A week after a 0-0 draw with Bethlehem Steel, Nashville SC are back in action, traveling to North Carolina to take on 12th placed Charlotte Independence. Here's what we're expecting from the match.
Nashville have had a week long break after playing three matches in eight days, but kick off a stretch of four matches in 15 days. Gary Smith said after the Bethlehem match that he expects to have Matt LaGrassa and Cameron Lancaster back from injury, and Derrick Jones is getting closer to fitness. Smith also addressed the issue of squad rotation.
"In the past, made I think a big effort with a good team and a good squad to rotate players and to get them in the team and to freshen things up, but I think in doing that when I look back on it, there were some things that lacked continuity. There were some relationships that were nowhere near as efficient as they are now. So as we move down this line, expect to see that the team, barring injuries, may not change an awful lot. There might be one or two guys in and out, and of course depending on results because I have got good players. If the players are not performing that are out there, then maybe I do need to change it."
I think it's safe to take from that that Smith has his first choice XI established, and we can expect to see that pretty consistently for the rest of the season. This gets tricky with so many fixtures in short periods of time, but with just 18 healthy outfield players, he doesn't have many options.
Matt Pickens has started five straight matches and hasn't conceded a goal in that run, so he doesn't seem likely to get a rest. Ahead of him, Forrest Lasso and Jimmy Ockford have locked down the starting centerback roles, each playing every minute since joining the club. Smith could change things up at fullback, but Taylor Washington has been on a great run of form, and Darnell King looked good in his 89 minute shift last week, and hopefully will get a few matches to get up and running. However, with two matches next week, rotation is definitely on the table.
In midfield, Ken Tribbett has pushed forward into a more advanced role to counteract Michael Reed's injury, but with Matt LaGrassa back to fitness, I expect to see him play in his natural role next to Bolu Akinyode. "When you look at the style of play, I think Matt’s is similar to Michael’s," said Smith. "They are both very dynamic individuals, box to box, lateral workers as well. They have a lot of energy in their game. I am very pleased I can lean on [Matt] again." This will give Nashville better forward passing from deep positions and take some of the burden off Lebo Moloto, who himself has been in great form.
Striker Daniel Ríos has been the standout for Nashville, only one goal behind Phoenix's Solomon Asante in the Golden Boot race. He leads the team with 1,883 minutes and could probably use a rest with matches against New York, Charleston and Tampa Bay on the horizon, but with questions about Cameron Lancaster's health, Smith doesn't have many other options up top. Ríos has performed really well with limited rest, though, and should be able to put in a solid shift. If Lancaster is healthy enough to make the squad, I expect to see Ríos given a break around the 60 minute mark.
Currently in 12th place, just one point below the playoff line, Charlotte haven't won a match in four attempts, coming off a wild 3-3 draw in Loudoun. They've had trouble on both sides of the ball, scoring the 28th fewest goals in the league and conceding the 13th most. However, they've recently signed several players on loan from MLS clubs, and have the talent to challenge most USL sides.
Charlotte play a similar 4-2-3-1 formation to Nashville, with either Enzo Martínez or Jorge Herrera in the no. 10 role. Colorado Rapids loanee Niki Jackson appears to have claimed the starting striker role, scoring three goals and assisting another. 19 year old Isaac Angking, a US U-20 international on loan from New England Revolution, has bolstered their midfield since joining in August, and looks likely to partner Kevan George in a double pivot role.
Their defense took a hit with standout Andrew Gutman going to FC Cincinnati in MLS, but veteran Abdoulie Mansally is a more-than-capable replacement at left back. 22 year old centerback Brendan McDonough joined on loan from Vancouver Whitecaps and should slot right in to the defense, partnering USL veteran Hugh Roberts in the back.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
On Matt LaGrassa's return to health: “We are trying to fill the void of Michael’s [Reed] absence and when you look at the style of play, I think Matt’s is similar to Michael’s. They are both very dynamic individuals, box to box, lateral workers as well. They have a lot of energy in their game. I am very pleased I can lean on [Matt] again. I’m very, very pleased to have him back in the group.”
On what LaGrassa’s absence meant to the team: “It always makes it difficult when you have guys out of the group. If I look at some of the injuries we have had, it has really hit us in that midfield area. You look at our captain recently, Matt, Derrick Jones, who we have signed for next year as well. They are high caliber players. To be without those players for any time is always difficult. The fact that Matt is finding his way back into the group as Michael sadly leaves us is a positive. It helps in rotation and balance in that midfield area. But the reality is, whenever you have good players missing, it’s a tough void to fill.”
On Ken Tribbett’s role in the midfield: “He’s a versatile soccer player, full stop. He’s what you see. He heads it, he kicks it, he’s strong, he’s brave as a defender. He’s a lot more astute and thoughtful then maybe a lot of people give him credit for. It did not surprise me that as the second period wore on [last Saturday], Ken became more and more influential. He started to get his passing range and he started to identify areas where he could get away from opponents. He started to read the game better in there and get better pressure. Subsequently, we were camped in their half in the second period. He was a big piece of that.”
On Nashville’s previous match with Charlotte this season: “I think there was a lot of lessons learned. They played a good game plan on the day. Their counter-attacking style caused us a lot of problems, especially in the first half. The fact is that they do have four or five players that can create something out of nothing, really. They have the experience of Enzo [Martinez], Dominic Oduro, [Jorge] Herrera. You’ve got guys there that are more than capable of creating an opening or actually making a difference and scoring. They’ve got a very talented group, no doubt about it. They’ve found their way back into some form after a very, very tough start. I think it’s full credit to them that they are in the position they are actually in right now with the way they started the season. They are not to be taken lightly.”
On how to continue the team’s form: “Like I said after the game, I am not going to get too frustrated about what happened in the second half [on Saturday]. We created plenty of chances, but unfortunately, on that occasion we were unable to get ourselves over the line. I think there were one or two players after a tough, long week that we just not on the sharp edge and creativeness. It makes a difference. I think we have got a nice vein and mentality about the group at the moment. There is a lot positive about the way we are managing games at the moment, the way we are creating, the way we are defending. I think they are seeing there is an opportunity. New York [Red Bulls II] get beat last night. Pittsburgh is on a great run. That top five or six again is getting really, really tight. It’s going to be the team that continues its form the final 10 games or so that really get it done. I am sure they are going to be some peaks and troughs as we move along this final stretch and we have got to make sure we hold firm as long as we can.”
MATT LaGRASSA (Midfielder)
On how it feels to be back from injury: “It’s an unbelievable feeling to be back. It’s been a bit of a frustrating process for me being injured. Knock on wood, but I’ve managed to stay healthy throughout my career so that’s probably the longest spur I’ve had to deal with being injured. Just to be back out there and especially in front of our fans, it meant a lot to me for sure.”
On if Michael Reed’s injury gives him an opportunity to step into a midfield role: “Obviously, what happened to Michael [Reed] is devastating. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody on the opposing team and definitely not on your own team and to your captain. I think each one of us is trying to support the team with whatever role we can. With him being out, there’s a gap there that needs to be filled. Hopefully, I can fill it.”
On what he remembers about the Charlotte Independence: “I thought they played a tough game against us at our place. They ended up getting an early goal and we had to come back from behind. They have a lot of talented players, a lot of players who have experience, so we don’t expect it to be an easy game. Being at this stage in the season, I do think it’s a game that is winnable and that we’re going to need to win.”
On defender Jimmy Ockford’s personality and performance: “I played with Jim [Ockford] before in Reno, and he’s a great guy. He’s just one of those guys where you can’t not get along with. As far as him making friends, I’m not surprised there. The way that he’s fit in so seamlessly, he’s a smart player. I think he’s got a lot of ability, but he’s also very intelligent about where to use that ability. They’ve definitely sured up things back there. Five shutouts in a row is a huge compliment to them and the work that everyone’s doing defensively.”
DARNELL KING (Defender)
On what defenders Jimmy Ockford and Forrest Lasso have brought to the backline: “Just like anybody on the team, I think they brought energy. That’s kind of what we needed at that time that we were going through. Five shutouts in right now, and we’re hoping to keep that going.”
On how it felt to get back on the field and what he provided: “First, you want to be supportive of your teammates whether you’re in the lineup or you’re not. Through the week at practice, you want to get them ready for the games, but obviously you want to play. You’re on the team to enjoy the Saturday and the Wednesday games. It was a good feeling to be back out there on the field, get the 90 under my belt and hopefully keep that going.”
On how difficult it is to play a team with a compact defense such as Bethlehem’s last Saturday: “It’s a balance. You definitely want to be aware of the counter. That’s pretty important especially if they have fast guys up top. It’s tough when they bunker in because you really have got to find the flaws and try and find the gaps to get your opportunities. We struggled a little bit there. We could have been more aggressive on the wings, but it’s something we talked about and I think that moving forward, it’s something that we’ll work on.”
On if the fatigue from playing two games prior had an effect on play on the wings: “It could be. That’s down to individual preference. I know some legs were tired. At the same time we were trying to run at them, we were trying to keep the ball because we didn’t want to have to worry about the counter.”
On what he is expecting this Saturday in Charlotte:“I’m expecting some individual good talent on the other side. I know they’ve got some players that I played against in the past that are very good technically with the ball. I think if we just work on what we’ve been doing, work as a unit and as a team, keep possession and just work together defensively, I think we will come out with a big win. Hopefully defensively we keep the shutout like we’ve been doing.”
Score: Charlotte 0 - 3 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Alan Winn, Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Alan Winn
Bold Prediction: Lancaster takes at least five shots in a 30 minute appearance.
Score: Charlotte 0 - 2 Nashville
Scorer: Daniel Ríos, Lebo Moloto
MOTM: Alan Winn
Bold Prediction: Nashville continues the shutout streak and only allows one shot on goal.
Score: Charlotte 1 - 1 Nashville
Scorer: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: Nashville concedes a last minute equalizer.
Score: Charlotte 0 - 2 Nashville
Scorer: Daniel Ríos (x2)
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: Moloto bags two assists.
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Date: Saturday, 08/17/19
Time: 6:00 pm Sportsplex At Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina
Radio: English-94.9 Game 2
Forecast: 93°/73°. Mostly sunny. 10% chance of rain. 62% humidity.
*Quotes obtained from Nashville SC's media release