The Boys in Gold transition from hosting one historic power in the midst of a major down cycle to visiting a team with even more success (but the bulk of that success even deeper in the rearview).
Opponent: DC United (4-5-2)
Time, Location: Saturday, May 13, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:20 local) • Washington, D.C.
Weather: 66ºF, 24% chance of rain, 72% humidity, 7 mph Northerly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV ($) • 104.5 The Zone
Match officials: Referee: Nima Saghafi. Assistants: Corey Parker, Justin Howard. Fourth official: Walt Heatherly. Video assistants: Daniel Radford, Craig Lowry
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC +225, Draw +225, DC United +125
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith and Fafa Picault presser.
|Stat||Nashville SC||DC United|
|Record (W-L-D)||5-3-3 (1.64 PPG)|
|4-5-2 (1.27 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||W-W-D-L-D||L-W-W-W-L|
|xG Power||+0.25 (9th MLS)||-0.52 (25th MLS)|
|G Power||+0.38 (5th MLS)||+0.04 (15th MLS)|
|“Luck”||+0.13 (11th MLS)||+0.56 (6th MLS)|
|Offense||-0.22 (22nd MLS)||-0.24 (23rd MLS)|
|Defense||-0.47 (3rd MLS)||+0.27 (23rd MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.04 Away (17th MLS)||-0.32 Home (20th MLS)|
|Injury report||OUT: D Nick DePuy (leg, season) |
QUEST.: D Walker Zimmerman (groin)
|OUT: D Steve Birnbaum (hip), D Mohanad Jeahze (thigh), D Andy Najar (calf), F Nigel Robertha (ankle), M Martin Rodriguez (knee), M Pedro Santos (thigh)|
QUEST.: M Teddy Ku-DiPietro (ankle)
This team is about as good as it has been since the days when now-manager Wayne Rooney was a player in Black and Red. That’s… not saying much because DC has pretty much been awful in the time since (and was not all that good when Rooney was on the pitch – fourth and fifth in the East, bounced in the first round of the playoffs). Nonetheless, that’s progress for a team that was once the model franchise of the league and has rarely been much more than an embarrassment since 2007.
Leading the way for this edition of DCU is Belgian striker Christian Benteke, who signed as a DP this offseason. He leads the squad in minutes, and has five goals so far. Right behind him is Taxi Fountas with three – though Fountas has missed half the team’s games due to injury. Benteke is a classic “get into good positions” striker, with an elite receiving grade in American Soccer Analysis‘s Goals Added (G+), but middling or bad in the rest of them. Fountas hasn’t played enough this year to get a meaningful sample, but last season he was somewhat similar, though he wasn’t quite as good at getting into good positions, and unlike Benteke had a strongly positive shooting breakout. This year he hasn’t endured a lengthy suspension for being racist though, so we’ll call it a wash.
Leading the team in assists (3) and expected assists (2.19) is Mateusz Klich. This is somewhat surprising since he’s played as a holding midfielder and DC has shifted to a 3-5-2 after starting in a 4-4-2. Fortunately there’s not a wingback in the league who played for DC until midway through last season who’s an elite service provider, or management would feel pretty silly!* Right wingback Ruan has been second on the team in xA to be fair, while Chris Durkin plays as the right midfielder in the 4-4-2… and perhaps the reason for the formational shift is partially because he’s coming back from a foot injury, and has under half an hour total in the past five weeks.
Durkin’s status brings us to some major issues with this DC team! Not only has he been limited since the beginning of April, but CB and captain Steve Birnbaum, LB/LWB Mohanad Jeahze, CB/FB hybrid Andy Najar, and winger-turned-wingback Pedro Santos (who to be fair was “oops no defense” as a winger, Lord help the team playing him at FB/WB) are all out with injury. To add insult to injury – or more injury to injury, I guess – homegrown winger Teddy Ku-DiPietro is questionable. He’s third on the squad in xG and seventh in xA. This is a team that didn’t start out very good (though as mentioned at the top, improved from the recent past), and is hurtin’. That’s particularly true on defense, and while there’s no performance trend matching the injury report, this team was oscillating wildly in quality when healthy, and is unlikely to suddenly be awesome with 3.5 defensive starters out. Russell Canouse, Victor Palsson, and Donovan Pines are not exactly scrubs in replacement but… well kind of they actually are.
This is also a team that wants to possess it, but thanks to being very bad at passing (the least-bad players? Klich and Fountas, but then Najar, Jeahze, Santos, and Ku-Di-Pietro… if you can pass you will get hurt playing for this team, it seems) has just 47.9% of the ball this year. Contrast that with a Nashville team that generally wants nothing to do with the ball and unlike DC has played a league game against New York Red Bulls… and has had 45.1% of the ball. You can create issues for DC by letting them pass it into the third row, or pressing them into mistake after mistake – and we’ve seen Nashville execute both mid-block and press philosophies this season, so there are tools in place to attack it.
Tyler Miller has played every minute between the pipes – joining Benteke as ironmen in league play to date – and continues to be a scouting miss for your boy. He was good in limited time as a backup with Seattle and quite good as the first full-time keeper in LAFC’s franchise history, but his time with Uniteds of Minnesota and now DC have shown that he’s dependent on having an outstanding defense in front of him to boost his numbers (this is an offseason research project that I will absolutely forget to undertake), because he’s average or worse on a consistent basis since leaving the Banc.
Overall this is a team that has a fairly poor offense and a fairly poor defense: slightly worse in attack than Nashville SC but without a Hany Mukhtar to make the most of it. I would not recommend doing this without an elite defense, much less a borderline terrible one.
* We’re being told that Julian Gressel does, in fact, exist and play for the Vancouver Whitecaps. We regret the error.
Keys to the game
- Pressure the ball. Nashville isn’t necessarily going to want it back, but certainly taking it away from DC United is going to be a regular opportunity.
- Win the second balls. Tyler Miller plays it long about as frequently as Joe Willis does, so there should be some volleyball at midfield on regular occasions. Winning the header is great, but the real payoff obviously comes from being the team that ends up with the ball at the end of a juggling sequence.
- Hany Abubakr Mukhtar, imo. Duh.
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
Nashville SC 2, DC United 1