The Quest for The Cup continues! Nashville SC will take its talents to a place that is a mere hour from South Beach, with the intention of dominating Inter Miami CF just as thoroughly as last Wednesday’s misleading-scoreline (2-1) outcome truly turned out to be.
Opponent: Inter Miami (5-8-0 MLS)
Time, Location: Tuesday, May 23, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 local) • Literally not even in the same area code as Miami
Weather: 80ºF, 48% chance of rain, 78% humidity, 8 mph ESE wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: CBS Golazo Network (also available on Paramount Plus). If this turns out to be remotely as bad as the coverage/stream quality of the previous two rounds I might lose it, so you all have that to look forward to.
Match officials: ??? I promise I looked, but neither PRO nor US Soccer has published them anywhere I can find.
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC +131, Draw +219, Inter Miami +204
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith and Hany Mukhtar presser (only the last question is about this game tbf). Preview of last time around against these guys, many many moons ago. TheCup.us round preview (I contributed the preview of this match).
Stats in MLS play only.
|Stat||Nashville SC||Inter Miami CF|
|Record (W-L-D)||7-3-4 (1.79 PPG)|
|5-8-0 (1.15 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first)||W-W-D-W-W||L-L-W-W-W|
|xG Power||+0.30 (8th MLS)||-0.77 (28th MLS)|
|G Power||+0.57 (3rd MLS)||-0.12 (21st MLS)|
|“Luck”||+0.27 (12th MLS)||+0.66 (3rd MLS)|
|Offense||-0.15 (20th MLS)||-0.56 (29th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.45 (3rd MLS)||+0.21 (22nd MLS)|
|Venue advantage||-0.48 Away (19th MLS)||-1.08 Home (28th MLS)|
While there’s no injury report for US Open Cup matches – it’s an MLS requirement for league games, obvs – it’s worth noting that the injuries from last time around include a dude out for the season in midfielder Gregore (also the team’s only good player), while neither midfielder Jean Mota nor winger Rodolfo Pizarro has appeared in the squad in the two games since that preview. Among those who were questionable, CB Ian Fray came off the bench in both matches while Sergii Krystov was out of the squad in Nashville, but started against Orlando over the weekend. Midfielder David Ruiz was suspended for the Nashville match, but did not appear in the squad Saturday. So: the CBs are likely to be available, the rest is a little less likely.
Miami has also gone to a three-man backline in each of the past two games, in part because of the awful CM depth (due to injuries and Ruiz’s suspension/absence) that I mentioned in the last preview. That might mean a little positional shuffling that I’ll note when taking a look at what I wrote just a few days ago:
[LWB Franco] Negri is a non-interruptor whose G+ comes mostly from being a dribbly/shooty guy. [CB Kamal] Miller has mostly been the same guy throughout his time in MLS (aside from his 2022 with Montreal, a major outlier in his profile): a liability in the final third, but a very good defensive CB. His passing is negative this year for the first time since 2019, so he could be due for a bounceback in that regard, or maybe the IMCF system is particularly rough on him? I dunno. Either way, they play on the left together and Miller is typically paired with Kryvstov, so McVey – a good defender but awful on the ball – seems like the Miller partner. There’s been an occasional switch-up to a back three – you’d see Kryvstov in the middle with Chris McVey or Ryan Sailor or even DeAndre Yedlin at RCB – but given the potential for a sub-100% Kryvstov, something that’s mostly been used as a “OK we are rotating a bit today, lads” move does not seem likely. Yedlin is the right back, and he’s the same guy you know and do not love from the USMNT: very fast, but just an OK one-v-one defender, and fairly poor with the final ball when he gets up the field.May 17
I was wrong about Neville’s willingness to go to a back-three last week, but to be fair the fact that he tried it doesn’t discount that it was a terrible idea: Miami’s been shelled 3.56 xG on nine shots over those two matches, and the appearance has been uglier than the outcomes. Even aside from the embarrassing play on Hany Mukhtar’s assist… [pause]
[ok let’s resume]
…Chris McVey had one of the worst games I’ve seen out of a defender in MLS this season, but given the CB depth and the apparent insistence on the off backline, it is what it’s gonna be, I guess.
The incompetence of the defensive effort has taken Drake Callender from pretty darn good (93% of xG conversion allowed) to mediocre (104%) in just six days. I think that’s much more the supporting cast’s fault than his own.
As for the central midfield (which also sucks):
With Mota, Gregore, and Ruiz all out, it’s unclear who will be Dixon Arroyo’s midfield partner, and there’s a non-zero chance that Miami may have to get funky with formations just because there’s no CM depth. I guess Victor Ulloa is an option there, but he has just five league appearances this season, with most of those cameos with single-digit minutes played. He’s negative in all six G+ breakout categories and has never had a positive overall season in the ASA dataset, so… not ideal. For his part, Arroyo is bad at dribbling and passing, and close to a non-entity in interrupting. I think we’ve found one of the weak points of this team!May 17
Victor Ulloa was the partner here, and he was like, fine. Ben Cremaschi and Corentín Jean played as 8-style midfielders (flanking Arroyo as the holder) in a 3-5-2 over the weekend.
That 3-5-2 allowed the Two Remaining Good Players (strikers Leo Campana and Josef Martinez) to play at the same time.
In attack, an old friend leads the team in shots, xG, and goals (albeit one of his three tallies coming from the penalty spot, and without that hit he doesn’t lead the team in xG either) in Josef Martinez. [Shanyder] Borgelin, who I noted above has played under 200 minutes, is third on the team in xG. This is not a prolific attack, to say the least. Josef has been paired with or subbed in to replace Leo Campana at the striker position, and even though he’s played more minutes over the course of the season, Campana has been a clear top choice in recent weeks. He’s far more conservative with crazy attempts, accumulating slightly more (non-penalty) xG than Martinez on only 3/4 of the shot volume.May 17
as for other potential weapons…
Nicolás Stefanelli and Corentin Jean have been largely in charge of providing the service as wingers in a 4-2-3-1 or the No. 10 at times, depending on the needs of the team and formation at a given time… They have yet to record an assist on just under 1 xG between them, and that leaves the left back Negri (particularly in the absences of Gregore and Mota) to provide something, anything for one of the worst attacks in the league. His 10 key passes have resulted in 1.13 xA and one assist, first and tied for second (and with Mota out, it’s a many-way tie with one assist on the year atop the leaderboard), respectively. It’s a rough attack.May 17
The formational fluidity is relatively new, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a shift back to the 4-2-3-1, which has been moderately less horrible that the odd backline. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see Phil Neville stick with what isn’t working, because he is a bad coach.
…with that in mind, the motivations for both his lineup selection (and formation) and his team’s desire to go out and play hard will be an important storyline to watch tonight. Miami’s MLS season has gone somewhat horribly, and staying alive in a cup competition with a trophy at stake may be the only thing that sees him employed by this time next week. I think you could safely say – barring a bizarre and unpredictable link to the front office’s sales pitch to Lionel Messi that rests upon keeping Neville – that failing to win tonight would mean he’s got to win at Montreal on Saturday if he wants to be employed by this time next week.
How that plays out can be unpredictable, though. I would imagine he’s likely to go with as close to a first-choice XI as available (while Nashville may be slightly less motivated to do the same, as we discussed on the pod this week though I think “four games away from trophy” is a chance to go for it, especially against a team that you toyed with less than a week ago). If the players don’t like him – and I have no idea whether they do or don’t – they may well just go through the motions because they aren’t gonna fired with a loss and they’re less motivated to save his job. I’m obviously not a feelingsball guy on the whole, but this feels like a game where those factors loom large.
Keys to the game
- First choice lineup. With a not-quite-top group on Wednesday, NSC took the game to Miami (2.55-0.86 xG – it’s hard to overstate how ugly this game was). Toss in a Jacob Shaffelburg to the starting lineup with Fafa Picault coming off the bench instead, give Hany Mukhtar (only) enough time to cook, and you should be able to replicate it.
- Punish them for getting forward. This is a team that sorta stinks but doesn’t realize it, so Miami will push numbers into attack to try to generate looks for a mediocre scoring unit. Nashville actually possessed the ball very well at home (until a two-goal lead was the gamestate), but on the road, letting Miami get desperate early probably gives the chance for some lethal counters.
- Get Hany on the ball to dribble the central midfielders. Unless Phil Neville just crams bodies into the midfield because he knows the top couple options on the depth chart (thanks to injury and suspension) need all sorts of help, this should be the area easiest to expose. The available guys are bad in attack, but more importantly, they’re non-entities in interrupting, as well.
- Work into strong shooting positions. Nashville has historically been a team that’s too prone to pass up the good shot looking for the perfect one – with some exceptions, of course – but against this Miami team, there should be chances to benefit from doing just that. Callender is one of the few good performers on this team, and golden chances against him are better than decent ones – with the weakness of the Miami midfield and backline meaning that there should be a high volume of opportunities even if Nashville spoils one or two getting greedy.
- Set pieces. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.
Nashville SC 3, Inter Miami 1