Nashville SC head north after a midweek win in Birmingham, taking on USL rivals Indy Eleven on Saturday evening. Can Nashville SC keep the unbeaten streak alive?
Nashville SC got a midweek win in Birmingham, claiming three points on national TV courtesy of a Daniel Ríos penalty kick. The win pushed Nashville up into second place in the USL Championship Eastern Conference on 21 points through 12 games.
Head coach Gary Smith has used a pretty consistent group of starters this season, but we could see some changes in their seventh match in 22 days.
Centerback Liam Doyle didn't play in Birmingham, but should return next to Ken Tribbett as the first choice pairing, with Justin Davis and Kosuke Kimura outside. Midfield is a little tougher to predict. Derrick Jones, recently signed to an MLS contract, got his first USL minutes with Nashville on Wednesday. He looked really good in his 26 minute shift, and may be in line for a start against a side that has had Nashville's number in every previous meeting. Midfielder Matt LaGrassa has played all but seven minutes so far this season, and has been arguably Nashville's most consistent performer so far. It's hard to see a scenario in which he misses out, despite playing the most minutes on the team. If Jones starts, it seems like Michael Reed and Bolu Akinyode would be the players to miss out.
Up front, Alan Winn has been in fantastic form since returning to the starting lineup. In the last four matches (all of which he's started), he's had two goals, two assists, a 33% conversion rate, and he earned the penalty kick against Birmingham. He should retain his spot on the left, with Lebo Moloto and Kharlton Belmar playing behind Daniel Ríos up top.
OUT: (M) Michael Reed - knee
QUESTIONABLE: (F) Cameron Lancaster - leg
A popular preseason pick to win the East, Indy has had a slower start than expected, but recently have begun to live up to the hype. They made some big personel moves in the offseason, and currently sit in 5th place, despite having played between one and three matches fewer than every team ahead of them.
Striker Dane Kelly, signed from DC United, leads the team with four goals and has started every match this season. Kelly's 71 career USL goals make him the all-time leading scorer in USL history, and he'll be the focal point of Indy's attack.
Thomas Enevoldsen is another one to keep an eye on. The winger/forward finished second in the USL Golden Boot race last season with 20 goals (tied with Nashville's Daniel Ríos and behind Cameron Lancaster). He hasn't quite scored with the consistency of last year, but he's had two goals and his 17 chances created are second on the team. ]
Indy have played out of a 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2 this season, with Tyler Gibson and Kenney Walker (both signed from FC Cincinnati in the offseason) the two main men in midfield. Versatile Tyler Pasher has played underneath the strikers on multiple occasions and could resume that role against Nashville.
Indy's defense has been solid so far, only allowing seven goals this season - only Saint Louis has conceded fewer. Paddy Barrett, another signing from Cincinnati, has captained the side this year from a right centerback role. Neveal Hackshaw has been the other most consistent defender on the team, and has been a threat from set pieces, scoring twice this season.
Despite Indy's quality from wide areas, they only attempt eight crosses a game (for contrast, Nashville attempts 15). Enevoldsen has been a consistent creator from central areas, linking well with Kelly and Pasher. Gibson is another good passer of the ball, and he's been able to break down defenses from deeper areas.
Indy make the most of their home field advantage. Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts) has an artificial turf surface, and is more narrow than the average soccer field. Indy do a good job at forcing teams to play through the center, and put pressure on attackers to control the ball on a surface that can result in some odd bounces.
OUT: (F) Eugene Starikov - groin
OUT: (F) Ilija Ilić - lower body strain
WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
What shape will Nashville use? After using a 3-5-2 for a while, Smith has switched back to a 4-2-3-1, giving Nashville more of a presence in central areas in the final third. Will he keep this up, or go back to a back three to counter Indy's shape?
Can Nashville create chances? Nashville only managed six shots against Birmingham. They also primarily create from wide areas, and Indy excels at eliminating those opportunities. Will Nashville be able to find pockets of space centrally to create looks on goal?
Will Indy convert on set pieces? Indy is dangerous from set pieces. Nashville is susceptible from set pieces. Will Tribbett and Doyle be able to withstand the threat?
Score: Birmingham 2 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Ken Tribbett
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Nashville gives up a late set piece goal to lose the match.
Score: Indy 1 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Ken Tribbett saves a point with a goal-line clearance.
Score: Indy 2 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: Nashville gets an early lead and then gives up a goal in each half.
Score: Indy 1 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Derrick Jones
Bold Prediction: Jones gets his first league start for Nashville and impresses with an assist and his ability to break up play.
Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
On what he sees out of Indy Eleven and their form since meeting in the preseason: “They’re in a really good spot in the league. I think they’ve shown all of the credentials that you might expect. Very difficult side to play against, a lot of experience, that 3-4-3 shape I think has served them well. Their home field is not the easiest place and not the best surface to go and play on. It won’t be the first time I’ll be saying that, or the last time. It takes a certain mentality on the road anyways for all teams. We’ve got four on the spin again. We’re fortunate to have a home Cup game in between, but four league games are not going to be easy. We’ve got to adapt to that, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the right players going out to get the job done, but I stick by my assessment of Indy with their recruitment. They’re going to be the team to beat, maybe Tampa are showing serious credentials in that manner and aspect, but I still think Indy won’t be far away from being in that top two spots. The game will be tough like all games. We certainly need to keep a reasonable run going and show some more consistency. That’s really our main focus.”
On if it’s too early to view the Indy game as a six-point swing in a standings battle: “I think so. You see the way that the games are unfolding, there is so much parity in the league. The teams that are starting to edge a little bit, Tampa on an unbeaten run, New York have been on a really good run themselves, but I think they’ve had a lot of home games, so we’ll have to see how they adapt to their away games. Aside that, you’ve got a lot of competitive groups capable of winning on any given day, and it really is about staying the distance, sticking to what you’re about and the identity of the group, and making sure that the squad stays healthy, you stay sharp and you stay ready. No occasions more so than the run we’re in now.”
On managing the roster on Wednesday to have fresh bodies for Indy on Saturday: “It’s tough for any team going into this sort of run. There are certain areas that sometimes need a little bit of freshening up. There are certain players that you don’t want to lose or miss, of course Daniel Ríos being one of them, he’s scoring a lot of our goals. Part of my mind was briefly looking at the weekend knowing that [Birmingham] needed full focus, so I got an idea of how we look and maybe some of the changes that might be necessary. Really tough place, very strong side, I’ve made no bones of telling everyone what I think of Indy. They’re a real good group, and we’ll have our work cut out. I’ll certainly feel we’ll have a group to go out there that will give us a good display.”
On if the fast grass in Birmingham gave the players a preview of the turf in Indy: “We’ve not been there for a year or more. I’ve got to say last year, it wasn’t great. I don’t know whether they’ve changed that surface. If they haven’t, then it will be a bit of a difficult one in terms of managing the ball. Maybe tonight has given us a little bit of an opportunity to get ourselves ready.”
ALAN WINN (Forward)
On how his body is feeling during lengthy stretch of games: “It’s all about your role. Sometimes you’re going to start, sometimes you’re going to come off the bench and sometimes you won’t play. You have to embrace what you’re given, so it doesn’t matter if you start or you don’t start or if you come off the bench. You have to go in with the same mentality every single time. Maybe next time I don’t start, that could be for a number of reasons. I just have to take my nose to the grindstone and do what I can.”
On if there is a revenge factor having not gotten any results against Indy last season: “It’s just a new year. We played them in preseason and they were very good. But the preseason’s over and we’re now almost coming up to the midseason. You’ve just got to take it game by game, look at your mistakes and look at how you can go forward positively.”
KOSUKE KIMURA (Defender/Coach)
On what he sees in Indy Eleven and if there’s a revenge factor after losing twice last year: “They are an experienced group, and they have players that they added this year from Cincy, good players, and I know them personally. The coach is experienced, and they have been playing a certain formation for a while now this season, and I think it suits them better with the players that they have. With the narrow field they have and the turf, it’s going to be difficult just like we had against Pittsburgh. We know that when we go there, it’s a battle mentally, 1v1 everywhere. But at the same time, I think we do have enough players to compete and match their intensity and when it comes down to it, it’s going to be individual moments.”
BRADLEY BOURGEOIS (Defender)
On if playing on a lively field in Birmingham gives them a preview of Indy’s turf: “To be honest, I think it’s nice because [Birmingham] was about as close as you can get to turf and that liveliness. It was difficult. It wasn’t the easiest pitch to play on, but we know what the challenge is ahead. We know Indy is not going to be easy, and it’s going to take a lot of focus, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work. I think we’re ready for it.”
On if the Indy match is a chance to prove Nashville’s elite status in the league: “I think especially because of last year and just what was going on with us and them. We knew what Indy did and the acquisitions that they got. I think all of the games are pretty much that we’re trying to go and prove something, especially with us being who we are. We’re the team to beat and we feel like we have that target on our back. Indy is going to be a good one.
Date: Saturday, 05/24/19
Time: 6:00pm CST
Place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
Radio: 94.9 Game 2
Forecast: 83°/73°. Scattered thunderstorms. 45% chance of rain.