All my true Tyrpak heads remember. Photo from deeeeeeep file.
Folks, it is time. The Magic of the Cup® is here, and Nashville SC’s campaign begins against a USL Championship squad – and one of the very best in that league.
Opponent: San Antonio FC (3-1-3 US CHampionship)
Time, Location: Wednesday, April 26, 7:30 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 64ºF, 14% chance of rain, 50% humidity, 6 mph Easterly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: Bleacher Report Youtube.
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC -154, Draw +260, SAFC +384
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe and listen to an in-depth interview with John Morrissey of USLTactics. Gary Smith and Ethan Zubak presser.
San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC has been one of the best teams in USL over the past three years (i.e. the time that Nashville SC has been out of USL), but that hasn’t been the case so far this year: the team currently sits fourth in the Western Conference, which is not terrible but not by any stretch the sort of strength shown in recent seasons. There is one major caveat: SAFC has played just seven games (two fewer than Nashville SC), so a position in the table is even more low-sample than one for an MLS team. OK maybe a second caveat, too: this team has rotated heavily, whether due to injury, fixture congestion with the Open Cup, or because reinforcements have arrived after the beginning of the season.
Even fans who haven’t followed USL since Nashville’s exit from the league may recognize a couple names. The first is a guy who you’d recognize just because of the caliber of his performances in the league: Cristian Parano. The mighty-mite attacking mid missed the first couple games of the year (a win over Oakland Roots and a draw against Loudoun United), was a 35-minute sub as he eased back in, and was subbed out over the weekend (a draw against Phoenix Rising in which he provided his team’s only goal) as the team rested him for tonight. He’s traditionally more of an assist guy than a goal-scoring guy, and while American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added (G+) likes his getting into good positions and finishing more than his passing so far this year. Sample sizes, certainly, but also the risk-taking nature of his desire to make plays. He’s got the best dribbling score of any player in USL so far this year.
Some of the other attacking players have familiar names because they’re MLS… alumni? Winger Niko Hansen has had stints with Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo, and Minnesota United. In MLS, he has been a good-but-inconsistent dribbler, with his successful seasons essentially alternating with the bad ones (and the ones in which he dribbled better being the ones in which he earned more minutes from his team – chicken-or-egg situation there). He’s always been decent to good at getting into dangerous spots, and his shooting breakout of G+ has been fine. He’s played more center forward than on the wing so far this year, and has a pair of goals on the season.
The more recognizable name is Erik Hurtado, who played for Vancouver Whitecaps, Sporting Kansas City, CF Montreal, and the Columbus Crew – mostly at striker. He just signed to a 25-day contract ad has just a pair of appearances for SAFC. During his time in MLS he was a semi-famous underachiever, sort of a guy just out there on the field. If he scored, it was unlikely to be something he created, but he has historically not been a guy who gets into super-dangerous positions regularly.
Moving back in SAFC’s 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation, Jacori Hayes is the other name that fans are likely to recognize. The former FC Dallas and Minnesota United holding mid was an every-game starter for this team until the rotation got heavier to keep guys fresh for a US Open Cup run. He’s actually been quite poor so far this year, and while that’s on a small sample size, he wasn’t exactly pushing for all-MLS honors in any of his seasons in the league. He was usually average on the dribble but he’s been terrible so far this year, so that’s probably a sample-size issue, and he’s traditionally been a non-factor as a goal-scorer but has been good this year, which again might not be something you can expect to continue. He’s basically a non-entity fouling and interrupting.
The key to SAFC’s success so far this year has been the defense. Middle centerback Lamar Batista has been a Team of the Week member twice already in this young season – and probably should have been the league’s player of the week with two goals and an assist (as a CB!) in Week One. He’s a sweeper-style guy and thus understandably doesn’t put up huge numbers aside from that big attacking game in week one. One of his flanks is typically manned by Mitchell Taintor, who G+ doesn’t think much of (like – doesn’t think about him, not thinks he’s bad), who has one TOTW selection this year. Fabien García is the other one – and like Batista, has played every league minute this year – but only stands out statistically because he’s a little mistake-prone. This is a backline that is typically fairly conservative and protects the keeper more than it goes out to Make Plays.
That keeper is Jordan Farr, who has allowed five league goals on 7.22 xG (quite good!) while playing every minute so far – as with most of the first-choice guys, he rested in the second-round USOC match. He was the Week Three POTW in the league after making five saves in a 1-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks. The Oregon native played for the Timbers U-23s before beginning his professional career. He played significantly for Indy Eleven, so the name may be familiar to longtime NSC fans.
This is a team that is built to bunker and counter, and while they don’t do a ton of that in USL (they do it some), the expectation is that it’s what we see tonight. Focusing on no concessions while hoping Cristian Parano does something magical seems like the plan here. If they nick one on the counter or a set piece, it could open up the game a bit in that it forces Nashville to be more proactive, but if SAFC gets a lead at any point, it’s gonna be “11 guys defending at the edge of the 18” territory unless and until that changes.
The Boys in Gold
I would expect to see a heavily rotated Nashville side, even with a couple Huntsville City FC players mixed in, since they’re eligible to compete for NSC in non-league play without any roster shenanigans. While those guys most likely are available off the bench rather than featuring in the starting lineup, Nashville probably doesn’t go full first-choice, either.
I would expect we do see the debut of new signing Lukas MacNaughton after his arrival from Toronto, along with a bunch of guys who often are in the 18 but outside the XI mixed in with a few first-choice members of the team.
Keys to the game
- Use talent advantage if necessary.
- Don’t use talent advantage if not necessary.
- Don’t get cocky doing No. 2 and then leave it too late for No. 1 to save the day.
Nashville SC 3, San Antonio FC 1