Nashville SC will face former fan-favorite defender Alistair Johnston in his return to Music City. Also Montreal happens to boast one of the best teams in MLS, so… big test this evening.
Opponent: CF Montreal (6-3-2)
Time, Location: Wednesday, May 18, 7:38 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 86ºF, 8% chance of rain, 43% humidity, 10 mph SSW
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), WatchESPN (national) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Tailgate: Lot 1 with The Backline Supporters’ Collective
Match officials: Referee: Jon Freemon. Assistants: Corey Rockwell, Chantal Boudreau. Fourth official: Tori Penso. Video assistants: Jose Carlos Rivero, Mike Kampmeinert.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -110, draw +238, Montreal Impact +313
Tale of the Tape
|Stat||Nashville SC||CF Montreal|
|Record (W-L-D)||4-4-3 (1.36 PPG)|
|6-3-2 (1.82 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||L-W-D-L-D||W-W-W-D-W|
|xG Power||+1.04 (2nd MLS)||+0.93 (3rd MLS)|
|G Power||+0.36 (6th MLS)||+0.18 (10th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.68 (26th MLS)||-0.75 (28th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.54 (4th MLS)||+0.19 (8th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.50 (3rd MLS)||-0.73 (1st MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+1.48 Home (1st MLS)||-0.27 Away (18th MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: F Teal Bunbury (knee), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Koze Donasiyano (thigh), M Randall Leal (ankle), D Ahmed Longmire (covid protocol)||OUT: M Tomas Giraldo (hamstring), F Bjørn Johnsen (foot), F Mason Toye (thigh)|
The Tale of the Tape says a lot: this team has incredible traditional numbers, particularly on offense, and OK advanced numbers (but very good on defense). There are a couple factors at play there, but an important one – particularly vis-a-vis Nashville’s league-toughest schedule – is the ease of slate so far. After an 0-3 start, a blistering 6-0-2 run has come against Atlanta (x2), Cincy, Red Bulls, Vancouver, Philly, Orlando, and Charlotte. Philly and NYRB are legit good, and Cincy is perhaps trending that way, but the rest are some of the weaker teams in the entire league.
So with that in mind, I would still contend that the offense is pretty darn good! Djordje Mihailovic is 10th in the league in xG+xA, and he’s overachieving both when it comes to scoring for himself (six goals on 3.25 xG) and assisting (a more modest overachievement with three assists on 2.88 xA). In Montreal’s 3-4-3-ish formation, he’s one of the nominal wingers who are more like tucked-in attacking midfielders. Striker Romell Quioto (three goals on 3.11 xG) and the other attacking mid Joaquin Torres (three on 1.72 xG) are the other scoring threats to date.
It’s also worth pointing out CB Joel Waterman: he’s third on the team with 1.84 xG, though that’s resulted in just one goal. As you might expect, that’s all come on set pieces, and 4.70 of Montreal’s 16.63 expected goals this year have come from set-piece opportunities. It’s going to be a crucial phase of the game (Djordje takes the vast majority of the service on them, as well).
In the midfield line, a familiar face makes his bittersweet return to Nashville: Alistair Johnston is the right wingback (relegating Zachary Brault-Guillard, a competitor for minutes with the CanMNT, to the bench), and he’s whipping in a bunch of crosses (something he didn’t do a whole lot of with Nashville), with three assists on them already this year. On the left, Lassi Lappilainen is a little less service-providing with nearly as many key passes, but resulting in much less expected assist accumulation. Getting the ball into the mixer with a creator like Mihailovic and a finisher like Quioto (and, uh, third guy like Torres) is not the worst strategy.
Victor Wanyama is a stalwart in central midfield, and he’s his usual all-destroying, ball-progressing self. He’s not going to provide much beyond that. But he’s not asked to. There’s been a little bit of rotation next to him (and in his spot in the rare moments when he’s not on the pitch), with Ismael Koné the first-choice guy. He provides even less offensively than Wanyama – basically a similar player without the ball progression – but when you have wingbacks getting into a front five… that’s basically all you need out of your double-pivot in the middle. Samuel Piette, the walking embodiment of “USL Player” except who happens to be good enough to stick in MLS, has seen his playing time evaporate with Koné’s emergence, while Mathieu Choiniere has been a (very) poor man’s Koné with very bad progressive passing, and pedestrian (rather than above-average) everything else.
In the back three – worth noting that it’s a little odd Johnston rarely plays there, given one of the reasons a move to Montreal made sense was that it’d put him in a very similar system and role to his RCB spot with the Canada team – Waterman is actually the team’s best overall player according to ASA‘s Goals Added… but basically all of that comes on attacking set pieces. He’s +0.47 on receiving and shooting breakout stats (and as noted, his only shots have been in set-piece situations), and +0.88 total. Everything else is just fine except interrupting, which makes sense given he’s on the right side while Johnston gets forward with regularity. Rudy Camacho in the middle doesn’t do a ton of interrupting as the sweeper-type, but he does end up fouling a lot. The role he plays is taking those fouls. On the left side, Kamal Miller is grading out pretty poorly (lowest G+ on the team) particularly in the interrupting department, but again some of that is a matter of who’s playing around him.
So with a Montreal defense that’s very solid in terms of limiting opponents’ creation, but is allowing two goals per game, what’s the issue here? Some of it is playing good offensive teams so the adjustments are wonky at this stage… and a lot is that goalkeeper Sebastian Breza has been quite bad. He’s allowing 122% of expected goals against, with only SKC’s Tim Melia and Cincinnati’s Alec Kann performing equally or worse as a full-time starter. Peppering the net is potentially fruitful here.
The Boys in Gold
With a banged-up lineup, Nashville had to make some tough choices last week, and that will be the case again for a couple more weeks with the first… and second… and third weekend-midweek sequences of the season right in our midst. It worked out for the Open Cup game, not so much for the trip to Houston.
With two home matches and a short trip to Louisville in the next three games, the decisions will be less difficult, or at least hopefully less impactful to the win-loss record. Going full-bore here and possibly being a little weaker against Atlanta at the weekend (especially since it might be Josef Martínez’s first match back from injury) makes some sense to save a squad for the Open Cup and advancing within three games of a trophy.
Aníbal Godoy’s return should help get a little bit more ball-retention in the midfield if he’s ready for a starting role this evening, and that should be enough to get control of the game in a way that NSC never could in Houston, despite having a man advantage for more than two-thirds of the contest.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. They’re been important for Montreal’s ability to create, so Nashville would be well-served to defend them well (welcome back to the starting lineup, Walker), and heck, maybe nicking a goal on one might be nice, too.
- Play an open match. Montreal likes to get those wingbacks – and particularly Johnston – high up the pitch. Wilfried Nancy’s team compensates well with good defensive discipline from those central midfielders… but that opens up other new spaces. Nashville getting in-behind some of the second-level players can force tough decisions out of the back three.
- Make goals. Seems a good idea, IMO.
- Dominate in the air. Prob should have put this adjacent to set pieces, but it also applies to the run of play. Preventing Montreal from whipping in crosses or lumping balls to that potent attacking three is important.
- Take speculative shots. Nashville doesn’t do enough of this, didn’t do it enough in a loss Saturday, and should definitely do it against a goalkeeper who is singlehandedly taking his team from “potentially elite” to “giving up nearly two goals per game.”
Nashville SC 2, CF Montreal Impact de Saputo 2