Happy midweek match day, everybody. Today Orlando will face an opponent it’s never played before, as Nashville SC comes to town.
Ahead of this one I spoke with Ben Wright of Broadway Sports and he was kind enough to bring all of us up to speed on how Nashville has fared in its debut Major League Soccer season. I also answered a few of his questions, which you can find over at their place.
Like plenty of expansion teams it’s been a bumpy start for Nashville SC in Major League Soccer. What do you think is the biggest reason for the rough start to league play for the team?
Ben Wright: I don’t think it’s been a terrible start for Nashville. They’re on four points through five games, and four of the five goals they conceded came in two games against Atlanta United. Off the field, it’s been a really rough time. The week after their MLS debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans in Nashville, tornadoes swept through the city and damaged the homes of several players. Then COVID, which was rough for everyone. And then after four months, when it looked like they were finally set to play again, they were withdrawn from MLS is Back after several positive tests. It’s a little wild that they’ll be playing just their sixth game of the season in mid-August, but who could have predicted any of this? I imagine 2021 will be viewed as more of a typical expansion year for them.
What does Nashville do well? What sort of style does the team like to play?
BW : Nashville defends really well. Despite conceding five goals, their xG is the best in the league by a significant margin. They’d argue that they’ve fallen victim to a combination of bad luck and good finishing from their opponents, and I think there’s actually a lot of truth to that. Their midfield pairing of Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy has been a major strength of the team, forcing turnovers in midfield and playing the ball quickly to feet in the final third. That seems to be the game plan: invite pressure in a midblock, win the ball in midfield, and get to goal quickly. They’ve taken a lot of shots (averaging the fourth-most per game in the league), but struggle to consistently create really good chances, and haven’t finished them when they do.
Who are two names that Orlando fans should be aware of for the game?
BW: Walker Zimmerman is a big one. He was brought in to Nashville as the most expensive center back in league history, and he’s been really good. Until last weekend, where he was pretty poor on both goals. He called them “pretty unacceptable errors at this point in my career,” and said he’s happy to have a game so quickly to help him bounce back.
Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal are two to watch in attack. Both DPs, they haven’t performed at a DP level so far, and have looked really out of sync in the final third the last couple matches. Dom Badji has been starting ahead of them, and they just don’t look like they’re on the same page. Nashville will need those two to click if they’re going to improve on offense.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
BW: Ken Tribbett and Jimmy Medranda are both out, but it won’t be a massive loss for Nashville. Tribbett hasn’t made a match day squad yet, and Medranda has played eight minutes all season. They consistently use a 4-4-1-1 formation, which looks like a flat 4-4-2 in defense. I’m expecting it to look like this:
Joe Willis; Jalil Anibaba, Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney, Dan Lovitz; Dax McCarty, Aníbal Godoy; Alistair Johnston, Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal; Dom Badji.
I don’t anticipate many Nashville matches being high-scoring. I’ll go 1-1 draw, with Badji finally getting on the scoresheet.
Thanks again to my fellow Ben for the great info on Nashville SC. Vamos Orlando!