This is one of the worst teams in MLS three years running. Trap game?
Opponent: San Jose Earthquakes (0-4-2)
Time, Location: Saturday, April 16, 2:30 p.m. CST (12:30 local) • San Jose, Calif.
Weather: 62ºF, 4% chance of rain, 90% humidity, 8 mph Westerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: Univision/TUDN (national), Twitter (ugh) • 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): L-D-L-L-D
Non-nerd stats (2021): 41 points, 1.21 PPG (10th West) • 1.35 GF/gm, 1.59 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.47 xG Power (23rd MLS), -0.19 G Power (20th MLS). +0.27 “Luck” (5th MLS) • +0.08 Offense (7th MLS), +0.55 Defense (27th MLS). +0.13 home advantage (11th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +143, draw +229, San Jose Earthquakes +194
Match officials: Referee: Tim Ford. Assistants: Jeff Hosking, Jeremy Kieso. Fourth official: Victor Rivas. Video assistants: Malik Badawi, Mike Kampmeinert
San Jose Earthquakes
OUT: M Gilbert Fuentes (personal), M Judson (knee), F Benji Kikanovic (trunk), G Emi Ochoa, M Niko Tsakiris (GA Cup) QUEST.: M Chofis, D Marcos Lopez (thigh)
The injury report is not the reason San Jose is bad – survey says: extremely public “you can’t not fire me, I don’t quit!” spat between head coach and management is not ideal – but it’s not helpful: El Chofís (known to the government of his native Mexico as Javier Eduardo Lopez, which is not nearly as fun as the nickname) was the team’s leading xG+xA producer last year, Judson (known to the government of his native Brazil as Judson Silva Tavares) was an every-healthy-game starter at one of the DM spots, and Peruvian Marcos López (no fun mononym available) played the plurality of minutes on the left side. Fuentes, Kikanovic, Ochoa, and Tsakiris are products of the SJE youth system, with only Kikanovic having played significant minutes thus far for the club.
In the absence of Chofis, DM Jan Gregus (late of Minnesota United) and attacking mid Jamiro Monteiro (late of Philadelphia Union) have handled the majority of the creation, with USYNT and Earthquakes Academy product Cade Cowell getting some work done from the wing, too. The finishing has fallen on the shoulders of Jeremy Ebobisse, a former Portland Timber mainstay and fave-rave of this here website, and he has three goals in 537 minutes, converting slightly over his expected goals (2.71).
In between daring the Quakes’ management to fire him, San Jose manager Matías Almeyda has been formationally flexible, with iterations on a 3-4-3 (after a 3-5-2 was one of the primary philosophies last year), a 4-3-3, and a 4-2-3-1 already on display this year. Given the injury situation, the likely front four in a 4-2-3-1 is Cristian Espinoza, Ebobisse, and Cowell with Monteiro creating from the middle.
Eric Remedi and Gregus were a double-pivot early in the year (with Gregus getting a little more forward in 4-3-3 principles), but with Jackson Yueill off the injury list, he’s replaced Remedi. It’s worth noting that Remedi, who was a notably terrible player in his previous life with Atlanta United, has been solidly above-average according to American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added for the year and change he’s been with the Quakes, with a particular strength as a midfield destroyer, so while your eyes may light up recalling the Atlanta version of him, he’s not that bad anymore. Yueill, meanwhile, has played as a CM/CB hybrid – like we’ve seen out of Dax McCarty for Nashville this season – as Almeyda tries something anything to not have a defense that’s (significantly!) worse than FC Cincinnati’s, to no avail. He was a pure CB in the 4-2-3-1 early in the year (presumably to take advantage of his ability to hit the long diagonal?), but that’s been scrapped.
With Yueill pushed back up into the midfield line, former Minnesota United/Chicago Fire CB Francisco Calvo and third-year youngster Tanner Beason have been the CB pairing. Calvo has actually been outstanding, but Beason has brought extremely little to the table. Flanking them have been Marcos Lopez (in case he’s out, Chofis has actually been playing there as something of a wingback, so I would imagine one or the other will be available, even if sub-100%) and Paul Marie. Tommy Thompson, a fullback by trade, has also been at RWB, so perhaps one of he and Marie could play on his week foot if necessary, I guess. Thompson gets upfield while Marie has been marginally involved in the attack.
Put it all together and keeper JT Marcinkowski has been taking a ton of rubber for this team. To add insult to injury, he’s been near-terrible in handling the shelling he is getting! For his career, he’s a slightly better-than-average shot-stopper, but he’s allowing 122% of xG against… and given that the Quakes are giving up the most xG in the league (2.2 more than anyone else who’s played the same number of games), it’s not looking good.
And again, the coach is daring management to fire him. It’s a mess.
The Boys in Gold
OUT: F Teal Bunbury (knee), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Koze Donsiyano (thigh)
Things are going well, the team has handled adversity of a long roadtrip, Gary Smith owes us a jig, Dax McCarty is back.
While Dax’s availability returns some flexibility to the tactical approach, my guess is that we see the same formational philosophy that we saw with him out of the lineup, just with the talent fully upgraded to a first-choice group. On the other other hand, I could easily see Gary Smith running it back with the group that started in Kansas City – which was the first-choice group at the beginning of Tuesday’s open training session – and having plenty of firepower available off the bench.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. Obvs
- Make them run. A big part of Matías Almeyda’s problem is that he’s a purist when it comes to his man-marking system, and though it hasn’t worked basically at all in MLS, it’s a hill he’s willing to die on. Straining the cardiovascular capacities of his team is one way to wear your way into a bunch of chances late
- Don’t get down if you give up goals. There are enough good players here to score goals for San Jose. There is enough craziness inserted by the Quakes’ tactical approach that those guys are going to get (and convert) chances. But the flipside is that even if you do give up goals, you’re going to have more than enough opportunity to make up for it on the other end.
- Precision finishing. We have not seen it out of Nashville with any consistency this year (though the numbers are going to look a little uglier because of the missed pen last weekend). Tuning up the shooting boots for Hany Mukhtar, CJ Sapong, and Randall Leal will give this team the opportunity to raise the ceiling going forward, and there’s no better team to get tuned up against than a Quakes side that will let you have plenty of bites at the apple.
- Don’t overlook em. They stink as a team, but the pieces are there to spring upsets if you don’t take them seriously.
This is a quintessential trap game, which is inherently scary: there’s no metric by which you’d expect Nashville SC to lose. Keeping out of the realm of entitlement to win, and going out and doing what it takes to earn said win will allow NSC to avoid the trap.
Nashville SC 3, San Jose Earthquakes 2