Updated: May 12, 2019
Nashville welcomed the unbeaten Tampa Bay Rowdies to First Tennessee Park on Wednesday, and came away on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline. They'll look to bounce back against a Swope Park Rangers side that has struggled so far. Here's what to expect from Saturday's match.
Nashville remain in 6th place after the midweek loss, having taken 14 points from nine matches. After a strong start to the season, Nashville have suffered mixed results the past several weeks, and have struggled to create and convert chances, scoring one goal from open play in the last four matches. Their issues creating from midfield have been well documented, and the signing of midfielder Derrick Jones from Philadelphia Union should help in that department, although we don't expect him to be available on Saturday.
"At some stage there’s got to be some creativity," said Gary Smith after Wednesday's loss. "There's no lack of energy, there's no lack of determination, but there was a lack of sparkle, a lack of connection." This lack of creativity in the final third may pave the way for Lebo Moloto's return. He's played only 60% of available minutes this season, but still leads the team in assists (2) and chances created (12). Putting him in a central role against his former team could provide the spark Nashville need to get their attack up and running.
Lancaster played 45 minutes on Wednesday, but now that he's back to fitness, I expect he'll get a chance to start. " He's had a difficult time, he's picked up two or three niggling injuries," said Smith. "He's got to be working for the next 4-8 weeks, to get himself back to sharpness, to get himself back into the group and feeling like he belongs up top again." Like Moloto, this matchup could be a good opportunity for Lancaster to regain some form.
Smith has a few midfield options at his disposal. Akinyode has been steady so far this season, but Smith will probably opt to use Reed and LaGrassa as a more aggressive option. Vinnie Vermeer is also back in training, but at best I think he'll see time off the bench and a start in Tuesday's Open Cup match.
Liam Doyle has spent the last two matches on the bench, with Justin Davis favored on the left of a back three. After a strong start to the season, he could come back into the lineup against his former team.
QUESTIONABLE: (D) Ken Tribbett (groin)
SWOPE PARK RANGERS
Swope Park's start to the season has been surprisingly poor. They're perennially a playoff team, making two USL Cup final appearances and one Western Conference semifinal in their three years of existence. They've struggled after moving to the Eastern Conference to start the 2019 season, winning one, drawing two, and losing four. Their 17 goals conceded is second only to Hartford Athletic, and they've conceded multiple goals in every match, aside from a 0-0 draw in Birmingham.
It's always tough to predict who will play for an MLS "2" side, and it's even harder with Swope Park at the moment. Sporting KC (their parent club) is dealing with a significant injury crisis (they had to cancel training last week because they didn't have enough players). Swope Park have used 28 different players through seven games, and I expect all players on the fringe of the first team roster will stay with the first team ahead of their weekend match in DC.
Swope Park play a similar style to the first team. They aren't quite as committed to possession as the first team, but they are quite capable on the ball. They're very dangerous from midfield, with Filipe Hernández and Rassambek Akhmatov both scoring in their last match, a 3-2 win over Louisville City.
OUT: (M) Ayyoub Allach (right ankle)
OUT: (M) Camilo Benitez (left hip)
OUT: (GK) Brooks Thompson (back)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
Who will start up top? Will Ríos and Belmar start up top again, or will Lancaster (or someone else) come into the starting XI.
What will Nashville's midfield look like? In the past three matches, Nashville have started a no. 6 (Akinyode) and two no. 8s (Reed and LaGrassa). This is a good strategy against top teams, but against a poor defensive team like Swope Park, will Smith opt for more a more attacking midfield combination?
Can Swope build on last week? Swope Park got their first win of the season against reigning champs Louisville City. Can they take a strong result and build on it against another heavy favorite?
Score: Nashville 3 - 1 Swope Park
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Cameron Lancaster, Lebo Moloto
MOTM: Lebo Moloto
Bold Prediction: Moloto gets a goal and an assist against his former team.
Score: Nashville 3 - 0 Swope Park
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Cameron Lancaster, Matt LaGrassa
MOTM: Cameron Lancaster
Bold Prediction: Lancaster picks up a goal and an assist to lead Nashville to a 3-0 win at home.
Score: Nashville 1 - 0 Swope Park
Scorers: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Connor Sparrow
Bold Prediction: Nashville continues their bad run of form, but are able to eek out a victory.
Score: Nashville 2 - 0 Swope Park
Scorers: Daniel Ríos (x2)
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: Both goals are scored in the first ten minutes of the second half.
Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.
Date: Saturday, 05/11/19
Time: 7:00pm CST
Place: First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee
Radio: 94.9 Game 2
Forecast: 68°/66°. Scattered thunderstorms. 60% chance of rain.