Updated: Apr 5, 2019
Nashville SC return to USL Championship action after a bye week break. The Boys In Gold make the 1,600+ mile trip north to Ontario, Canada to take on Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday. What should we expect from this weekend's match?
Updated with Nashville SC's injury report, as well as quotes from Gary Smith and Tucker Hume
Nashville went to New Jersey and earned a hard-fought point in a 1-1 draw with New York Red Bulls II before returning home for a week long break. In the first two matches, head coach Gary Smith sent out an unchanged starting lineup before making four changes against New York. What had seemed like a fairly straightforward prefered XI has a few more wrinkles to it now.
Connor Sparrow made his first start in a Nashville kit against New York, replacing Matt Pickens, who had started the previous two weeks. He had a couple nervy moments, but overall was very solid. Pickens has done nothing to lose the starting role, and we expect he'll get the start in Canada, but it shouldn't go unnoticed that Sparrow was given the start against the best attack Nashville has faced to date. We're going with Pickens, but this could go either way.
The backline has been very consistent so far. Doyle, Tribbett, and Kimura have played every minute so far. Taylor Washington started at left back the first two matches before Justin Davis came in against New York. Davis is a veteran defender, and was a consistent performer last season, but made a few questionable choices against the Red Bulls. He also doesn't have the pace and crossing ability of Washington, which doesn't allow him to get forward in the same way. For now, Washington looks likes the best option at left back.
Alan Winn made his first appearance of the 2019 season after suffering a concussion in preseason, coming off the bench for a 25 minute shift. He was arguably Nashville's best performer in preseason, and he brings a completely different dimension as a natural wide player. We expect to see him start and rotate pretty fluidly with Belmar and Moloto.
Moloto has had a fairly pedestrian start to the 2019 season, but put in a strong shift against New York. He's clearly a favorite of Gary Smith and the only no. 10 in this squad. He should retain his starting role underneath the striker, but there's a chance Lancaster gets the nod instead.
Daniel Ríos has started every match and was used as the lone striker last match, with Cameron Lancaster dropping to the bench for the first time this season. He scored Nashville's lone goal and put in a strong performance, and he's playing too well to drop at the moment.
One thing to note: in last season's trip to Ottawa, Bolu Akinyode and Ropapa Mensah didn't travel with the team due to visa complications. The club understandably declined to comment on this prior to the match, but don't be surprised if one or both are missing from the match day squad.
Vinnie Vermeer - ankle
Cameron Lancaster - hamstring
OTTAWA FURY FC
Ottawa have played the fewest matches of any Eastern Conference side, playing only twice thus far. They drew 1-1 away to Charleston Battery and won 0-1 in Birmingham before going on a two week break. It's a small sample size thus far, but their draw against a good Charleston side was impressive, and they should have scored more against the Legion. I have them rated pretty highly (again, small sample size caveat).
They've operated in a 4-3-3, with 22 year old Kévin Oliveira operating almost as a false 9. Christiano François has been their most dangerous player thus far, starting on the left wing. He joins Ottawa after a standout season with Pittsburgh Riverhounds last year, and has been their primary chance creator thus far.
In their first two matches, they've sat deep and relied on their front three to drive the bulk of their attacks. Their fullbacks don't really push forward, often leaving the wingers without an overlapping option. They've looked suspect when asked to defend long balls over the top, almost conceding a last minute equalizer to Birmingham, as well as several chances against Charleston.
They've also only named five players to the bench in each of their matches this season. Their two week break will certainly help as they look to gain full fitness, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Who starts up front? It's an ongoing question for Nashville. Gary Smith has stuck with a single striker system, and thus far Ríos has been his preferred option, pushing Lancaster to the bench or out wide. Who will get the nod on Saturday, and could we see the two play together?
Will Nashville produce in the final third? Nashville have been more intentional about controlling possession so far, but the end product has noticeably been lacking. Gary Smith said before that "possession is worthless unless it’s actually productive", and has emphasized finding a cutting edge in the final third. The bye week has given the side time to work on this, and against a side that has showed some flaws in the final third, Nashville really needs to show a cutting edge.
How will Nashville deal with François? So far the winger has looked really dangerous, and if Nashville pushes their fullbacks forward, it could open up Doyle to a 1v1 situation in which he is outpaced. It will be really interesting to see how Smith sets up his team to deal with this.
Score: Ottawa Fury 0 - 2 Nashville SC
Goals: Daniel Ríos, Alan Winn
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: Nashville controls 60+% possession.
Score: Ottawa Fury 0 - 1 Nashville SC
Goals: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Michael Reed
Bold Prediction: Reed leads the team in passing accuracy and gets an assist from a set piece.
Score: Ottawa Fury 0 - 2 Nashville SC
Goals: Kharlton Belmar, Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Cameron Lancaster
Bold Prediction: A Ken Tribbett long ball leads to a goal for Nashville.
Have predictions for the match? Comment on this post or reply to our prediction thread on Twitter:
On the bye week: “It’s early on in the season, so I think the break has come at a decent time to really get dug into some of the aspects of our game that have had a little bit of a breaking in period is how I look at it. Not quite as creative or as much of a goal threat as I would have liked. Two of three of the players in the attacking area of the field looking for a connection or rapport. Nice that Daniel and Cameron have got themselves off the mark and running, but we certainly needed and do need to be more of a goal threat. [This break] has given us a bit more time, care, opportunity to get more work done.”
On last year's loss in Ottawa: “I think what that game epitomized is that you can never be sure what is going to happen from one minute to the next in a game. [Ottawa] has a tremendous amount of resilience, they’re an experienced side, they’re well-coached and they are well organized. They have a particular style and method and the place is not easy to go to and get a result. It’s a difficult spot to get to, number one. They play their home field very well. I would imagine they’ll have good support there for their home opener. So you have all the ingredients for a tough contest. We’ll be ready for what they throw at us. I do think our group is getting better and better, week by week. I think the relationships are forming. They look bright and purposeful. I do honestly think that we have got certainly nowhere near our best at the moment. It’s never easy [in Ottawa]. I have been there before with other teams and it’s a very difficult environment, full stop, to try and get a result. We certainly need to be more than ready for what they are going to throw at the game.”
On how Nashville's depth will help: “We went with a smaller roster to try and create more competition knowing that really at any given point that any XI that step onto the field were good enough to be very, very competitive in this league. It’s turning out that way at the moment. The biggest challenge is making sure that everyone is staying mentally engaged and focused. Early on in the season, there is no reason why the guys shouldn’t feel as though they are going to play a big part in whatever happens this weekend or in a week or two. We are in a good place. There is a good spirit around the group and around training ground. They are very buoyant and upbeat. I do think that that’s really a reflection of what they feel they can achieve. Some nice positive things going on. We do have a tough run, not just the Ottawa trip, but we do have a tough run of games. We need to make sure we are constantly adding points to the board and put ourselves in a position to be fighting for silverware at the end of the year.”
On the turf at TD Place: “That turf is a little bit older now. It’s a little hard and bouncy. It will be nice if it gets a little wet, because it plays nice when it is wet. It’s why we have been out here on the turf working this week just trying to get used to that surface.”
On Ottawa's defense: “They are very compact when they defend, and they have really good players as well. They are tall and fast. They work a lot defensively, and last year they proved that. I expect the same thing this year.”
Date: Saturday, 04/06/19
Time: 1pm CST
Place: TD Place Stadium, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
TV: No local TV broadcast
Radio: 94.9 Game 2
Forecast: 37°/22°. Partly cloudy skies. 20% chance of rain