The only meeting of the year between two Southeast rivals will come in the US Open Cup (unless they run it back in MLS Cup). Can Nashville SC earn one of the biggest single results in the club’s MLS history?
Opponent: Orlando City SC (7-6-4 MLS)
Time, Location: Wednesday, June 29, 6:00 p.m. CDT 7 local) • Orlando, Fla.
Weather: 85ºF, 15% chance of rain, 62% humidity, 10 MPH Easterly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch: ESPN Plus
Party: ML Rose 8th South, South Side Kitchen & Pub
Match officials: Surely there’s someplace to find this but I dunno where.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +204, draw +218, Orlando City SC +131
|Stat||Nashville SC||Orlando City SC|
|Record (W-L-D)||7-5-5 (1.53 PPG)|
|7-6-4 (1.47 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||W-L-D-W-D||L-W-D-L-D|
|xG Power||+0.50 (5th MLS)||-0.35 (20th MLS)|
|G Power||+0.05 (13th MLS)||-0.04 (15th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.45 (25th MLS)||+0.32 (6th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.09 (12th MLS)||-0.36 (26th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.42 (3rd MLS)||+0.00 (16th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.27 Away (9th MLS)||+0.47 Home (4th MLS)|
|Injury report||Not released for Open Cup||Not released for Open Cup|
Orlando City SC
OCSC is a mediocre team per the advanced numbers, but the squad has ridden plenty of luck en route to a solid showing in MLS so far. It’s the sixth-luckiest side in MLS when you compare creation for/against to the actual goals scored for/against, and typically when a team is very “lucky” that means they’re getting great goaltending to skew the numbers…
But that actually hasn’t been the case for Orlando this year. Pedro Gallese is allowing 109% of xG faced – not horrible, but below-average for sure. He is not bootstrapping the OCSC defense (which is mediocre to both the advanced and traditional numbers) at all. Most of the xG overperformance is actually coming from converting at a fairly average clip on the other end of the pitch against teams that have largely allowed below-average conversion (and thus a G-xG of close to zero looks good against them).
The leading scorer is striker Ercan Kara, whose six goals put him well ahead of the No. 2 scorer, a five-way tie at two goals apiece for fullbacks Ruan and João Moutinho, winger Facundo Torres, defensive midfielder Junior Urso, and striker Alexandre Pato. Pato and Urso are converting at a below-average clip, while the FBs have had a bit of luck in racking up their scores.
Centerback Robin Jansson is actually the team’s highest-graded player according to American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added, and elite interruptor (and surprisingly good dribbler and passer) who isn’t providing much in the final third. His CB-mate Antônio Carlos is just behind him with a similar style. This is an Orlando team that’s going to ask those guys to Make Plays, then rely on Gallese (who’s been just fine this year).
This deep into the Open Cup, I’d expect a full-strength lineup – or as close to one as possible – as teams eye silverware. It’s relevant, then, that Carlos was questionable on the weekend’s injury report and then an unused sub in a loss to Cincinnati, while winger Silvester van der Water has played spot minutes here and there as he has made multiple abortive attempts to come back from a leg injury.
Meanwhile, Nashville is pretty much healthy, with Randall Leal making his return last weekend, Teal Bunbury no longer on the injury report (though he did not make the bench for the win in DC), and Walker Zimmerman and Aníbal Godoy both back from international duty (though Godoy also did not travel to DC over the weekend).
Gary Smith put out a fairly strong group in Washington, and didn’t rotate even with a 3-0 and 3-1 lead for much of the second half. How that impacts playing time this evening is a futile guessing game, but it does appear that he’s at least one more game from making Open Cup top priority, even if we see as close as possible to a full-strength lineup this evening.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
- Make the central defenders make tough decisions. This is the Hany Mukhtar hour, because he’s dangerous on the ball and good at drawing fouls (also very good at not drawing fouls, because there’s apparently a PRO memo that says he’s a diver, so he basically never gets the benefit of the doubt, which leads to a lot of really dangerous fouls not being called!). The CBs like to get out and pressure the ball, trusting Gallese to make a difference if they don’t succeed. Taking advantage of that aggressiveness is big.
- Don’t let Kara beat you. I’ve been on the record for a long time as a fan of what Orlando’s defenders (particularly the fullbacks) can provide in attack… but they’re still defenders first and foremost. If you prevent Kara from beating you, it’s gonna make those guys feel plenty of pressure to do something that’s not necessarily their forté.
- Win in midfield. The biggest difference between Nashville’s two-game slump and the resounding win against DC is that the opponents didn’t let NSC win second balls in midfield, and were able to progress in that area some. May the switch be flipped after that was resoundingly not the case in DC.
Nashville SC 2, Orlando City 3 (AET)