NSC has kept its head just above water, but the home results have been rough. Can the Boys in Gold finally bounce back?
Opponent: FC Dallas (11-7-9 MLS)
Time, Location: Sunday, Aug. 21, 7:38 p.m. CDT • GEOEDIS Park
Weather: 78ºF, 29% chance of rain, 85% 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)
Tailgate: With The Backline
Match officials: Referee: Kevin Stott. Assistants: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho, Adam Garner. Fourth official: Elvis Osmanovic. Video Assistants: Edwin Jurisevic, Mike Kampmeinert
Vegas odds: Nashville SC -116, draw +266, FC Dallas +304
|Stat||Nashville SC||FC Dallas|
|Record (W-L-D)||8-9-9 (1.27 PPG)|
|11-7-9 (1.56 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||L-L-D-D-D||W-W-D-L-W|
|xG Power||+0.29 (8th MLS)||-0.08 (15th MLS)|
|G Power||-0.11 (17th MLS)||+0.17 (7th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.40 (26th MLS)||+0.24 (5th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.08 (11th MLS)||-0.10 (18th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.22 (5th MLS)||-0.02 (14th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||-0.79 Home (28th MLS)||-0.28 Away (21st MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: F Teal Bunbury (thigh), F Aké Loba (trunk)||OUT: M Brandon Servania (pelvis)|
SUSP.: F Jesus Fereirra (YC accum.)
This is a very different team in the time since Nashville SC played FCD at the beginning of the year – or, at least, we now have a better idea of what sort of team it is, rather than thinking it’s an extension of last year’s struggle-bus. This has been a good-not-great squad to the advanced numbers over the course of 27 games, but has outperformed those underlying metrics to find plenty of success.
Typically overachievement in attack is something we expect to level off over time, whereas overachievement on the basis of strong goalkeeping has shown over the years to be a little more consistent, replicable, and predictive. So: FCD is overachieving just a little bit on the offensive side of the field, with 38 goals scored on about 35 expected goals. However, that includes more than +5 from Jesús Ferreira (15 goals on 9.43 xG), and the US Men’s National Team striker is suspended for yellow card accumulation tonight. The rest of the team is underachieving its xG, and the player likely to step into Ferreira’s shoes, Argentine Franco Jara, has a rocky relationship with Dallas fans, who to put it bluntly think he stinks.
On the other end, FCD is overachieving its xG against by more than seven(!, must be nice), with 28 goals allowed on 35.24 expected goals against. Some of that is pure luck, but nearly three goals’ worth of it have come in solid performances from keeper Maarten Paes, who is allowing conversion on 91% of xG against.
Supporting Jara, there’s been some shuffling in what FCD likes to do on the wings (and head coach Nico Estevez has also experimented with both strikers on the field, with Ferreira behind Jara, but that obviously won’t be an option tonight. Alan Velasco has supplanted Jader Obrian on the left wing, but Paul Arriola has been a mainstay on the right, and one of the most dangerous setup men in the league: he’s been unlucky to record only three assists on 4.84 expected (particularly considering that Ferreira has been a plus finisher this year).
As for the midfield, what I wrote back in March is still partially relevant:
Behind that trio are attacking mids Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania, both former US Youth Internationals. If not for consistent injuries, Pomykal may very well be a regular for the USMNT at this point. Those injuries also prevent us from getting too firm a grip on what he played like last year, though as a central midfielder rather than his previous role as a winger, according to ASA‘s Goals Added, he’s good at taking guys on the dribble, about replacement-level as a passer, and below average at other areas of attacking play. Servania’s historically a bit more of a stay-at-home No. 8, though he does like to uncork one here and there.
That leaves lone holder Edwin Cerrillo as the most-defensive of the trio. G+ doesn’t like much of anything about his game, if we’re being a little brutally honest here. He can cover the width of the pitch, but isn’t particularly disruptive (given the position he plays) and tends to be extremely conservative with his passing. A poor man’s Brian Anunga, if you will.March 11
Servania is out injured, but Dallas made a mid-season trade for former US International Sebastian Lletget, so his absence won’t be felt (heck, even a healthy Servania might not have been in the lineup, as long as Pomykal is ready to go over 45 minutes). Pomykal has had his healthiest year in a long time, though he hasn’t produced a ton in the attack. He’s more of a shuttler and possession-recycler as one of the advanced midfielders in that midfield trio. G+ is even more down on Cerillo than it was a year ago, fwiw.
Marco Farfan and Ema Twumasi remain locked-on starters at LB and RB, respectively, with Farfan bad all around according to G+, but particularly uninvolved in breaking up opposing attacks – which is particularly weird because Twumasi’s near-elite in that respect, so it’s unlikely to be a stylistic shoice from the team’s tactics: you’re just gonna have a better time attacking Farfan, meaning generating attacks on Nashville’s right side of the field.
Unless Estevez goes with a wonky formation (as he has at times, a 3-4-3 most recently), the two centerbacks have been fairly consistent: Jose Martínez and Matt Hedges on the left and right, respectively. That means it’s the same back four we expected last time around, and the points remain the same:
Farfan was extremely stay-at-home for LAFC – though it’s worth noting that the defense there was a shambles, so the degree to which he stayed at home as a part of that may indicate bad one-v-one defending – sort of a total departure from the roaming Hollingshead of the past few years. Twumasi would dribble a guy here and there, but was similarly stay-at-home for FCD a year ago. Like Farfan, he was not a particularly disruptive defender, and when you have that attribute on a defense that stinks overall, it doesn’t reflect particularly well on you. In the middle, Jose Martínez and Matt Hedges have been the guys. Martínez was very very low on the interruption scale (see what I just said about Twumasi in terms of value judgments), but a very good passer out of the back a year ago. Hedges, an FCD lifer, has always been an elite interruptor, and he’s solid on the ball. He’s never really been known as an offensive threat, though.March 11
As noted, Twumasi has been much-improved defensively as the sample size has gone up, but Martínez is still far less interrupty of the two CBs, and Hedges has actually graded out as the team’s top player, ahead of Ferreira.
This is a team that has been OK on the margins all year, but survived – thrived, even – thanks to good goalkeeping, good finishing (which can be included in…), and a touch of luck. It’s been a little worse on the road, but that’s to be expected. Without one of the players who has allowed the team to overachieve this year, it will come down to whether NSC can neutralize the other one.
Godoy back.That’s big, particularly if he’s 90-minute fit. With Shaq Moore up to full speed and Teal Bunbury the lone meaningful absence to injury, the starting XI is fully available (though attacking subs are light on the ground).
I do wonder if it’s time for the same mid-year goalkeeping shakeup that we saw coming off the international break, when Elliot Panicco came on for a couple games to get Joe Willis’s head right. Willis is on pace for the worst year of his career (and while he’s rarely been elite, he’s basically never been worse than average when given a full load – to say nothing of the 123% of xG he’s allowing in). I’m not going to die on that hill, but what’s the point of having two keepers if the second guy can’t get in even when the first is struggling?
The name of the game for NSC remains finishing, though. NSC has outperformed its attacking xG just once (in a 3-4 loss to Toronto FC) in the past eight games. The vast majority of that is down to randomness – unless you think career-average finishers* like CJ Sapong and Randall Leal (among others) suddenly got worse, or there’s something systematically making them worse, even though they’re in the same team environment they have been over the past couple years. If Nashville can turn the luck tables, a strong kick to the finish is still possible.
* Basically every guy is career-average in the long run. I promise I’ll eventually publish the finishing-festo to demonstrate this.
Keys to the game
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
- Handle the wingers. Perhaps easier said than done! But they’re dangerous players both with the ball at their feet and making runs in-behind.
- Let Moore serve from the right. We haven’t seen enough yet. It’s what he was brought in for (or at least to provide the threat of it, opening space inside.
- Win with Mukhtar. F it, if they’re not going to win any other way, let’s just do it and be legends.
- Get an early lead. For all Dallas’s talent, this is a team designed to play open games against opponents who are also playing an open game. They’ll have difficulty breaking down NSC if the Boys in Gold don’t have to be overly concerned with finding a way forward.
- Set pieces again. Because I said so.
Nashville SC 2, FC Dallas 2