Nashville fired the first salvo in this rivalry’s 2022 edition – and the only regular-season matchup between the South’s teams is here.
Opponent: Atlanta United (4-4-3 MLS)
Time, Location: Saturday, May 21, 6:55 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 85ºF, 2% chance of rain, 61% humidity, negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: Fox (the Homer Simpson one) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Tailgate: Lot 1 with the Backline
Match officials: Referee: Ted Unkel. Assistants: Corey Parker, Kyle Atkins. Fourth official: Brandon Stevis. Video Assistants: Rosendo Mendoza, TJ Zablocki
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +104, draw +236, Atlanta United +270
|Stat||Nashville SC||Atlanta United|
|Record (W-L-D)||5-4-3 (1.50 PPG)|
|4-4-3 (1.36 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||W-L-W-D-L||D-W-L-L-D|
|xG Power||+0.79 (5th MLS)||-0.02 (13rd MLS)|
|G Power||+0.35 (7th MLS)||-0.43 (24th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.45 (24th MLS)||-0.41 (23rd MLS)|
|Offense||+0.33 (6th MLS)||+0.11 (10th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.47 (3rd MLS)||+0.14 (19th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.70 Home (8th MLS)||-0.43 Away (19th MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: F Teal Bunbury (knee), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), M Koze Donasiyano (thigh), M Randall Leal (ankle)||OUT: M Ozzie Alonso (knee), G Dylan Castanheira (achilles), M Machop Chol (leg), G Brad Guzan (achilles), D Miles Robinson (achilles) |
QUEST.: F Josef Martinez (knee), M Santiago Sosa (thigh), M Caleb Wiley (lower body)
We just saw these guys 10 days ago! But there have been some changes in that brief time, most notably that star striker Josef Martinez trained this week, and while it feels unlikely that he starts, there’s a reasonable chance – after being upgraded to “questionable” on the injury report, that he’s in action. The fact that he’s played under half of available minutes obscures that he’s been quite effective when on the pitch (0.46 xG+xA per 96 minutes played) for an Atlanta team that’s not hyper effective around him.
Those attacking struggles have been particularly notable away from home: in five road games, they have scored three goals, which is… closer to their per-game output (2.3) in the friendly confines of Mercedes Benz Stadium. Even if Josef’s back, the rest of the injury report is grim. Here’s from last time out:
Brad Guzan has 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.May 11
Defensive midfielder Santiago Sosa and winger Caleb Wiley also being questionable… you can see why I thought Atlanta might rotate for the Open Cup matchup (they did not and still lost, as you may recall). Instead, they ran a bunch of dudes into the ground while they have a short bench. The bright side is that Atlanta was one of the eight teams that didn’t have a Week 11 game, so they had the midweek to rest.
Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth was slightly below average when I previewed this team a week and a half ago, and while the Open Cup game didn’t necessarily change perceptions of him, he allowed two goals on 1.5 xG in the regular-season game since then, and while that’s the small sample size to end all small sample sizes, it does continue a trend of his being a fairly poor goalkeeper.
On the defense…
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.May 11
De John and Franco started against Nashville and then again last weekend in a 2-2 home draw to New England. To their left was Andrew Gutman (an ephemeral Boy in Gold, and an attack-first fullback whose primary defensive capability is recovery speed) in both games. Ronáld Hernandez started on the right against NSC before ceding to Brooks Lennon, and Lennon got the start last weekend.
Moving forward, they have a couple different approaches to a similar set of personnel, and lately the question has largely been whether Ibarra plays as a Lone holder while Rossetto is in the line ahead of him in a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1, or if Rossetto drops into the line next to him to be the other half of a double pivot.
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.May 11
Araújo and Almada have settled in as pure wingers – though there’s plenty of interchanging available in Atlanta’s system – while Moreno has been mostly a 10 lately. Against Nashville last time, Atlanta did roll with Ibarra in a single-pivot, so your mileage may vary as to what that means for tonight (since it didn’t go particularly well). Moreno and Almada have been the straws that stir the attacking drink – with Lennon getting plenty of xA thanks to free kicks – and both Almada and Araújo are threats on the dribble.
Recent DP signing Ronaldo Cisneros has been the primary striker in Martínez’s absence, and a Week 10 MLS Player of the Week nod is a nice way to ease into the league. He leads the team in xG (3.43) despite getting well under half of available minutes since he didn’t join until mid-March. Presumably he’ll still be The Guy as Josef gets reacclimated, but there may very well be a struggle for playing time once that project is complete.
The Boys in Gold
Nashville is now riding a high: despite a disappointing loss to Houston last weekend, midweek victories over this Atlanta side and CF Montreal have established GEODIS Park as the fortress it was expected to be. The psychological edge of a major comeback against Atlanta should also play to NSC’s strength.
One major question will be how Gary Smith manages his team on short rest. He surprised las time by rolling out a mostly-full lineup against Atlanta (which doomed the Boys in Gold as they were fatigued for that Houston contest. Will Smith keep the stars out there since this is a rivalry game? Was the pattern of last week indicative that the US Open Cup is going to be a priority – and thus he’ll want to save legs for a trip to Louisville Wednesday?
Some rotation but not a wholesale change is probably the name of the game here: with Aníbal Godoy back, Nashville can control the midfield a bit better than we saw in his absence, which makes rotation a little less risky (also it means “rotation” is putting a typical starter back into the lineup). Heavy workloads for guys like Hany Mukhtar and the backline, however, may need to get those guys a bit of a breather. Whether that’s starting and coming off the pitch early – or coming in off the bench, instead, depending on game state – will tell the tale of Smith’s preferences.
I will cop to not knowing ATL’s young players enough to fill them in.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces.
- Push the game. The psychological edge I noted above is a big one, as is the reputation that GEODIS Park is already developing (with Atlanta playing a role in that superhero origin story, of course). If NSC can get out to a lead, it may well be able to squeeze the life out of the game.
- Don’t lose composure if that doesn’t happen. Nashville has proof-of-concept when it comes to staging a comeback against this Atlanta side.
- Make goals. Seems a good idea, IMO. You can test this keeper – Bobby Shuttleworth has basically always been average at-best, and his form right now is not particularly solid.
- Lock down the wingers. Yes, that’ll leave some space for a dangerous attacking mid in Marcelino Moreno, but I think you can trust the CBs to handle him and devote resources to controlling the wide areas (particularly because both of those guys want to go wide-o-inside).
Nashville SC 2, Atlanta United 0