The previous game against Portland contributed to Nashville’s mid-season slump of results. Can a trip to the PNW snap what seems like an ongoing struggle?
Opponent: Portland Timbers FC (7-6-10 MLS)
Time, Location: Wednesday, Aug. 3, 9:38 p.m. CDT (7:38 local) • Portland, Ore.
Weather: 69ºF, 1% chance of rain, 51% humidity, 7 mph NW wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), ESPN+ (national) • IHeartRadio/El Jefe 96.7 (Español)
Watch party: With the Heaters and Eastern Front at ML Rose 8th South
Match officials: Referee: Silviu Petrescu. Assistants: Michael Barwegen, Ian McKay. Fourth official: Alex Chilowicz. Video Assistants: Armando Villareal, Craig Lowry
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +210, draw +255, Portland Timbers +120
|Stat||Nashville SC||Portland Timbers|
|Record (W-L-D)||8-7-8 (1.39 PPG)|
|7-6-10 (1.35 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||D-D-L-W-L||D-W-D-W-D|
|xG Power||+0.36 (7th MLS)||-0.22 (20th MLS)|
|G Power||-0.05 (16th MLS)||-0.02 (14th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.41 (25th MLS)||+0.20 (8th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.10 (11th MLS)||+0.19 (8th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.26 (6th MLS)||+0.40 (27th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.84 Away (1st MLS)||-0.60 Home (27th MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: M Aníbal Godoy (thigh), F Aké Loba (trunk)||OUT: F Diego Gutierrez (foot), F Felipe Mora (knee) |
QUEST.: M George Fochive (groin), M Cristhian Paredes (thigh), M Eryk Williamson (hamstring)
SUSP.: F Dairon Asprilla, M Diego Chara (YC accum.)
Including the trip to Nashville, Portland is 2-0-3 since the last time I previewed them… part of an ongoing eight-game unbeaten streak. It’s worth noting that they’ll be shorthanded tonight, though!
Some of the guys who are out or questionable – strikers Diego Gutierrez and Felipe Mora, midfielder George Fochive – have missed basically the entire year (or been bit players when healthy). Midfielder Eryk Williamson is somewhat transitional here, having returned from an ACL injury and played nearly 800 minutes, though not at full strength. I would imagine he plays in a similar capacity tonight. Cristhian Paredes, however, is largely a first-choice player, and next to him is one of the most important players on the pitch: Diego Chara. Paredes’s lack of full health is significant when viewed through the lens that both Chara (one of the league’s consistently-best DMs) and his backup could be out.
In the five games since I last previewed this team, the attack has hit another gear, but the defense has diminished in effectiveness – and not exactly from a lofty perch – to a slight extent. Here’s what I wrote a month ago:
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.July 3
Ivacic’s numbers have remained about static – NSC didn’t have a say in this, as backup David Bingham started at GEODIS – while the defense has decreased in effectiveness. The goals against numbers have only dropped incrementally for a couple reasons (only a five-game sample size in the time since the last preview, two of those against incompetent attacks, so anything you give up to them looks worse to the advanced numbers), however.
The CB situation has changed: Bill Tuiloma (who had to that point been the No. 2 player in the league per ASA‘s Goals Added!) has been nailed to the bench, while Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic have been the starters in the middle. Tuiloma had been suspended and missed the Nashville game, so the Boys in Gold may not notice a huge change (though it was Zac McGraw started next to Mabiala in that one). HOWEVER, Tuiloma’s capable of playing central midfield, so it may very well mean he just replaces Chara’s role one layer higher up the pitch.
On the wide defenders:
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.July 3
Bravo is back to health and has started the past five, including the game at GEODIS, on the left side. He’s an extraordinarily physical player and a good passer on the wings. Whether he can be as effective defensively without Chara intimidating opponents in his direction is up for debate. For what it’s worth, VanRankin is one yellow away from a suspension, so whether he’s a little spooked about a suspension coming up (or treating this one like a six-pointer where he has to give it all with the FC Dallas game at the weekend something he’s willing to sacrifice for that) is a possibility, if not a strong one.
Replacing Chara and will probably be one or the other of Paredes and Williamson, with David Ayala maintaining his hold on the other spot. The other spot, though, could be Tuiloma, as I alluded to above. He’s a bigtime interruptor, while his attacking abilities (mostly coming down to being a set-piece threat) may be differently-used if he is at a different position. Or maybe not, since set-piece plays can be fairly position-independent and focused on players’ skillsets. Paredes and Williamson are both good interruptors with Paredes more likely to get involved in the goal-scoring and Williamson as a feeder… but neither a huge piece of the attack.
On to the true attacking players:
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.July 3
That’s still the front four, though there’s been a little more side-by-side strike duo with Blanco and Niezgoda next to each other. That’s a little more flexible defensively (Nashville drops into a 4-4-2 in defense, even when in a strict 4-2-3-1 in attack), and given the absences in defensive midfield, I would not be surprised to see it tonight. Winger (actually a flexible attacker) Dairon Asprilla is another major attacking piece – you may recall his scoring the penalty kick that got PTFC back into the game in Nashville – but he’s on yellow-card suspension.
With Aníbal Godoy still unavailable – though, as Gary Smith previewed, he traveled with the team for an emotional boost to them, and to prepare him to be back into the lineup when healthy – there’s not a lot of mystery here. The healthy returns of Dan Lovitz and Alex Muyl from suspension should see both of them in the lineup, and upping Shaq Moore’s minutes from 60 to 75 (or, inshallah, even more) as he works back to fitness is likely.
From a team perspective… it’s hard to call a midweek road match across the country a “must-win” or even “must-not-lose,” but Nashville’s gotta be close to feeling that way given a recent run of frustrating results. It’s worth noting that NSC has performed fine-to-very-well in xG terms, despite ignominious results lately. With a break here or there (or fewer breaks going against the team, at least), it could click pretty suddenly.
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.
- Let Moore serve from the right. We saw glimpses of it Saturday night. His forcing Portland to defend wide areas will really make life easier for the attacking players.
- Set pieces again. Because I said so.
I mentioned it on the podcast this week: in a vacuum, my faith in where this NSC team is right now, particularly visiting a strong home team that’s scrapping for its playoff life, is not super-high. But that’s when the Boys in Gold seem to put up their best performances, too.
Portland Timbers 1, Nashville SC 1