Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Nashville head north to take on Pittsburgh Riverhounds after Charleston handed them a 3-1 loss last week. Here's what to look forward to on Saturday.
Nashville conceded three times against Charleston, which was more than they had conceded in their previous five matches. Two of Charleston's goals came from open play, which was a first for Nashville this season.
Gary Smith made the surprising decision to change his center back partnership ahead of the Charleston match, dropping Ken Tribbett for Bradley Bourgeois. It was rather unfortunate for Bourgeois, who played well, but now gets stuck with the "they changed the center back and conceded three goals" narrative. All three of Charleston's goals were preventable, but Charleston finished really well.
More concerning was the lack of offensive production, with Nashville unable to find many clear looks at goal. Lebo Moloto was once again quiet, and Daniel Rios was quieted by a strong defense.
"We were utterly embarrassed with the performance tonight," said Gary Smith. "I would expect as a player anyone that played today should be concerned with their place in the team."
In light of that quote from Gary Smith, we're predicting six changes for Nashville against Pittsburgh.
Smith has rotated keepers so far, with no goalie playing more than two consecutive games. Pickens was decent against Charleston, but it was his second straight start, and Connor Sparrow has been just as good. He should get the start in Pittsburgh.
Taylor Washington started the first two matches, but wasn't even on the bench in Charleston. He brings more width and will get forward from the left back spot much more than Justin Davis. Ken Tribbett should get back into the starting lineup. While Bourgeois was solid, Tribbett and Liam Doyle have formed arguably the best center back partnership in USL, and there's no reason to fix what isn't broken.
The midfield is a little less clear. Michael Reed is the captain and a clear favorite of Gary Smith. He brings veteran leadership and workrate from midfield, but this season his first touch has let him down several times and his delivery into the final third isn't consistent. I expect Bolu Akinyode will start, and Reed seems the most likely to be replaced. Having Akinyode play as a true #6 will let Matt LaGrassa push forward and really link the forward and midfield lines.
Another slow starter this year has been Lebo Moloto. We've talked about him a good bit already this season. He's played on the left of a 4-4-2, and has looked off. Alan Winn was one of Nashville's better players in preseason, and he's back to full fitness after suffering a concussion before the season started. It's time to give him a shot on the left to see if he can bring more pace and directness to Nashville's attack.
Cameron Lancaster looks like he's close to full health. If he's able to start, even if he can only last 60-70 minutes, he needs to start. Tucker Hume has done well, and is a good player, but Lancaster is another level and needs to get on the field and being to find his form.
OUT: Vinnie Vermeer (ankle)
The Riverhounds currently sit in 11th in the east with nine points from six games. Their one loss came to Tampa Bay (who are in the upper echelon of the eastern conference), but they've played a relatively weak schedule and have had mixed results. Last weekend they drew 0-0 at home to Saint Louis, who are another top side, but couldn't really be classified as an offensive powerhouse.
Pittsburgh uses a defend first strategy under manager Bob Lilley. Fans of Nashville SC will remember the 0-0 draw in NSC's home opener last season, and that performance is characteristic of this side.
According to our friends over at Mon Goals, Pittsburgh play a system that will fluctuate in different phases of the game. In defense, it will look like a 4-1-4-1 or even a 5-4-1, with Thomas Vancaeyezeele dropping deep, almost as a third center back. In attack, it can look like a 4-4-2, with Neco Brett sliding into a more central role.
Pittsburgh throws a lot of bodies into defense, and they also throw bodies forward into the box. A lot of their chances come from wide areas, with Ryan James (formerly of Nashville SC) pushing forward from the left back spot. He leads the team with 25 crosses and two assists, and he'll look to get the ball into the box. Steevan Dos Santos is a great target forward at 6'4", and he'll occupy the center backs and allow Kevin Kerr and Kenardo Forbes to make late runs into the box.
Pittsburgh don't necessarily play an attractive style of soccer, but it's effective. It's designed to play to their strengths and frustrate their opponents. Nashville will have a tough time finding space and creating chances.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
How many changes will Smith make? The head coach was clearly unhappy with his players after last week, and this team has some things to fix in the attack. Will he put out a similar team, or will he change things up to try to bring a spark going forward?
Cameron Lancaster? It's unfortunate that he's been a question mark so far. After such an incredible season last year, he came into Nashville to high expectations and hasn't delivered thus far. It's still incredibly early in the season and he has more than enough time to turn things around, but he needs to find some kind of form, and that starts with being able to get on the field. If he's healthy, will he start?
How much will Pittsburgh risk for three points? Pittsburgh is a solid defensive side, but they may meet their match in Nashville, who (apart from last weekend) have been one of the best defenses in the league. Will Pittsburgh push forward to get three points, or will they focus on keeping Nashville off the board and hold onto a draw?
Gary Smith (Head Coach)
On last week's loss in Charleston: “I think it’s a bit of a kick of the backside, wake-up call, to the fact that there are no easy games. Charleston are a team that have constantly been in the playoffs and proved throughout their history, they are one of the more competitive teams. They will be in the hunt for silverware. We have to be mindful of that, not forget where we are. You forget sometimes the nitty-gritty of winning matches. The small plays that can impact the game. More often than not when you have good players, that will start to shine through.”
On playing it Pittsburgh this weekend: “It is a particularly difficult and unique place to go play. Their field is probably as tight as any. The artificial surface makes it’s a lively game. The way that [Pittsburgh coach] Bob [Lilley] constructs his teams makes it incredibly difficult to get any fluidity. If we found it tough to break a defense down last week, then this is cranked up a notch. I think he does a fabulous job of, in the modern game, recruiting players and bringing a team together who just give their heart and soul into every game that they play. Do they sometimes lack a bit of finesse? Yes. Do they sometimes lack an odd individual that can be inspiring to the crowd? Yes. But are they one of the most difficult teams to play against? Absolutely. The fact is this – if you do not go there with a mentality that you will have a really, really tough day, come what may, then you have a problem. It won’t be a particularly pretty affair I won’t imagine. Mindset is the key. Being physically ready for the challenge that is in front of us, and staying the course. As a group I think Pittsburgh are the most drilled and determined that there is.”
Taylor Washington (defender)
On Pittsburgh's style of play: “Bob’s [Lilley] teams are always well-disciplined. I think we have to look for any chink in the armor to score goals. If we stick to system, get the balls to the forwards, get the balls to the box, get a head on it and create opportunities, a goal is a goal. We just need to find a way to exploit them and find a way to get a result.”
On bouncing back after losses: “I think our resiliency is one of the best things about this team. We can take everything that happened last week and use it as fuel. Take it up to Pittsburgh and get a result there.”
Score: Pittsburgh 1 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Ken Tribbett
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Nashville struggles to create much from the run of play and score from a set piece late in the game.
Score: Pittsburgh 1 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Ken Tribbett
Bold Prediction: Nashville leads Pittsburgh in shots and shots on goal.
Score: Pittsburgh 0 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Cameron Lancaster
MOTM: Cameron Lancaster
Bold Prediction: Lancaster scores late in the first half and Nashville hold on for a vital three points on the road.
Score: Pittsburgh 1 - 1 Nashville
Scorers: Kharlton Belmar
MOTM: Kharlton Belmar
Bold Prediction: Nashville score in the first half before giving up a penalty kick goal in the second.
Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.
Date: Saturday, 04/27/19
Time: 6:00pm CST
Place: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Forecast: 59°/46°. Mostly cloudy skies. 0% chance of rain.