Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2023: at Orlando City SC

An old rival (sort of?) pops up. Nashville and Orlando have crossed paths plenty since the Boys in Gold joined Major League Soccer. NSC heads to the land of [redacted] looking to snap a losing streak against a team that’s started 2023 on a strong note.

The essentials

Opponent: Orlando City SC (2-1-2)
Time, Location: Saturday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 local) • Orlando, Fla.
Weather: 83ºF, 1% chance of rain, 48% humidity, 14 mph Westerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV • 104.5 The Zone

Match officials: Referee: Chris Penso. Assistants: Kathryn Nesbitt, Jeremy Hanson. Fourth Official: Kevin Klinger. Video Assistants: Geoff Gamble, Cameron Blanchard

Vegas Odds: Nashville SC +196, Draw +233, Cincinnati +140

Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith, Jack Maher press conference.

Stat (2023!)Nashville SCOrlando City SC
Record (W-L-D)2-2-1 (1.40 PPG)
6th East
2-1-2 (1.60 PPG)
4th East
Recent form (most recent first)L-L-W-D-WW-L-D-D-W
xG Power*
+0.37 (6th MLS)-0.65 (28th MLS)
G Power+0.50 (5th MLS)+0.061 (3rd MLS)
“Luck”+0.14 (11th MLS)+1.26 (1st MLS)
Offense-0.19 (21st MLS)-0.30 (26th MLS)
Defense-0.55 (3rd MLS)+0.35 (26th MLS)
Venue advantage+0.68 Away (10th MLS)-0.15 Home (18th MLS)
Injury reportOUT.: D Nick DePuy (achilles, season), M Randall Leal (lower body)QUEST.: F Ercan Kara (thigh)
* The Power Rating numbers will still be a little wonky at this stage of the year thanks to small sample sizes

Orlando City SC

So. Orlando’s luck number. Obviously it won’t sustain all season (it’s double Austin’s mark from last year, which was the highest since I’ve been doing these ratings), but thanks to the small sample so far, the truth about how good Orlando is lies somewhere between the xG number (terrible), and the actual goals number (good). Game states, weird contests, etc.: each game accounts for 20% of the entire résumé and a counter-xG result or two can make things look very strange. On a match-by-match basis, they’ve overachieved their approximate “justice” result in four games, and underachieved once. Their three non-draws have all been one-goal decisions, so they were at least competitive enough that lopsided game states were less of a factor.

One way in which they’re overachieving is by having outstanding goalkeeping. Pedro Gallese has been one of the streakier goalkeepers in the league since joining Orlando in 2020, and is off to a solid start this year allowing 83% of xG against so far. Last week when he was on international duty with Peru on the other hand… backup Mason Stajduhar stepped in for him and allowed one goal on 1.72 post-shot xG against Philly, a downright elite performance. He’s actually performed better than Gallese on aggregate by a pretty significant margin in the time they’ve both been with OCSC, but Stajduhar’s sample (36 total shots faced over three years) is so small as to make it tough to project much. I would expect Gallese, who is basically an average shot-stopper, to continue doing his thing.

When both have been available, Rodrigo Schlegel and Robin Jansson have been the starting CB pairing (Orlando went with a back three in the second and third games of the year, subbing Jansson in both times, once in replacement of Schlegel). They are both very good interruptors who are not notable in any other way to G+, though both have been goal-scorers at times in the past. Schlegel scored the game-tying goal of the Open Cup matchup between these two teams last year.

The fullbacks have been much more of a blender: homegrown Michael Halliday has been the plurality choice on the right, while Kyle Smith has been the RCB both times OCSC has played a back-five, but also got the start at his old RB position in last week’s win over Philly. His statistical profile is a little wonky because it comes at a couple different positions, but he looks similar to the CBs for now (can’t imagine why): good interruptor, not providing much elsewhere. Rafael Santos and Luca Petrasso have basically split time on the left, with Santos sort of invisible, which I guess is better than Petrasso’s “invisible but an actively uninvolved defender, too.”

The first-choice central midfield has been Cesar Araújo and Mauricio Pereyra, with Wilder Cartagena stepping in as a sub for either or as the lone holder when Orlando has used an odd number of CMs. Araújo has been an elite defensive player, but largely a non-entity in possession (a rich man’s Brian Anunga, you could say?). Pereyra has been mostly anonymous so far, but you would be unwise to assume he’ll continue that way: in his previous four MLS seasons he’s been a near-elite distributor from the holding midfield. Cartagena has already played nearly half as many minutes as he did last season… but the stats and eye test are both unimpressed, and at 28 it’s not like a sudden breakout is pending. He’s a decent backup, no more or less.

When going with a pure 4-2-3-1 – a relative rarity this season for a few different reasons (player availability, mostly) – Martín Ojeda is the first-choice No. 10. The Argentine is a bit of a classic archetype for the position, not a great dribbler and an uninterested defender, but a good facilitator and (separating him from the stereotype) scorer. Pereyra stepped forward into that role during the international break, while Ojeda played as a winger and scored. That was more of a pure striker-poacher goal on a bang over the top on the counter, FWIW, so he wasn’t out here cooking guys on the flanks like a true winger might. Iván Angulo, Facundo Torres, and Dagur Dan Thórhallsson have been the other wingers – with Angulo also moonlighting as a bit more of a defensive player. None has done a whole lot yet, and while Thórhallsson is new to the league and thus a bit of a mystery, Torres was good and Angulo not notable last season, the first for each in MLS.

Ercan Kara has missed most of the year up top, leaving Duncan McGuire and Ramiro Enrique to step into the striker spot, with occasional cameos from Torres (particularly in two-striker setups). They’re both decent dribblers, while McGuire has added a lot with his passing… but there’s not enough sample size on either to know what to expect for sure. We’re extrapolating bigtime based on like 150 minutes a pop. McGuire is a rookie out of Creighton, and since he also attended Creighton Prep and was born in Omaha, it’s unconfirmed whether he’d ever been outside of Eastern Nebraska before being Drafted No. 6 overall in December. But probably.

The Boys in Gold

We know NSC will be without Nick DePuy all year, and Randall Leal is still at least another week from action, but Aníbal Godoy made his return from a shoulder injury last week, making this game the healthiest NSC has been since the opener.

The problem is that the team has been trending toward health in the past couple weeks, and it hasn’t meant a whole lot on the scoreboard. The results have both been on the unlucky side (1-0 losses despite leads in the xG race, with the opponent’s goal being solid strikes mostly against the run of play), but I don’t think the table has a column for that – even if strength-oriented power ratings do. This early in the season, there’s randomness in both individual results and individual performances, so projecting forward requires total guesswork about who a team even is, in addition to the typical “it’s a ball game and weird things just happen” type of randomness.

That said, Nashville’s ability to convert has been non-great… and the creation has been in the bottom 10 of the league. A breakout is always possible (remember it took Hany Mukhtar over a half-dozen games to find his first goal last season), but the team has to step up its overall attack – this has not been a team too badly-bitten by the luck gods this year.

Keys to the game

  • Get shots up. Gallese has a sterling reputation, but I’m not super-sold on him, given what the stats say (and have said in past years when I’ve made the same point). Orlando is a bit of a risk-taking backline that wants to disrupt you rather than pack it in and let you launch from distance… so when their risks don’t pay off, Nashville has to shoot, and shoot on target. That hasn’t happened frequently enough this year.
  • Own the flanks. Orlando has a lot of talent wide, whether that’s strong defensive FBs or strong attacking wingers. What they don’t have is the same sort of balance that Nashville can have in those wide areas with attackers who are willing to track back, or fullbacks who can overlap and make big moments of danger. If NSC can win one-on-one battles and turn them into overloads, you’re cookin’.
  • Make them foul you. Orlando has not been a foul-happy team this year, so it’s a bit of a speculative key… but this is a physical, “make plays” type of defense, and when you have Hany Mukhtar patrolling the middle, you can turn that into free kicks (though MLS’s officiating guidelines specifically re: the reigning MVP can certainly be drawn into question if you wanna do a little post-mortem VARing). That’s going to be a conduit for attack if Nashville is having trouble generating run-of-play chances.
  • Set pieces. Because duh, but also because of the above bullet point (and a reminder that Orlando has had a frustrating propensity for set-piece goals against Nashville, including the aforementioned Schlegel goal in the Open Cup last year).


Nashville SC 1, Orlando City 1. Nashville feels like a team that’s been unlucky this year, while Orlando feels like one that’s been ludicrously lucky to date. Small sample sizes abound, yes, but put it all together and it feels like an evenly-matched contest, and one in which NSC has to get a point to feel like the season is still under control.

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