Updated: Jun 9, 2019
Nashville SC head north to Pennsylvania to take on Bethlehem Steel on Sunday night. Can Nashville keep their four-match league unbeaten streak alive?
After playing eight matches in 25 days, Nashville got a much needed 10-day break before taking on Bethlehem. The rest gave Nashville players the chance to get back to full fitness and recover from a couple niggling injuries.
Assuming Nashville SC is back to full fitness (Derrick Jones and Daniel Ríos both left their Open Cup loss with injuries), this is the XI I expect to see.
Head coach Gary Smith has changed goalkeepers every two matches. Going by this pattern, it's Connor Sparrow's turn to start. Sparrow has been impressive in his five league starts, conceding only four goals in his five league starts.
When in a four man backline, the defense seems pretty set, with Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, Ken Tribbett and Kosuke Kimura appearing to be the first choice. Darnell King hasn't had the start to the season he would have hoped for, but he provides more of an offensive threat on the right than Kimura, and could replace him to give Nashville more options in the final third.
Nashville will be without the services of midfielder Derrick Jones, who had surgery on his left ankle after suffering an injury against Charleston in the Open Cup. The club doesn't comment on injury specifics, but it's likely that he'll be out for a while. Michael Reed or Bolu Akinyode seem like the likely option to replace him in midfield. Akinyode played in Bethlehem and is familiar with their system. He also provides defensive stability and allows his partner to push forward into the attack. Matt LaGrassa has played all but eight minutes in the league this season, and has solidified himself as Nashville's most consistent performer, being rewarded with the captain's armband the past two matches. The duo will provide a strong defensive presence behind a frontline loaded with talent.
Alan Winn, Lebo Moloto and Kharlton Belmar are all capable of interchanging positions behind Ríos and will look to find pockets of space to receive the ball and play it to Ríos's feet. The four of them have been productive, combining for 11 goals and five assists on the season. After being held to three goals in their last four matches, including a really poor display of finishing in the Open Cup, they'll look to get back on track against a Bethlehem side that has struggled to defend.
OUT: (M) Derrick Jones - ankle
BETHLEHEM STEEL FC
Bethlehem haven't had quite the start to the season they had hoped for. With a fanbase already struggling after the club announced they'd play their home matches 64 miles south in Chester, the side has struggled too. They've conceded 26 goals, the third worst record in the Eastern Conference. They currently sit in 11th place, and have taken just three points from their last seven matches.
As with all MLS 2 sides, it can be tricky to predict their starting lineup and gameday roster, so I asked Evan Villella of the USL Show for his help in predicting their XI. Head coach Brendan Burke has utilized a 4-1-2-1-2 formation this season, keeping the midfield very compact. Veteran James Chambers plays as the holding midfielder, shielding the back four and playmaking from deep. He leads the team with 13 chances created, and has completed an impressive 93% of his passes in his opponents' half. He'll be crucial to Bethlehem's attack, and keeping him quiet will be a key part of Nashville's gameplan. Forwards Faris Moumbagna and Michee Ngalina lead the team with two goals each, and are the focal point of Bethlehem's attack. If Nashville can win the midfield battle and cut off service to the front line, they'll be in good shape.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
What shape will Nashville use? Every time it seems that Nashville has settled on a specific system, something changes. Smith has only fielded an unchanged lineup once this season, and they've used three different shapes this season. Will Smith stick with the 3-5-2 he used in Indianapolis, or opt for the more attacking 4-2-3-1.
Cameron Lancaster? Arguably one of the biggest disappointments of the season has been Cameron Lancaster, through no real fault of his own. Last year's Golden Boot winner arrived in Nashville to high expectations, but has had trouble getting on the field, playing only 280 league minutes. Can he get involved after a 10 day rest?
Who will win the midfield? It's an old soccer cliche to say that the game is won and lost in midfield, and it's typically true. Even more so in this case, limiting the opponent in midfield and finding pockets of space to create will be crucial to the outcome.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
On what the team has been working on with the break between games: “When there’s a little bit more time in between, I do always feel it’s a good opportunity to reinforce some of the main characteristics of the group. We’ve been looking at what we’re like as a group without the ball, probably more importantly, how are we going to break teams down when that moment comes around again, and what are we like in possession and creating. It’s been a really nice perspective from the back-to-back games where you’re trying to keep players fresh, and you’re just really planning for the next opponent.”
On scouting Bethlehem Steel FC: “They have had some mixed results this year, and there have been a lot of changes there in the way that they play. They’re, of course, emulating their first team and they’ve got this diamond shape in the midfield and a front two, which is different than the group last year. They look a younger group as well, I think they’ve predominately been more academy players than possibly last year. Nevertheless, they’re always a talented group, they have a wonderful system there, the products of that are seen in the first team, so this has been a really good staging ground for those younger players to develop. I believe we’re away from the main stadium, which will present some other new characteristics. But all in all, it really is about how we’ve come through a decent period when we’ve had a lot of games in a short space of time, and having had the time to recover and regroup, I’d like to think we can get out of the traps quickly and we can make the most of what will be two away games, and the first one being a difficult encounter as always.”
On working on finishing chances after the Charleston loss: “I honestly thought that our creation and our mentality against Charleston was very good in terms of trying to break a team down and to get back in a game and go on and win it. I did honestly feel as though there were loads of dimensions to it that were very good, and it was just that final execution in front of goal. There’s only so much I believe you can do when you’re going through those periods. I think Lebo [Moloto] had six efforts, none on target. Daniel [Ríos] has been great for us, had one out of his three efforts on target. The finishing across the board for lots of players was just not good on the night. Yes, of course, we’ve looked at some more practical dimensions to that, what does it look like finishing off of crosses, what does it look like in combination play. The bottom line is when those moments come, the guys we know who have been very efficient for us in the past have got to stay calm, they’ve got to stay collected, and they’ve got to make those moments count. As long as we continue along the same line and in the same vein, I suspect we’ll win more than we’ll lose.”
MICHAEL REED (Midfielder)
On training with time off between matches: “It’s a bit of a different mentality. Guys can kind of bash into each other, be a little more reckless, which is kind of fun. But I think the biggest thing is guys being healthy and recovered. It’s more mental than it is physical, really. I think guys look better today than we have in a while, so it’s good.”
On if he feels like the players have moved past the Charleston loss: “We’ll wait until the games. I mean, the games are a bit different than training. You can’t look towards the past, you’ve got to look towards the future. If guys come in with a positive attitude and are willing to fight, then we’ll be alright. It’s tough whenever you have overtimes, it’s tough when you have eight games in 26 days. Hopefully the guys recharge and are ready for the season. I think if you look forward at the games we have, we have a couple of weekends off, which is nice. No excuses not to be recharged.”
On how the team can beat Bethlehem Steel FC: “We’ll find out. We train, all we can do is the best we can be every day when we come out here. Whoever they bring out, because MLS 2 teams, you don’t know who they’re going to check out, if guys perform admirably and to the best of their ability, we should have a good chance. Looking at them and last year and all of that stuff, it’s just a bit much for me. If we’re going to be a championship team, we need championship habits, and I think all of the guys have that.”
Score: Bethlehem 0 - 3 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Matt LaGrassa, Alan Winn
MOTM: Matt LaGrassa
Bold Prediction: Both teams take single digit shots.
Score: Bethlehem 0 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Kharlton Belmar
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Nashville struggles to get into a rhythm after the long layoff, but eventually outperforms Steel in shots and possession.
Score: Bethlehem 0 - 3 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos (x2), Kharlton Belmar
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores within the first 10 minutes.
Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.
Date: Sunday, 06/09/19
Time: 6:00pm CST
Place: McCarthy Stadium at LaSalle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Forecast: 78°/63°. Mostly cloudy. 20% chance of rain.