Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Nashville SC is on a two match win streak and returns home to take on an Ottawa Fury side that has exceeded expectations. Let's look at what to expect from this weekend's match.
After having only managed four draws from 19 matches when conceding first*, Nashville SC have come back to win in two consecutive matches. Their 3-2 win over Hartford Athletic last week puts them in third place, just two points behind leaders Tampa Bay Rowdies, and on a six match unbeaten streak in the league.
Nashville have been on the road in their last three league matches, and head coach Gary Smith has used a 3-5-2 formation in each of those contests. Smith has alternated between a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1, and while the latter is a more aggressive formation that gives Nashville plenty of width, the former plays to Nashville's strength and lets Nashville play with two strikers.
Speaking of strikers, Ropapa Mensah has been Nashville's best player in recent weeks, scoring one and assisting another in his last two matches. While Cameron Lancaster has been great coming off the bench, it would be hard to remove Mensah and lose his pace and off-the-ball movement.
The midfield three of Reed, LaGrassa and Moloto has been very effective. Moloto has been given more of a free role underneath the two strikers, and leads the team in both assists and chances created. Reed and LaGrassa have provided defensive structure behind Moloto, also with the ability to push forward and provide line breaking passes from a deeper position.
Darnell King played as a right centerback in Hartford to good effect, but with Bradley Bourgeois returning from suspension he could slide into a wider role. Likewise, Justin Davis (normally a left back) has played both centrally and wide, and could continue a good run of form in a more central role. Playing Davis on the left of a back three allows him to push forward into a more advanced role in attack, while allowing Taylor Washington to use his pace to exploit space on the left.
In goal, Smith is still rotating his keepers every two matches. Going by that pattern, it's Pickens turn to start.
OUT (expected) - Derrick Jones (M) - ankle
To be updated when Nashville sends their injury report to the media Friday afternoon.
*this counts two penalty shootout losses as a loss, not a draw.
OTTAWA FURY FC
Ottawa have had an up-and-down 2019 season, but are currently in 7th place in the East, five points behind Nashville. They've had issues scoring (their 19 goals rank 23rd in USL), but they've only conceded 11, the third best record in the East. They've only given up multiple goals in two matches thus far, one of which was a 3-0 loss at home to Nashville.
Ottawa have used a consistent 4-3-3 formation this season. New signing Charlie Ward has anchored the midfield as the no. 6, with Wall Fall playing in a more box-to-box role. The German has been a standout for the club, scoring four and assisting two more.
In attack, Mour Samb leads the line from a central position. The Senegalese striker, signed after a successful trial, has scored a club-leading six goals from 30 shots. He brings a good mix of strong holdup play and speed, able to get in behind a defense and stretch the game. He's typically flanked by Kévin Oliveira and Christiano François, both of whom bring pace as well as the vision to pick out passes in the final third.
In defense, captain Carl Haworth, normally a forward or winger, has turned into the go-to right back, leading the team with 25 chances created and three assists. Dakota Barnathan, signed from Swope Park in the offseason, has established himself as the first choice centerback.
Ottawa are strong defensively, sitting in more of a low block before hitting on the break. However, they are also able to control the game when needed, with their midfield trio strong in possession and their wingers and fullbacks able to get in space and provide passing outlets. They will be a strong test for a Nashville side that has struggled against top teams at home.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
How will Nashville set up? They've used the 3-5-2 in recent weeks to good effect, but Smith could opt to go for the more attacking 4-2-3-1 and let his wide players loose.
Who will start up front? Ríos, Lancaster, and Mensah have all performed well recently, with Lancaster playing more of an impact substitute role. Will the Englishman get a chance to start, or will Ríos and Mensah hold onto their places?
Can Ottawa keep Nashville off the scoresheet? The Canadian side is one of the best defenses in the conference, and Nashville have yet to score at home against a playoff team this season. Can Ottawa limit service into the forwards and force Nashville to resort to balls from wide areas?
Score: Nashville 4 - 1 Ottawa
Scorers: Ropapa Mensah, Daniel Ríos, Liam Doyle, Lebo Moloto
MOTM: Ropapa Mensah
Bold Prediction: Nashville keeps their attack rolling, scoring three in the first half before controlling the match in a quieter second half.
Score: Nashville 1 - 0 Ottawa
Scorers: Lebo Moloto
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores early and hangs on to earn three points.
Score: Nashville 2 - 0 Ottawa
Scorers: Cameron Lancaster, Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Cameron Lancaster
Bold Prediction: Lancaster sets up one and scores another late winner for Nashville.
Score: Nashville 3 - 1 Ottawa
Scorers: Cameron Lancaster (x2), Ropapa Mensah
MOTM: Cameron Lancaster
Bold Prediction: Ottawa score on a penalty.
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Date: Saturday, 06/22/19
Time: 7:00pm CST
Place: First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee
Radio: 94.9 Game 2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Spanish)
Forecast: 92°/75°. Partly cloudy. 20% chance of rain.