Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2021: @ Philadelphia Union (Eastern Conference semifinal)

Can the Boys in Gold get revenge on one of the four teams to deal them a regular-season loss this year?

The essentials

Opponent: Philadelphia Union (14-8-12)
Time, Location: Saturday, Oct. 23, 4:30 p.m. CDT (5:30 local) • Chester, Pa.
Weather: 45ºF, 4% chance of rain, 59% humidity, 7mph Westerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: ESPN/ESPN+ (national) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)

Recent form (most recent first – via): W-D-W-D-W
Non-nerd stats: 54 points, 1.59 PPG (2nd East) • 1.41 GF/gm, 1.03 GA/gm
Nerd stats: +0.26 xG Power (9th MLS), +0.32 G Power (6th MLS). +0.06 “Luck” (6th MLS) • +0.06 Offense (10th MLS), -0.19 Defense (9th MLS). -0.26 home disadvantage (20th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +297, draw +210, Philadelphia Union +110

Match officials: Referee: Allen Chapman. Assistants: Ian Anderson, Cameron Blanchard. Fourth official: Victor Rivas. Video assistants: Jorge Gonzalez, Chris Elliott.

Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe to the podcast, running through the win over Orlando and a look at today’s game … The playlist … Content from the previous game against Philly

Philadelphia Union

Injury/availability report:
QUESTIONABLE: M Olivier Mbaizo (health protocols)

Much of this is going to be unchanged from just a few weeks ago

This is as clean an injury report as Philadelphia has had in a while, but it’s worth noting that the lone guy on it is an important one: right back Olivier Mbaizo has played the seventh-most minutes on the team this year (fourth among starting defenders! Credit the backline’s continuity for some of Andre Blake’s success!). He’s essentially a non-entity on offense, with just nine shots and 29 key passes (that ain’t nothin’ but it’s barely over half the key passes of his left-sided counterpart, Kai Wagner), but is beyond solid in the defensive two-thirds of the pitch.

In his stead (if he’s unable to go – I would imagine that’s the case, given he wasn’t on the Health and Safety Protocols list just last weekend, and usually you’d expect 10 days to clear them, but you never know when likely-vaccinated dudes pop positive tests), you’ll probably see Jamaica international Alvas Powell, along with the rest of that elite backline:

CBs Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes have played nearly every minute this year, and ASA‘s Goals Added has them each playing at an elite level. They both interrupt at an elite level, and are solid on the ball dribbling, too (keep in mind this is often a stylistic choice, and they do a lot of it because that’s the job in head coach Jim Curtin’s system), and Elliott is also contributing on offensive set pieces – he’s downright brobdingnagian at 6-6 – to give him a G+ of 3.43.

Oct. 23

The (potential) addition of Powell hardly breaks up the familiarity in front of goalkeeper Andre Blake – one of the league’s top keepers and my vote for GKOTY this season – though a hamstring injury kept him from seeing the field in the last qualifying window and he hasn’t seen the field for the Union since the first weekend in October.

In the midfield, Philly has shifted from a base 4-diamond-2 into more single-striker formations which have allowed head coach Jim Curtin to get five midfielders (or two defensive midfielders and an attacking midfielder plus two wingers) onto the field. With a healthy striker/attacker pool available – after Jamiro Monteiro and Sergio Santos have spent much of the second half of the year on the shelf – it’s totally possible that Curtin finds ways to get two strikers on the field once more.

One thing is for certain, and it’s that the preference is to get as much production out of Kacper Przybylko as possible. The goal-scorer against Nashville SC last time (albeit on a penalty kick) has twice as many goals as the No. 2 scorer on the team (Santos, in about half as many minutes).

Monteiro and Bedoya do a lot of the creating for this team (especially with Santos out, but Wagner can whip in some crosses himself, and when employed as a defensive midfielder, has much more offensive game than Flach has shown), and Przybylko is your No. 1 finisher. He has 10 goals on 7.89 xG, and has taken just one penalty on the year (Gazdag has also hit one). Wagner serves as the free-kick specialist, with two goals and an assist from dead balls.

Oct. 23

Philly has been press-heavy in recent seasons, though the shifting in formation has meant less of an opportunity to press from the front with two strikers – the Union will still get after it in the attacking half of the field, but with more single-high, Curtin’s squad is down to No. 6 in the league in ASA‘s G+ Interrupting metric on the far side of the midfield stripe.

The Boys in Gold

Injury/availability report:
QUESTIONABLE: D Dave Romney (calf)
OUT: F Daniel Ríos (ankle)

The only notable difference from a typical Nashville SC game will be the presence (or lack thereof) from Dave Romney. Gary Smith has made it clear multiple times this week that Romney is expected to go. That is, to me, “a good thing.”

Projected lineups

Keys to the game

  • Strike first. Beyond “duh,” it seems to be a particularly important factor against this Philly team, and it also prevents the Union from playing its preferred style.
  • Set pieces. Philly isn’t hugely set-piece-dependent, but Wagner is a major threat, Glesnes has a rocket so impressive is went viral last year, and there are a number of bigger guys to defense from dead balls. Not getting into those situations is choice No. 1, but Nashville needs to be able to lock down in them.
  • Be ready to get out of trouble and live to fight another day. In football, the concept of throwing the ball out of bounds rather than risking an interception or sack is an important factor in the development of a quarterback. In soccer – and particularly in this game – it means being willing to kick the ball upfield under pressure, and making Philly build from the back. Nashville hasn’t been dogmatic about playing out of the press, of course, but discretion will be the greater part of valor on this day.
  • Be ready to ride out some tense moments. I’d be lying if I said I expected Gary Smith to enact a gameplan other than “play to guarantee a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, and hope to nick a winner at some point.” So: so a good job with it.

Prediction

Adrian from Rocky voice “just win.”

Regulation ends in a 1-1 draw. Nashville wins 2-1 AET.

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