Can we finally find a winner in the 2021 phase of this rivalry? It may take extra time – or even penalties – but in the MLS Cup Playoffs, there’s no other option.
Opponent: Orlando City SC (13-9-12)
Time, Location: Tuesday, Nov. 23, 7 p.m. CDT (4 local) • Nissan Stadium
Weather: 38ºF, 1% chance of rain, 59% humidity, negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: FS1 (National broadcast) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Recent form (most recent first – via): W-D-L-D-D
Non-nerd stats: 51 points, 1.50 PPG (6th East) • 1.47 GF/gm, 1.41 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.07 xG Power (14th MLS), +0.04 G Power (14th MLS). +0.10 “Luck” (10th MLS) • -0.11 Offense (19th MLS), -0.04 Defense (12th MLS). -0.07 away disadvantage (16th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -120, draw +241, Orlando City +376
Match officials: Referee: Ismail Elfath. Assistants: Adam Wienckowski, Corey Parker.
Fourth: Guido Gonzales Jr.; Video Assistant: Kevin Stott, Cory Richardson
Orlando City SC
OUT: M David Loera (lower body)
There’s not a ton that needs to be said here. Orlando City is as healthy as the team has been all year (Loera has just one appearance on the season, despite not being injured for most of it), with an extra few days of rest for the likes of winger Luis Nani – who famously needs it late in seasons, at least at this stage in his career – and striker Alexandre Pato, who missed much of the season coming back from injury.
There’s not a ton to say about this team that I haven’t already. So let’s relive some of that (with updated numbers in bold).
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 6.02 expected goals (which he’s converted into an eye-popping 10 tallies), and second only to CAM Mauricio Pereyra in expected assists, with 3.72 to Pereyra’s 4.16.Oct. 31
A version of Nani with 90-minute fitness regularly is… well, he’d still be in the Premier League. He was completely rested for the season finale against Montreal (the Lions needed just a draw, and took an early 1-0 lead en route to a 2-0 victory), so he’s been able to get off his feet for the better part of a month at this point: if Orlando City needs him, he should be able to give his all.
The finishing (Dike) and creating (Pereyra) are still coming from the same places, with wingers like Benji Michel (a fave-rave of this site) and Chris Mueller (a former fave-rave of this site, before a major dropoff this season in advance of a move to Scotland at its conclusion) non-Nani options at the primary wing roles. Silvester van der Water has been an increasingly important piece of this team as well, and while he’s not much of a goal threat except on set pieces (where he’s second-banana to Nani when the latter is healthy, rested, and available), he’s a good assist threat from the run of play.
I’ve been – and remain – a little surprised that American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added doesn’t like the OCSC defensive midfield at all, given my own opinions about that group. US Youth international Andrés Perea is the top-rated guy in the group, which matches the eye test, but still sees him come in just below-average overall (-0.08). Jhegson – apparently we’re just calling him “Sebas Mendez” now? which is way less fun? – is right behind him, while Uri Rosell (oft-injured this year) and Junior Urso don’t bring the same level of interrupting to scrape to near-average. Urso brings a bit more punch offensively, particularly in terms of getting into dangerous areas, but also with plus finishing.
The fullbacks, meanwhile, have a similar glow to the eye test and G+. From last time around:
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.Oct. 31
Moutinho back! But Más started over him on the left on decision day, and if “available” is a few shades of gray away from “at full strength,” head coach Óscar Pareja may leave him as a bench option. Ruan’s offense on the right (four assists on 2.79 xA, two goals on 1.06 xG) could be enough that a more stay-at-home option like Smith or Más is the move.
The two primary centerbacks – Antônio Carlos and Robin Jansson – are both extremely good. Rodrigo Schlegel has a bit of playoff magic to him (winning a PK shootout in goal last year), and has turned in a few good performances over Nashville the past couple years, but is a step down in overall quality.
Speaking of the guy who necessitated Schlegel’s stint in goal against NYCFC last year (the rules changed as a direct effect of his dismissal in a shootout last year, in fact), Pedro Gallese continues his streak of being a very highly-regarded goalkeeper who’s, like, fine. OCSC is totally in trouble without him – Mason Stajduhar is a nice story as the first Orlando City homegrown, and certainly put in some important minutes this year, but has proven to not be an MLS-caliber goalkeeper – but his numbers are just a hint better than average this year, and were a hint below it last year: he’s a replacement-level keeper on $41`0k and an international slot.
Overall, it’s worth noting that Orlando’s goals against Nashville this year were as follows: Set piece header (Antônio Carlos from a Pereyra corner) in a 1-1 draw, penalty and set piece OG (Dike and Tah Brian Anunga, potentially through some pretty significant contact that gets called in other situations) in a 2-2 draw, and a well-worked team goal with Mueller finding the endline and pulling back to Dike (who cemented his status as one of our greatest Americans with a mummy celebration on Halloween, a callback to his mummy celebration with a head injury in the first 2020 matchup between these sides). Orlando hasn’t had an easy time creating goals against Nashville, and hasn’t done it at all from the run of play in Music City.
The Boys in Gold
OUT: F Daniel Ríos (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: D Dave Romney (calf)
While Dave Romney is still questionable, I have to think the fact that he was only kept off precautionarily in the Decision Day game against New York Red Bulls more than two weeks ago means he’s going to play.
There’s not much to say here, with only one question: was Nashville’s late-season swoon on offense a product of playing a bunch of games in quick succession and almost all on the road? Or the individuals’ form dipping late in the year? I would lean toward the former, though I know the… less analytically inclined and sample-size aware have other opinions. It’s simple, though: If Hany Mukhtar and CJ Sapong are on their game, Nashville should be creating chances. If the guys behind them (and Randall Leal) are on their game, it’ll be incredible difficult for Orlando to create any of its own.
Nashville is the healthy Vegas and xG Power (and G Power) favorite in this game, and for good reason. But, as they say, goals change games, so unless and until the expected advantage between the white lines leads to one on the scoreboard, Orlando City is close enough in quality – and frankly has a greater breadth of game-changers, even if there’s no Mukhtar – that it’s no layup.
Dan Lovitz not included only so I can re-use the graphic from last time around rather than making a new one. We regret the error.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. They’ve been an issue against this team. In fact, the only issue against this team.
- Assert yourself early. It’s simple: Nashville is the better team. As long as that’s on display early, and Orlando can’t get a magical moment for a goal, the Boys in Gold should be able to control proceedings (even if that includes “control” without “possession”).
- Make them run. Orlando has a number of young, energetic guys. But they also have a few obvious weak points from a fitness/stamina perspective, and Nashville needs to take advantage of that.
2-1 Nashville (AET)