Nashville SC gets a bonus game against a rival (before the only regular-season meetup in just over a week). Who will survive and advance?
Opponent: Atlanta United (4-4-2 MLS)
Time, Location: Wednesday, May 11, 7:00 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 85ºF, 2% chance of rain, 61% humidity, negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: WatchESPN (national) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Tailgate: Pregame at ML Rose 8th South
Recent form (most recent first): W-L-L-D-L
Non-nerd stats (2021): 51 points, 1.50 PPG (6th East) • 1.32 GF/gm, 1.09 GA/gm
Nerd stats (2021): -0.17 xG Power (15th MLS), +0.20 G Power (8th MLS). +0.38 “Luck” (3rd MLS) • -0.09 Offense (17th MLS), +0.08 Defense (16th MLS). +0.04 away advantage (12th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +110, draw +211, Atlanta United +245
Josef Martinez and Brad Guzan have been lost for the year with injury. Making matters worse, so has Guzan’s top backup, Dylan Castanheira. Also star central midfielder Ozzie Alonso, who is in his first year at Atlanta after departing Minnesota United. And star centerback Miles Robinson popped his achilles over the weekend.
What I’m getting at is this is an extremely banged-up Atlanta team, and the injuries are happening right up the spine – typically considered less than ideal.
In 322 minutes, backup keeper Bobby Shuttleworth is below average, though of course the sample size (nine shots faced, five goals allowed on 4.4 xGA) is far-from robust. Castanheira’s injury came before Guzan’s, for what it’s worth, so a heavy dose of Shuttleworth is all Atlanta has seen since the former US international went down.
Atlanta is right in the middle of the pack in xG allowed. You could anticipate that they’ll go a little more defensive to protect Shuttleworth a bit… but also that it won’t necessarily be super-effective without Robinson available. Alan Franco has actually graded out pretty well according to American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added (though the general perception has been fairly negative outside the statistical view). Backup Alex De John got the nod after Robinson exited this weekend, and was good, though obviously there’s very little to go on there.
Atlanta has gone with a few different tactical approaches this season, one of which – a back three – is probably out the window in Robinson’s absence. A 4-2-3-1 has seen Santiago Sosa and Amar Sejdic as a double-pivot, while more recently a 4-3-3 has Franco Ibarra playing as the lone holder. Matheus Rosetto and Luis Araújo are the attacking midfielders, while Thiago Almada and Marcelino Moreno are playing on the wings. The injured player that Atlanta United has probably best-coped with losing is actually Martinez. DP striker Ronaldo Cisneros is the reigning MLS Player of the Week after a first-half hat trick against Chicago – and given that he’s a relatively recent signing, there’s a pretty good chance he takes the field tonight to get game reps with this teammates and in this system.
That last point brings up the burning question: how much does a banged-up Atlanta team put into this game when keeping the lineup healthy will be crucial to staying in playoff positions? Given that the Five Stripes historically like the talent in their academy (even if they’ve done a notably poor job developing it and integrating it with the first team), a number of young players would make sense here. ATL UTD 2 guys can’t play regular-season games regularly, while the Cup is a free-for-all. There’s no telling how much Atlanta values this competition, but given the fact that going for it could mean no playoffs at the end of the year… it’ll be interesting to see.
The Boys in Gold
Nashville is also slightly banged up, though I think the amount of rotation we see will be well within the “we still expect to win this game” range.
I will cop to not knowing ATL’s young players enough to fill them in.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces.
- Push the game. Even if Nashville goes with younger attacking lines, these will be guys who want to play fast, play forward, and be proactive. If Nashville goes with more experienced lines, there’s the proven ability to do the same.
- Make goals. Seems a good idea, IMO. You can test this keeper – Bobby Shuttleworth has basically always been average at-best, and if a younger guy is between the pipes, even better.
- Take control early. Atlanta seems very poised to say “OK, we’ll focus on the league” if things go awry early. There’s just not enough depth left on this team to chase a game when they have to get right back to MLS play this weekend (and can’t use academy and ATL UTD 2 players in league play like they can in this one). Giving them the opportunity t make a business decision early in the match would be nice.
- Don’t lose composure if that doesn’t happen. Oddly enough, for the same reasons: Nashville can put top dogs on to chase the game without worrying about it submarining the rest of the year.
Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1