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe to the podcast, and this week we did a bonus to prepare for the second game … The playlist … Content from the previous game against Orlando … Playoff implications of this one.

Orlando City SC

Injury/availability report:
OUT: D João Moutinho (lower body), M Uri Rosell (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: M Raul Aguilera, D Rio Hope-Gund (lower body)

Orlando’s recent form is decent (1.5 PPG in the past six), but before that, OCSC had been on a slide that could have seen the Lions at risk of missing the playoffs completely, losing four straight – and three of those by multiple goals. That coincided with a fairly difficult road trip, so it’s fair to say that an Orlando team playing at home is the team that the totality of the season would indicate: fifth in the East with the opportunity this afternoon to set up for a Decision Day chance at homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs… or a strong chance to drop out of the field completely with a loss.

This is a team that the advanced stats say is pretty good at just about everything, but not elite in any one facet (and more importantly, the fact that Orlando isn’t bad in any particular way has kept the head above water even through some struggles). Perhaps most importantly, it’s a team that’s getting healthy at the right time – a contrast to Orlando teams of the recent past.

Striker Daryl Dike has played in the past 11 games, including nine starts – and he’s scored six goals in that time. Attacking midfielder Luis Nani’s annual October swoon has not really come to fruition with Óscar Pareja having managed his minutes at other points of the Summer, and he went just 45 in the loss to Columbus at the midweek (he typically plays less – if at all – on the road). The injury and international duty combo that kept keeper Pedro Gallese out of the lineup too much this Summer has come and gone. That’s all to say: the recent numbers aren’t likely a product of statistical noise, so much as Orlando legitimately playing as well as it has all Summer.

On Dike, here’s what I wrote in the last preview:

Dike has started each of the past five games up top, but he has not been as outrageously productive as he was as a rookie: 0.58 xG in 361 minutes (second-most of any attacker), and no assists to speak of. He’s still converting at a ridiculous clip, though, turning that pittance of xG into two goals – after he wasn’t hyper-productive immediately upon his return from the famed loan to Barnsley.

Sept. 29

He’s now up to eight goals on 6.21 xG for the season, and since he’s played so much less than the rest of the leaderboard, it’s fair to adjust his numbers to per-96… where he’s 20th among guys with more than 500ish minutes.

Nani remains the straw that stirs the drink when he’s healthy, being both a creator and a scorer from the left wing or a central attacking midfield spot. He’s second on the squad with 5.99 expected goals (which he’s converted into an eye-popping 10 tallies), and second only to CAM Mauricio Pereyra in expected assists, with 3.57 to Pereyra’s 4.05.

There are three realistic options for the right wing position, with Silvester van der Water and Americans Chris Mueller and Benji Michel all capable of playing on either wing (though Michael in particular is more apt to be used as the non-Nani player on the left wing as Nani’s minutes are managed). Michel has been the most offensively-productive as Mueller goes through the motions in advance of a winter transfer to Scotland, while van der Water is more of a depth piece at this stage of the year, as Nani is able to get bigger minutes in advance of the playoffs.

There’s also one more X-factor up front: DP striker Alexandre Pato has missed almost the entire year with injury, but has returned to make the bench in the past four games, making substitute appearances in a couple of them. He’s played vanishingly-few minutes this year (119 of them), so it’s impossible to read much into his statistical output, but a dude with 51 goals for AC Milan is not going to be chopped liver, even if the past few years of his career have been played mostly in a different Série A, in his home country of Brazil.

Moving backward in the formation to the defensive midfield, here’s what I wrote about them in my preview of the first OCSC game:

The defensive midfield in Orlando’s 4-2-3-1 sees Andrés Perea and Júnior Urso get the lion’s share of minutes… They’re both kinda horrible on the ball, but can work their way into dangerous areas offensively. Perea (you may recognize the name as a US U-23, after he switched form Colombia) is the more-mobile midfield destroyer, and Urso has a bit more shooting bite.

Aug. 18

Backup Uri Rosell is out while dealing with concussion protocol, so Jhegson Mendez and Joey DeZart are your next men up. They’re both more… well-rounded in their below-average-ness? But Mendez does have the ability to clean up messes and make tackles.

At this stage of the season, the first clause of what I said about the centerbacks still holds true from August:

Only three CBs have seen the starting lineup this season, in a fairly even rotation even though two of them are really good and one is not. That’s been because the two good ones, Robin Jansson (broken nose) and Antônio Carlos (concussion) have dealt with injuries, giving Rodrigo Schlegel right around a third of the minutes. He’s been a below-average interruptor – the other two are very good in that phase – foul-prone, and a bad passer where they other two are solid. At fullback, Kyle Smith can play on either side, and has had to with backs on the left (Joao Moutinho, new signing Emmanuel Más) and right (Ruan, academy product Michael Halliday) rotating somewhat. Ruan and Más are your offense-first guys, though it’s worth noting that Smith – who is a good passer, but far less in the attacking end than his compatriots – is basically the only stay-at-home guy.

Aug. 18

Jansson and Carlos have picked up even bigger shares of the load as they’re been healthy and available, but Schlegel still gets a fair amount of time. The one additional point I’d make for the CBs now is that Jansson is not really involved as a set-piece threat offensively, but when you have others who can take care of it (Carlos scored in the first game against Nashville, even), you don’t need that out of him.

The fullbacks remain one of my favorite parts of this Orlando City team, because it’s a really good group. With João Moutinho missing out this afternoon, it’ll be Ruan on the right and either Emanuel Más or Kyle Smith on the left (slightly out of position for the latter, but he’s a much better player than Más so he sees time over there). Ruan is a nice threat in the attack, but none of the options on the left (with Moutinho unavailable) provide the same danger.

Gallese has a very good reputation – and he makes some highlight-reel plays – but he’s performing at about the same level he did last year: a hair below bang-average. That Orlando’s other keeper options are nightmare scenarios for the Lions certainly makes him look quite a bit better in comparison, at least. Gallese commands his penalty area pretty well, but is a subpar distributor.

Overall, this is a decent Orlando team that’s playing some of its best ball of the year. Given that Nashville SC was unable to beat OCSC in either of the previous matchups – both of which took place in Nissan Stadium – a trip to Central Florida is going to be far from easy.

The Boys in Gold

Injury/availability report:
OUT: M Dax McCarty (hamstring), F Daniel Ríos (lower body)
SUSPENDED: D Dan Lovitz (yellow card accumulation)

Let us first take a quick updated look at the playoff picture. The broad view headed into the weekend looked like this, and now that a day of games (most of which did not go Nashville’s way – though NSC can no longer be the seven seed, and its chances of finishing high in the table are better, even if that “lock it in” result didn’t come through) is in the books, here’s what he have now:

Result v. ORL2nd3rd4th5th6th
Win.926.074
Draw.584.354.058.004
Loss.354.310.251.078.007
Now including every remaining game, so losses by teams outside the playoff field are no longer assumed. This makes it look slightly better for Nashville, despite a poor day of results.

Second place is the most-likely finish with any result today, while a win locks up a home playoff game (and very nearly the No. 2 seed). Nashville remains without captain Dax McCarty, which is not great, and loses Dan Lovitz to suspension after a yellow card against FC Cincinnati (frustratingly, if he’d just made the bench – even though NSC wasn’t going to use him while injured – in one of the prior three games, he would have had a yellow card taken off the disciplinary report and not been suspended for the yellow in Cincy), which is also not great. The absence of Daniel Ríos, while disappointing, may not be that significant with the emergence of Aké Loba as a guy who can play bigger minutes and have an offensive impact.

Less the two guys who are otherwise inked-in starters, you’ll see a strongest-available lineup, given the stakes. Nashville earned a massive result in Orlando on Decision Day last year, and with Hany Mukhtar and a near-full complement of healthy forwards around him, the offensive side of that is replicable.

NSC has given up set-piece goals in both games against OCSC, and the preference would be to do not that.

Projected lineups

Keys to the game

  • Set pieces. They’ve been an issue against this team.
  • Assert yourself early. Orlando has everything to play for. A loss or even a draw against Nashville could mean no trip to the postseason (or in the latter case, relying on tiebreakers to make the field). NSC needs to weather an early storm – or better yet, show that it’s the team serving as instigator.
  • Know the stakes. At the same time, Nashville can be much more comfortable settling for a draw if that’s what it comes down to. It’s not ideal (it means Philly’s inevitable win over FC Cincinnati would bump the Union ahead of NSC later this evening), but getting a home playoff match and having the chance to play for the No. 2 seed next weekend would be very nice indeed.
  • Make them run. Orlando has to conserve just a bit of energy in this one, so if you make the less-fit guys (traditionally Nani) run a little bit without the ball, you can either take away from their offensive strength when they’re on it, or better yet get them subbed out to be prepared for their Decision Day matchup with Montreal.

Prediction

Orlando has more to play for here – technically the No. 2 playoff spot is available to OCSC, as well, but the range of outcomes goes all the way down to “finish outside the playoffs” – so Nashville doesn’t necessarily feel the need to force the action. Absorbing pressure and hoping to hit on the counter seems like a recipe for an evenly-played game where either team could nick a winner, but the most likely outcome feels like a draw.

The game ends in a 1-1 draw.

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