After last week’s disappointment, can the Boys in Gold get back on the right side of the ledger in a place they got a result last year?
All stats from 2021 season
Opponent: Real Salt Lake (14-14-6)
Time, Location: Saturday, March 19, 8:30 p.m. CST (7:30 local) • Sandy, Utah
Weather: 55ºF, 11% chance of rain, 24% humidity, 13 mph Southerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), WatchESPN (national) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Watch Party: At MLS Rose 8th South with C&C podcast sponsor MLS Rose, the Music City Heaters, and the Eastern Front Supporters Group
Recent form (most recent first): W-W-D
Non-nerd stats: 48 points, 1.41 PPG (7th West) • 1.62 GF/gm, 1.59 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.30 xG Power (20th MLS), +0.05 G Power (13th MLS). +0.35 “Luck” (4th MLS) • -0.02 Offense (13th MLS), +0.27 Defense (23rd MLS). -0.15 home disadvantage (19th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +181, draw +199, Real Salt Lake +174
Match officials: Referee: Tori Penso. Assistants: Jose Da Silva, Brooke Mayo. Fourth official: Jair Marrufo. Video assistants: Sorin Stoica, Peter Balciunas
Real Salt Lake
OUT: D Zack Farnsworth (ankle), F Nick Besler (nose), D Bret Halsey (ankle), G David Ochoa (quad)
QUEST.: F Damir Kreilach (calf), D Aaron Herrera (quad), F Rubio Rubin (groin), F Sergio Cordova (knee), M Maikel Chang (Concussion protocol)
For multiple reasons (head coach to end the season is Gary Smith disciple, team won playoff game without attempting a shot, etc.), Real Salt Lake had a reputation similar to Nashville’s “defense first, might score if forced” one – both of which were likely unfair – but RSL was actually a fairly high-scoring, fairly horrifically-defending squad last year. Your memory of Nashville’s game in Rio Tinto Stadium does not deceive you, but that’s also not what RSL was most of the year.
This year’s edition is led in the creation department by Argentine central midfielder Pablo Ruiz, the shooting department by former US International (and midseason signing a year ago) Bobby Wood, with Venezuelan attacking mid Sergio Córdova providing a bit of both (but tilted toward shooting, no questions asked).
It’s been a 3-4-3 in both games, with Wood in the middle of a front line flanked by Justin Meram and either Damir Kreilach (one of last year’s star attackers) or Maikel Chang – with both of those guys questionable this evening, Córdova (who replaced the injured Chang in the 14th minute last week) is likely to be that second winger.
CB Justen Glad has more attacking output (thanks to a set-piece tally late in last week’s game) than either of the wingbacks, so you can certainly expect that the offense comes from the front three and Ruíz, not from crosses whipped in from the edges.
Right wingback Andrew Brody is the only non-attacking player with a positive G+ so far this year, so there’s a question about whether you could expect RSL’s results to regress toward what the advanced stats might expect of them. That’s particularly true given that last year’s team was one of the luckiest in the league, and starting keeper David Ochoa has not even played yet. It’s worth noting that Ochoa is a career below-average shot-stopper in both USL and MLS, but his backup, Zack MacMath, is having a career-best year that you’d be taking a leap of faith (albeit a potentially justifiable one) to assume continues.
The Boys in Gold
OUT: D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Koze Donasiyano (thigh)
Gary Smith kept his lineup consistent last week (albeit with tactical tweaks while utilizing the same personnel), and partially got burned for it: Dax McCarty went out injured, the midfield and attack looked semi-listless, and NSC took a loss for the first time in 2022.
That said, even the advanced numbers are a little harsh on the performance. Dallas’s first goal was a semi-questionable (as we said on the podcast, ultimately fair – though soft) penalty, and from there the well-deserved second goal was a result of chasing the equalizer. Nashville SC didn’t put a shot on goal, but until the FCD goal – which, it’s important to note, still counts – this was a fairly even game with neither team mustering much. If it’d ended up a deserved scoreless draw, folks wouldn’t have been too upset.
I have to imagine he protects McCarty just a bit this evening, bringing him off the bench or putting him in a true midfield role rather than at the bottom point of a diamond that asks a lot of him against good (and physical) attackers. I said it last week and I’ll say it again: a return to the 4-2-3-1 lets your oldest players rest, and allows more attackers on the field. It’s time.
Keys to the game
- Win said game.
It’ll be interesting to see how much of this early success is fool’s gold, versus RSL performing over baseline stats… while those baseline stats are set to improve, rather than the results regress to them. Nashville’s determined to get back into the “earn points” realm, though, and that’s often a tough nut to crack when the Boys in Gold aren’t forcing things offensively.
The game ends in a 1-1 draw.