Through double-digit games for just about every team in MLS, Houston is the worst team (by some distance) in opponent-adjusted expected goals, and just outside of playoff positions on the table.
Opponent: Houston Dynamo (3-4-3)
Time, Location: Saturday, May 14, 7:38 p.m. CDT • Houston, Texas
Weather: 85ºF, 1% chance of rain, 52% humidity, 11 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: ML Rose 8th South with 440 Sports, the Music City Heaters, and the Eastern Front SG
Recent form (most recent first): L-L-L-D-W
Non-nerd stats: 12 points, 1.20 PPG (8th West) • 1.00 GF/gm, 1.10 GA/gm
Nerd stats: -0.84 xG Power (28th MLS), -0.43 G Power (24th MLS). +0.42 “Luck” (8th MLS) • -0.45 Offense (26th MLS), +0.40 Defense (25th MLS). +0.23 home advantage (13th MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +160, draw +208, Houston Dynamo +187
Match officials: Referee: Ramy Touchan. Assistants: Jason White, Chris Elliott. Fourth official: Eric Tattersall. Video assistants: Jair Marrufo, Jonathan Johnson.
QUEST.: D Daniel Steres (leg)
Houston has one of the least efficient offenses in MLS in generating chances, and one of the worst defenses when it comes to preventing them. Sources indicate this is not ideal – and also that maybe the front office, not Tab Ramos, has been the problem in Houston. Replacing him with Paulo Nagamura has helped only when it comes to overachieving underlying numbers, not actually producing better soccer.
The attack is extremely defined: Sebas Ferreira and Darwin Quintero trade off as striker and creator (similar to Nashville’s setup where Hany Mukhtar may be an attacking midfielder by label, but he and CJ Sapong are really a strike pairing that share responsibilities). Playing as the more advanced of the two more often than not, Ferreira is the one who provides a little less service, and is instead tilted toward scoring. They’re complemented on one wing by former US International Fafa Picault – who has been even more productive than Ferreira when it comes to generating xG, though he’s not converting as well – and a rotating cast of Corey Baird, Tyler Pasher (longtime NSC fans will remember his tenure with Indy Eleven), and draft pick Thor Úlfarsson playing strike while one of the big two shifts wide. As noted above, this has not been a particularly good attack to this point, so if you’re keeping Quintero and Ferrerira from shooting in good positions, you feel solid about your day.
Defensive midfielder Aldabert Carrasquilla is the only player outside the front four who provides much in the way of attacking service, while CBs Tim Parker (is still playing?) and Teenage Hadebe provide a bit of a threat on set pieces.
Defensively, Parker, Hadebe, and third CB Ethan Bartlow (who gets about a third of the minutes) are all bigtime disruptors in the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, and Carrasquilla… also is. This is a Dynamo setup that revolves very much around breaking up plays and if you get beat, well, the opponent is going to get a pretty good look (rather then NSC’s philosophy of breaking up plays high up the field, but being more conservative in their own half to prevent opposing scoring opportunities).
Basically the whole team aside Quintero, Carrasquilla, and injured CB Daniel Steres is horrifically bad at connecting passes, which explains a lot about the struggles on both ends of the pitch.
What’s largely saving the team’s bacon (inasmuch as “just outside the playoffs” is “saved”), is very good play by former Timbers keeper Steve Clark, who’s allowing just 89% of his team’s expected goals allowed. This is still enough to allow over a goal per game. One man can only do so much.
Houston’s record looks a little better than the underlying numbers in part because they’ve played 60% of their games at home – they’re a very poor home team nonetheless, but worse away.
The Boys in Gold
OUT: F Teal Bunbury (knee), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Randall Leal (ankle), D Ahmed Longmire (health protocols)
QUEST.: M Aníbal Godoy (thigh)
Randall Leal still out of the lineup is a disappointment rather than a surprise, while Aníbal Godoy still being unavailable is a little bit of both (though not significant on the surprise front). Nashville’s lineup likely won’t change too much from the expected, though rotation may be necessary after a midweek game that including extra time.
If ever you’re going to rotate and still expect to win (and save legs for stronger opponents), Houston is probably the team to do it.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces.
- Put rubber on Clark. He’s going to save at least his fair share of the xG he faces, but Houston is going to provide opportunities to rack up plenty of those chances.
- Make goals. Seems a good idea, IMO.
- Control Quintero and Ferreira. They’re going to get shots off. Whether those are good shots or in bad positions is probably what Nashville has more control over. So keep them out of the box, and let them take long, speculative chances rather than make dangerous ones.
- Get early momentum. Houston may very well fold if they feel like it’s an unwinnable game.
Nashville SC 3, Houston Dynamo 1