Can Nashville keep up a strong road run to make up for lackluster home results? We find out with an expansion club on deck.
Opponent: Charlotte FC (7-10-2 MLS)
Time, Location: Saturday, July 9, 6:25 p.m. CDT (7:25 local) • Charlotte, N.C.
Weather: 86ºF, 18% chance of rain, 66% humidity, 6 m.p.h. SSW wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: FS1 • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Watch Party: At ML Rose 8th South with 440 Sports, Heaters, and Eastern Front
Match officials: Referee: Joe Dickerson. Assistants: Jeremy Kieso, Ryan Graves. Fourth official: Kevin Bradley. Video Assistants: Guido Gonzalez, Craig Lowry
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +189, draw +216, Charlotte FC +152
|Stat||Nashville SC||Charlotte FC|
|Record (W-L-D)||7-5-6 (1.50 PPG)|
|7-10-2 (1.21 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||D-W-L-D-W||W-L-L-D-W|
|xG Power||+0.22 (8th MLS)||+0.04 (14th MLS)|
|G Power||-0.05 (14th MLS)||-0.09 (16th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.27 (21st MLS)||-0.13 (18th MLS)|
|Offense||-0.01 (14th MLS)||-0.25 (25th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.24 (9th MLS)||-0.29 (5th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.90 Away (1st MLS)||-0.42 Home (23rd MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: M Handwalla Bwana (thigh), D Robert Castellanos (ankle), Aníbal Godoy (thigh)||OUT: F Vinicius Mello (foot), D Adam Armour (knee)|
There are a few weird things to unpack here. Charlotte, which has a very good home record and just won away from BofA Stadium for the first time last weekend… is one of the worst home teams in MLS? Strange but true: Charlotte has been a pretty unlucky team this year overall, and basically all of that bad luck has happened on the road, whereas there’s been a horseshoe up their collective butt in home games. Whether that’s the atmosphere willing their way to better luck, comfort finishing or goalkeeping in home environs or whatever, you have to run up the xG tally on Charlotte to get a win there.
The goalkeeping overall has been mediocre, with one terrible performance from backup George Marks, and starter Kristjian Kahlina just below average, allowing 109% of xG faced. Kahlina is right around average in shots faced, but the average shot is slightly lower-quality than average. Add it all up, and you have average goalkeeping behind slightly better-than-average defending.
The majority of the defending directly in front of Kahlina comes from centerback pairing Anton Walkes (an Expansion Draft selection off Atlanta United’s roster) and Guzmán Corujo. Corujo is an extraordinarily prolific interruptor from the position, while Walkes is, like, fine – though the latter has a negative overall Goals Added mark because he’s an absolute non-entity offensively. Left back Christian Fuchs has occasionally been drawn into service in the middle, as well, but Charlotte likes to get him wide to take advantage of his ability to connect passes up the field. The right back has largely been former Columbus Crew defendder Harrison Afful, and he’s also been getting high up the pitch to provide width in attack, while the centerbacks do most of the pure defending.
Former Sporting KC (and therefore Mike Jacobs-adjacent) fullback Jaylin Lindsey is the primary backup at both positions since Afful has gotten to full health and started seven of the past 10 games games. Lindsey actually grades out better than the other fullbacks because he has more defensive bite, but he’s not nearly as effective going forward. Joseph Mora also gets time on the left but is… not good.
Charlotte uses both a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 (particularly since trading for winger Andre Shinyashiki – a former Rookie of the Year – from the Rapids), with league vet Brandt Bronico (who is somehow only 27?) playing as the single pivot, or next to a rotating cast of characters if CLT goes with a second holding midfielder. That cast includes former Nashville SC player Derrick Jones, though he’s down the rotation. Often it’s either Jordy Alcívar or rookie (shoo-in for ROTY) Ben Bender playing next to him, with the other ahead as the No. 10, or both of those two ahead of Bronico.
ASA‘s metrics see that position group as a major weakness of this team. The central midfield has difficulty getting involved in the attack, with really poor passing and receiving breakouts across the board, and really poor dribbling numbers for the most part (Bender, whose Rookie of the Year candidacy is based around his attacking ability, is particularly awful dribbling and passing, but he’s had a few nice highlight moments). They don’t pack a ton of defensive bite, either, though that’s more likely to be team effects, with the CBs trusted to do their thing, and the CMs looking bad to the numbers because they’re covering for fullbacks high up the pitch.
The attack, meanwhile, has been among the worst in MLS. Titi Ortíz provides the “true No. 10” while conveniently wearing the No. 10 jersey. Alas, he has been a non-entity. Polish international Karol Swiderski leads the way with 4.81 xG+xA, which he has turned into four goals and an assist. Former Nashville striker Daniel Ríos – who has been a good stand-in for Swiderski when international duty or refusal to play arises, but the typical injury issues that we know all too well have limited his playing time – has 3.82 xG+xA, but has just one goal to show for it. He could be due for a second-half breakout if he gets consistent playing time. He also makes a tenth of what Swiderski does in salary, so if we’ve learned anything about the way Charlotte operates, the worse player is gonna get more playing time nonetheless.
The X-factor here is Shinyashiki. It was time for him to move on from the Rapids, and the results have made that clear: he’s nearly doubled his xG/96 and paid it off at a much higher rate. He hasn’t created as much for teammates since the move (0.02 xA/96 with Charlotte, he was good for 0.28 in Colorado), but the goal-scoring is what Charlotte has asked of his 500-plus minutes so far, and he’s made good with four of ’em. He likes to play inside, so Charlotte’s bomb-the-fullbacks-forward system has allowed him to be that scorer.
All told, though, this is a team that is a little rickety. The luck factor (particularly at home) has made it more than the sum of its parts more often than not, but if you’re a believer in what the numbers have historically said – lucky teams are due for a regression if the reason for their luck is not an elite goalkeeper – they can be had.
Alex Muyl is back from Health and Safety protocols, which is good. Aníbal Godoy is not back from his thigh strain, which is bad. However, Nashville should be running out close to a full-strength lineup.
NSC has been one of the best road teams in the league (and a borderline terrible one at home – there goes the classic Cincinnati roast about “big attendance doesn’t matter if the team’s performances show that they hate the home fans anyway), and is at a point where stealing points here and there can stabilize the standing in the table until the comfort at GEODIS Park turns the results around there.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
- No goalkeeper mistakes. The Big Mistake played a role in Joe Willis’s move to the bench (though I don’t expect it to be permanent, of course), and while Elliot Panicco has shown to be more capable of the highlight-reel save… he’s perhaps even more prone to the major error. Smooth out the variance here.
- Don’t be intimidated. I’ve been there, it’s a cool atmosphere. Not nearly as cool as it looks on TV (since they put CGI video boards and/or fans on the broadcasts), but it’s cool. That’s helped lift Charlotte at home. But they can be had there if you play your game.
- Manage substitutions properly. Hyper-easy to Monday Morning Quarterback the whole thing, but taking Mukhtar out too early has cost Nashville a game here and there, while making some other subs too late has prevented the team from either having a shot to hold a lead, or to come back.
- Set pieces again. Because I said so.
Nashville SC 1, Charlotte FC 1