After starting out the season with back-to-back home matches, Nashville SC head to New Jersey to take on New York Red Bulls II. What should we expect from Nashville's first road trip of 2019?
After opening their season with 3 points, Nashville lost a tight match to Saint Louis (who, in fairness, are a much better side than many expected). Head coach Gary Smith has fielded an unchanged starting XI in the first two matches, although he's been limited by injuries to Michael Reed and Alan Winn.
Captain Michael Reed came off the bench last week, playing 26 minutes after missing the opener with an ankle injury. He could very well start in either central midfield spot, but Matt LaGrassa has been in fantastic form, and Bolu Akinyode brings a strong defensive presence in a game where defense will be key for Nashville.
Alan Winn was one of Nashville's better performers in preseason, scoring one and assisting two. He suffered a concussion in Nashville's final preseason match, and has yet to recover enough to make a matchday squad. He's been designated as questionable ahead of this weekend's match. Even if he's healthy enough to be included in the squad, it's hard to see him starting immediately after returning.
Perhaps the most interesting formational nuance has been the use of Cameron Lancaster. In both games he has started out wide, where he's been relatively quiet, before coming centrally after the break to much better effect. Part of this is due to the fact that Winn has been unavailable and Ropapa Mensah isn't fully match fit yet, leaving Smith with limited options on the wings. Part if this is also an attempt to fit Lancaster, Lebo Moloto, Kharlton Belmar, and Daniel Ríos into the starting lineup. Moloto is best as a 10, but can play out wide. However, he's coming off a serious knee injury to end the 2018 season, and he's probably not able to cover the ground necessary to start out wide. Will Smith keep pushing Lancaster out wide, or will he put him in his natural position up front?
Alan Winn (concussion) - questionable
NEW YORK RED BULLS
New York have only played one match this season, beating Swope Park Rangers 3-1 before a Week 2 bye. 3-1 is a solid margin of victory, but by all accounts it could have been an even bigger win with some better finishing.
NYRB II are perennial contenders in the east, and probably the best "2" side in USL. Since they started in 2015, they've been to the conference semifinals, two conference finals, and won one USL Cup.
With FIFA's international break this week, several Red Bulls players have been called up to the first team to replace those on international duty. Florian Valot, who captained the side in their first match, suffered a torn ACL with the first team and will miss the rest of the 2019 season. 18-year-old Ben Mines, who's spend time with the first team as well as the reserves, seems like the natural replacement for Valot. Jared Strout is one to watch in the midfield, after scoring seven in the 2018 season.
On how the team is trying to find more offensive production: "I’m certainly not making excuses. There’s fine lines between being the side that controls the game with the ball and the side that actually creates or is able to choose the right opportunities to create. We got the balance slightly wrong at the weekend, especially in the first half. It was all about possession and not about productive play. Second half, the balance was much better, but now all of a sudden you bring into the equation quality of the final ball, choice of final ball and execution... In terms of moving forward, I think the emphasis has to be on where can we play forward, how often can we play forward, who are the bodies that are threatening in behind, are we being more productive and getting beyond their back four in control, not back-to-front. We've seen a lot of good possession and a lot of constructive play, but we’ve not got to layer in that cutting edge and that ability to really causes defenses more problems than we have.”
On a potential formational switch: “Bottom line is, I want to do my very utmost not only to be getting our best players on the field, the most effective players on the field, but I also want to make sure we are, as a group, as creative as possible... There is still some development going on [between Ríos and Lancaster]. But ongoing, I have to find a way to make sure that not just those two players, but everyone’s in a more effective position on the field and as a group. So, in terms of making changes, I don’t see too many changes in terms of what we look like towards the weekend, but certainly as a group, and in the staff we’ve been discussing what fundamental shifts might there need to be for us to find the right balance of players and of attacking nature. Will that mean that there could be a change in shape? Yeah, of course. That has to stay on the table because we want to get the most out of the group, and I think at the moment, we’re not quite seeing that. Do I feel as though we’re in a better place than we were at the start of last year? 100%. There’s lots of differences in the way that the league has started, but what we do know is we’ve now got five out of six away games. The perspective of teams at home wanting to come and win the game, but it also affects what goes on with our team. It won’t be the same type of game.”
On NYRB II's system: "They are a very young team with a lot of young players. We are different with older, more mature players so it goes on us to be more composed and make the right decisions. Young and eager players, after a few knocks, will deter after a while so I think I think maturity is going to be key.”
On NYRB II's system: "I think after seeing it last year, their system stays the same and doesn’t falter making us play solid defense. They will go forward, and they will throw numbers up and we need to catch them on a counter, catch them when they are venerable. When they throw guys up there, can we be smart enough to play through their lines and create 1v1’s as well as overloads for ourselves. They like to attack, and I think we can exploit some things against them.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What shape will Gary Smith use? Will both Lancaster and Ríos start again, and if so, will the both play centrally, or will one be pushed wide?
How will Moloto fit? He's primarily played as the 10, although he's spent time on both wings. Where he is deployed will have a major impact on how the team plays.
How will Nashville's defense hold up? While Saint Louis is a strong side, they're by no means an offensive juggernaut. New York is, scoring the 2nd-most goals in USL last season. Against Swope Park, they took 23 shots, putting 15 of them on target. They use the same high-press system as their parent team, and will look to create turnovers deep in Nashville's half. Doyle and Tribbett will find themselves under lots of pressure, and how they handle it will be crucial to Nashville's performance.
Score: NYRB II 1 - 2 Nashville SC
Goals: Daniel Ríos, Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Liam Doyle
Bold Prediction: Nashville takes an early lead on a counter attack.
Score: NYRB II 1 - 1 Nashville SC
Goals: Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Nashville records more than five shots on goal.
Score: NYRB II 1 - 1 Nashville SC
Goals: Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Liam Doyle
Bold Prediction: Nashville has more shots on target than New York, but are denied a second.
Score: NYRB II 2 - 0 Nashville SC
MOTM: Kharlton Belmar
Bold Prediction: Nashville get their first red card of the season.
Have predictions for the match? Comment on this post or reply to our prediction thread on Twitter:
Date: Sunday, 03/24/19
Time: 12pm CST
Place: MSU Soccer Park, Montclair NJ
TV: No local TV broadcast
Radio: 94.9 Game 2
Forecast: 55°/42°. Partly cloudy skies. 0% chance of rain.