The Yotes have a pair of results in the first two games of their long road trip. Coming up? One that projects as the easiest thus far.
All stats from 2021 season
Opponent: FC Dallas (7-15-12)
Time, Location: Saturday, March 12, 7:30 p.m. CST • Toyota Stadium, Frisco Texas
Weather: 49ºF, 0% chance of rain, 32% humidity, 10 mph Southerly 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): L-D
Non-nerd stats: 33 points, 0.97 PPG (11th West) • 1.38 GF/gm, 1.65 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.26 xG Power (18th MLS), -0.20 G Power (21st MLS). +0.05 “Luck” (13th MLS) • -0.14 Offense (20th MLS), +0.12 Defense (17th MLS). -0.02 home disadvantage (18th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +188, draw +211, FC Dallas +157
Match officials: Referee: Ramy Touchan. Assistants: Brian Dunn, Gjovalin Bori. Fourth official: Jeremy Scheer. Video assistants: Jon Freemon, Jennifer Garner
OUT: M Nick Hernandez (leg surgery)
FC Dallas was pretty bad last year, and whoever bears the most blame, head coach Luchi Gonzalez is the one who got the axe (based on my phrasing there, you can infer that I do not believe he was the one who bore the most blame, but alas). Incoming is former Columbus Crew and US National Team assistant Nico Estevez.
Plenty of other changes came through for the Toros, as well: star striker Ricardo Pepi – last year’s highest-scoring American in MLS – was sold to the Bundesliga’s Augsburg, some of that money was used to trade for Paul Arriola within the league, and Dallas also traded away stalwart defender Ryan Hollingshead. It’s a very different looking squad than a year ago. It’s even differenter than the only times NSC has run up against FCD, back in 2020.
Since Estevez has run out the exact same lineup in the first two games, we’ll just go ahead and assume more of the same today, and that means a front three of LW Jader Obrian, Ferreira in the center, and Arriola on the right wing. They’ve combined for eight shots through two games, with Obrian scoring the team’s lone goal thus far. Based on last year’s data, Obrian is a very talented player when it comes to getting into dangerous positions and finishing, but pretty bad at just about everything else. Ferreira was very good in the press, but bad at getting into dangerous positions (though shifting to more of a pure striker or false-9 rather than a miscast attacking mid is likely to change the complexion of his stats). For DC United, Arriola was elite at everything except getting involved defensively. He’s a Gary Smith fave, to say the least.
“I think he’s a complete wide player, in terms of goal threat, creation, workrate, team player, and technician,” Smith said. “But look: he adds an experience, a quality, and I would suspect a standard in what we would normally see as a young Dallas group. I think he’s a tremendous addition for them. I’m sure he not only will be successful there, but he’ll be an individual that holds those guys accountable, and gives them a level and an expectancy to achieve.”
Behind that trio are attacking mids Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania, both former US Youth Internationals. If not for consistent injuries, Pomykal may very well be a regular for the USMNT at this point. Those injuries also prevent us from getting too firm a grip on what he played like last year, though as a central midfielder rather than his previous role as a winger, according to ASA‘s Goals Added, he’s good at taking guys on the dribble, about replacement-level as a passer, and below average at other areas of attacking play. Servania’s historically a bit more of a stay-at-home No. 8, though he does like to uncork one here and there.
That leaves lone holder Edwin Cerrillo as the most-defensive of the trio. G+ doesn’t like much of anything about his game, if we’re being a little brutally honest here. He can cover the width of the pitch, but isn’t particularly disruptive (given the position he plays) and tends to be extremely conservative with his passing. A poor man’s Brian Anunga, if you will.
Marco Farfan (the player FCD traded for Hollingshead straight-up) and Ema Twumasi have started both games at fullback. Farfan was extremely stay-at-home for LAFC – though it’s worth noting that the defense there was a shambles, so the degree to which he stayed at home as a part of that may indicate bad one-v-one defending – sort of a total departure from the roaming Hollingshead of the past few years. Twumasi would dribble a guy here and there, but was similarly stay-at-home for FCD a year ago. Like Farfan, he was not a particularly disruptive defender, and when you have that attribute on a defense that stinks overall, it doesn’t reflect particularly well on you. In the middle, Jose Martínez and Matt Hedges have been the guys. Martínez was very very low on the interruption scale (see what I just said about Twumasi in terms of value judgments), but a very good passer out of the back a year ago. Hedges, an FCD lifer, has always been an elite interruptor, and he’s solid on the ball. He’s never really been known as an offensive threat, though.
In net, 23-year old Dutch Youth International Maarten Paes has gotten every minutes to date. One of the two goals he’s given up was a penalty to Carles Gil (understandable), and the advanced numbers – early though it is in the season – have his shot-stopping as pretty solid. Against a Toronto team that looks pretty bad and a New England Revolution that, uh, was revolved? (will workshop this later), we don’t have a ton of data against reasonably strong competition, though. He could be awesome, he could be replacement level, he could be worse. He’s on loan with FCD from Utretcht in his home country – where he was starting, so that’s a little odd – but beat out Jimmy Maurer, who started the majority of the year last year.
The substitutions to date have largely been “put fresh legs on around the 70th minute” in type, with rookie SuperDraft pick (that’s a !! for a club with a good academy, to me) Tsiki Ntsabeleng, Porto loanee Nanu, and former Philly Union homegrown Kalil ElMedkhar getting into all three games.
Given the results against the strength of competition played, this is definitely not a good FC Dallas team at this point. Of course, it’s a totally reshaped team with a new head coach, so the growth curve in the early stages of the season could be rapid… or it could take a little while to click and Nashville’s getting em at the right time.
“This [Dallas] group is more youthful, it’s energetic. They’ve got a front three that want to get beyond the backline. I expect that we’re gong to see a team that slowly-but-surely are starting to find their feet in this new 4-3-3 since then. They are always going to be a problem with the creative players that they have. Will they always get – in the early stages – the connections right? Maybe not, and hopefully not at the weekend. But I think over time, you’re going to see a really useful team here, with some very positive additions to the group.”
The Boys in Gold
OUT: M Irakoze Donasiyano (leg)
Smith may have hinted – or may not have! – that we could see slight changes to the lineup.
“The three midfield players [Sean Davis, Aníbal Godoy, Dax McCarty] have got through a tremendous amount of work, as well,” he said. “A tremendous amount. So I’ll start to look very, very closely at that. Obviously, I don’t want to divulge too much for the weekend, but there’s much more scrutiny on that area of the field in particular. And of course, with the attackers, it’s always nice to see them do well, but I also want to keep the players that are on the sidelines engaged, I want to keep them enthused and confident to be around the group, and we’ve of course got two or three bodies on the line that I think could easily walk into most other MLS teams.”
Could it be a chance to rest McCarty or Godoy to keep them fresh for later in the road trip? Could it be a chance to get a different attacking player on the field? Could one simple change to a formation that this club has used regularly accomplish both of those goals?
That’s right kids, we’re two games in and “Tim incorrectly predicts shift back to the 4-2-3-1” is already making an appearance. It does make a lot of sense, though: the rest and rotation noted above, plus you have the opportunity to have a little bit more of your defense helping in wide areas up the pitch to slow down a couple talented wingers, you use two central midfielders to make life difficult on a striker that wants to drop into midfield to get on the ball, and there are more opportunities for an attacking player to sub in.
All that and it’s not so different from what you were doing in the weeks before, anyway. So naturally it will not happen.
Smith: “So I want to be very, very careful and try and find the right balance between too many changes, and a loss of continuity; not enough changes, and maybe putting too much stress on the players that are playing, and losing one or two of the bodies that are not.”
I want to believe.
As for the primary weakness of Nashville SC last year, and a potential recurrence against Minnesota United… the team isn’t too concerned with set-piece defense just yet.
“Our setup was, for the most part, pretty good,” keeper Joe Willlis said. “We had guys attacking the ball. It was a little bit of a fluky play in weird conditions, so we’re going to try not to think to much about that, and focus on what we can do going forward. I think we’re just gonna chalk that one up to a bit of bad luck and we’re confident in where we are with our defensive set pieces right now.”
Dallas was not particularly set-piece-dependent last year, so it may well not be a concern this week, even if there’s still work to do n consistency.
Keys to the game
- Handle the wingers. Perhaps easier said than done! But they’re dangerous pllayers both with the ball at their feet and making runs in-behind.
- Physical with Ferreira. The complementary piece to preventing the wingers from beating you? Preventing Ferreira from getting it to them cleanly in good positions. Denying him the ball, and when he gets on it, denying him outgoing passing lanes. This is the way.
- Get an early lead. For all Dallas’s talent, this is a team designed to play open games against opponents who are also playing an open game. They’ll have difficulty breaking down NSC if the Boys in Gold don’t have to be overly concerned with finding a way forward.
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
Man. This FC Dallas team is bad. But they have the pieces to change that in a hurry! But the pieces do not have the chemistry yet. But it could click at any point!
Either way, it reads like a game that Nashville should win, but very well may not. I have a hard time seeing worse than a draw though, so why not?
With goals from Randall Leal and CJ Sapong, Nashville builds an early lead and holds on for a 2-1 win.