After a perception-altering win in the PNW last weekend, the Boys in Gold take their show to the Midwest with a chance to prove a victory over Seattle was far from a fluke.
All stats from 2021 season
Opponent: Minnesota United FC (13-11-10)
Time, Location: Saturday, March 5, 5:00 p.m. CST • Allianz Field, St. Paul Minn.
Weather: 39ºF, 93% chance of rain, 94% humidity, 10 mph Northerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), WatchESPN (national) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Recent form (most recent first): D
Non-nerd stats: 49 points, 1.44 PPG (5th West) • 1.24 GF/gm, 1.29 GA/gm
Nerd stats: +0.46 xG Power (6th MLS), -0.05 G Power (18th MLS). -0.51 “Luck” (25th MLS) • +0.24 Offense (5th MLS), -0.22 Defense (8th MLS). -0.10 home disadvantage (18th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +239, draw +222, Seattle Sounders +123
Match officials: Referee: Armando Villareal. Assistants: Logan Brown, Kevin Klinger. Fourth official: Joshua Encarnación. Video assistants: Chico Grajeda, Ian McKay
OUT: M Kervin Arriaga (thorax), F Patrick Weah (ACL)
QUESTIONABLE: F Abu Danladi (thigh), D Chase Gasper (head), M Jacori Hayes (thigh), D Romain Metanire (thigh)
Minnesota was kinda but but extremely lucky in 2020, and flipped that to being very good but a little unlucky a year ago. The variability in team quality largely came down to defense: the Loons remained consistent offensively, but went from terrible to quite good on the other end of the pitch. That the shift has coincided with a major dropoff in goalkeeping has obscured some of the improvement.
So let’s start with that goalkeeper: Dayne St. Clair was the primary starter in 2020 and allowed just 84% of xG, but in limited minutes last year he allowed 129%. Tyler Miller was oft-injured in 2020 but rose to the full-time No. 1 last year, and has been pretty close to average in both seasons, though he performed a bit better last year (still not as well as St. Clair played in 2020).
The lineup in front of him last week was basically as-expected, given the absences of Chase Gasper and Roman Metanire: Bakaye DiBassy slid out to the LB role vacated by Gasper, while his usual CB partner Michael Boxall was instead accompanied by Brent Kallman in the middle. Oneil Fisher played Metanire’s typical RB role. With both of those fullbacks questionable (rather than out), it’s possible we see an upgrade. Metanire is one of the most dangerous attacking fullbacks in the league, while Gasper’s presence would allow DiBassy to play his more natural role in the center. The slightly makeshift group held Philly to just 1.3 expected goals last weekend in Chester (with 0.53 of those coming on the set-piece goal the Union scored), so you’d be hard-pressed to call it a liability one way or the other.
In front of the backline, US Youth International Hassani Dotson is one half of the typical 4-2-3-1 double-pivot. He’s an uninspiring run-of-play attacker, though he did score a pair of goals (on nearly 4 xG) last season. The other starter is actually less of a mystery than it was last week: Wil Trapp is back off the injured list, while the player who started in his stead (Kervin Arriaga) is now on it with an unspecified trunk injury. Trapp is very reminiscent of a poor man’s Dax McCarty, slightly less mobile than Peak Dax, but perhaps a little bit tidier on the ball lately. He’s a very good passer from the 6 position (you may recall he was a heavy feature in the early days of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT tenure as a Michael Bradley replacement), but even more stay-at-home than Dotson tends to be.
Robin Lød, Emanuel Reynoso, and Franco Fragapane are mainstays in the attacking midfield line. Reynoso, the Argentine DP, is one of the most dangerous creators in the league (his teammates did him dirty last year by converting 3.5 fewer goals than expected from his key passes), very good on the dribble but most keep to unlock the opposing defense with incisive passes. Lød is the team’s top finisher, excelling at getting into dangerous positions and finishing – Fragapane stronger at the former than the latter (while also bringing quite a bit more in the distribution department).
Luis Amarilla started up top last week before ceding the final 14 minutes to Adrien Hunou. Amarilla has been off-and-on a member of Minnesota United in the past two years, being loaned in and battling injury before joining on a full transfer as a DP this preseason. In his previous stint back in 2020, he was good at the goal-scoring parts of the position, but didn’t provide much else on-ball or defensively. Hunou, a 28-year old Frenchman, was one of the primary perpetrators of the poor finishing Minnesota suffered from last year, and Goals Added considered him one of the lowest-regarded strikers in the league (though nobody held a candle to FC Cincinnati’s Brenner, the worst by a wide margin).
Minnesota’s attack and defense were heavily impacted by set pieces a year ago, with 12 of 41 goals for coming from dead-ball situations (they added an own-goal, not counted there, and 11 of 42 goals conceded from those situations.
The Boys in Gold
Cap’n Crunch Oops All Healthy
Nashville sent a message to the West on Sunday, and any result here would probably be enough to consolidate that into a “we’re for real” reputation. That may or may not be easier said than done.
How will Nashville line up? Last week’s 3-4-3/4-4-2 hybrid seemed specifically designed to shut down a Seattle group that boasts the type of talent the Sounders have – though they were without some of the key pieces of that – so there are no guarantees that the same philosophy appears in the Twin Cities. Whether that means a more-traditional three-man backline or a more traditional four-man backline is up for interpretation, because Gary Smith has proven to be very willing to use both in the past.
In what projects to be trash weather, I would not expect to see much in the way of trying to be expansive. It’s early in the season and Minnesota has natural turf, so the field conditions may not be that poor, but the ability to move the ball on the deck and dribble (things that Nashville’s run-of-play offense tends to rely upon) could be limited. A conservative “let’s see if we can nick one on a set piece” philosophy seems more than possible.
Keys to the game
- Nothing cheap. This Minnesota United team has attacking pieces that are dangerous. Nonetheless, the Loons don’t always create a ton through the run of play. So make them earn it.
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
- Deal with the conditions. If the field drains well, the Yotes may be able to play a fairly typical game. But in what projects to be driving rain, it may not be pretty anyway.
- Moments of magic. Minnesota has Emanuel Reynoso and Robin Lød, Nashville, has Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal. Whoever sees the stars step up will earn the win.
It’s gon’ be nasty out here. Given that, I think both coaches will focus on solidity at the back and not giving up anything cheap. A set piece or moment of brilliance could change the outcome, but the baseline prediction is
A scoreless draw.