This has, in recent history, been largely a layup for good MLS teams! The Fire has been able to find some fits and starts of success in the past couple years (largely revolving around good goalkeeping), but still… should not intimidate teams playing at home. Can NSC get a win streak goin?
Opponent: Chicago Fire (2-2-5)
Time, Location: Saturday, May 6, 7:30 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 76ºF, 9% chance of rain, 62% humidity, 10 mph Southerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV ($) • 104.5 The Zone
Match officials: Referee: Mark Allatin. Assistant referees: Jason White, Meghan Mullen. Fourth official: Ismir Pekmic. Video Assistants: Jose Carlos Rivero, Tyler Wyrostek
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC -123, Draw +265, Chicago Fire +338
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith and Teal Bunbury presser.
|Stat||Nashville SC||Chicago Fire|
|Record (W-L-D)||4-3-3 (1.50 PPG)|
|2-2-5 (1.22 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||W-D-L-D-W||D-L-D-W-D|
|xG Power||+0.02 (14th MLS)||+0.46 (6th MLS)|
|G Power||+0.45 (5th MLS)||-0.11 (21st MLS)|
|“Luck”||+0.43 (6th MLS)||-0.57 (24th MLS)|
|Offense||-0.34 (22nd MLS)||+0.30 (7th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.36 (3rd MLS)||-0.15 (11th MLS)|
|Venue advantage||-0.52 Home (20th MLS)||+1.90 Away (1st MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: D Nick DePuy (leg, season) |
QUEST.: F Teal Bunbury (leg), M Sean Davis (leg), M Randall Leal (ankle)
|OUT: D Carlos Teran |
QUEST.: F Victor Bezerra
Often when we’re trying to explain major luck numbers (Nashville is one of the luckier teams in MLS so far, Chicago among the least lucky), there are two factors that are lumped in that explain it more than simple statistical randomness: goalkeeping and game states.
In Chicago’s case, neither of those seems to be the answer: their goalkeeping in the form of 19-year old Chris Brady is pretty much bang-average, and the one game they got out of backup Spencer Richey was slightly better. The Fire has been ahead in games – which should mean depressed xG numbers for, and inflated xG numbers against while the actual goals aren’t impacted much, but that has not been the case… and therein lies the answer. Chicago has had fairly typical “we are ahead, we let opponents go bombs away” numbers at times, but the problem is those efforts have actually paid off for the opposition, and they’ve given up multi-goal leads in two of their draws (they gave up a one-goal lead in another of those five draws, played from behind and caught up in the fourth, and the fifth was scoreless).
ASA‘s Goals Added (G+) likes Brady’s shot-stopping just fine, and considers him pretty much average otherwise. He’s not necessarily going to stand on his head to steal a game, but he’s capable of a couple big saves here and there to affect an outcome.
The defense in front of him is focused on preventing good looks for the opposition (as it was for his predecessor, Gaga Slonina) rather than interrupting things up the pitch and letting a wow-factor goalkeeper stand on his head if a risky philosophy allows fewer – but dangerous-er – chances. Rafael Czichos and Carlos Terán have been basically every-minute CBs for the Fire. The Colombian Terán has been a bit more of the exciting interruptor-fouler, but neither of them has particularly big numbers in that department (Czichos basically invisible there) given the style I’ve just described. He’s also got terrible passing numbers, and while he’s not exactly just banging it long out of the back (as his keepers do), he simply loves to take and not complete long passes. Miguel Ángel Navarro and Jonathan Dean have rotated at left back, and they’re stylistic opposites on D: Navarro is completely uninvolved in breaking up play – despite being prone to committing a lot of bad fouls! – whereas that’s the strength of Dean’s game. They’re both non-factors in attack, owing to Chicago’s “protect the keeper at all costs” philosophy. On the right side, Arnaud Souquet is the Navarro style defensively, but far more service-oriented in attack – he’s contributed 11 key passes and three assists this year.
Central midfield is where Chicago has some problems. Not that there’s a ton of negative going on with the “2” in the 4-2-3-1, but there’s just not much positive, either: a three-man rotation of Gaston Gimenez, Fabian Herbers, and Mauricio Pineda is not particularly notable. They don’t provide much in attack (their 14 combined key passes in nine games account for 0.65 xA so far), and they’re much more the “shield the backline” type – for a backline that’s already aggressively committed to shielding itself – than playmakers in defense.
At the No. 10, Xherdan Shaqiri is perhaps breaking new ground in “worst DP signings ever.” He’s the second-highest paid player in the league – one of the highest-paid in league history – and has been planted firmly on the bench by 19-year old homegrown Brian Gutierrez. Imagine if Aké Loba had been a major household name, made six times the salary, and was 0% more effective than he turned out to be. Awful! On the other hand Gutierrez has been quite good, unable to regularly complete dribbles but an elite passer for the position and pretty decent at finding himself in dangerous areas to receive passes. He’s yet to find his first goal on 0.84 xG across 12 shots, but he had a pair of goals last year on 2.93 xG, so it’s not like you can expect him to be the sort of guy who breaks the mold in terms of finishing incapability (see: Cabral, Kevin).
Former USMNT cup-of-coffee guy (and Orlando City player) Chris Mueller is one winger, complemented on the other side by former Swiss youth international Maren Haile-Selassie – with a name like that it’s wild he doesn’t represent Ethiopia. Mueller was good as an in-season signing last year and has been fine so far this season. He gets into good spots and finishes, but can’t dribble to save his life (i.e. the same Chris Mueler he’s always been). Haile-Selassie has shown some potential as a better-rounded winger.
Kei Kamara Reinaissance® has been the answer at striker, with the veteran on his 10th MLS team. He’s got four goals on 2.13 xG,while former Philadelphia Union man Kacper Pryzbyłko has settled in as No. 2 on the depth chart, with two goals on 1.17 xG so far. The stats have not liked Kei when it comes to doing anything other than getting in position and finishing, whereas it’s the opposite for his position-mate: he’s not getting into great positions to receiver a ton, but is dribbling and passing very well.
Keys to the game
- Put shots up. Chicago thrives on forcing opponents to take somewhat-speculative shots, where their good-not-great keeper has a slightly easier task. While that may feel like a trap they’re trying to force you into, it’s a potentially-profitable avenue for NSC nonetheless.
- If Shaqiri plays, make him defend. Because LOL.
- Get Hany on the ball deeper than the midfield two. Chicago keeps its defenders and CMs deep to defend, while freeing the front four to do most of the attacking. That should lead to some large gaps in the formation, particularly on semi-counter opportunities. That’s obviously where Hany thrives, and while more numbers back may take away some of the advantage, there should be opportunities.
- Absorb pressure. There probably won’t be much! Chicago likes to free that front four and not engage the back seven in getting forward to break down a defense. Allowing that Fire unit to try to do its thing, rather than taking chances to disrupt play, is probably the name of the game.
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
Nashville SC 3, Chicago Fire 1