Nashville SC come into the weekend in a good run of form, outscoring their opponents 8-3 in the last two matches. Here's what to look for in tomorrow's match:
Nashville SC beat Swope Park Rangers 5-1 in their last USL match, and beat South Georgia Tormenta FC 2 3-2 in the Open Cup midweek.
Gary Smith fielded a rotated squad in the Open Cup, with Ropapa Mensah getting his first start of the season and Derrick Jones making his first appearance for the club. With several players on a full week of rest, I expect we'll see a similar team to the one that beat Swope Park.
Smith has changed keepers every two matches, switching between Matt Pickens and Connor Sparrow. Sparrow came in against Tormenta 2 in the Open Cup, and based on the rotation pattern so far, it's his turn to start. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Sparrow eventually claims the starting role outright.
Matt LaGrassa has appeared in 44 consecutive matches for Nashville, and has played all but seven minutes so far this season. He's been one of the top performers in 2019, and it would be quite a surprise to see him dropped. Derrick Jones is less straightforward. He arrived in Nashville on Monday, and started the next day against a USL League 2 opponent. He played well, and could start again this weekend. However, his fitness isn't at 100% yet, and he spoke after the Open Cup match about feeling tired. It's just as likely that he's given an appearance off the bench against Charlotte.
The front four of Winn, Moloto, Belmar and Ríos absolutely shredded Swope Park, and there's no reason to change them. Cameron Lancaster is back to full fitness, and looked good against Tormenta 2, but it's hard to see him getting in ahead of that front four on current form.
Nashville is 1-0-2 all time against Charlotte, winning at home 2-0 before losing both road matches 1-0.
To be updated Friday afternoon after Nashville publishes their report
It's fair to say that Charlotte have struggled this season. They currently sit in 16th in the East, with only a single win this season, and their -9 goal difference is the third worst in the conference. To top it all off, they're coming off an Open Cup loss to amatuer side Florida Soccer Soldiers.
MLS veteran Dominic Oduro leads the team in scoring with four goals in nine appearances, and has an incredible 36% conversion rate on the season. Another name Nashville fans will be familiar with is Andrew Gutman. The young fullback was initially loaned to Nashville from Scottish giants Celtic before MLS got involved, resulting in the loan being called off. Gutman then went to Charlotte on loan, where he's had two goals and one assist in 10 matches, earning an appearance in the USL Team of the Week.
Charlotte's attack has struggled, averaging just over a goal per game and converting chances at 9.8%. They play a mix of 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1. When in a 3-5-2, they push the wingbacks high up the pitch to provide width. Alex Martínez gets forward to good effect and has been a key part of their offensive production. Enzo Martínez tends to drift underneath the pacey Oduro and create from deep, but is quite capable of scoring himself.
Despite their poor form, Charlotte have talent on the roster. They could cause problems for Nashville.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
Lineup changes. Will Gary Smith make changes to the side that beat Swope Park in a club record scoreline, or will he stick with what worked last week and hope for a similar result?
How will Derrick Jones be involved? One of three players on the team on an MLS contract, it's hard to imagine that Jones won't see the pitch on Saturday. Will he get the start in midfield or make an appearance off the bench?
Can Charlotte create chances? Only three Eastern Conference teams have taken more shots than Charlotte, but only six teams have scored less. Will they be able to threaten a strong Nashville defense?
Score: Nashville 4 - 0 Charlotte
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Kharlton Belmar, Matt LaGrassa, Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Matt LaGrassa
Bold Prediction: Nashville goes into halftime leading 3-0.
Score: Nashville 3 - 0 Charlotte
Scorers: Daniel Ríos (x2), Ropapa Mensah
MOTM: Derrick Jones
Bold Prediction: Derrick Jones gets two assists to cap off his debut at First Tennessee Park.
Score: Nashville 2 - 1 Charlotte
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Lebo Moloto
MOTM: Lebo Moloto
Bold Prediction: Nashville loses the possession battle once again, but creates more quality chances.
Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.
Date: Saturday, 05/18/19
Time: 7:00pm CST
Place: First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee
Radio: 94.9 Game 2
Forecast: 88°/67°. Partly cloudy. 20% chance of rain.