The toughest test of the young season for Nashville SC is here. A road trip to Foxboro – where Nashville has never scored (albeit also never lost) – beckons. It’s a chance for the Boys in Gold to cement their status as one of the teams challenging for the Eastern Conference.
Opponent: New England Revolution (10-12-12 in 2022)
Time, Location: Saturday, March 18, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 local) • Gillette Stadium
Weather: 46ºF, 1% chance of rain, 43% humidity, 8 mph Westerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV (this is the first subscription game of the year for NSC. Make sure you’re signed up before match time) • 104.5 The Zone
Match officials: Referee: Jon Freemon. Assistants: Logan /brown, Adam Garner. Fourth Official: Marcos De Oliveira. Video Assistants: Kevin Stott, Rene Parra.
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC +202, Draw +225, New England +139
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith, Teal Bunbury press conference.
|Stat (2022)||Nashville SC||New England Revolution|
|Record (W-L-D)||13-10-11 (1.47 PPG)|
|10-12-12 (1.24 PPG) |
|Recent form (most recent first, 2023)||W-D-W||L-W-W|
|xG Power||+0.38 (6th MLS)||-0.24 (20th MLS)|
|G Power||+0.22 (6th MLS)||-0.03 (13th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.16 (20th MLS)||+0.21 (5th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.23 (7th MLS)||+0.00 (13th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.15 (8th MLS)||+0.24 (23rd MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.76 Away (2nd MLS)||+0.05 Home (13th MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT.: D Nick DePuy (achilles, season), M Randall Leal (lower body)|
QUEST.: M Aníbal Godoy (shoulder), M Luke Haakenson (lower body), M Alex Muyl (lower body), D Walker Zimmerman (illness)
|OUT: M Nacho Gil (leg), G Jacob Jackson (ACL), M Maciel (Achilles), M Tommy McNamara (leg) |
QUEST.: M Carles Gil (leg)
New England Revolution
The Revs’ bouncedown(?) from a record-setting 2021 season was harsh: they finished No. 10 in the Eastern Conference, and if not for the heroics of goalkeeper Djordje Petrović, who was somehow an improvement on Matt Turner (who had until then been statistically the best keeper in league history over a meaningful dataset), it might have been even uglier. They had the 12th-best GA in the league last season despite the 24th-best xGA (to be fair there’s a lot of gamestate and “we know we have a keeper who can consistently allow us to outperform defensive xG” in there).
So let’s start with Petrovic: he allowed four goals on 3.24 xG last weekend against LAFC. That is not great but well within the range of “normal.” In the prior two games he hadn’t allowed a single one, but had faced only 1.00 total xG. New England appears to be doing a better job keeping him clean this year, and he’s his same-old self, just with a bad night against an elite attacking group. And even in that one, the final two LAFC goals featured laughably bad defense where the keeper’s facing ~1.00 total xG between them is a big undersell. He’s largely not notable to G+ in the non-shotstopping aspects of the position (aside from passing where he’s bad, but that’s more a stylistic issue than anything else), fwiw.
While Nashville doesn’t have LAFC’s attack – to say the least – should we be assuming there are significant cracks in the Revs’ D? G+ actually considers the members of the backline to be three of the top four performers so far in this young season: RB Brandon Bye and CB Henry Kessler are even considered elite interruptors, one of the few things that’s hyper-relevant to the defensive effort. Our old friend Dave Romney is about average in that regard but has been a very good passer – the first half is what we’d come to expect of him in Nashville, the latter is a bit of a change. Left back DeJuan Jones remains a decent attacking fullback but sort of non-notable as a defender, aside from boasting very good speed.
So how has the defense been mediocre-to-poor? Aside from the early-season quirk of playing one elite team and two very bad ones, they’ve been messing around with a 4-diamond-2 to get Carles Gil in position to play as a true No. 10 with two strikers. The true holder, Matt Polster, has been like average. The two shuttlers, Noel Buck and Latif Blessing have both been pretty awful. Buck is a non-entity defensively, while the lilliputian Blessing has been known as a solid defender in his career, and G+ has thought he’s decent so far this year… but his liability on the ball has sort of always been an issue, and that’s been the case this year. He’s a poor passer and prone to giveaways (he was responsible for not feeling Timothy Tillman’s arrive last weekend, leading to the third LAFC goal), and while he does get into decent advanced positions historically, that’s a less-valuable attribute when he’s playing as one of the sides of a diamond in this tactical approach.
There’s still some punch in this attack, of course. Carles Gil is a year removed from being the league MVP, and when he’s pulling the strings as the No. 10, there’s a lot to like about his game. Also he didn’t start against LAFC because he’s been nursing a leg injury, and he was a sub-in and sub-out player last weekend, which seems to indicate that he was rushed back and the desire to reinjure him for the second week in a row is understandably low. In his place, Gustavo Bou got the start (20-year old Homegrown Damian Rivera was the injury sub). Bou has historically been more of a pure striker/finisher than the service-oriented Gil, historically.
Giacomo Vrioni started as the lone striker in the opener, but in the two games since the shift to the diamond midfield, the two strikers have been Bobby Wood and Dylan Borrero. Wood is the archetype “Bruce Arena knows some guys” signing, picked in the re-entry draft after his two years in RSL didn’t go as planned. Most of Wood’s MNT caps actually came under Jurgen Klinsmann, and his time in MLS has been uninspiring to date, but he’s only 30 and a breakout season at this level isn’t out of the question, even if it would certainly only be one season. Borrero has historically been a winger by trade, so his passing G+ is higher than you might expect for a striker and receiving G+ significantly lower than you might expect. He’s not going to be a high-volume attacker unless something changes, in the very least.
The Revs outperformed their xG differential in a big way against Charlotte, did the same against Houston but not to the degree that the result was unfair, just the scoreline, and as previously mentioned, last week’s spanking was about as fair as it comes, however you want to read into the team just going through the motions for the fourth goal as it applies to projecting forward.
The Boys in Gold
It’s a MASH unit! Nick DePuy’s absence will now last the season, so the Boys in Gold may well feel a little short-handed at CB if Walker Zimmerman is less than 100% (though I’d be knocked over backwards if he’s ill enough to miss the game – or even the starting lineup). The signing of Jan Greguš is probably a little more oriented toward filling in for the Godoy/Leal spots with both of them out – or in Godoy’s case possibly out though it seems unlikely he plays – and with Alex Muyl questionable, and one of the few guys who can plug in as a utility midfielder anywhere.
With all that and going on the road to a New England team that’s generally pretty good on the ol’ plastic pitch at Gillette, it feels like a bit more of a true 4-4-2 is realistic, with wide midfielders more so than wingers. For that reason, a Mukhtar/Sapong front two (since Teal Bunbury can plug in as a wide midfielder or true winger – a little more versatility off the bench) feels likely. Brian Anunga and Sean Davis in the middle with Dax McCarty coming off the bench feels likely there. I’ll guess at a Greguš/Shaffelburg wide combo for the best blend of attacking skill and defensive workrate.
Typical backline with Joe Willis still between the pipes.
Keys to the game
- Hit on the counter. Even if Nashville doesn’t go with a more defensively-oriented 4-4-2 versus the typical 4-2-3-1, you have to think that the gameplan against New England is to absorb some of the pressure, try to draw the Revs out a bit, and find space in-behind. A first true appearance of the dreaded “GaryBall” (scarequotes ironic in both directions) feels likely, as it’s often been the case in difficult venues for Nashville… and for most visitors to Foxboro aside from the most-ambitious attacking teams in the league.
- Deny service to the strikers. Thus far in 2023, at least, the Revs have not had a great time getting the ball into the attacking areas against anyone other than Houston (and it’s not like they poured on the chances, even in the matchup with the Dynamo). NSC’s central midfield putting pressure on the No. 10 and making those passing lanes difficult to find will be crucial. Harrying the shuttlers (assuming the diamond) into mistakes – because they’re about that particular life – can not only keep the Revs from advancing, but also make for sudden-change offensive opportunities.
- Let them possess without purpose. New England actually out-possessed LAFC on the road last weekend (game-state effects, of course), but the other two games have seen the Revs very willing to give up the ball. Obviously, Nashville is a team that’s not trying to have the rock at its feet on the road, so letting New England dominate possession just a bit – as long as it doesn’t turn into chances – plays into the other stuff Nashville wants to do: open the opportunity for counters, and prevent NE from distributing from Zone 14.
- Set pieces. In what projects to be a low-scoring game without a ton of chances either way in the run of play… these can be game-changers.
Nashville SC 0, New England Revolution 1. A 0-0 feels like the plurality outcome, but a 1-0 in either direction is possible, and in that instance, a tough road trip for NSC has me giving the very slight edge to the Revs.