Updated: Jun 15, 2019
After a comfortable 4-1 win over Bethlehem Steel, Nashville travel to Connecticut to take on Hartford Athletic. Can Nashville keep their five match unbeaten streak alive?
The Boys In Gold sit in 3rd in the East, having taken 25 points from 14 matches. Their away form has been consistently strong this season, albeit in contrast to some disappointing results at home.
This stat is a bit surprising, especially considering that Nashville has played five teams currently in playoff position on the road. They've only played two playoff teams at home, didn't win a single point in those matches. "It’s a different game on the road," head coach Gary Smith told me on Wednesday. "It’s tough for the away team, always, but I think the home team, as we know, are put under more pressure to make the game, to force the game, to sometimes be the aggressor. It’s not to say that as the away team you don’t want to stamp your authority on proceedings, but I don’t think there’s the same type of mindset and mentality as when you’re at home."
However, they're on a five-match unbeaten streak in the league, and are coming off a four goal outing against Bethlehem. Despite a few matches in which they struggled to finish chances, they're the second highest scoring team in the East, behind only New York Red Bulls II's high octane attack.
Gary Smith has rotated goalkeepers every two matches, but Connor Sparrow had perhaps his best performance of the year against Bethlehem last week. Could this be the week the pattern is broken?
Nashville could have some selection issues at centerback on Sunday. Bradley Bourgeois is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Bethlehem.
With Derrick Jones out for the foreseeable future, Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa appear to be Gary's clear first choice pairing at center midfield. I don't expect Ropapa Mensah to be dropped after his performance last week, and on a bigger and better field, I expect Smith to play with wingers. This could be an opportunity to push Mensah into a wide role, where Smith sees his long term future.
Cameron Lancaster hasn't had the start to the season he would have wanted, only playing 24% of Nashville's league minutes this season. "It’s been frustrating these last month or maybe two months, just getting these niggling injuries," he said on Wednesday. "I want to get in the team, score goals, and help the team out as much as I can." Daniel Ríos has played a lot of minutes this year (the third most on the team), and could be rested to give Lancaster an opportunity to work on his fitness and get into form.
OUT - Derrick Jones (M) - ankle
QUESRIONABLE - Ken Tribbett (D) - calf
SUSPENDED - Bradley Bourgois (D) - yellow card accumulation
After a start to the season that appeared on track to rival Antigua Barracuda FC for the worst-ever USL single season performance, Hartford have righted the ship to an extent. They've pulled themselves out of last place, boosted by playing in front of a home crowd after an eight match road trip to start their debut season. They've only lost once in five home matches, drawing with North Carolina and Ottawa, both on pace for a playoff appearance. Hartford are coming off a shock 2-1 win over Saint Louis FC in their last match, and will look to continue their form against Nashville, despite conceding a league-worst 29 goals.
Hartford typically play in a very compact 4-4-2 that sits in a mid-block. They defend well in the middle of the field, but do allow space in behind. Forward José Angulo has been the focal point, leading the team with three goals and two assists. They're able to create dangerous chances from midfield, with Mads Jørgensen particularly adept at finding pockets of space and moving the ball forward. Despite their issues defensively, they've been productive offensively in recent weeks, scoring in each of their last seven league matches. This may have seemed like an easy win for Nashville at the start of the year, but it will be anything but.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
How will Nashville set up? After switching to a 3-5-2 to cope with the small pitch against Bethlehem, this seems like a chance to return to a 4-2-3-1 and get some more width. Hartford play at Rentschler Field (home of the UConn Huskies football team) while they wait for their soccer-specific stadium to be completed, and the surface and dimensions are miles better than the "diabolical" field they played on last week.
Who will start up front? Ríos has been one of the most productive attackers in the league this season, but reigning golden boot winner Cameron Lancaster looks to be finally healthy. Add an in-form Ropapa Mensah to the mix, and Gary Smith will have a tough time picking a team. It's a problem he's probably thrilled to have.
Can Hartford keep up their run of home form? They've only lost once at home, and have taken points from matches against several tough opponents. Can they quiet a Nashville attack that is producing at an almost elite level?
Score: Hartford 1 - 3 Nashville
Scorers: Cameron Lancaster, Daniel Ríos, Lebo Moloto
MOTM: Lebo Moloto
Bold Prediction: Hartford scores first, and Nashville get their second ever comeback win.
Score: Hartford 0 - 3 Nashville
Scorers: Cameron Lancaster (x3)
MOTM: Cameron Lancaster
Bold Prediction: Lancaster gets a hattrick.
Score: Hartford 0 - 2 Nashville
Scorers: Cameron Lancaster, Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Ropapa Mensah
Bold Prediction: Mensah provides both assists in a routine win for Nashville.
Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.
Date: Sunday, 06/16/19
Time: 2:00pm CST
Place: Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT
Forecast: 78°/65°. Mostly cloudy. 40% chance of rain.