With the announcement earlier today of new signing Cameron Lancaster, Nashville SC have added yet another piece to an already deep forward pool. Combined with the rest of their offseason signings, NSC have made some significant upgrades to their roster from last season, and it appears that they're making a real push for a USL Cup this year, as well as adding some potential pieces for MLS in 2020. Given the new signings and the various formations employed by Gary Smith in 2018, there's no obvious answer to the question of how the Boys In Gold will line up. Here are a couple of options for how Smith may set his team up.
Option 1: 3-5-2
Early in the preseason, the 3-5-2 seemed like the obvious formation to use. The addition of Ken Tribbett seemed like a good indicator of intent to go with a back three, and Ríos is an automatic upgrade at forward. Add Lancaster into the mix, and it would seem like a decent way to get talent on the pitch.
Pros: This formation allows NSC to utilize their three top-tier centerbacks, as well as have two center forwards on the pitch. It also gives Lebo Moloto more of a free role with two options ahead of him and Akinyode and Reed to do the defensive work behind him. Lancaster and Ríos are the favorites to play up top, but Belmar, Mensah, Hume, and even Winn could slot in if needed
Cons: There's no natural place for wingers like Alan Winn or Kharlton Belmar in this system, and the wingbacks are asked to cover even more ground than usual, as they're the only constant source of width in this setup. Akinyode is a great #6, but ideally he'd be paired with a more dynamic box-to-box midfielder than Michael Reed. While Reed is a solid option, it would be nice to see this addressed with another signing.
Potential changes: Taylor Washington is a more natural wingback than Justin Davis, and his pace would be a major asset in this setup. He could challenge for that spot. We could also see LaGrassa or Winn play as the #10 to start the season if Moloto isn't fully fit. Finally, as with all of these options, there's a chance that Connor Sparrow challenges Matt Pickens for the starting 'keeper spot.
Option 2: 4-4-2
This is another formation we saw used in 2018, and is a fairly easy system to adjust to mid-game.
Pros: In addition to getting both Ríos and Lancaster on the field together, it also allows Nashville to make use of their wingers. In addition to Belmar, Smith could insert Winn or Washington into one of those wide midfield spots.
Cons: One of Doyle, Bourgeois, and Tribbett have to miss out, and there's not really a natural fit for Moloto. I expect him to play in one of the wide spots, but to drift in centrally and let his fullback overlap.
Potential changes: Again, Washington could slot in for Davis in order to provide more threat on the overlap, and Matt LaGrassa could replace Reed or Akinyode if more attacking options are needed.
Option 3: 4-3-3
Nashville rolled this formation out towards the end of the 2018 season to good effect, with Win and Mensah wide, and Tucker Hume as the lone striker.
Pros: This formation frees up the three attacking players to focus on the attack, and it provides the most width high up the pitch. It also gives Nashville a lot of bodies in central midfield, with a dedicated holding midfielder next to two box-to-box midfielders.
Cons: There's only room for one center forward in this formation, which could be useful in case of injury or when giving players a rest.
Potential changes: Lancaster and Ríos could both easily play as the #9 in this setup. While Winn and Belmar seem like the most natural wide options, Ropapa Mensah looked really dangerous on the right wing in late 2018 and could fill in quite capably.
While there are several tweaks and variations to this formation, as well as different tactics that allow formations to function in unique ways, these three formations represent three fairly different and realistic options for the current squad. We'll have a better idea of the system Smith hopes to employ as the team begins its slate of preseason friendlies, and as the team continues to sign players ahead of the USL season. Watch this space for more news on how this team will look to play.
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