Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2022: @ Los Angeles Galaxy

The Galaxy makes good on the promise of Chicharito? A trip to the playoffs would be his first taste of MLS postseason in three years in the league.

The essentials

Opponent: Los Angeles Galaxy (4-2-1)
Time, Location: Saturday, April 23, 9:30 p.m. CST (7:30 local) • Carson, Calif.
Weather: 65ºF, 1% chance of rain, 50% humidity, 8 mph Westerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local) ESPN+ (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): D-W-W-L-L
Non-nerd stats (2021): 48 points, 1.41 PPG (8th West) • 1.47 GF/gm, 1.59 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.06 xG Power (13rd MLS), -0.15 G Power (19th MLS). -0.09 “Luck” (18th MLS) • +0.07 Offense (9th MLS), +0.13 Defense (18th MLS). -0.43 home advantage (23rd MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +282, draw +245, Los Angeles Galaxy -101

Match officials: Referee: Allan Chapman. Assistants: Cameron Blanchard, Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho. Fourth official: JC Griggs. Video assistants: Kevin Stott, Rene Parras

Los Angeles Galaxy

Injury/availability report:
OUT: M Adam Saldaña (ankle), D Jorge Villafaña (knee), M Victor Vásquez (thigh)

The injury report is largely irrelevant this week: Saldaña and Villafaña have yet to play this year, so their losses won’t be felt, and while Vázquez is a contributor… the Galaxy’s best path to victory is his not playing (because Chicharito is performing well – Dejan Joveljic is the depth striker in Vázquez’s absence).

The star of the show is Chicharito, of course, the former Mexico International whose absence from El Trí has only served to to somehow make him even more popular (also if Tata Martino were a better-than-replacement coach, The Little Pea would be playing with the national team anyway). He scored in the Galaxy’s return from the Covid break in 2021 – his third game in LA – and then… just once the rest of the season as LA missed the playoffs. Change in coaches (enter Greg Vanney), change in volume of offseason Instagram training sessions, and he came out last year boots blazing: five goals in his first two games as he led the Galaxy to a pair of impressive wins and 10 goals through the first 10 games of the year and a 7-3-0 record. He missed nearly three months with a calf injury, and the Galacticos didn’t win seven more games ALL YEAR. So as Chicahrito goes, the team goes.

So for a crucially important guy who’s had soft-tissue injuries in the past… needing him for spot minutes to see out a midweek US Open Cup match is less-than-ideal. It probably wasn’t enough to fatigue him – less than a training session! – but it’s not what Greg Vanney wanted.

Wingers Kevin Cabral and Efraín Alvarez and central midfielder Rayan Raveloson are the other xG producers on the team so far, though only Alvarez has scored – and just a single goal, compared to five goals on 3.53 xG for The Little Pea. Interestingly, the two leading xA players are wingers, but different wingers – DP Douglas Costa and Samuel Grandsir. Part of that is because of LA’s flexibility between a two-striker-ish take on the 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 principles: Alvarez or Vázquez typically playing off Chicharito, whose best skill for years has been laying off to another attacker and then perfectly timing and angling his run to get the return pass in space in the box. Without Vázquez available – he’s often a bit more of a withdrawn “No. 10 in the 4-2-3-1” take on the second striker position – the option to throw all the attackers out at once may not be possible if Greg Vanney wants subs available.

It hasn’t been the attack that’s been a Galaxy achilles heel – that Greg Vanney was hired to fix after departing Toronto FC on somewhat acrimonious terms after the 2020 season – it’s been the defense. That’s off to a good start though! LAG has conceded 7.22 xG so far, good for 1.03 per game – fourth best in the league. A double-pivot of Kelvin Leerdam and Mark Delgado (yes I had to delete the “y” at the end of his name – I’m a creature of habit) has protected a backline of, from left to right, Kelvin Leerdam, Nick DePuy (Derrick Williams replacing him due to injury in the past couple games), Sega Coulibaly, and Julián Araujo (like Alvarez, a former US Youth International who has pledged his future to El Trí).

Leerdam has been mostly-anonymous (odd: he was an elite fullback for the Sounders just a couple years back), but Delgado has developed as an elite destroyer at the MLS level, going sideline-to-sideline to break up plays. He’s also a safe passer, though he doesn’t get involved in the final third a ton.

Among the true defenders, Edwards is having a nice year largely in the attack, while DePuy is having a big year in the defensive parts of defending. Williams is an adequate if unexciting stand-in for him. ASA‘s Goals Added thinks Coulibaly is doing a very poor job interrupting (which at-best means his style of defending is more about denying space and angles than actively making tackles and interceptions). Araujo is doing borderline horribly (again, per G+) in basically everything except interrupting: this is a defense that very much has its go-getters and its steady overseers, and those guys know their roles.

Goalkeeper Jonathan Bond is bang-average at the back: six goals conceded on 6.00 xG faced. That’s low trials (which is a testament to the LAG backline of never really making him face a test), so let’s look at last year, when he faced a ton of rubber as the full-time starter… 105% of xG conceded, barely below average. He’s going to be a guy who makes the saves you expect, and sometimes lets in a goal: y’know, a goalkeeper.

The Boys in Gold

Injury/availability report:
OUT: F Teal Bunbury (knee), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Koze Donsiyano (thigh)

Got no time. You know this team.

Projected lineups

Keys to the game

  • Set pieces. Obvs
  • Keep an eye on Chicharito. Ever heard of him?
  • Build from the right. Araujo has basically decided to forgo any sort of attacking stuff in the name of defending (this is wise! it’s working!), but that puts a lot of onus on Edwards to get forward to provide some width for a Galaxy attack that has a bunch of dudes who consider themselves shooters first, shooters second, second strikers third, and maybe a traditional winger somewhere in there. Getting Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar into space behind Edwards could pay some dividends here.
  • Try shit. It’s the “house money” portion of a long road trip. Nashville didn’t spend as much time on this sojourn doing the “try not to get beat” thing as the reputation may have foretold, but at this point there’s really nothing to lose. Gary Smith has mentioned wanting to open GEODIS Park with some comfort in a more-attacking, home-friendly style of play. Testing and repping that system and maybe getting a big win is worth the risk of a loss after already overshooting the points goal in this eight-game swing.
  • Make saves. You’d be unfair to say Joe Willis has been poor this year, but the advanced stats haven’t been enamored yet, and outside of the win over Columbus, there haven’t been “wow” moments. It’ll come, and if it’s tonight and steals a win for Nashville? That would be tuff.

Prediction

While I think Nashville will play a bit more open for the reasons outlined above, I also think there’s a natural “we’ve come this far, let’s get one more point out of this roadtrip and it’s an unmitigated success” temptation, rather than the more dice-roll-y zero-or-three proposition of going for broke. NSC ends up somewhere in between, with cagey moments and some shockingly open moments, but it ends up in favor of the hosts.

Galaxy 2, Nashville SC 1

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