Nashville SC will take on Real Salt Lake for the second – and most likely final – time in 2022 this afternoon. Is the first GEODIS Park win on the way?
Opponent: Real Salt Lake (14-14-6)
Time, Location: Sunday, May 8, 4:08 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
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)
Tailgate: Pregame at ML Rose 8th South, tailgate in Lot 1 with The Backline.
Recent form (most recent first): W-D-L-D-D
Non-nerd stats (2021): 48 points, 1.41 PPG (7th West) • 1.62 GF/gm, 1.59 GA/gm
Nerd stats (2021): -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 away advantage (8th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -120, draw +199, Real Salt Lake +480
Match officials: Referee: Fotis Bazakos. Assistants: Jose Da Silva, Brooke Mayo. Fourth official: Jair Marrufo. Video assistants: Sorin Stoica, Peter Balciunas
Real Salt Lake
OUT: D Zack Farnsworth (ankle), D Bret Halsey (ankle), D Erik Holt (foot), D Johan Kappelhoff (calf), F Jonathan Menendez (adductor)
QUESTIONABLE.: F Damir Kreilach (back), F Sergio Cordova (knee)
The injury report is not too different from last time around (though it’s worth noting that Kreilach was among those who appeared despite being listed as questionable). It is worth noting that RSL has added Venezuelan winger Jefferson Savarino to the mix – he was with RSL 2017-19 and is back after two-plus years with Atlético Mineiro in Brazil. He was outstanding in 2017 and just sort of whatever in 2018 and 2019. He’s an extremely dribbly winger with questionable end product at times.
Not much else has changed personnel-wise:
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).March 18
What has changed is the formation. Pablo Mastroeni was going with a 3-4-3 early in the year (and arguably, formation-matching – as Gary Smith is wont to do – is a big part of why Nashville SC switched to an odd backline, as well), and now it’s either a run-of-the mill 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, depending on how you consider the implementation of Cordova when he’s healthy, how/if they get Kreilach on the field, etc.
While the defensive shape has changed, the stylistic components are largely the same:
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.March 18
David Ochoa has been considered healthy for quite some time. But the recent Mexico one-time switch user has most likely been Wally Pipped by Zac MacMath for the time being, since the MLS vet is stopping shots at an average rate (significantly better than Ochoa’s shot-stopping for his career), and aside from a post-apocalyptic loss at NYCFC, is having a very fine year.
All told, RSL is well behind Nashville in attack (1.21 xG per game to NSC’s 1.36), and defensively (1.34 xGA to Nashville’s 1.22). Given that four of 10 games have been at home, that’s not something that they’ll be happy with. However, RSL, is also underachieving its conversion, so there’s upside.
The Boys in Gold
OUT: D Josh Bauer (calf), F Teal Bunbury (knee), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Koze Donasiyano (adductor), M Aníbal Godoy (thigh)
Gary Smith hinted Friday toward a shift away from the five-man backline (as noted above, that was largely a formation-match, then two games without Dax situation), and I think that happens with a run of home contests. Whether it’s a possibility with Aníbal Godoy out is another question. Losing a top defensive midfielder to cover for he backline is not also a time to take a guy out of said backline.
That said, the philosophy that Smith implement for the first couple games of the year – with attacking midfielders (Randall Leal) or the second striker (Hany Mukhtar) slotting in centrally or on a wing in 4-4-2 rest defense could be a possibility.
There’s also the question of whether we see more Aké Loba… and with an offensively impotent RSL team, the risks of turnovers entering the final third may not carry as great a punishment (even if the loss of an attacking opportunity would be less than ideal). Unfortunately, with Teal Bunbury still out and Ethan Zubak on the mend after being unavailable last week, there may not be the forward depth to risk anything other than Loba coming off the bench, particularly with an Open Cup game coming in the midweek.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. I didn’t include this key last time Nashville played Real Salt Lake… and naturally the Royals scored the opener on a set piece.
- Be proactive. Man, certainly the scoreboard was a little misleading as to the run of play last time around – it was a game Nashville deserved more out of, up to and possibly including a win – but that wasn’t a fluke. This RSL team has been mediocre all year, and at times quite awful when on the road. Nashville needs to show its stuff if it’s the team it wants to be this year.
- Keep your cool. Obviously Dax McCarty lost his head a bit at the end of the away leg, but that seemed to be more a fluke (and a horrifically harsh call from the DisCo, given that they didn’t say a goddamn word about Ale Bedoya lining him up from across the field and smoking him in the back of the head during a dead ball last weekend – an absolutely unacceptable standard of officiating and administration that is quite frankly an embarrassment to the league – and that’s coming from someone who thinks officiating complaints are near-universally overheated) than anything. If RSL wants to get a measure of revenge, let them take the discipline for it, too.
- Make goals. Seems a good idea, IMO.
- Take advantage of the home crowd. The Backline didn’t quite get its money’s worth from an excitement perspective (though the penalty goal did ultimately come at their end of the field last week). If the team wants to establish GEODIS Park as a fortress, giving the crowd something to build on would be great.
Nashville SC 2, Real Salt Lake 0