Once more unto the breach. The Boys in Gold begin the 2023 season against a new-look NYCFCC squad.
Opponent: New York City FC (16-11-7 in 2022)
Time, Location: Saturday, Feb. 25, 3:30 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 48ºF, 6% chance of rain, 93% humidity, 6 mph NNW wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Live on Apple TV (free), FOX • 104.5 The Zone
Match officials: Referee: Armando Villareal. Assistants: Cory Richardson, Brian Dunn. Fourth Official: Nima Saghafi. Video Assistants: Jair Marrufo, Claudiu Badea
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC +100, Draw +242, NYCFC +279
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith presser. Multi-part NSC preview.
|Stat (2022)||Nashville SC||NYCFC|
|Record (W-L-D)||13-10-11 (1.47 PPG)|
|16-11-7 (1.62 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||N/A||N/A|
|xG Power||+0.38 (6th MLS)||+0.69 (3rd MLS)|
|G Power||+0.22 (6th MLS)||+0.32 (5th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.16 (20th MLS)||-0.37 (27th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.23 (7th MLS)||+0.40 (4th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.15 (8th MLS)||-0.29 (4th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||-0.76 Home (27th MLS)||-0.16 Away (19th MLS)|
|Injury report||QUEST.: M Dax McCarty (thigh), F Hany Mukhtar (hip), F CJ Sapong (thigh)|
OUT: D Nick DePuy (leg)
New York City FC
This is going to be a very different NYCFC team than recent years. Among field players, three of last year’s top four minutes-getters are gone, as are four of the top five players in total Goals Added (per the American Soccer Analysis metric). The lone exception on both fronts is winger Talles Magno, an offensive dynamo who sort of goes through the motions defensively. He undershot his expected goals (seven on 9.49 xG) but overachieved expected assists (eight on 4.95 xA) last year, and loves to beat guys off the dribble as Priority No. 1.
Fellow winger Thiago is the next-leading returning producer on offense… with five goals on 4.58 xG and two assists on 1.87 xA. Gabriel Pereira, another winger, massively outperformed his xG (eight goals on 4.50). My assumption is that these are your starting wingers while Magno plays up top.
Keaton Parks is an outstanding holding midfielder, but his contributions have been limited over the past few years. He had his first mostly-healthy season in 2021, and then missed half of last year after having surgery to remove a blood clot from his right leg. When healthy, he’s a mediocre defender as a defensive midfielder, but impeccable in distribution, and he contributes directly to the attack just a bit, as well.
Maxime Chanot and Thiago Martins should form a solid centerback pairing, and while losing Alex Callens – for my money, one of the better centerbacks in the league in recent years – is not exactly “no big deal” territory, at least there’s some continuity. Martins is sort of bad, is the main issue here. Both of them are non-huge, as well, which could mean the aerial route for Nashville (including on set pieces) makes sense. Flanking them are Malte Amundsen and Tayvon Gray at fullback. You might expect, given the reputation of NYCFC over the years for engaging a ton of bodies in attack, that they’re both fine defenders but very good attacking players… but that’s not the case! Gray is a highly disruptive defender who absolutely stunk getting involved in the attack last year, while Amundsen is sort of above-average all around.
Goalkeeper is a major question mark for this team, which is insane given how both ever-present and high-quality Sean Johnson has been over the years. He’s off to Toronto FC, so it’s down to one of three untested keepers. Matt Freese – who has faced under 50 shots in 1100 MLS minutes – feels like the best option, after coming over from Philadelphia Union. Luis Barraza is an old-timer, having been here since the 2019 season. In that time, he’s faced 12 total shots in barely over 500 minutes. He does have the No. 1 jersey, for however much stock you put into such things. Cody Mizell signed with NYCFC in 2021 and was the chief backup then (seeing no time), but all of his professional time to date has come in a few USL stints, including on loan with New Mexico United (from whom NYCFC has signed him) last year. He has been a decent-nothing-special keeper at the USL level.
As you can see, while NYCFC lost a ton of talent from last year (Maxi Moralez, Taty Castellanos, Callens, Nicolas Acevedo), there’s at least an obvious option to start at every position except keeper, where there are three reasonable talents, any of whom could step in and probably not be a problem. The issue is a total lack of proven depth: if I didn’t mention a guy here, he’s likely new to the franchise, and in a lot of cases new to the professional game. NYC has been successful because of its style of play, technical ability, and the combination of those making for a lot of interchangeable parts. If that doesn’t come together quickly here (and under head coach Nick Cushing, they were terrible for about three months before rebounding into the postseason), it could be a rocky start to the season.
The Boys in Gold
I previewed NSC this week!
With Dax McCarty almost certain to get an opening-day rest after he was unable to participate in much of preseason, not much has changed. I would imagine that both Hany Mukhtar and CJ Sapong are on the injury report but will be close enough to full-go to get the starting nod today (though in Sapong’s case, that’s less necessary given the depth provided by Teal Bunbury).
Nashville was fairly poor in GEODIS Park last year, and your mileage may vary as to why that was the case and whether it will persist. It’s not a brand-new park anymore, and Nashville’s roster and operations folks have a year to get used to it. If the crowd shows up in week one – and they should – getting off to a good start in the home building can change the narrative there.
If NSC can perform nearly as well at home as away this season, it could be a special year.
Keys to the game
- Take advantage of the home crowd. I mentioned it a moment ago, but from game one last year, opponents were saying “it’s only loud in there when they score.” That’s partially BS, of course, but it felt like there was a kernel of truth where opponents didn’t have any fear of GEODIS. If that changes, look out.
- Be willing to control the ball. NYCFC has been a “same style home or away” type of team, which means they want to dominate possession and use that as their primary method of attack and defense. But if Nashville wants to be dangerous at home, they can’t be afraid to control a little bit more of the ball.
- Take advantage of the opportunities. If Nashville does get out on the counter, on the other hand, they need to put shots on frame. These goalkeepers are unlikely to be very good, and when an NYCFC team doesn’t have Sean Johnson, they’re a very different puzzle to solve. In settled attack, moving the ball side-to-side and getting those keepers off-balance will be important.
- Set pieces. Of the 39.10 expected goals NYCFC conceded last year, 7.60 came from dead-ball opportunities. That turned into seven goals. Nashville has historically been fairly set-piece-reliant, and given all the above, it should be a fairly profitable avenue on this day.
Nashville SC 2, NYCFC 2