Nashville SC’s second-ever game was in Portland. At long last, the Timbers return the fafvor with a trip to Nashville.
Opponent: Portand Timbers FC (5-6-7 MLS)
Time, Location: Sunday, Jujuly 3, 7:38 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 79ºF, 11% chance of rain, 76% humidity, negligible wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), ESPN+ (national) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Tailgate: With the Backline Supporters Collective in Lot 1. After you grab a meal and drink at ML Rose, of course.
Match officials: Referee: Armando Villareal. Assistants: Logan Brown, Walt Heatherly. Fourth official: Matthew Thompson. Video Assistants: Carol Ann Chenard, Rene Parra
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -145, draw +278, Portland Timbers +398
|Stat||Nashville SC||Portland Timbers|
|Record (W-L-D)||7-5-5 (1.53 PPG)|
|5-6-7 (1.22 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||W-L-D-W-D||W-W-D-L-L|
|xG Power||+0.48 (6th MLS)||-0.35 (21st MLS)|
|G Power||+0.00 (13th MLS)||-0.09 (16th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.48 (25th MLS)||+0.26 (8th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.08 (10th MLS)||+0.08 (9th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.41 (2nd MLS)||+0.43 (27th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||-0.28 Home (25th MLS)||-0.14 Away (20th MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: M Handwalla Bwana (thigh), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), Aníbal Godoy (thigh)||OUT: F Diego Gutierrez (foot), M Cristhian Paredes (hamstring) |
QUESTIONABLE: D Claudio Bravo (foot)
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The Timbers over the past couple years have been a team that the advanced stats were lukewarm on and the results liked quite a bit more… and that’s essentially the case this year with one twist: the offense has actually improved to being pretty good, while the defense has seen the bottom drop out. They’re a much more high-variance team on account of that, capable of playing with anyone (and beating them with a bit of luck), but the downside on the other end is much more significant.
The weakness defensively has rendered even outstanding goalkeeping from Aljaz Ivacic to be… not enough, I guess? The overall numbers are bad-not-horrible, but when you take into account that Ivacic is allowing just 86% conversion against xG and the Timbers are well below average in goals conceded, it says a lot about how porous that backline has been. Consider that Portland has a reputation (fair or not) as a boring bunker-and-counter club, and the effectiveness of the bunker portion is even more worrisome.
That means the fact that centerback Bill Tuiloma will miss the game after a red card against Houston last week could be big for Nashville: an already-porous defense will be without the No. 2 Goals Added (ASA) player in the league… while facing an attacker who’s No. 1 in the metric in Hany Mukhtar. The replacement, Larrys Mabiala, is fine-to-good, but Tuiloma’s typical partner, Dario Zuparic, is a guy who breaks up basically nothing defensively, and provides very little going in the other direction, too. Yes, some of that is the context of Tuiloma hoovering up the positive events. But there’s also a reason that’s the case.
The fullbacks have largely been Justin Rasmussen on the left and Josecarlos Van Rankin on the right, and with the other LB, Claudio Bravo, nursing a foot injury, that’ll likely be the case tonight. Bravo is a destroyer from the LB position, breaking up a ton of stuff (often without regard for whether he’s breaking attackers, as well – he’s extraordinarily foul-prone), whereas Rasmussen is not notable on the left in basically any way. Van Rankin doesn’t get involved in breaking up many plays, either – it’s becoming clear why the Portland defense is among the worst in the league – and is a liability going forward.
Diego Chara and Cristhian Paredes are a strong double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1, and sometimes they’re joined by David Ayala (basically invisible, tbh) to make a three-man midfield that’s fairly defensive. The primary two are both incredible disruptors, which is obviously what you want for the position. When it doesn’t work out, though, the backline is screwed because it’s not capable of cleaning up the mess. Eryk Williamson is also working back from an ACL injury, and got 80some minutes against Houston.
Wingers Yimmi Chara and Santiago Moreno, No. 10 Sebastian Blanco, and striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda are the attacking four when coach Giovanni Savarese has his way. Chara and Blanco are outstanding and productive, Moreno is sort of just a guy, and Niezgoda just Does Not Do It for me. In over 1000 minutes, he’s at under 3.0 xG (though he’s turned it into five goals), and he produces practically zero for his teammates. He’s a goal-getter who doesn’t get into hyper-dangerous moments, which IMO is not ideal.
The trick for slowing down the Portland attack is to not let Blanco beat you, and along the way hope that you don’t need to focus so much on him that Chara The Younger doesn’t get a lot of looks.
The emotional and fitness letdown from a midweek Open Cup defeat that the squad will (rightly) feel was stolen from them will be the main questions here. A mostly-healthy roster… may nonetheless not have as many players ready to go 90 as you might hope, given how many of them went 120 on Wednesday.
Given that the Open Cup dream is over, Gary Smith has no choice but to focus on the regular season the rest of the way out, so as strong a lineup as he can run out will be the move.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
- Generate a bunch of looks. Ivacic is a really good keeper, and he’s going to frustrate you. The trick against Portland is to rack up the volume of chances that they’re going to give up, and actually turn those into shots on goal. This can’t be a “sit back and look for a couple golden opportunities” type of game, because that’s the only way Portland keeps you under two goals.
- Hany time. Every even-numbered game week, this man does enough to make the Team of the Week (or better!). Today? Part of Week 18.
- Figure out your keeper situation. Whoever starts, be it Elliot Panicco or Joe Willis, this should be the game that determines if there’s an established starter, or if an ongoing competition/rotation is for the best.
- Set pieces again. Because I said so.
Nashville SC 2, Portland Timbers 0