At long last, Nashville SC will complete its set of souvenir mugs by playing the 27th opponent in its MLS existence: Vancouver Whitecaps.
Opponent: Vancouver Whitecaps (7-10-5)
Time, Location: Saturday, July 30, 7:08 p.m. CDT (7:38 local) • GEODIS Park
Weather: 82ºF, 4% chance of rain, 69% humidity, negligible NE wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), ESPN+ (out-of-market) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Tailgate: With the Backline Supporters Collective in Lot 5.
Match officials: Referee: Marcos De Oliveira. Assistants: Jeff Hosking, Kevin Lock. Fourth official: Sergii Demianchuk. Video Assistants: Ted Unkel, Mike Kampmeinert.
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -175, draw +295, Vancouver Whitecaps +485
|Stat||Nashville SC||Vancouver Whitecaps|
|Record (W-L-D)||8-7-7 (1.41 PPG)|
|7-10-5 (1.18 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||D-L-W-L-D||L-D-D-L-W*|
|xG Power||+0.42 (6th MLS)||-0.51 (26th MLS)|
|G Power||-0.04 (15th MLS)||-0.37 (25th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.46 (24th MLS)||+0.14 (12th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.09 (11th MLS)||-0.38 (6th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.33 (2nd MLS)||+0.14 (21st MLS)|
|Venue advantage||-0.70 Home (28th MLS)||-0.31 Away (23rd MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: M Aníbal Godoy (thigh)|
QUEST: F Aké Loba (trunk)
SUSP.: D Dan Lovitz, M Alex Muyl (YC accum.)
|OUT: M Sebastian Berhalter (foot), F Deiber Caicedo (knee, season), D Erik Godoy (calf), D Luis Martins (calf)|
This is not a very good team, but compared to its recent historical standard, is finding a fair amount of success. Some of that is due to a reasonable amount of “luck” (the difference between goal-creation and goal-scoring on a game-to-game basis), some of it because the recent historical standard was pretty terrible! But it’s worth noting that the playoffs are not out of the question, and that would be a first since 2017.
The Caps are doing it without Maxime Crepeau, whom you may recall as LAFC’s now-starting keeper. The goalkeeper play has been pretty awful without him!
“The Caps awful start and [Tomas] Hasal’s fractured middle finger on Mother’s Day has meant that Cody Cropper has really had to come in and step up,” Harjeet Johal told me. “Cropper ‘The Shot Stopper’ has now taken over as the No. 1 goalkeeper with the Caps. He’s coming back from a nasty injury in Cincinnati. If he starts on Saturday it will be his first MLS game back. Hasal didn’t make the trip he is in healthy and safety protocols.”
The Shot Stopper is probably a bit of a misnomer for Cropper, who is the second-worst regularly-used keeper in the league (behind Atlanta’s Rocco Ríos Novo), allowing 141% of xG faced. With Hasal not traveling, the Caps might be better-suited to use one of their depth players, who – on admittedly small sample sizes – have been not among the worst players in the league. 20-year old Homegrown Isaac Boehmer has two starts and the injury replacement for Cropper, and is allowing 83% of xG faced, while 18-year old Max Anchor allowed two goals in his only start and is somehow still elite (sample size caveats of course) against xG. Both those guys play primarily with the second team in MLS Next Pro.
That’s because the Whiteccaps’ defense has been awful! While it’s just the eighth-worst in the league according to the power ratings (above), and the poor goalkeeping has made it look worse… a decent attacking team should be able to generate chances, and particularly so with Vancouver making a long flight the night before the game.
There’s been a healthy rotation at the back as head coach Vanni Sartini tries to find three capable and consistent CBs for the 3-4-3/3-5-2 philosophy (so far: nope!). Ranko Veselnović is the first-choice sweeper, and he’s elite in interrupting per ASA‘s Goals Added, cleaning up a lot of messes that get through to him. The problem is that he’s real bad at everything else, whereas Vancouver’s other options are sort of average all around and quite bad at interrupting play. Florian Jungwirth and Jake Nerwinski, especially, don’t really get involved in making tackles. Given that Jungwirth is the like-for-like replacement is Veselnović is not in the lineup (with Erik Godoy out injured)… well, Vancouver needs Veselnović to play. Former LAFC LB Tristan Blackmon is finally playing his natural position as an outside CB in a back three, and his play – aside from not getting involved offensively at all – probably justifies being a bigger piece of the picture.
The fullbacks will be an interesting story, not least of which because there’s a new – and hyper-dangerous! – one in the mix. Vancouver shelled out big GAM to acquire Julian Gressel (one of the most offensively-talented wingbacks in the league) from DC United.
“Gressel started at home against Chicago last week and played 45 minutes and he came in off the bench in the second half vs Toronto FC in the Voyageurs Cup final,” Har said. “He’s still settling in and finding chemistry with his teammates.”
Marcus Godinho has played LWB opposite Gressel in the only game since his arrival, but Ryan Raposo, Pedro Vite, and Cristian Dajome are also in a rotation there – in addition to getting time as the attacking mids in a more pure 3-4-2-1 than NSC plays. Russell Teibert is the closest thing to a stalwart in central midfield, with Andés Cubas’s later April arrival obscuring that he’s clearly the preferred starter. Teibert is an absolute non-entity in attack, but a solid (if uninspiring) defensive player. Cubas is a destroyer who can advance the ball a little more cleanly than Teibert. According to Har, Teibert did not travel, however.
In attack, Har dropped an even bigger personnel bombshell on me with this one:
“[Canadian International Lucas] Cavallini won’t be playing because of a quad injury, he didn’t travel with the team today,” she said. “As far as offence goes, White, Gauld, Julian Gressel, and Cristian Dajome are ones to watch. Andras Cubas has shown that he has the ability to add some offensive firepower of his own from the defensive midfield position. The Caps like to get forward with full backs so it’s more of a sneaky offence in transition that Nashville that will have to watch for.”
NSC is very content to let opponents whip in crosses, particularly given the absence of Cavallini with 27 of 77 career goals – more than a third – coming from his head. Of course, Brian White has scored 15 of 44 career goals via the header, so being a couple inches shorter isn’t exactly a downgrade in ability. It may be in access to those crosses with Nashville’s aerial ability in the box.
Scotsman Ryan Gauld, a midseason signing last year, is the absolute Dangerman for VWFC in Cavallini’s absence. He’s played as either one of the attacking mid/wingers in the 3-4-2-1 or as the creator in a 3-4-1-2 (without Cavallini available, I doubt we see this). Though he has just one assist this year, he’s on 2.31 xA, so it’s more a matter of teammates not finishing… and he also creates for himself with three goals on 5.42 xG (he outperformed his xG last year if you see that G-xG and immediately think “bad finisher”).
There is one other major factor for the Caps to deal with. Because they played in – and won – the Canadian Championship on Tuesday, literal and figurative hangovers are in play.
Nashville, so used to being on the wrong end of quick turnarounds, should be the beneficiary tonight. I asked Har about it.
“It’s a long flight to Music City and the Caps are still buzzing after hoisting the Voyageurs Cup,” she said. “They’re missing a few key regular players in Teibert and Cavallini who played on Tuesday. The depth of the team will have to shine through if they’re going to continue their run of earning results on the road.”
I would not bet on it tbh.
Let’s see Shaq Moore, particularly with Dan Lovitz and Alex Muyl both unavailable. The question is what formation that means, and given the loan of CB Josh Bauer, I would imagine Nashville’s philosophy going forward this season is back to the 4-2-3-1.
Without Aké Loba at full strength, I would imagine we don’t see him (though: infinite troll points to Gary Smith if we get a start).
Overall, Nashville should be able to beat a bad team, particularly a shorthanded one on little rest. GEODIS Park has been… not the toughest home ground this year. Opponents have commented on it, and the results bear out that either the team hasn’t gotten comfortable at home, or the supporters haven’t just yet. I asked Gary Smith about it on Thursday, and he gave a diplomatic answer, but he’s well aware that the team needs to be able to take advantage over this closing stretch.
Hopping on a fight home. Will update with all sort of brainstorms I cook up on the plane. Expect 4-2-3-1 (or 4-4-20 with the top-available personnel from Nashville, and 3-4-2-1 from Vancouver, mostly relying on the players I’ve just mentioned!
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
- Win aerials. This is obviously important to Nashville’s game generally. A Vancouver team that depends on wide service and doesn’t have its bigger striker may not have a ton of answers if Zimmerman et al are dominant in the box.
- Open the game. An up-and-down nature generally favors the home team, and that’s even more true given the stylistic differences between these teams. Nashville wants to get running at the backline with speed, Vancouver doesn’t have a ton of creation from the middle aside from Gauld (or deeper-lying players who can be minimized with solid defensive play).
- Hany star. I swear I didn’t know he would be absent when nI predicted a 3-1 win in Cincinnati last week.
- Who’s the man playing on the right flank. [chorus] “SHAQ.”
Nashville SC 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 0.